fostering a grateful spirit

"If you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams, and you will always look lovely." -Roald Dahl

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was God there? {day 131}


As I continue to process and reflect on both the Sandy Hook tragedy and the season of Advent, I’ve found myself deeply disturbed by the responses I’ve seen and heard from friends, influential Christians and even political leaders. It’s something along the lines of this: “We remove God from the schools, and then are surprised when disaster strikes. He wasn’t there because we wouldn’t let him be.”

My heart has been wrestling with statements like this since I first saw them. Something about it feels deeply wrong to me. I came across two blogs today on the topic (here and here if you want to hear from people wiser than myself) that helped me wrestle with and put words to how I’m feeling.

First, I think it’s incredibly unkind to insinuate that God was not with those children and adults that were killed. Imagine being the parent of one of those children, and then listening to everyone claim that God wasn’t with them because the government “doesn’t allow” prayer in schools. It’d be a horrific feeling. As if it’s not already hard enough to know that they couldn’t be with their children in the scariest and final moments of their life, now we’re saying that God wasn’t there either, simply because WE say He can’t be?
In addition to being unkind, I think this line of thinking is dangerous. Do we really think that God is so small, so passive, that the government can govern Him out of a building or a country? Do we really think WE are that powerful? God, who sent His son as a Jew into a Roman ruled country, the same God who watched as Jesus was hung on a cross so that we could be with Him, that God, who has shown up uninvited and even where He was not wanted, that God would not have abandoned those children, who were and are unspeakably precious to Him. He was in that building, filled with grief for the anger and hatred that would change SO many lives. He was holding those sweet, precious children, comforting them. He was with each of those brave teachers and staff members who tried to stop the gunman and protect their kids. He was there. He never left them.

It’s hard to believe right now. I know. I know it hurts. It raises all kinds of really hard questions.

Did God make this happen? (active will)
I would steadfastly say no. No, God is love, God is good, God cannot cause evil. A God that would cause this would not be good.

Okay, so then why did God let this happen? (passive will)
If God is all-powerful (and not regulated by our laws), then He could have stopped the gunman, right? If God is good, He would want to stop the gunman, wouldn’t He?

In all honesty, this has been a struggle for me my entire adult life. God’s active will vs. God’s passive will. I don’t, and certainly won’t pretend to, have all of the answers. I absolutely do not believe that God causes bad things to happen. It is against His character. I do believe that God is all powerful and could stop things from happening, but if He did, He’d be taking away our free will. If God, who loves us enough to send His own Son on our behalf, took away our free will, that wouldn’t be very loving at all. We have all done things solely out of obligation. God doesn’t want us to love or obey out of obligation because (I think) that diminishes the relationship. I love my husband very much, so I am faithful and committed to our relationship. If I were only faithful because of a law, or because I were afraid of repercussions, it would undermine the relationship part of our marriage. So it goes with God. If He forced us to do only His will, what would those actions or that obedience mean? Nothing. Instead, out of His great love for us, He gave us the ability to choose things other than Him. Even when what we choose is horrific, and SO much less than the best He has for us. Even when what we choose breaks His heart because of the suffering it causes us, or others.

I don’t have all the answers, not even close. I don’t understand it all, and I know my thoughts are incomplete answers, at best. But I would challenge you to consider what your claims about God say about Him. I know the hearts of some of the people who have posted these things. I know that they have good intentions and love God and His people. I even sort of get where they are coming from. I get it. We, as a nation, try to separate God out of our laws and actions. We try to take God off the money, out of the pledge, ect. But just because we try does not make us successful. God will be wherever He wants to be. Because He’s God. And He can be. He can be everywhere at once. He was with those precious, sweet children because He loves them more than we can imagine, and because He would have never, ever wanted them to be in pain or to feel alone.

