Advent Freebie: Help Your Children Focus on Jesus this December

December can be chaotic, even in a typical year. In 2020, I have a greater-than-usual desire to help my family focus on what really matters. I crave the peace and joy that can be so tangible at this time of year, especially when we place Jesus at the center of our Christmas preparations.

One practical way to focus on Jesus in this season is to intentionally build traditions that create space for God to grow bigger in our hearts and families. With that in mind, I want to share a few ideas that we will be using in our home this year.

There is a five-minute, kid-friendly activity for each day until Christmas, along with a list of materials needed. (You probably have most things laying around the house, but anything that might need to be purchased should be inexpensive and easy to find.) Feel free to take what I have created and make it your own! Add, change and rearrange to fit your family’s needs. Below, you will find:

  • ideas for making an advent calendar to count down the days until Christmas (This is a good place to start.)
  • three Bible verses to focus on (You will write these out and put them in a prominent place. One will be recited at the beginning of each devotional.)
  • for December 1st -20th, object lessons that help kids understand 20 Bible truths about who God is (Each devotional starts with one of the three focus scriptures and ends with a big idea to say out loud.)
  • for December 21st -25th, five Christmas messages from the nativity and the story of Jesus’ birth (Each devotional starts with a portion of the Christmas story and ends with a big idea to say out loud.)
  • instructions for how to put everything together (Simply scroll through this post in the order it is written.)
  • a complete list of materials needed (See the master list at the bottom of this post. You can collect the items all at once or wait until the day they are needed.)

Advent Calendar

An advent calendar helps countdown to Christmas, generating excitement and turning the focus toward the day of Jesus’ birth. This was our calendar last year. We used white poster board and sharpies to create a box for every day leading up to Christmas. After we finished our devotional each day, the kids got a small candy cane, which had been taped to the calendar in advance. After the candy canes were removed, we marked off that day on the calendar. You could use another type of candy or treat if you wish, and there are more ideas for a cute advent calendar here. No matter, what your calendar looks like, the idea is to build expectancy and continue emphasizing the celebration of Jesus’ birth. TIP: For the second day on your calendar, use a treat that is special in some way (example: a larger candy cane). This will help with the devotional for day 2.

Before Day 1: Make your advent calendar, including one candy cane per child for each day until Christmas. Next, fill an empty box with some of the materials from the object lessons list (see the bottom of this post), and place it in an area that would be hard for an adult to get to but very easy for a child to reach (example: under a bed). Finally, write Isaiah 9:6 on paper or a whiteboard, and place it in a location where it will be seen often.

“For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”–Isaiah 9:6 (NLT)

Day 1 Devotional: God Sent Jesus as a Child [Materials: box that contains a few items that will be used in later devotionals; Hide it in a place that a child can reach more easily than an adult.] (Refer to your whiteboard, and have children say Isaiah 9:6 aloud, repeating the words after you. Say it in short chunks, especially at first.) READ: God sent Jesus to the world as a little baby. Jesus could have come as a tall, strong soldier or as a king with lots of money and power, but instead he came as a child. This shows us that God doesn’t always do things the way people think He should. His ways are always good and sometimes surprising! God loves children, and He thinks kids are important. Sometimes, a child is the best person for the job! I have a job that a kid can do much better than an adult. (Send one of your kids to get the box that you have hidden. Emphasize how hard it would be for you to get the box, but that a child is just the right size. Tell children that the box holds items that will help them to learn more about Jesus during the countdown to Christmas.) SAY: God sent Jesus as a child, because children are important to God and can do great things!

Day 2 Devotional: God Sent His Only Son [Materials: advent calendar with special treat taped to day 2] (Refer to your whiteboard, and have children say Isaiah 9:6 aloud, repeating the words after you.) READ: When God, sent Jesus to us as a little baby, He was sending His only Son. Even though God was sending Jesus to save the whole world, it must have been hard for Him to give the gift of His one and only Son. Look at our countdown calendar. There are lots of days with little candy canes, but only one day with a big candy cane. What if I asked you to give one of your candy canes away? Would it be easier to give a small one or a big one? (Allow children to answer.) SAY: When God sent His only Son Jesus, He gave us His very best gift.

