The Shepherds, The Wise Men, and The Rest of Us

Throughout Advent, I’ve been pondering Immanuel, or “God with us” and about how True Love came to stay. In my previous post, I shared how I’m discovering that living with God is about receiving His love one day at a time. Actually, I knew that before, but apparently life requires relearning.

I spent four weeks prayerfully arranging our nativity set as an Advent-long devotion. I read and considered what each Christmas character says about Immanuel. It wasn’t a perfect study, but I was readier for Christmas than I’ve been in a long time.

Continue reading

God With Us

This Advent (and year) has been one of wanting. Wanting more fun, more good news, and someone else to cook dinner. Wanting more of my family and much less of them at the same time. Wanting things to be normal but also everything to be different. Wanting Covid to go away forever.

And if you remember where we left off last time, I had just confessed that I want Immanuel, or “God with us” to mean more than it does.

For the record, I can’t remember a day in my life when I didn’t love Jesus. I’ve prayed and gone to church since forever. I’ve collected shelves of books and Bible studies about God. I’ve taken classes, retreats, and even answered a call to ministry.

Sometimes, in all of our coming and going, we forget what love looks like.

How could we forget? We were made from love, for love, and to know it when we see it. True Love, that is…

Continue reading

The Manger

When our kids were little, they loved playing with a toy farm set. It had a tractor, baby animals, and a hay loft. I still laugh about the time when they were playing and my daughter held up the toy food trough and asked her brother, “Where should we put Jesus’ bed?” Bless those small, churchy, city slickers.

Our farm toy was loved to death and is long gone. High-chairs have been given away, bunkbeds have been dismantled, and we’re finally past braces and birthday sleepovers. The only tangible remainders are a few choice toys and favorite books that I’ve carefully stored away in hopes of grandchildren. Someday.

Continue reading

The Donkey

Photo by Jeff Brown

So far in our Advent story, we’ve been traveling back and forth from Nazareth to Bethlehem, so it’s only fair that we give the donkey a nod.

Donkeys, a common mode of transportation in Biblical times, are hard working and trainable. They can handle rough terrain and heavy loads. Sounds like a perfect ride for 90 miles, a pregnant wife, and a tight schedule.

Donkeys have been carrying burdens long before that trip to Bethlehem. One donkey joined Abraham and Isaac on their heartbreaking hike toward an impossible sacrifice.

And a donkey walked with Moses on his nervous trip to Egypt for convincing Pharaoh to let God’s people go.

Continue reading

The Angel

If you’ve been with me since the first day of Advent, you know that Mary, Joseph, and even a few animals are now waiting in our stable. Since he’s already made a couple of appearances, the angel should be next.

Our famous Christmas angel, Gabriel, appeared long before Jesus’ birth in the Old Testament book of Daniel:

Continue reading

Joseph

Photo by Jeff Brown

Have you been following along on our Advent road? The stable and animals are waiting patiently in Bethlehem, and we’re still with Mary in Nazareth.

You can’t get too far in Mary’s story without meeting Joseph, her betrothed (fiance). I imagine he would introduce himself something like this: I am Joseph of Nazareth, from the line of David. I am a humble carpenter who wants to lead a family in the ways of God. I’m soon to be Mary’s husband.

I learned the name Joseph means, “he will add”. It’s the perfect name for a carpenter, isn’t it? Fixing, building, creating. I imagine he promised all of what his name means to Mary. Join me. I can make a good life for us.

Whatever he imagined with Mary, it couldn’t have included anything like this:

Continue reading

Mary

Photo by Jeff Brown

Now that the stable and animals are in place, The Story takes us about 90 miles northwest to Nazareth, in the northern highlands of Galilee. There, we find a teenage girl. A virgin who was visited by the angel Gabriel and told she would become pregnant with the Son of God. Mary, the one who agreed to it all.

Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

Luke 1:38

I doubt Mary knew the full extent to what she was agreeing, but I’d bet she knew enough. At her age, it’s likely she’d seen enough of childbirth to know of the fear, pain, and blood. She certainly had experienced enough of human nature and gossip to predict the shame. She surely understood it would be easy for Joseph to abandon her. She had probably learned enough of God’s Story to know that entering it would be costly.

