What to Do With the Isolation You Feel at Christmas

Christmas tree huntingI have a lot to learn. About kindness. About being slow to speech. About being quick to love–particularly when it comes to extended family during the holidays. I am practicing love with the family I live with–Justin, and our three kids–and even Fulton, our insecure dog whose constant desire for my companionship has driven me (an introvert) into crazy-land more than a few times in the three years we’ve had him. But I crave a softer heart, a deeper gratefulness, for relationships God has brought into my life but I take for granted.

The holidays amplify our decisions regarding the role of relationships in our lives. Feelings of isolation are magnified even while we are encouraged to connect, even when we don’t feel like connecting or we just don’t know how.

Do we pursue connection with friends and family? Do we avoid connection with people in our lives who have hurt us in the past? Do we have people with whom we are close–or do we feel alone and abandoned? Is our mailbox filled with catalogues and empty of Christmas cards? Do we stay home with the television playing and the phone silent from no one having called?

Isolations versus community at Christmas

Isolations versus community at Christmas

Isolations versus community at Christmas

In this independent-driven culture of ours that celebrates the success of the individual, we can forget how desperate we are to turn to Jesus for how to connect with others, for how to pursue community. But there is something about Christmas time that helps us to remember.

Christmas brings the invitation to celebrate the coming of a Savior who was born in a cave, amidst livestock excrement, in the ultimate posture of vulnerability, as a human baby. His parents, Joseph and Mary, leaned on their God with everything they had because they had nothing and no one else. Yet, there was only One who could satisfy their desperate need–for love, for companionship, for inspiration and hope in a world that is dark and cold and rejecting. And I have no one else, either. I have no one else on whom I can depend.

Only Jesus.

But I forget. I forget Jesus’ kindness and his compassion. I forget how He knows what it means to be alone and how He gives me courage to love people, even when I don’t believe I have what it takes to do it well.

I do.

And you do, too.

Do you find yourself telling your family members you love them but struggle to show it during the stress of the holiday season? Do you find yourself isolated because you are caught up in to-do lists this season–or, rather, you struggle to initiate connection in community or you are tired of rejection when you try?

I turn with you now, sister.

Let us turn our hearts towards the baby in the manger who was rejected by the world for whom He was born and sacrificed. Let us turn to the Savior who can bear our burdens and can lift us from our sadness and despair. Let us turn, in our busyness, in our isolation, in our mess, in our pain.

This Christmas, no matter how difficult the situation you are facing right now–let us turn to the King who knows pain and knows rejection and knows isolation, especially on the moment of His birth. In His kindness, He will teach us kindness–to ourselves and to the people whom He has given us to love.

You are not alone. Can we pray and lift each other up? Can we help each other remember?

Love to you, friends.


How Confession, Gratitude and Joy Go Hand in Hand

Confession, Gratitude, JoyA friend reminds me last week, how gratitude is an act of defiance–wielding a sword against the struggles of this world. She searches for beauty, knowing she will find it if she searches for it with God’s heart, eyes focused on Him rather than the pain and suffering the world wants her to focus on–and be pulled down by– instead.

And then another friend, a friend who lives across the waters, this morning–this morning that I am up hours earlier than usual because it is Thanksgiving break here and I feel I have a million things to do and a million things to accomplish before the house stirs. (Because it is launch week for Loop, and did you hear that Loop is releasing earlier–this Friday, November 28–and you’re going to need to come back on Friday to find out some additional fun news? ) And she speaks on the radio (scroll to 26.:13 to hear Nicky’s segment) about how gratitude is what pulls us out from a posture of survival and to one of joy. It is where we see Jesus’ face.

I needed to remember these things.

So, with the voices of my sisters as a balm for my heart, I am reminded of how God sees me–and how it is difficult for me to see what He sees–and be grateful for it–when I don’t confess to Him my insecurities and my distractions by this world. Below are words I wrote in January. They are ones I needed to read again today. I am eager to hear how you are this day, and how He is reaching for you, too.

“You have to confess it. You have to say the lie aloud. You have to throw it to the throne of Jesus. You have to reject it even if you still believe the lie.” My friend looks me straight in the eye, and I hold her gaze for a half second before staring at my mug, wishing I were small enough to hide under the table. Now what? I think she’s right.