God is good, friends, and He is madly in love with you. He created you, after all. He is with you in your darkest moments, whether you’ve asked Him there or not, because He loves you and never leaves His people. He is with you when you’re full of joy, because God is a God of joy, and all joy is from Him.

As I reflect on this Advent season I am challenged to remember, over and over and over, that darkness can never shut out light. The Advent candles serve as a reminder that the Light is coming, that even in the darkest moments when the darkness is overwhelming, when it feels like that’s all there is, the Savior is coming to be with His precious people. In ancient times when His people were exiled and alone, wandering in the desert, He gave them His precious Son to set them free, to show them that they are not actually ever alone. And today He is with us still. He gives us the Holy Spirit that reminds us gently, even when our minds and hearts can’t understand, that He is always with us, even when the darkness is all we can see.

So, sweet friends, be encouraged this Advent and Christmas season. Christ came, is here and will come again. He is with you, whether you know it or not, when you can’t feel Him, when hope feels impossible. I’m so grateful for the Holy Spirit, which makes my soul believe when my heart and mind absolutely cannot.

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transparency {day 129}

today I read some news about connecticut tragedy. I’ve taken a couple of days off from reading because, to be perfectly honest, it was too hard on me. my heart was too heavy. I felt selfish today when I realized that was why. there are people…tons and tons of people, who cannot go a minute without thinking about it. there are families, parents, siblings, teachers, friends, husbands, children, all who think about it all the time because their world came crashing in around them on Friday. So I’m sorry if it’s selfish that I took a break from the news for a couple of days. I was still prayerful and concerned for those who are suffering, I just could not read another news story.
Today I woke up and read the news, and there were three amazingly real and truthful and amazing things I saw.
The first is a video of robbie parker, who lost his 6 year old daughter, Emilie in the shooting. only about 24 hours after he found out that his beautiful young daughter had been killed in the tragic school shooting, he spoke to the press about his daughter. He described her as bright and compassionate child who drew pictures for people who needed cheering and was a best friend to her two younger sisters, who she was teaching to read. His words were heart-felt, heart-wrenching, and beautiful. He expressed their deep, deep sadness, their sympathy for the other families who lost people, and for the shooter’s family. 24 hours after a gunman shot his 6 year old, he said that he’s not mad, and that he won’t harbor hatred for her killer because that’s not who Emilie was and that’s not what God calls us to. It’s difficult to believe that anyone could possibly be that good, that loving, that forgiving, but I’m thankful for his words among outcries of anger and hatred. What a challenge to all of us. what could anyone ever do to me that’s worse than what was done to him? there is nothing. if he can forgive, even if it’s a long process for him of wavering between anger and forgiveness, how can we not forgive those who wrong us?
The second article I read was about George Hochsprung, husband of the slain principal from Sandy Hook. He says that when he heard that his wife put herself in danger to try to stop the gunman, he was angry. Everyone around the country, even the world, is hailing her as a hero-she reportedly charged the gunman, trying to stop him-and her husband was angry that she never gets to come home and other people do. I cried while reading this article, partially because his honesty is so raw and hard to take, and partially because I think that would be me. If my sweet hubs died (heaven forbid) saving someone else’s life, I would be grateful for the life that was saved, but I think that on my hard days I’d just be angry that he could have stayed safe and he chose not to. I’m not super proud of that, but I am grateful for this man who had the guts to admit to a very difficult emotion. He did say that things changed on Sunday when he met two teachers who his wife had told to take cover while she confronted the gunman. He said “I’m not angry anymore. I’m not angry. I’m just very sad.” My heart breaks for this man, and for the many parents, friends, others that he represents, who are left to try to pick up the pieces of a life that just doesn’t quite fit right anymore. I’m so sorry, Mr. Hochsprung. Thank you for your honesty. My heart aches.
The last thing I read this morning that made this so real for me was in a piece about the victims. Each of the kids are described as bright and beautiful. I know this is true. Kids have this amazing way of lighting up the world around them with their generous spirits. According to family, so did Vicki Soto, who reportedly hid her students in cabinets and told the gunman they were in the gym before she was killed. She literally gave her life for the students she loved. There is no greater love. The article I read this morning said that her dog wandered around her house all night Saturday looking for her. I cried when I read this, knowing that Mojo would be so confused and sad if one of us didn’t ever come home.
Then I walked downstairs and saw this:
moj stole my shoe

