Christmas expectations…

26 days ago I decided I would put God to the test. I needed to know that he would meet me with His truth … every single day, despite the extra distractions of a busy holiday season. I needed to know that as I walked through the season of Advent he would prepare my heart in a way that would help me believe he loved me, believe that he was relevant to my life, believe that time seeking him was worth it. I had no idea how I would monitor this… until day 1. I woke up with 2 goals each day.

1. Open up my bible app on my phone to the verse of the day. I guessed it would be a verse pointing to some part of the Christmas story. Read the verse in several versions and journal what God revealed to me in my private notebook.

2. Take a picture of the sun rising over our back yard field at approximately the same time each morning. I had no idea how goal 2 would impact goal 1.

On the morning of day 1 – I did what I always do. Started my coffee, took my probiotics and settled in with my bible app ( and my journal. And God showed up. He clearly connected his word with my life… and as many extroverts do… I shared with my friends on social media. Then I snapped a picture of the sunrise.

The social media feed format, the length, the everything was birthed on day 1 – the day I set out to test God. Each morning he met me in his word – gave me a new thought, a new perspective and I shared. I went to bed each night anticipating what his message would be the next day. Both in the communication from his word and his creation.

It wasn’t until day 19 when I understood why I was taking pictures of the sunrises. I have taken dozens of these pictures in the 3 years we’ve lived in our home… but never 25 consecutive days. Here are 11 of my 25 shots…..all from the deck of our Sandia Street Home.

Despite each day looking different – there was one constant. The sun. It ALWAYS came up. Every day for 25 consecutive days – it rose. I have the phone full of pictures to prove it. This didn’t surprise me … I knew it would rise… it wasn’t too much of a stretch for me to ask God to prove this aspect of his glory… but Day 19… Day 19 he showed me why I had been moved to document the east glowing sky….

Day 19…. the verse of the day..Luke 1:76-78 Zechariah is speaking over his new born son John… “And to you I prophesy my little son, you will be known as the prophet of the glorious God. For you will be a fore runner going before the face of the Master, Jesus, to prepare hearts to embrace his ways. You will preach to his people the revelation of Salvation life, the cancellation of all our sins, to bring us back to God.

The splendor light of heaven’s ….

GLORIOUS SUNRISE…. is about the break upon us in holy visitation, all because the merciful heart of our God is so….

very …

tender.. “

Jesus – our GLORIOUS SUNRISE. Oh My.

Never in my life had I heard of our savior described as our GLORIOUS SUNRISE.

Jesus the one who I believed urged me to “test him on this” made clear his presence in his WORD and CREATION. He introduced himself with an entirely new title… GLORIOUS SUNRISE. Is there any wonder that we are all so drawn to the beauty of dawn? Is there any mistake where the awe comes when we stop our car to capture the beauty of a new day?

We are promised that God left himself in the pages of his word – the bible and his Holy Spirit to make himself known. I believe he wants to be clear to us, that he can teach us wether we are sitting in a church pew or on a gymnasium bleacher, or on a tractor, or in a business meeting, or in a hospital room or a family Christmas gathering. There are times that his revelation is glorious and inspiring and other times that it is clouded by tragedy and despair… but he is still there. Constant. Reliable. For All. Just like the Sunrise.

I look back on the time spent seeking God these last 25 days. There is no one that grew more from his daily messages to me than ….me. I am grateful for those of you that shared the message he shared with me impacted you as well. It is a reminder of how God desires his truth to be known… no matter what the media, no matter who the voice.

As we settle in to the ending of a year, a decade… I want to invite you to the test. I challenge you to ask God to show himself to you. I encourage you to expectantly seek him.. daily. What I love so much is that the love that he has for you is already there. It is not dependent on you deciding to begin the pursuit of him. It’s not dependent on what you’ve done in your past or what you promise to do in your future. Its there.. ready.. willing.. to show up, to shine … to bring light to your darkness…. Just like the sunrise.

Come Lord Jesus. Come.

Good News

Do you have any moments that are burned into your memory? Where the words spoken and the actions performed are so clear that you can practically smell the freshly cut hay or just-baked Christmas cookies in the background of your mind? I have a few… some lovely, and some I wish I could erase. One that often comes to mind, especially this time of year, is the moment I told my husband we were pregnant with our first child.