I know I had better not stall.

confession, gratitude, joy

When you recognize a lie as a lie, even if you can’t imagine no longer believing the lie, throw it up to heaven.

Renounce it. Reject it.

I heard this message again the other day, on my metal folded chair in church, grasping paper coffee cup fast in my hand: Jesus knows the way out of hell. God’s plan, His desire, is to save us from hell, save us from separation from the Father. And God sent his Son to die and take on every single one of our sins so He could lead the way out. He is the way out for us, sisters. Jesus knows the way out. He knows the way out of whatever you are facing.

He can reveal to our hearts the lies we believe that separate us from the Father. He can reveal to our hearts the twisted truths we believe about ourselves. And here was mine: I don’t want you to like me for who I am. I want you to like me for what I do. And my fingers pause now, as I write this, the tears spilling out. For it is hard, isn’t it, to say the lie out loud? It is hard, isn’t it, to be vulnerable? It is hard, isn’t it, not to wonder, what will she think of me, now?

So I cling tight to Him, His love letter to His girls, reminding us about truth, the truth of us:

The truth of you cannot be articulated in just words. The truth of you is a name and not a name. The truth of you is more than a description of personality, a page of characteristics, a list of mannerisms and popular expressions.

There’s something you must remember: you must live your truth. You must live, with determination and might, your truth. You must know who you are designed to be . . . if you want freedom, if you want liberation from lies, if you want joy.

confession, gratitude, joy

confession, gratitude, joy

So in the coffee shop chair, where I spend my Fridays, I push my ear buds into my ears so the guy in the armchair across from me doesn’t think it’s weird I don’t have a laptop in front of me and my hands are open and my eyes are closed and my head is down, my hair shielding half of my face. ‘Cause once my Father has pressed in and showed me glimpses of pain, glimpses of sorrow, glimpses of damage I cause when I believe lies about myself and about Him, I can’t wait one more second to renounce the lie causing the whole darn mess. Jesus knows the way out of hell, not me. And I cause a lot of mess when I have let myself be separated from God because I think I know better. . . I think I know the way out instead of Jesus.

So I say it right there in that coffee shop on that Friday afternoon, less than a hour before I need to jump in the car to pick up the kids from school. “Jesus, I confess I want to be liked for what I do. I confess I care more about what people think about what I do rather than who You think I am. I want You, Father, to love me for what I do! I confess I don’t want you to love me for who I am! I repent, and I reject this lie. I reject the lie that my value comes from doing rather than being. I reject the lie and I break the agreement I’ve made with the enemy that my value does not come from being a daughter of God. I give this lie to you, and cast it on the throne of Jesus.”

And I stayed there. It was too good to not stay, this daughter He made, at Jesus’ feet. And Jesus offered me his hand, and He took me where He always takes me, in the garden, by the river, through the path where the green grass tickles my legs and flowers perfume the air. I can feel the perfume now on my skin.

confession, gratitude, joy

confession, gratitude, joy

We walk up, up the hill, the grass blades leaning over the path so I can’t see the ground, can’t see where my bare feet fall. I see Jesus ahead of me, His looking back at me, smiling. He knows I love this, this walking through beauty, with water rushing fast, to my left, and sunlight shining bright through arches of trees. He knows I will love where we are going.

He leads me to the top of the hill where the waterfall is thundering, and He knows I want to jump. I want to jump right in. The water isn’t cold and the sun is warm on my cheek. And I turn my face up, and I am in God’s house and I am with my King and I am safe and I doing what I am made to do and where I am made to be.

And then I am alone. I am in a meadow, my back pressed into the soft earth. I lay in the flowers, eyes closed, the sun a blanket on my skin. Then the earth trembles beneath me. The soft ground shakes. I must rise. In front of me runs a giant white steed. It is huge and powerful and beautiful. Its eyes flash, and it whinnies as it stops right before me, its hooves stomping into soft earth. I want to ride it. I want to jump on and go, even though I’ve only galloped on a horse once, in my whole life.

But I can’t.

confession, gratitude, joy

Suddenly I am not in the meadow but in a dark, shadowy place where there are walls and I am standing, cold, alone. My hair is tangled and my clothes are dirty and tattered. Shredded pieces of linen, a grungy robe, filthy and brown, hangs from my shoulders. I lower my head, hands open at my sides.