our sweet dog, Mojo, normally sleeps in our bedroom. Last night he was muddy and we were too tired to clean him off, so he slept on his bed downstairs. When I came down this morning he had found one of my shoes, taken it to his bed, and was cuddling it. Normally I’d be pretty upset about the teeth marks in my shoe, but today I choose to be grateful for them. They are a reminder of how loved I am and how blessed I am to have my sweet little family.
I am also grateful for the challenge to be completely transparent, both when I’m angry and hurt, and when God somehow gives me the strength to forgive, to love, to hope. Those emotions-all of them- are a gift to the people around us. Sometimes someone who is struggling needs to hear that it’s okay to be angry, to be hurt, to not understand. And sometimes people need to be reminded that there is always hope, always room for love, that God can work a miracle in your heart if you let Him. I know that there have been times I have needed both of those messages. The Advent season is the perfect reminder of this, right? It is a time dedicated to remembering a people who were desperately waiting, begging for a Savior, exiled and alone. But God, who loves us, did not leave them there, instead He came , in lowly human form, to be with and give hope to his people.
Thank you, courageous men, for being brave enough to share your hearts with a world that grieves with you.
And don’t forget, reader, you are so, so loved.

“O Come, Thou Day Spring, come and cheer our spirits by Thine advent here. Dispel the stormy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadow put to flight. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, o Israel.”

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still reeling {day 126}

I still don’t have the right words. Are there right words?
As this blogger so honestly puts it “I need someone to say it, too, just once, just once out loud:  What in the actual fuck has happened here?” Is it just me, or do you, too, feel, that there is just no other word that actually comes close to describing the depth of the despair that you feel when you read the news, see the photos, read the names of those lives that were stolen FAR too soon? It can’t only be me, right?
And you know what? I think it’s okay. I might even venture to say it’s good, as Christians, to feel like that. How could something so horrendous not shake us to the very core of our beings? I believe, even, that God understands when we cry out in pain, anguish, or anger “What in the actual fuck has happened here?” because I believe that God’s heart is wrenched by this, too. We, who have limited vision of what could have been, what we were created for, feel so deeply within ourselves that this is absolutely, horrifically wrong. This cannot possibly be what we were meant for. You see it in the photos of those grieving on the news, hear it in the hearts of friends and family as they express their disgust…a deep disturbance and longing to be reminded that this is not what we were created for. And God, who knew every hair on those beautiful children’s heads, who watched each of the brave women who sacrificed their lives to save students grow into who He created them to be, who knows how good life should have been because He created paradise for us, that God understands my four-letter-words and isn’t phased by them, because His grief and anger is far deeper than mine. The God of love, Emmanuel-God with us, sees how deeply we grieve, holds each of those parents as they collapse in exhaustion and anguish, knows what could have been and His heart is deeply grieved too.
So, feel those feelings however you need to- cry, scream, talk, whatever you have to do in order to attempt to begin to process this tragic and horrific reminder that we live in a broken, fallen, dark world. Try to begin to work through the loss of innocence we all feel so deeply, the fear you might feel the next time you drop your kids off at school and the deep sigh of relief you feel every day when they walk through the front door, the anger you feel at God, at the shooter, at the world. It’s okay. Grieve. It’s important. Essential, even. And remember, grief looks and feels different for every person. Do yourself and those you love a favor, and honor their grief by not judging them if it looks very different from your own. Begin to process, feel the feelings (even if you don’t want to), and then, DO SOMETHING. pray. pray some more. send a letter of encouragement. hug your kids tighter. give a little extra grace to a stranger. blog. sing. make the world a little better somehow.
and please try not to allow yourself to hold on to hate. don’t hate because hate grieves the heart of God.  please love  more. I know it hurts. but love is the closest we can get to seeing God in this broken, dark world, and I don’t know about you but I NEED glimpses of God. I need beautiful to remind me that things like this are not all there are.