We’d been married about six weeks and were living in a one-room cabin on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains. My husband spent almost every summer as a ranch hand on this beautiful 1000-acre property, and this year he brought his new bride, the ranch owner’s granddaughter, with him. Life on the ranch was idyllic: waking with the sunrise, following my husband around and assisting with various chores (mostly just trying to look cute and flirty to distract him from moving water or spraying weeds), and helping my grandma rearrange furniture or sort through vintage treasures in the ranch house. However, about two weeks into our working-honeymoon I started to feel nauseous (I’m sure you know where this is going). Suddenly, little trips into town with my grandma were no longer as fun, and I’d fall asleep as soon as I’d unpacked the groceries that suddenly looked absolutely disgusting. In the back of my mind, I knew what was going on, but fear of the unknown kept me from acknowledging it.

The Sonheim Hilton

Finally, one sunny afternoon, Nathanael came in for a late lunch. I ate a few crackers and attempted to sit up with him at the table, but felt relief when he got up to go back to work. I collapsed on the bed, ready for my second nap of the day. Instead, I got up and reached under the bed for the pregnancy test—purchased two weeks prior and hidden immediately with the false reassurance that avoidance brings. The test didn’t indulge my denial, and within milliseconds two pink lines appeared: ready or not, we were parents.

Although fear of the future and insecurity still gripped me, suddenly a thrilling excitement took over. I ran outside. Nate was still loading tools into the ATV and only a short distance away. Breathless from the altitude and first-trimester exhaustion, I burst out, “You’re a daddy!” Although he must have known this was coming, he put down the tools and immediately pulled me into his arms, spinning me around, full of joy (and friends, I am proud to say that I didn’t puke, even a little).

The view from our cabin, taken from just about where Nathanael was when I ran out to tell him. 

Reflecting on this moment makes me wonder – what was the interaction like when Mary broke the news to Joseph? The Bible only tells us this of their interaction:

“This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel — which means, “God with us.”

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” Matthew 1:18-24

What a way to begin a marriage. How did Mary break the news? Did she run to his house right away to share, or did she wait and gather up the courage? Was Joseph upset? Was he excited after his dream or did he still harbor frustration and jealousy that the bride, for whom he’d been preparing and waiting, was carrying a child that did not carry his genetics?

Babies are a wonderful gift, but every story is different and sometimes the conceiving and carrying of them carries grief and heartache. In some seasons I have prayed every day for wombs to conceive and carry longed-for children. I have wept with and held the hands of dear friends when a child is taken too soon. I have begged the Lord to have grace for my imperfections, to send his angels to guard my children, and, trembling, placed their futures in His knowing arms.

In our story, Nathanael and I hadn’t planned to start a family so quickly, and I worried often that we were too young or too newly married or in too much transition to provide for our baby, both physically and emotionally.

But Mary and Joseph hadn’t even gotten married yet! And talk about transition- they had to haul themselves to a completely different town for a crazy census that meant the only place Mary could give birth was next to an animal’s feeding trough. And my insecurities about raising my child probably pale in comparison to the anxiety of raising the King of Kings. 

Yet Mary and Joseph knew they weren’t in this alone. God didn’t plop this huge responsibility in their lap just to watch them fail. And in a crazy turn of events that could only be divine, the child they would raise together would later die to save them from their sins.

One week before our sweet boy was born; still clueless. 

What responsibilities cause you anxiety? Where do you fear your own shortcomings? What hurts or tragedies are gripping you in this season?

Hear this today: you’re not going it alone. 

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭4:15-16‬

Draw near to Him today. He’s with us in the doubts , fears, hurts and tears. And one day he will whisk us away to eternal joy with Him. He will draw us to His chest and spin us around in joy (and friends I am proud to say that we won’t puke, even a little).

Once in royal David’s city

Stood a lowly cattle shed

Where a mother laid her baby

In a manger for His bed:

Mary was that mother mild

Jesus Christ her little child

He came down to earth from heaven

Who is God and Lord of all

And His shelter was a stable

And His cradle was a stall;

With the poor and meek and lowly

Lived on earth our Savior holy

For He is our child-hood’s pattern

Day by day like us He grew

He was little, weak, and helpless

Tears and smiles like us He knew

And He feeleth for our sadness

And He shareth in our gladness

And our eyes at last shall see Him

Through His own redeeming love;

For that child so dear and gentle

Is our Lord in heaven above

And He leads His children on

To the place where He is gone

Not in that poor lowly stable

With the oxen standing by

We shall see Him, but in heaven

Set at God’s right hand on high;

When like stars

His children crowned

All in white shall be around

Light for the Darkness

dog by the fireI know this is supposed to be a place where we gather around a fire and share stories, but sometimes, there is no one story that really captures what we are experiencing.