Then, there are hands lifting each piece of clothing off of me. They were so heavy. I had no idea how heavy each piece was, as it hung on my tired frame. I then feel hands around my ankles, and strong fingers unfastening shackles around my bare feet, shackles I had never seen, attached to chains I never knew I wore.

And I am in the meadow once more. I am wearing a long gown and my hair is loose and clean, the sun shining bright and the air perfumed with light as it falls like love upon blooming flowers. I am on the steed. And I am wearing armor now, and I have a sword in my hand. This. This is the daughter He sees. This is the daughter I am. This is the daughter He calls me to be, the one who is free because she is willing to fight. The one who is dirty and broken and vulnerable and alone when she strives to be what she wants to create herself to be. The one who is actually beautiful and true when she lets herself know freedom, when she lives out the truth of the identity her Father sees.

Come on, sisters. Let’s break these lies. Let’s ride, wind in our hair.

confession, gratitude, joy

confession, gratitude, joy

You, my daughter, are made to be strong, with Me. You, my daughter, are made to do things I’ve prepared, just for you. You, my daughter, are made to go forward, not back. And to go forward, you must fight and break the agreements you’ve made with the enemy. You must know I have come to claim you, the daughter I made. You must know your life has been paid for. You must know you are free. 

And sometimes, with my truth in your heart, you must reject lies about who I am. You must do this. Don’t wait. Do it right now. This it what it means to fight—for freedom from lies. It is rejecting lies and surrendering to Me. It is fighting for your identity, the one the prince of this world wants to take from you.

So, when you are weary, when the world presses in, remember I am here with you. Know I am the warrior who never sleeps. Know I rescue and ask you to trust Me more than anything else. That is how you fight. That is how you know who you are. That is how you are set free.

Sister, how is He pulling you close now? Can you dare to let your heart imagine the wonder of you He has created?
How can I pray for you?


Blank Page

Blank page yamg post

Here is the blank page, Father, where I need You to come and write on me.

Let there be  no boundaries here, for the love You want to show me, wrapping me up like the girl I am, transcribing the Word of Life on my heart, holding me in Your words, the Life of the words that makes me sing.

Let me let go of all expectation today, let me hang loose, feeling no weight on me.  You carried my cross–I can hardly believe it-and forgive me when I think, in my pride, my vanity, that I can come close to shouldering any of the weight–or that what You did, to begin with, wasn’t enough.

Here I am, Father, palms up, ears open, asking You to cleanse me again.  Slow me down to see You–trusting You more than me, Your heart more than mine.  I surrender me.  Let me do nothing out of vain conceit but be filled with You, loving as You loved. Lay me down, Lord.  Forgive me for any focus on myself.

I am that girl who You see in Your painting, Your vision more beautiful than I can ever see.  Let me shed these scales that blind me to Your glory, Your humility, Your walk through the streets as the people spat on You and called You names.  Lord of the Most High, forgive me for my self-centeredness.  You have forgiven me for my darkness.  Let me walk with You, carrying my cross.  Take me out of the crowd.

You remind me to stay here, bring Your beauty here–with You in me–into the swarms of darkness, like You did, when You did not turn.  My God, Your tears ran down when the agony of my sin tore You from Your Father–all to bring me back, deliver me to Him, in Your arms.  You bore me, rescued me, delivered me to the hands of the One who made me.  I am Yours.

And so I trust You, help me to trust You more, surrendering to the joy of  loving with a heart that is not my own  Take me fully, this blank page, and continue to work out the plan for me as You see me–holy, treasured, a delight, formed from the tree You’ve planted,  grounded, Your fullness in me.


blank page yamg post Pin

How are you open to being a blank page, for God?

Do I call you, ‘friend’?

[I]t seems easier to love people who seem more similar to us than different.  We gravitate towards people who look like us, talk like us, think like us.  And these are the people in our lives whom it is easier for us to quickly call friends.

Do you agree?

I do this, more than I want to admit.

Sure, I smile at people I don’t know at the skateboard park while my kids zoom around, engage in chit-chat with parents of diverse beliefs when handing out meals during school lunch duty, hang out with my 80 year-old widowed neighbor in her cozy, tidy, little house.  But I save what seems to be the truer, deeper heart connection stuff for people whom, for reasons I’ve decided, seem safe.  And I choose to not engage, truly, with almost anyone else.