Mary said yes to much more than a baby. Like all consenting mothers, she grabbed her chance for possibility and promise, even when it came with risk, suffering, and lots of mystery.

And isn’t that how it goes with every Yes to God? God comes with His strange, shadowed plans and somehow we agree. Are we really that desperate?

Continue reading

The Animals

Photo by Jeff Brown

Now that I’ve got our nativity stable in place, and I’m reaching back into the box for Mary, or Joseph, or the tiny manger crib, I can hear the memory of my children asking, “But what about the animals?”

During the annual retelling of the “no room in the inn”, my kids would often interrupt to ask about the fate of the animals who may have given up their home on that first Christmas night. I usually responded with a variety of fast-talking half-answers:

Oh, we’re not sure it was actually a stable, it could have been another type of small shelter, so maybe there were no animals around. Now listen up to hear what happened next…

Maybe the owner’s stable was brand new and he didn’t have any animals yet. Anyway…

Well, if there were animals, I’m sure they were happy to make room for Jesus. Let’s turn the page...

Our nativity set does include a few animals, but I rarely unpack them. Our table is small and my time is precious, so let’s get to the point, right? And honestly, who wants animals cluttering Christmas, anyway?

Continue reading

The Stable

What are we doing here?

It’s what shaken, disoriented people ask when they find themselves in unfamiliar territory. 

It’s the right question for 2020.

It’s one of the questions a teenage girl might have asked when about to give birth for the first time in a stable far from home.

Why here, Lord? Why now? Why me?

A miniature stable from a familiar box is a good distraction from worn-out questions. I’m pulling it out and placing it center stage, where it belongs. Already it reminds me of something bigger, and it grounds me.

Continue reading

Right

It’s called Five Minute Friday. Each week, we write freely on a one-word prompt, then link up at the amazing Kate Motaung’s site. It’s a flash mob of writers having fun and sharing their short take on one word. This week’s prompt is: Right


I was so sure of everything. Convinced I was right.

The lines seemed so clear. So black and white.

My angles were sharp. My convictions strong.

My side of the tracks. The right side of the tracks. The other’s wrong.

Hard bargains and wedges. Lines in the sand.

Always this or that. Up or down. In or out. Never and.

So blind. So much pride. So little empathy. Such fragility.

Until God’s grace. Jesus. Increased love. Humility.

Dear Letters, – by Lynn D. Morrissey

debby-hudson-DR31squbFoA-unsplashDear Letters,

During the chaos and isolation that is COVID 19 pandemic, I’ve reached out to those I love by  penning letters, tangible reminders of my care. After years of correspondence, and thousands of letters later, even to friends in other countries, I know the truth of poet John Donne’s wisdom: “Letters mingle souls.”

But of all the letters I’ve ever written, none is as meaningful to me as my “love letters to God,” penned in my journal. Journaling has transformed my life as mine mingles with His in a soulful, expressive, permanent way.

I’d like to share two of those love letters here. Continue reading

Dear Friend, -by Becky Hall

emanuela-picone-HecTZQSIvu4-unsplash
Photo by Emanuela Picone on Unsplash

Dear friend,

I’ve had some time lately to think back over our friendship. I even pulled out some of your letters to read over. We have known each other for so long, maybe more than 50 years. So many good memories!

I remember when we first met. We had a tea party at my little folding table. I was so excited to have a new friend. I remember telling my mother about you, as though I had just met someone she didn’t know. Continue reading

To My Very First Instrument – by Linda Gurney

Scan 36 copy - Version 2
Linda with her piano 🙂

To my very first instrument,

You were gifted to me on my first birthday, and your pretty red lid let me know that you carried some kind of magic. You were only four inches off the floor, but when I sat in front of you, all of the fun began. It was then that I could access your little black and white keys with my tiny fingers.  You were like Schroeder’s little piano from the Peanuts comic strip.

Resting behind your keys was a strip of paper with colorful squares that heightened my expectations of fun.  But when I pressed those keys, a different world was opened up to me. The keys produced bell-like tones that got higher as I moved to the right. The timbre was so pleasant to my ears. I could play multiple keys together, and I could play rhythms of my own choosing. No one ever told me that I was playing you the “wrong way”. Continue reading

Dear Angry Teen, -by Lisa Roth

kamila-maciejewska-SD-XcunUlKQ-unsplash
Photo by Kamila Maciejewska on Unsplash

Dear angry teen,

Oh, how I have whispered ugliness against you. Your rolling eyes and your sassy mouth. You have a question, filled with contempt, on the tip of your tongue at a moment’s notice…

Why did you make this decision?