Day 3 Devotional: God Sent Jesus to be in Charge [Materials: a crown–You can purchase a toy crown or make one like this.] (Practice saying Isaiah 9:6.) READ: Our verse says, “the government will rest on his shoulders.” That means that Jesus was born to be a ruler. He is known as the “King of all Kings,” and God wants Jesus to be in charge. When we love God, we can show it by letting Jesus be in charge of our lives. Instead of doing things our own way, we can choose to do things His way. It is easy to know what Jesus wants us to do, because the Bible is like His instruction book for us. He also uses parents to help us learn what is right and wrong. Let’s play a game of follow the leader to remind us what it is like to follow Jesus as our leader and king. In our game, the person who is wearing the crown will get to be the leader. (Play follow the leader, letting each child have a turn with the crown.) SAY: God sent Jesus to be in charge, and I can let Him be the King of my life.

Day 4 Devotional: Jesus is wonderful! [Materials: a pencil, clear tape, white paper] (Practice saying Isaiah 9:6.) READ: Our verse calls Jesus wonderful. We use the word wonderful so much that we may have forgotten what it actually means. Wonderful means “full of wonder.” It is a word that we can use to describe something amazing that makes us stop and say, “Wow!” For example, did you know that when you sneeze, you are blowing air out of your nose at about 100 miles per hour? That is faster than a cheetah can run! Did you know that there are as many water molecules in 10 drops of water as there are stars in the known universe? That’s amazing! That is wonderful! Jesus is so much more wonderful than sneeze or a water droplet! Did you know that of all of the people that have ever lived, no one has the same fingerprint as you? Let’s compare our fingerprints. (Use a pencil, clear tape and white paper to compare each person’s fingerprint. Get step-by-step instructions here.) SAY: Jesus is wonderful!

Day 5 Devotional: Jesus is my Counselor [Materials: a board game you have on hand that has instructions; Pick one that children are not familiar with.] (Practice saying Isaiah 9:6.) READ: A counselor is someone who gives good and wise advice. Jesus is the best counselor, and we can trust Him to show us what to do. On our own we don’t always know what to do, but we can ask Jesus for help. (Show children a board game that they are unfamiliar with, and ask them to tell you how to play. Then, pull out the instructions. Emphasize that Jesus can help us do what is good and right, just like the instructions can help us play the game the right way.) SAY: Jesus is my wise Counselor. He helps me to know what to do.

Day 6 Devotional: Jesus is Mighty! [Materials: paper, tape, Kleenex box] (Practice saying Isaiah 9:6.) READ: We sometimes face problems that make us feel weak, but the Bible tells us that our God is mighty! This means that He is strong enough to handle anything that we may face in life. Because Jesus is strong and mighty, we can trust Him to take care of us, even when things look bad. (Use white paper, tape, and a Kleenex box to demonstrate how God is strong enough, even when we feel weak. Click here and scroll down to #6 for step-by-step instructions.) SAY: Jesus is mighty! He is always strong enough!

Day 7 Devotional: There is no one Like God [Materials: a handful of random objects that can be easily sorted by shape, color or size] (Practice saying Isaiah 9:6.) READ: Jesus is God. What does that mean? There is only one God, and there is no one bigger or stronger or higher or better than He is! No one and nothing even comes close to God! Let me show you what I mean. (Place several random objects in front of children, and ask them to sort them. For younger children, tell them how to sort [by size, color, or shape, etc.]. Let older children decide the criteria for sorting. After children have sorted the objects, discuss how there is no category for God. There is no one like Him. He is in a category all by Himself!) SAY: There is no one like God!

***I will update this post soon to include the remaining devotionals. Below is a list of all materials needed for every activity. Some things are listed more than once if they are used on different days.

Materials for Advent Calendar & Focus Scriptures

  • paper or poster board to make an advent calendar
  • markers
  • small candy canes (You will need 24 for each child participating. I usually buy a few extra, in case some get broken.)
  • large candy canes (You will need one for each child participating.) *NEEDED FOR DAY 2 DEVOTIONAL
  • clear tape
  • something to write the Bible verses on (I use a small dry-erase board.)