I decide, based on my set of narrow criteria, without even realizing it most of the time, whether a person is friendship material, or not.   And I miss out on opportunities to grow and trust fully in the Father’s plans for me, when I choose to not even ask Him with whom He calls me to engage  — and love.

Yesterday afternoon, tired and spent, after a long but fun mission trip meeting to prepare for our family’s trip to Tecate, Mexico, with 39 other people this summer, I thought of the beautiful diversity of our team, people I am just beginning to get to know.  From 60 year olds traveling alone, because their family members don’t want to come, to preteens and young families with toddlers, we all have amazingly different stories.  And it takes these meetings, preparing our hearts for being stretched while we are out of our comfort zones and serving far away from home, for me to remember the beauty of the lives all around me.  All the time.

For we sit and listen and share.  We want to learn each other’s stories.  We want to begin to discover pieces that the Father finds in His beloveds, all along.

When we let each other in, take the time to gather and listen and respond, in His name, we are friends, needless of whether we have much in common or not.

We have everything that’s important in common, don’t we?

 You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you (John 15: 14-16).

So I pray for the Father’s Spirit in me to move me more in tune with His will.  Let me be open, Father, to whomever You bring into my life.  For it is a lie that I have nothing in common with people I happen to not yet know and to whom I feel a stranger.  We actually each have everything in common — all brothers and sisters.

Some of us {and this is our job, friends} just don’t know it yet.

When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’  I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance (Luke 15: 5-7).

How are you challenged around the concept of “friendship” with people God brings into your life?

[C]ounting gifts:

  • my daughter’s homemade pink lemonade, the lemon squeezed between sticky hands and strawberry stems cut with a proudly held butter knife

  • skateboard park adventures — the first day of summer vacation

  • my husband working with passion towards the vision the Father gave us to write together, in our own space, behind the house, side by side
  • blue and green ribbon tucked away for surprise birthday gifts, homemade, by little girl hands.
  • the kids of the mission trip team tutored in how to make their own stomp rockets, from paper and painter’s tape, and my friend’s dear and patient husband, who tirelessly helped them
  • dear friends’ support and loving thoughtfulness

  • bicycle rides around the block, again and again, to tire out our dog, the wind in the faces of me and my son
  • my friend taking my kids out for an afternoon while I sit here, typing this, all by myself
  • playing catch-up, but loving the soaking I am doing in reading His word everyday, journeying toward reading each word of His in 90 days, and in community, too
Thank you so much for being here, reading this right now, friend.

Irresistible: The Joy Dare {gifts #133 – 153}

[A] week behind counting gifts, but here I go, this invitation to claim joy through choosing to see absolutely irresistible.  I want more.

133.  Bean bags, green and orange stacked side by side, where my two boys, not so little anymore, plan Nerf gun wars, read Harry Potter and scratch out plans for football plays and whom to play a joke on next.

134.  Three siblings’ hilarious silliness and falling into the bathtub when it is time to quiet down, be serious, brush teeth, and get ready for bed.

135.  Our adorable rescued dog puppy on the other side of the front door, tail wagging so fast that when he turns, it hits him in the face . . . and that tail just keeps going and going . . .

136.  Homemade love notes helping me remember what I treasure most about this husband, these children, this family.

137.  My oldest son walking with me and, when no one is looking, holding my hand.

138.  Packed up car a day ahead of time, ski gear piled in, and friends in our driveway at 4:10 am, to begin the fun caravan adventure to Utah to be blessed by the hospitality of more dear friends.

139.  Losing my patience with my son, and raising my voice, and hearing the Father’s voice remind me of His presence, how He is close, I am seen, and He loves me, here, still.

140.  More treasure hunt fun through the house, my oldest son searching for the new books he saved for and bought, each clue leading to a mad dash to find more clues under pillows, in dog bowls, on fences, and in freezer drawers.

141.  Banana nut bread dough mixed and poured into pans, my daughter’s hands reaching in for a beater to lick and a spoon to taste — and me joining in, too.

142. Our dear friend trusting me with his story, his concern with his son’s depression, and the hope he has that He will turn it around.