Why don’t you see things my way?

Why won’t you let me?

Why do you care so much?

Why don’t you do things like so-and-so’s parents?

I judge you and tell myself you will understand some day…some day when you have children of your own. And the minute that thought pops into my head, I’m convicted.

I mean, let’s face it, that is true. You will look back and be grateful for the ways in which you were provided for and protected.

I know that firsthand. Continue reading

Dear Closed Door, -by Christan Perona

ashwini-chaudhary-7Hp4NAMDh-Y-unsplash
Photo by Ashwini Chaudhary on Unsplash

Dear closed door,

Oh, how I’ve scorned you. 

I have walked the path of hope time and time again only to find you at the end. There were moments I politely knocked, while other times I clenched my fist and pounded so hard it hurt. There were other seasons I just stood and stared at you in silence, disengaging rather than surrendering.

How does the Christian cling to hope when she faces you time and time again? Continue reading

Hey Girl, What’s Up With You? – by Paula Robinson

Photo by Perry Grone on Unsplash

Hey Girl,

I didn’t think you were going to come in and cause such a raucous. I mean sure, your sheer existence is defined as a corrupting influence; somewhat of a poison. How can you be so cunning, so conniving, so corruptible? I should have been real with myself. You maneuver your way so easily into someone’s life – unpredictable and maliciously incalculable – with the intent of breaking up a happy home. What’s up with you? Continue reading

Dear Joe, – by Susan Peck

owen-lystrup-DcW_AZtYEy0-unsplash
Photo by Owen Lystrup on Unsplash

My dear beloved Joe,

Has it really been 30 years since I had to say goodbye to you? I’ve thought a lot about you over the years, remembering the joy you brought to my life. What a faithful and devoted friend you were, always lending a patient ear as I shared about the good times, as well as the heartaches.  Continue reading

Dear Mrs. Deerr, – By Barb Lane Boyle

robin-worrall-Q8HfuO9udts-unsplash
Photo by ROBIN WORRALL on Unsplash

Dear Mrs. Deerr,

When I moved from the big city of St. Louis to the small city of Lafayette, Indiana, little did I know of the joy and adventures that awaited me because of knowing you. As my sixth grade teacher, you challenged me to strive for excellence in my work, believed in my academic abilities, and provided athletic opportunities for myself and other junior high girls. Continue reading

Dear Rehearsal Room 040, -by Jennifer Mazzoni

Screen Shot 2020-04-09 at 7.37.40 AM

Dear Rehearsal Room 040,

You probably spend much of your days feeling a bit underappreciated. I mean, I would if I were you! Year after year you sit buried deep in the basement of the towering Musical Arts Center (MAC for short) on the picturesque campus of Indiana University. The spring flowers are glorious alongside the limestone buildings of Bloomington, Indiana. But you’ll never see them, spending your dreary beige existence in the bowels of a stone building dedicated to musical excellence. Continue reading

Dear Precious, -by Jenny Smith

krista-mangulsone-RnR12I78SFo-unsplash
Photo by Krista Mangulsone on Unsplash

Dear Precious,

Oh, I didn’t know how much I needed you until you were gone. I’ve spent so many hours in the middle of the night mourning your absence, and so much of my days dizzy and sick since you’ve left me. There was even a time, a short and precious time, that you came back to me. I didn’t take you for granted again, however. But like a thief in the night, you were gone once more. Continue reading

Dear Gordon, -by Jamie Afshari

carlton-jones-O_6BBXBGwls-unsplash
Photo by Carlton Jones on Unsplash Copy

Dear Gordon,

I don’t know if you would remember me or not but I remember you. I was 7 or maybe 8 when you started coming to our tiny little church and you must have been in your 60s. I noticed you because were tall with wiry, wavy gray hair slicked down with gel, looking dapper in your pressed suit.  There were at most 70 people in the sanctuary on a Sunday in those days, so anyone new really stuck out. I think my mom met you first and we started sitting with you. She told me in private that you probably needed a friend or two. I asked my mom with childlike bluntness why you talked funny and walked funny. My mom said you were born with something called Cerebral Palsy and it made you very special. That was good enough for me; you were one of the only adults that ever noticed me and you treated me like I was your equal. Continue reading

Dear Departed One – by Karen Brown

kelly-sikkema-E8H76nY1v6Q-unsplash
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Dear Departed One,

Even though we never really got a chance to say good-bye, I realize I’ve been watching you leave for years.