These last few weeks, I have heard stories from friends of pain and struggle and suffering. These last few months, I have walked along friends who shared stories of uncertainty and fear and confusion.These last few years, I have had friends living in stories of loneliness and turmoil and grief.

And it was enough to cause this effect in me where “Holly Jolly Christmas” was missing its pep, and the lights on my neighbor’s homes shone a bit dim, and I found that festivity felt far away and funky.

I know there are many of you are out there, maybe reading this now, who know that feeling. It could be because of your own story, or a friend’s story, or maybe one of the stories of the world around you. My heart goes out to you, friend. This is not a fun place to be during the most wonderful time of the year.

What can we do? Manufactured joy is no joy at all. The farce is almost worse than just living in sadness. Where do we find a joy that is deeper than the suffering we see around us? How can we resurrect the festivity of the season in the midst of pain?

I’ll tell you a secret: we cannot do it.

But God can. I will tell you how he did for me.

WEDNESDAY: I reached out to a friend, and asked her to pray: that I would be able to share God’s love and hope to my suffering friends—without sounding trite. Because honestly, that’s how my words were sounding to my own ears.

THURSDAY: I read these verses from Scripture:

“Then a shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—a Spirit of counsel and strength,
A Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.
[…] he will judge the poor righteously
and execute justice for the oppressed of the land.” Isaiah 11:1-2, 4

“He grew up before him like a young plant
and like a root out of dry ground.
He didn’t have an impressive form
or majesty that we should look at him,
no appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of suffering who knew what sickness was.” Isaiah 53:2-3

“I, Jesus, [… ] am the root and descendant of David, the bright morning star.” Revelation 22:16

The purpose of Jesus’ life began to come back into focus in my heart. I began to see {again} how he embraced suffering. And yet he could still say that he shines as the bright morning star. I became hungry to know how that could be true in my life, too.

Saturday: I spent a good amount of time praying–for my family, for my friends, for my church. I ran across these verses from Scripture as I prayed:

“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be […] strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Colossians 1:9-14

Who needs endurance and patience except those who are suffering? And here Paul prays that they would have joy and give thanks as well. So I started praying for joy and thanksgiving even in the midst of suffering.

SUNDAY: the pastor, who also happens to be my husband, focused his sermon on Jeremiah 31:2, “Thus says the Lord: ‘The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness.’” Grace in the wilderness! Like manna for the people of Israel, like an angel for Elijah, like the call of John the Baptist—God meets us in the wilderness by his grace. He meets us in our suffering with mercy and provision.

SUNDAY EVENING: I had the privilege of joining the high school youth of our church on their yearly “Elf Caroling” excursion. At our first stop, we sang “Joy to the World” to an older woman whose health problems I don’t pretend to know. All I saw was her daughter at her side, and a walker in her hands. Tears welled up in her eyes, and mine, as she sang along. I noticed that she did not have tears of sadness, though, but tears of hope. A certain hope in a certain joy. She knew her Savior had come to the world to bring her joy.


In and out of cars we piled, all twelve of us elves, dressed goofily, with red tights on {some of} our legs and bells on our hats and booties. I watched as my little boys sang along with all their might—a special bright light in their eyes. We sang to a mom who is lonely. We sang to a family that’s stretched thin, while their little kids danced at our knees. We sang to a couple who have endured a tough year. We sang to one of my friend’s families—trying their best to hang on to joy in the midst of suffering on top of suffering.

And finally, the lights on the Christmas trees shone brilliantly. The Bright Morning Star had made his way into the depths of my soul. I sung for joy. I sung with hope. I sung knowing that, no matter the suffering, the story of Emmanuel (God with Us) brings enough joy to push back the darkness.

joyful little elf

“The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.
God sent a man, John the Baptist to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. […] The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.”
John 1:4-7, 9

Intended Consequences

When I was in college, I chose a major that I knew nothing about, and spent four years studying Economics.  At this point in my life it would probably not be too far off the mark to say that I still (or again) know nothing about Economics, but one of the things that did fascinate me about economic policy was the difficulty of foreseeing the effect of policy on human behavior, and vice versa. 