143.  Tears of frustration as I struggle to hang on to the old self, knowing I must lay myself down again, always, and this new self He gives is Life, nothing else.

144.  Beauty in blossoms, sunlight dancing — our pathway as we walk to school.

145. Secret Valentine exchange between Kindergartners, my girl’s face as she learns who has made her a Valentine and who loves being her friend.

146.  A love package dropped off at my friend’s door, the Father stirring me towards caring for another’s heart – always more important than any list of things to do.

147.  Surprise Jelly-bellies tucked away as love gifts for certain young, sweet tooths.

148.  “I luv you.  You mac [make] my hrart [heart] hape [happy].  I luv you.  Luv, Abby.”

149.  “Andrew and Oliver have been inseparable over the last few days . . .”, a letter from Oliver’s teacher about his new friendship, a boy we’ve known for years, whom we just love.

150.  6th birthday card love in the mail and sign she made, posted for two weeks on our door, a little girl’s delight.

151.  Buying a pink princess cake with my daughter for her sixth birthday, when time ran out to make one, and she loved it all the same.

152.  Father-in-law swooping in early to take our dog home with him, lovingly caring for him for the week we are gone.

153.  Missing my sweet friend, but knowing we will see each other soon.

What about you, His girl?  What gifts has He given you this past week?

On In Around button

Momentary, lasting beauty: the Joy Dare {#70 – 90}

[C]ome away, now, and remember where He has been, what He has done.  Moments rush by or linger long, depending on what I choose to see.  I pray His light in me, His pace, that I may be present in the masterpieces of these days.  Here are moments where my eyes were open.  So much more to gather, to be gathered up, to see . . .

70.  Three pairs of blue eyes, framed by dark lashes, two little boys who make me fall deep inside, one little girl, light beckoning radiant joy.

71.  “Turquoise is my favorite color, just like you, Mommy.”

72.  Heaps of blue flannel pajama pants and cotton short sleeves spilling out of wicker laundry basket, onto bedroom floor.

73.  Crayoned family portrait, each of us holding hands and wearing brightly colored crowns.

74.  Snuggled up in my boy’s blanket my mom knitted them for Christmas, green, thick cotton hugging me as I sit at the counter in the dark kitchen, heeding whispers spoken, watching morning dawn.

75.  My mother’s love for baking bread and cooking, pots of beans and soups simmering on the stove.

76.  Fluffy, loving dog greeting with gentle kisses and a constantly wiggling tail.

77.  Kindergarten pick-up and hot, little hand gripping mine.

78.  Sharing the big cherry wood antique bed, snuggled in, safe and warm.

79.  My husband’s arms around me, strong arms holding me close.

80.  This old house, wood floors creaking beautifully underneath shuffling feet.

81.  Little boy and girl laughter, warmth rising, angels smiling, guarding at their posts.

82.  “Jesus loves me this I know” in the bathtub, plastic princesses at attention, getting splashed.

83.  “Trust Me child, I have not gone away, a voice crying in the wilderness.  That is not My voice. I am close, your very breath.”

84.  Candles illuminating darkness, gentle beacons ushering me close.

85.  Spider webs glistening on rafters outside our house, silk masterpieces hanging high.

86.  “Seek the Lord and His strength; seek His face continually.  Remember His wonders which He has done, His marvels and the judgments uttered by His mouth . . .” (Psalm 105: 4-5).

87.  “The Lord your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior.  He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy” (Zephaniah 3:17).

88.  Two little boys, one little girl on a field, at dusk, playing baseball, dancing ballet, swinging on monkey bars.  Dear friends sweep them away while I listen to His whispers, running through muddy paths home.

89.  Four mothers gathered, lifting up wretched hearts – beauty unfolding as prayers are given, in His hands aches made beautiful, worries curved light.

90.  A talk on the heart of the Beloved, our identity in Him, a friend’s beauty offered in vulnerability and faith as she speaks this weekend, at Captivating. Hot, grateful tears at His restoration and hope rush down.

What gifts can you count from this past week, this moment?  Blessings to you, friends, as we enter in to the beauty of this week.  Praying we each have eyes, His eyes, to see.

Here you can find my other lists of beauty.  . . . Want to join me in counting gifts, with Ann?