Ever since that traumatic day in high school, things haven’t been the same between us. You were broken, and I was in pain. Neither one of us had much to offer. Continue reading

Girl’s Night: Letters

Dear friends,

Welcome to our fourth Girl’s Night Out! Can you believe it?

It’s true. Four times now, we’ve gathered here to ask each other questionshear each other’s stories, share favorite things, and celebrate this great community of women. It’s been fun!

This time, during this weird homebound season, we’re writing letters.

Some might write a letter to a real or fictional person, others to an inanimate object, and still others to their former self or a season of life. They’ll be short, encouraging, and fun!

AND of course we’ve saved a seat just for you! Whether you’re the sharing type, a sideline encourager, or a quiet observer… this month is about YOU. It’s about being women who just want to belong and feel like they don’t have to do life alone, even when we can’t get together in person.

So all this month, after long days at home, watch for Girl’s Night: Letters. I’m praying that God uses each and every letter to bless and encourage women of all ages and stages for many months to come.

To make sure you don’t miss a single one, you can sign up (at the top of the sidebar) to receive each post in your inbox.

Here’s the lineup so far! As the month goes on, each of these names will be linked to her letter here: (links go live at 7pm on the date listed)

What a fun group, right?

Until next time…

Your friend,
Karen

A Heavenly Fixer Upper


Like many of you, I’m slightly addicted to the TV show, Fixer Upper. In each episode, Chip and Joanna Gaines help lucky clients choose a home to purchase, usually one that needs major TLC, and use their great renovating/design gifts to make it into a spectacular home.

What makes each Fixer Upper special is the way the Gaineses develop a relationship with each client and tailor the renovations to fit their personalities and passions. For example, one young couple wanted to work more from home, so Joanna included the design of a cool office space for them. Another family loved the outdoors, so Chip suggested they add bigger windows and an extra door to the back yard of that house. With every project, they seem to be genuinely invested in their clients and work hard to build a home that they’ll love. It’s sweet and impressive to watch.

During commercials, I take a minute to look around my home.  Continue reading

People Are Sick

marcelo-leal-525139-unsplash

People are sick.

In just my circle of friends, there is celiac disease, diverticulitis, diabetes, heart conditions, thyroid disease, or stage 4 cancer.

Almost every disease story begins with symptoms, but my friends remind me that symptoms aren’t symptoms until you know.

Diabetes is I’m just really thirsty.

Diverticulitis is It was something I ate.

Heart palpitations must be Simply a patch of anxiety.

And cancer is I must have the flu.

Until we know. Continue reading

A Woman in Leadership

rawpixel-645286-unsplash

Since being in a leadership role at my church, a question I’m frequently asked is: “What’s it like being a woman in leadership?” It almost always catches me off-guard, but I’m quickly reminded of what my role must look like from a distance.

Many days, I’m often the only one at meetings without a Y chromosome. As the first woman in my position, I had to be approved by a roomful of suits. I have an office, a title, and a team.

But I really don’t feel like a leader, to be honest. Maybe because I’m still relatively new in my role. Maybe because I was promoted from within and my co-workers are also my long-time friends. Maybe because the word “leader” seems to imply that I should know where to go, what to do, and how. I don’t.

Sometimes I get caught up in “improving my leadership skills”. I read the blogs and listen to the podcasts about “casting a vision” and “inspiring the team”. Apparently, I’m supposed to think more about “empowerment” and “innovation”. Occasionally, I take notes and make flow-charts. I set agendas and SMART goals. And eventually, I make myself sick… Continue reading

Blessed Unassurance

gaelle-marcel-189753-unsplash.jpg

I used to know things. I mean really know them. As a child, I knew dads got ready for work while kids watched The Lone Ranger at 6:00am. I knew moms always bought girls new outfits for picture day. I knew homework would be returned with a star and a smiley face from the teacher.