Today, for me, in my process of grieving, these are the thoughts that are constantly running through my head:
It can’t be true. No one can possibly be that angry. They were little kids.
“What in the actual fuck has happened here?”
Lord, please come quickly. I can’t handle much more of this.
Jesus, I need you to be Emmanuel-God with us. Be close.

How are you beginning to process through this?

my heart is still so heavy today, but I am grateful for a God who knows my heart, and understands the hurt behind my four-letter-words when it’s the only way I can find to express myself. I’m also thankful to know that He is near to the brokenhearted and His love, which never fails, will give peace that truly passes understanding, even if that just looks like making it through an absolutely impossible day.


shaken {day 125}


I can only begin to put together thoughts about the tragic situation at Sandy Hook Elementary School today, and I don’t know that there are words to describe the anger, frustration, and very deep sadness I feel for the lives that were lost and forever changed today. As I read the news- 20 children, 6 adults and the shooter dead, others wounded, the possibility that other family members of the gunman were slain- my heart can not even begin to comprehend the devastation encompassed by those words. as the images from Sandy Hook flash across our screens, of the chaotic scenes of the morning to mourning and profound loss as the enormity of this tragedy sets in, feelings of hopelessness begin to set in.

we live in a broken world, friends. the immensity and pain of situations like this one are extremely difficult to bear. tiny young lives that were stolen. hundreds of other young people who will struggle with feelings of anger, anxiety, confusion and fear for days and weeks and years to come. adults who had devoted their lives to bettering the lives of children taken from their spouses, parents and own children. It’s just not fair, and I would be  lying if I said that I wasn’t broken and shaken by events such as these.

I have never really known much about or understood Advent. As a young child, I remember lighting candles in an Advent wreath, and I’ve celebrated the season with an Advent calendar, but until very recently I don’t think I understood the depth of the beauty and pain the season represents. Advent- a time of “expectant waiting and preparation” for the coming of Jesus, our Savior. “The season offers the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, and to be alert for his Second Coming.” I think that behind all of my anger, tears, frustration and heartache today, this is what I feel most deeply: a deep, painful longing for the coming of a Savior, for the Home I was created for, which feels – especially in the wake of a senseless tragedy – so very far away. For several years I have said that my favorite Christmas song is “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” but couldn’t really explain why I felt such a deep connection to it. I understood it today, though. It’s the longing, the desire to be ransomed, the hopeful but painful period of expectant waiting to be in the presence of a Holy Savior. I am grateful for this season that reminds us all that though there is great joy and hope (the birth of Jesus), there is also equally real and valid longing, hurt and frustration. We should grieve. We have to grieve. I know that the heart of God is deeply grieved today. A friend posted the following words of Meister Eckhart: “There is no pain or sorrow which comes to us that has not first passed through the Heart of God.” Truly we are not alone in our suffering.

All of that being said, this world is not what my hope lies in. I have been clinging to this verse today, I pray that it gives a glimmer of hope for what’s to come, for our Savior whose work is surely not finished: John 16:33 (Jesus is speaking) “I have told you these things so that you may have peace in Me. In this world you will face many trials and sorrows, but take heart! for I have overcome the world.”

Friends, as we process this horrific event, may we choose love over hate. this world has enough hate, and more hatred will never defeat evil. only Love can do that. In this season of deep sadness, may we identify and embrace the deep longing in our hearts, the advent season, and may we also cling to the hope that comes from our promised Savior. And may God, who grieves with us all, be the giver of comfort and hope for all who mourn.