Materials for Object Lessons (Day 1-20)

  • a box large enough to fit the items on this list [DAY 1]
  • large candy canes (one per child) taped to advent calendar [DAY 2]
  • a crown (You can buy one or make a paper one like this.) [DAY 3]
  • a pencil [DAY 4]
  • white paper [DAY 4]
  • clear tape [DAY 4]
  • any board game with instructions (Use one you have on hand that your kids don’t already know how to play.) [DAY 5]
  • a box of tissue/Kleenex [DAY 6]
  • tape [DAY 6]
  • white paper [DAY 6]
  • Small, random objects that could be sorted by size, shape or color [DAY 7]
  • the alphabet written out (alternate option: a tape measure) [DAY 8]
  • a balloon [DAY 9]
  • masking tape [DAY 9]
  • A push pin or safety pin [DAY 9]
  • a clear drinking glass [DAY 10]
  • paper towels [DAY 10]
  • a small tub or bowl of water [DAY 10]
  • lemon juice [DAY 11]
  • white paper [DAY 11]
  • Q-Tips [DAY 11]
  • a lamp [DAY 11]
  • foil [DAY 12]
  • a flashlight [DAY 13]
  • a candle and lighter or match [DAY 13]
  • a lamp [DAY 14]
  • a small mirror [DAY 14]
  • a brown paper bag [DAY 15 & 16]
  • a Christmas themed gift bag {DAY 15 & 16]
  • a gold dollar or dollar bill (one for each child participating) [DAY 15 & 16]
  • live insects, worms or fish (and a jar or bowl to temporarily house them) [DAY 17]
  • a plastic bottle of honey [DAY 18]
  • scissors [DAY 18]
  • a flash light [DAY 20]

Materials for Nativity (Day 21-25)

  • a nativity set that includes Mary, Joseph, a shepherd, a king/wise man, and baby Jesus (Alternatively, you can print or make one like this.)

For the voiceless

The manual resuscitator that usually hangs in a clear, drawstring bag on the bathroom door in patient rooms at Cook Children’s Hospital is strewn across the table beside Olivia’s hospital bed. I can see it as I lay my hand on her cheek and look into eyes that mostly flutter here and there and everywhere. Once in awhile, though, they settle long enough for me to see the color of the ocean on a cloudy day. I do not know what others see when they look into those precious blue eyes, but I see light and life and hope and Jesus Himself. 

Olivia was a year old the first night we spent in this hospital. Her hair, now darker and thick with curls that fall past her shoulders on the rare ocassion that they escape her signature high ponytail, then stood straight up in the air like the quills of a hedgehog.That first hospital stay was seven years ago, and more than just Olivia’s hair has changed. 

I’m certain that a smaller version of the Ambu bag swung from a hook on the bathroom door of her room back then too, on another floor in another wing of this same hospital. I probably noticed it hanging there, but the possibility of something like that ever being used on my baby girl never crossed my mind. 

In the years in between then and now, we’ve experienced a lot of “firsts” that I never would’ve chosen. The diagnosis of a rare genetic disorder and the first time we heard the word terminal. The first hint of blindness and deafness and the first mention of a feeding tube. The first time she held her breath and turned blue and no one knew why. The first time she needed oxygen, then a high-flow CPAP machine, then a ventilator. 

I’ve lost count of the number of days we have spent in this hospital with its stark white sheets against soft pastel walls. With its sad stories and the staff who push back with big smiles and with music in the inflection of their voices. It is a world where the sound of children laughing is strangely mixed with the taste of tears. Where some of the most vulnerable among us fight battles that seem hard and unfair. 

There have been a few times in recent years when my eyes glanced down at that rescusitator against the bright orange of the bathroom door and stayed longer than they should’ve. Long enough for my heart to skip a beat in fear that a day might come where the device would be pulled from its bag in haste. 

It happened today. I woke in the middle of the night to the frantic scramble of nurses leaning over Olivia, the numbers on her pulse oximeter dropping, and that awful, life-saving mask being yanked from the door to be used on my child. 

I’m thankful a nurse was in the room. 

I’m thankful the problem was relatively small and easily fixed. (A clot from bleeding in her nose had blocked her airway and needed to be suctioned out.) 

I’m thankful, maybe more than at any other time in my life, that I have a voice and could use it on behalf of a child–my child–who could not speak for herself. 