So it was that, earlier today, I was enticed to click on an article about “the cobra effect.”  The cobra effect is an illustration of how unintended consequences can completely undo the good intentions or the best-laid plans of a law or an economic policy. 

The cobra effect refers to a situation in Delhi in the days when India was under British rule as a colony.  The infestation of cobras at that time was so great that the powers that be passed a law that put a bounty on cobras, paying the people to kill them.  This source of income was enticing, of course, and people responded. Very soon the supply of cobras dwindled—along with the income produced by killing them.  Human rationale took over, and people began breeding cobras in order to kill them and continue to reap the benefits.  When the government responded by rescinding the law, people lost the incentive to kill the cobras they had bred and—in the end—the cobra problem was greater after the law was rescinded than it had been when it was enacted. 

Economic policy and considerations aside, I began thinking that unintended consequences can result from a variety of situations, as I have lately witnessed and faced up to in my own life.  In this young month of December, this season of Advent, this time of rejoicing and goodwill that we so recently have entered, there are plenty of opportunities for unintended consequences.

Like many of the teachers, pastors, Church workers, and others in our family and friend groups, this is a time of year when we expect to give of ourselves, becoming involved in all sorts of programs, festivities, worship services, social events, charitable events, concerts—‘tis the season.  And these events often fight for space on the calendar or schedule with all the routine and daily tasks and activities that seem to keep us plenty busy to start with.

So with the very best of intentions we wade in, often with a feeling that we are following the Spirit’s leading and everything about our involvement is right and good.  There are so many opportunities to serve, to do something helpful and to be part of the joy of sharing the good news of our Savior, of celebrating his coming.

Certainly nobody signs up to “do good” with the intention of ending up feeling cranky, put-upon and unappreciated, but that is all too often the case.  It’s jaw-dropping sometimes how quickly my good intentions get derailed, often by something that seems simple and meaningless. Suddenly willingness, eagerness and joy are replaced by the unintended consequences of fatigue, burn out, and ill will. 

In my feeble attempts to get back the joy, I often find myself “raising more cobras,” doing more things, or different things, and finding my best efforts producing only additional unintended consequences.  “OK,” I think (for example), “Let’s at least get the Christmas tree up and decorated.”  And there it stands—the empty, unfluffed and unlit artificial tree has been hanging out in our living room for a couple of days, now, taunting me. The bin of lights awaits.  The decorations cool their heels.  My husband usually does the lights, and I follow with the decorations, but “he is out of town and I don’t have time anyway,” I think resentfully to myself.  

I don’t have easy answers for the unintended negative consequences that seem to pile on when I believe I am acting with such good intentions. But I do know that God invites me to come to him, setting aside my frustrations and enjoying time in his presence.  Here is an excerpt from an evening prayer I read a day ago—and even shared with a friend, it spoke so directly to some of my typical Advent feelings:

“And in my heart’s most secret chamber Thou art now waiting to meet and speak with me, freely offering me Thy fellowship in spite of all my sinning.  Let me now avail myself of this open road to peace of mind.  Let me approach Thy presence humbly and reverently.  Let me carry with me the spirit of my Lord and Master Jesus Christ.  Let me leave behind me all fretfulness, all unworthy desires, all thoughts of malice towards my fellow men, all hesitancy in surrendering my will to Thine.

In Thy will, O Lord, is my peace. In they love is my rest. In thy service is my joy.  Thou art all my heart’s desire….”

Our prayer book belonged to my mother-in-law and an updated version is available, but I love the “Thee’s” and “Thou’s”

For all of my regret and disappointment over the unintended consequences of my earnest desire to do good and helpful things, as I sit in quiet fellowship with my Lord I cannot help but ponder what seem like unintended consequences of Jesus’ life on this earth.  From a human standpoint, it is hard to look at all the good he did—his perfect life, his ministry, his acts of healing and mercy—and not be aghast at the way he was received by the leaders of the time, who were so intent on killing him.  Jesus was not filled with resentment over the way he was treated, but they were certainly resentful of Him and His following. His death, from a human standpoint, looks surely like an unintended consequence of a life lived for others. 

But Jesus came to earth not to simply live a life for others but to give His life for all.  He knew full well that He would die, paying the price for our sins. And then he rose victorious over death and over all of Satan’s successes in bringing about unintended consequences from our best intentions.  Our forgiveness and our right and close relationship with God, who freely offers us His fellowship in spite of all our sinning, is the fully intended consequence of Jesus’ advent.