Because nurses are trained to save lives, but mamas are graced to know their babies. In a life or death moment, the nurses leaned on their medical knowledge and acted quickly. I leaned on Jesus and years of taking care of sweet Livi and spoke up about what I knew she needed and didn’t need. We worked together, the resuscitator was cast aside, the medical alert was called off, and Olivia is OK. 

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t writing this post for myself. I hate what happened to Olivia today. I hate that COVID protocols mean we’re alone here in the emotional aftermath– physically at least, though family and friends are just a phone call away and Jesus is always near. Writing helps me focus on His presence, so I’m writing this for me. 

But I am also writing for the voiceless–something I have often felt called to do, though I haven’t always picked up the pen to obey.

““Speak up for people who cannot speak for themselves. Protect the rights of all who are helpless.”–Proverbs 31:8 (GNT) 

I’ve often wondered where Olivia would be if she did not have a mother who knows that the touch of a cool hand on her forehead is calming, but that same hand on her foot causes irritation. What if she didn’t have a daddy whose strong arms have carried her to all of the places in this world that her own two feet were unable to travel? What would life without Gammie be like for a little girl who has always brightened at the sound of that grandmotherly, life-giving voice? 

Olivia is surrounded by people who have used their voices on her behalf. A baby brother who calls across the room in a language only the two of them understand. Little sisters who draw her into their world through childish prattle, and a big sister who is fiercely protective. A faithful nurse who loves and advocates for Olivia as she would for her own kids. An army of uncles and aunts, grandparents and cousins, family and friends who continue to petition heaven for her life and healing. In each realm of Olivia’s world, from the medical to the educational and everything in between, there are people who open their mouths to speak because she  cannot. 

In the sense that she has little ability to communicate back to the world around her, Olivia is almost the picture of helplessness. Yet she is not helpless. She is strong, because our strong God has used people to infuse her weakness with His strength.  

This is the Gospel. How Jesus, the living Word, left heaven and laid down His life so that we, who are utterly helpless apart from Him, could have life. That He has called us to also lay down our lives in personal sacrifice, to lend our strength to the weak and our voice to the voiceless. 

We are all helpless in some way, and in realizing this we can humble ourselves to receive the strength of the Great Rescuer, the only one who can save, Jesus Christ. 

Recognizing the helplessness in ourselves and in others also compels us to answer the Bible’s call for justice: 

“Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; uphold the rights of the afflicted and oppressed.”–Psalm 82:3 

There are a thousand circumstances that leave people weak, afflicted, oppressed or in need. 

May we find the grace to notice, the compassion to care, and the courage to act.  

Perhaps the most defenseless among us are the fatherless ones–the unborn who have no voice at all to cry out for life. The orphaned (and there are many ways to be orphaned) who face life alone unless someone with the heart of a mother or a father chooses to fill the gap in some sacrificial and significant way. 

I pray that you and I would use our voices and our strength to rise up and be mother and father to the voiceless and the helpless.

We are coming home! :)

Reserved

When my 4th and 5th grade students enter my classroom every Monday, they get a new seat–randomly chosen from a bag full of color-coded popsicle sticks.

For each color of popsicle stick there are several options for students to choose from. One student may rush for a seat near a friend, while another wants to be near the front of the room. Some prefer a standard classroom chair, while others hope for the coveted “red chair” (a cushy, $5 find at a garage sale several years ago).

At the beginning of each new school year, though, I count to make sure I have enough seats and carefully write out name plates.

There is something about reserving a seat that places value on the person in the chair.

As a young teenager, I received an invitation to a Christmas brunch. My hostess had gone to great lengths to decorate a themed table, and every place setting was painstakingly set with beautiful china. I had no trouble finding my seat, since my name was written there in an elegant script. Any doubt as to whether I was welcome was erased by the personalized gift I found in my chair.

There is something about reserving a seat that places value on the person in the chair.

Forgive me for belaboring the point, but the question lingering in my heart lately is this:

Does Jesus’ have a reserved seat in my life? If so, is the chair I’ve offered Him fit for a king? Even more, is it a throne–high and lifted up–worthy of the King of all Kings?

Somehow, my COVID quarantined life had more time and space in it. Or so it felt.

My favorite hour of the day was 3pm, when I would pour a cup of coffee and curl up with a blanket at the feet of Jesus. Most days, by 2:50pm I was setting aside school and housework and sending the kids off to quiet time, all in anticipation of some alone time with the One who is nearer to me than any other.

Flash forward a few months, and I’m fighting to “squeeze in” time with God, while the list of people and things demanding my time and attention grows longer still.

I read somewhere that people of Jewish faith save a seat for the prophet Elijah when they celebrate the Passover meal. The extra seat is called “Elijah’s Chair,” and there is even a glass of wine left untouched for him.

I’m not familiar with all of the details of this tradition, nor do I know when it began, but my run-away imagination can’t help but wonder if there was a seat for Elijah at any of the Passover meals that Jesus attended.

Elijah is recognized by many as the forerunner to the Messiah–one who prepares the way for the coming King. John the Baptist filled this role when Jesus came to Earth as a baby, and many believe that Elijah himself (who never died but instead “went up by a whirlwind into heaven”–II Kings 2:11) will fill the same roll when Jesus returns as triumphant King.

Imagine … saving a special seat for Elijah when Jesus Himself is in the room.

Imagine … saving a special seat for work and play, family and friends, this and that. While King Jesus is relegated to a lesser seat–squished into an undignified position at the end of the bench.

Let it not be so.

Oh God,

Have mercy on me. On us. Forgive us for ever giving You any seat but the very best. Forgive me for allowing the “stuff” of everday life to crowd You out. Help me learn to lay out the best china, preparing for Your arrival and honoring Your presence in my day and in my life. Jesus, I don’t know when You’ll return again to gather the people who belong to You. But I pray that if that day occurs while I’m still alive and breathing on this Earth, You’ll find me ready and waiting. May the best and most coveted seat in my life be always and only Yours.

Amen

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field.”–
Matthew 13:44‭ (NLT)

“Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.”–Psalms 22:3 (NLT)

God Speaks

For the last few weeks, I’ve been journaling during my prayer time. I pour out whatever is on my heart to God in writing and then get quiet and listen for His voice. Though I’ve never heard Him speak audibly, it is amazing how much God will say when you set aside time, get still, and expect to hear from Him.

Just as He walked in the garden with Adam & Eve and talked with Moses as a friend, God wants to speak to you and me. We were made for real relationship with our Creator. What is a relationship without two-way conversation?

I think many of us who have no problem believing that God hears us when we pray, struggle to believe that He would answer in a personal way. We need only look to the Bible for assurance that God does want to speak to His people:

“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and incomprehensible things you do not know.”–Jeremiah 33:3

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”–John 10:27

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future.”–John 16:13

Yes, God speaks…

… as we read His written Word.

… through a still, small voice.

… as we gaze in wonder at the world and the work of His hands.

… in countless ways, limited only by our reluctance to stop and listen. His creativity knows no bounds.

I know this to be true, and yet God found in me a stubborn and unwilling companion these past few days. You see, AJ had to be hospitalized. He was tested and re-tested for COVID-19. Both were negative, but he still spent two nights in the hospital due to a high fever and dehydration.

The process of getting him admitted was insane due to COVID precautions, and I was angry. Angry that my baby was hurting, angry at the state of the world we’re all living in right now, and angry to be sitting in yet another hospital room when “been there a hundred times before” is starting to become more literal than figurative.

So, I sort of gave God the silent treatment–even though I felt Him tugging at my heart, and even though I knew the only peace to be had would be found in Him. Part of me felt He should have arranged a better weekend itinerary for me. The other half was bent on being unhappy no matter what.

I discovered that persistence is a quality I can add to my list of things I love about God–right between gentleness and mercy. When others would have lost patience or been put off by my obstinance, He didn’t give up on me. He never has.

I’m thankful, because what He had to say was exactly what I needed, and for more than just the hospital stay. God didn’t land AJ in the hospital, but He sure did redeem that time by speaking truth and wisdom straight to my heart.

As much as I appreciate what God says, I am in awe of how He speaks.

As a teacher, I understand that there are many types of learners. If I want my students to grasp the message I am trying to communicate, I must consider their diverse learning styles. One student may sit and listen without even taking notes, while another would benefit from a visual aid, and still another needs a more hands-on approach.

God is a better communicator than I as a teacher could ever be, and He knows his audience well. I believe that He talks to each of us in the way He knows we’ll hear Him best.

God has gotten my attention through the special and the mundane: a vivid dream … an overflowing trash can … the plot of a popular TV show … an archaic word I’d never heard before that came up three times in the same week … a comment made by my seven-year-old … a doodle in my notebook that probably only He and I can decipher.

Most often, God speaks to me through language. A passage of scripture I memorized as a child. A song lyric or quote. A metaphor. I love words, and I love that He knows that about me.

This time, after I was finally ready to listen, He whispered a question:

“What makes you most proud of your dad?”

This was something He’d first asked me weeks before. That the question was repeated wasn’t strange. I’m accustomed to God saying the same thing more than once, especially if I need reminding or just haven’t quite gotten the point. What did surprise me was that the question was about my dad. At the time, I hadn’t seen or talked to him in awhile. Still, the instant the question reverberated in my heart, the answer came too:

I recalled a story my mom told me about how dad was pastoring a small West Texas church. It was time to appoint a new deacon, and dad had someone in mind–a man who genuinely loved God and was faithful to serve the church and its people. Though this man’s character made him an excellent candidate to be appointed as a deacon, others in the church sought to disqualify him because of the color of his skin. My dad stood up–both for the man and in the face of injustice. Church members responded by making sure my dad would not receive a salary, but my dad held his ground.

I remembered another story of a church member whose son had contracted AIDS. He was alone and dying in a hospital bed, and my dad planted himself by the man’s side when no one else would.

One more story–a scene I can replay in my mind through the eyes of a little girl. I went with dad as he left the house in the middle of the night to buy food for a woman who needed it. Allsups was the only place open, and I watched as he piled lunchables and other food on the counter and pulled out his wallet to pay.

Why God brought these moments to mind, I’m not completely sure. Maybe my dad needs to hear that his daughter is proud of him. Maybe his daughter needs to be reminded that in a world where opinions rage and politics are unpopular, God is still calling his people to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” which is to love God and “love your neighbor as yourself (Galatians 6:2; Mark 12:28-31).”

Either way, I’m so grateful that God speaks.

Rushing to the Wound

Because of the genetic disorder and the complications it has caused, Olivia’s breathing is noisy sometimes. A while back I overheard another child making fun of her. It caught me off guard, because our experience has mostly been that people go out of their way to be kind. I vented and was soon met with a flood of inquiries–all from people who love Olivia and wanted to make sure I was OK.

In the grand scheme of things, the incident wasn’t that big of a deal. The child apologized, I hugged Olivia extra hard, and we moved on. It did serve as a reminder that I have a wound where Olivia is concerned. The wound is not gaping open or gushing blood, but once in awhile the bandaid gets ripped off, and I feel the pain anew.

A few days ago, I watched the video of George Floyd crying out for breath as the knee of a police officer bore down on his neck and three others stood by and watched. The inhumanity and injustice of it all is undeniable. Since then, I’ve been reading and watching–sharing other peoples’ words on social media as I struggled to find my own.

I still don’t have the right words, but to stay silent, to do nothing, to just keep scrolling, feels worse than wrong.

I’m white, and I won’t pretend to understand what it’s like to be a person of color in America today. I have my own pain, but it’s a flimsy context for trying to identify with the struggles of those who’ve walked a path so different from mine. I do know that I love Jesus, and His Word in Romans 12:15 tells me to “weep with those who weep.” That’s not possible unless the pain of another becomes my pain too. Though I can’t literally walk a mile in the shoes of the weeping, I can get close enough to hear the lament and watch the tears fall. I can listen long enough so that my heart breaks and my tears fall too.

As I’ve begun to read, watch and listen–not just to the news but to the voices of people who have long been voicing their pain–I’ve heard again the names of other black Americans who were killed without cause: Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and countless more. I realize now that with each needless death, a bandaid was ripped away from a chronic wound.

In the case of my woundedness, the people around me have been quick to rush to the place of injury, eager to make it clear that Olivia is cherished and that I am not alone. The show of support has been full and immediate–no questioning, making excuses, or waiting to see how things will turn out.

Have I done this for my brothers and sisters of color? I am ashamed to say that I have not.

What I am not ashamed to say is that I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I have witnessed the pain of another human being–a group of people even–and did not rush to the place of their wound. Not being racist is not enough. I have done very little to stop the bleeding, and that is not OK.

I don’t know all of the right things to do any more than I have the right words to say, but I hope that being willing to listen is a good place to begin. The thing is, real conversation inevitably brings up things that are hard or uncomfortable to talk about, even places where we don’t see eye to eye.

I commit to keep listening anyway, to keep weeping anyway.

I purpose to recognize woundedness and to be gentle with the tender places.

Father, Let my heart break for the things that break Yours. Help me weep with those who weep. Holy Spirit, only You can heal the wounds and restore broken places. “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Make us one body, unified under the mighty name of Jesus Christ. It is in that name I pray.–Amen

For anyone out there who may be interested, here are a couple of links to videos by people who want to build bridges in the body of Christ:

Dr. Anita Phillps with Christine Caine:
https://www.facebook.com/theChristineCaine/videos/368461430777555/

Pastor John Gray with Pastor Steven Furtick:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7jTUfNyPkE&t=2677s

Unquarantined: Draw Near (Day 14)

*This post is part of a 14-day series. Click here to start from day one, or join in whenever you’d like.

It’s been nearly two weeks since I started writing this series–thirteen days to be exact, and they have been some of the longest of my life. (You can probably say the same.) 

Though staying at home does make the days seem longer, I’m thankful for the extra time. To rest. To spend with family. To do the things I’m usually too busy for. And especially, to draw near to God. 

This is my last post, at least for now. It’s strange, though. This doesn’t feel like the end of anything. Maybe it’s because President Trump extended social distancing guidelines through the end of April. Honestly though, I think I’m sensing that God intends at least part of this new way of life to extend beyond the demise of COVID-19. 

Here in my small community and around the world, we are learning a new rhythm of rest, faith and family. I believe these things have a purpose beyond quarantines and sheltering in place.

Whatever comes next, we can trust that God has a plan and that it is good:

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the LORD. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.'”–Jeremiah 29:11 (NLT)

Our world  has changed drastically, but God never will:

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, with whom there is no change or shifting shadow.”–James 1:17 (BSB)

God is good. He does good. He is good to me.

“You are good and do only good; teach me your decrees.”–Psalm 119:68 (NLT)

The way forward is in God’s hands. He has the wisdom. He knows the plan. He alone is perfectly faithful.

Today–at the end of two weeks dedicated to drawing closer to God, and at the beginning of whatever’s next–I’m choosing to hand over all the keys to the One I trust now more than ever. 

Lord, I offer you the keys to every room in my heart. Let each word of my story be dictated by You. May my life play the melody of your choosing. All the keys are Yours, God. You lead the way. 

Day 14:  Today, do an inventory of all of the rooms in your life–public or secret, wide open or locked up tight. Lay your whole ring of keys, however clunky, at the feet of Jesus. Trust Him to do what is best with all of it. As you have for the last two weeks, let God lead. This is not the end.

Unquarantined: Draw Near (Day 13)

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*This post is part of a 14-day series. Click here to start from day one, or join in whenever you’d like.

We had a young woman in our youth group years ago who was terrified to pray out loud.  We’ll call her Kimberly.

Kimberly’s relationship with God was genuine, and the fruit of her faith was evident in many ways:  her kindness toward others. The way she served people with her whole heart.

She was simply afraid to pray out loud. Lots of people are, and God hears them anyway. Still, we were taking students on a missions trip where they would be interacting with people of all ages. Praying for people would be part of their role, and we wanted Kimberly to be ready. So, we didn’t press the issue too hard, but we did try to encourage her to step out of her comfort zone.

There were others in the group who were more outgoing and much more quick to take a leadership role. Some of those were less willing to serve than Kimberly. Our whole team spent lots of time together in the weeks leading up to the trip, participating in Bible studies and local outreach projects to prepare for the missions trip. A fly on the wall, if he watched closely enough, would’ve noticed the best of each of us rubbing off on the others. I watched as Kimberly’s readiness to serve rippled into the attitudes of those around her.

On one occasion, we were at a local food bank, handing out groceries to those in need. I looked over to see Kimberly praying for an older woman, and tears sprang to my eyes. I didn’t hear the words of her prayer–whether they were eloquent or simple, passionate or restrained. But I knew the purity of the heart behind them and felt that the person whose name was being lifted up was blessed indeed.

If people, after spending extended time together, can inspire such growth in each other, how much more will time spent with God bring out His greatness in us?

I know that many feel weak and powerless because of the circumstances facing our world. COVID-19 is an invisible and often impartial enemy, and it is wreaking havoc on more than just healthcare systems and economies.

But God. Our God is King, and He reigns high over the novel coronavirus. Many of us have spent the last two weeks praying and seeking God. Digging deep into in His Word. Letting go of worry and lifting up worship instead.

We’ve been lingering in the presence of God, staring into deep pools of his goodness and mercy and grace.

We’ve been hanging out with the Lion of Judah, the roar of His power rattling our bones, reverberating in every cell of our bodies. Doesn’t it stand to reason that some of that boldness–a measure of that authority–is rubbing off on us?

I’m not talking about fighting with weapons of our own making, but we are called and set apart to rise up like a mighty army–taking enemy territory for the Kingdom of God!

We are:

  • “a chosen generation” (I Peter 2:9)
  • “more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37)
  • equipped with the armor of God (Ephesians 6:11)

God says:

  • “I have given you authority over all the power of the enemy” (Luke 10:19)
  • “Greater is He who is in you that He who is in the world” (I John 4:4)

We are to:

“Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (Ephesians 6:10)

Because:

“…everyone born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world: our faith.” (I John 5:4)

It’s time to step out of our comfort zone, whatever that may be, and be the church of Jesus Christ!

Day 13:  How might God want His character to come boldly out of you? Today, make a move in faith! Don’t hesitate. Say, “Yes, Lord!” Whatever whole-hearted obedience looks like in this season of your life, take that first practical step. Then the next. And the next. 

God, You are the Lion of Judah, and I want Your boldness to come roaring out of me. Without You, I am nothing. But God, I recognize that I am NOT without You. Help me rise up in the authority that You created me to walk in. Worry, fear, and anxiety–in my own home and in those around me–have to give way to peace in Jesus’ name. I believe that You are doing something new in the middle of this chaos! I choose courage today. Let my voice proclaim Your goodness to the world around me. I pray that many who do not yet trust in You would do so in the coming days and weeks. In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

Unquarantined: Draw Near (Day 12)

*This post is part of a 14-day series. Click here to start from day one, or join in whenever you’d like.

Our 3-year-old chased a butterfly today. She suddenly stopped what she was doing, forgetting all else but the Monarch with wings of black and orange.

I wish I could cast aside the clamor of the world as easily as she does. Her eyes sparkle with a joy that comes from living entirely in the present moment. If Little Miss ever worries, I sure haven’t seen it. Why should she, when she depends on us, and not herself, for everything?

What a difference this childlike approach to life would make if applied to my relationship with God! There’s plenty of time and energy for chasing butterflies when you know that Someone greater is taking care of things.

I think this is one reason why Jesus pointed to children as the example for how to receive His Kingdom:

“I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”–Luke 18:17

I enjoy studying the historical context of the Bible and digging into word meanings in the original language. I like reading commentaries written by those who have studied Scripture much longer than I have. These and other tools are helpful, and I know God has used them in my life. But today, I want to come to the Bible like a child. Taking His Word at face value. Bringing no preconceived ideas. Bringing nothing at all but open, unguarded, uninhibited trust.

Father, I am 33 years old, but I am still Your child. You are so much more trustworthy than I as a parent could ever be. Help me to lay aside anything that would prevent me from receiving Your Word and Your Kingdom with childlike faith. Teach me to live here and now, in this present moment, trusting You so implicitly that there is no question You will take care of me. As I read the Bible today, let it be with all of the wonder of chasing a butterfly. Let joy bubble up in my soul as I pursue You, and You alone. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Day 12 (Bible Reading Exercise #3) : As you read the Bible today, imagine that you are ten years old and reading a chapter or verse for the first time. Pray, “Holy Spirit, I intentionally lay aside me and what I know so that I can focus on You and what You know. Help me to see and trust like a child.”

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