I also had a solid grasp on marriage and parenting, but that was way before I had a husband and kids.

Then, as an adult, there were other things I became so sure about: Continue reading

The Irony of Saying So

david-marcu-114194-unsplash

On Sunday, my pastor preached from Psalm 107 and challenged us to more boldly tell our personal experiences of God’s goodness. We are “the redeemed of the Lord”, he reminded us, “let us say so.”

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever!
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
whom he has redeemed from trouble

“We need to share our stories”, he said, “because there are plenty of folks who need to hear about a good God.”

We listened from our pews. We shook our heads and took notes. I noticed some folks even cried. The redeemed-est, I guessed. Continue reading

When Real Life Sneaks Into Sunday School

daniel-von-appen-375405

I’m a licensed and experienced teacher, mom of four, former homeschooler, and have taught Sunday school too many times to count.

And I’m actually nervous about this week’s elementary lesson.

The scheduled text is on Peter and the Beggar. It’s the story where Peter and John approach the temple to pray and meet a beggar at the gate. They heal him in the name of Jesus, and send him off  “walking and leaping and praising God.”

I’ve taught this group several times. I’ve even presented this story before. But like all teachers , I’m anticipating my students’ questions, and this is where the nerves are kicking in…

I’m imagining a few raised hands this week… Continue reading

When the Pew is Just Too Hard

25588049_1538489912852998_1499888582684628174_o

At the Call to Worship, I stood and sighed.

The calendar was on its last page and I was on my last leg, tired from holiday prep, tired from my work, and honestly, too tired for church.

Don’t get me wrong… I love my job. I love ministry. I love my church. But there are times when the pew is just too hard.

Continue reading

In the Company of Cast and Crew

26170143_1541837222518267_3453816398243258921_o

Theologian Stanley Hauerwas argues that to truly learn a story, we must act it out.

In my experience, Hauerwas is spot-on, but I’d like to apply his theory a step further. I believe the real, most-important learning comes not only from the acting out, but in the company of the actors.

Every Christmas at pageant time, the kids act and I direct, but it’s the company that changes us. The kids come to that first rehearsal either struggling against or showing off their part. They come clutching their scripts and focused on their own small scene.

No, we can’t have the shepherds use a GPS to find the manger. No, you can’t ask Joseph if he made a reservation. No, the Angel of the Lord can’t wear a gun and holster…

The irony isn’t lost on me that I’m the one who must lead them. Continue reading

2017: Off and On

daria-shevtsova-426320

Man, I didn’t write much this year. And I can feel the effects of that, for sure.

Ever since childhood, I’ve turned to pen and paper for organizing, processing, and expressing my thoughts and feelings. Each day of every year brings many words, and I do better when I pay attention to them; helping them to find their place so I can find mine. Next year, I vow to pay closer attention…

But I hold on loosely, asking God to make me just as content to receive words as I am to offer them.

Though it’s meager, here is my 2017 offering -or its highlights, anyway: Continue reading

Kneelers

1009875_636365949716895_808189913_n

“Mom, what were those dresses made of, again?” Even when it’s not near our anniversary, I often find my girls huddled around our wedding album. They laugh
at the big hair, dyed-to-match pumps, and shrub-sized flower arrangements.

“It was the style back then,” I explain.

They love to turn the pages of our story: church ceremony, roast beef dinner, touching toasts, cake-cutting, then late-night dancing. One day, I looked over my girls’ shoulders at my nearly twenty-six year-old memories, and it struck me…

The most vivid memory I have of our wedding wasn’t captured, and I never realized it before. Continue reading

If I Had a Hammer

adam-sherez-228582.jpg

All he wanted to do was hammer something.

Eli* wasn’t a regular church-goer and wasn’t sure how to find the book of Galatians in his Bible, but he heard there might be an opportunity to build things, so he signed up.

“When are we going to build stuff?” he asked as we settled in for our group devotion.

“Soon,” I said, but I wasn’t sure. Not at all. We were barely 24 hours into the youth-group service trip when I realized things were out of our control. Our group was randomly split up at lunch, placed in prayer groups with people we didn’t know, and assigned to various work-sites without our consent. Clearly, we weren’t in charge.  Continue reading

Unbroken Bones

love-699480_1920

Every year, as Easter draws near, I think about Will*, a student in my Sunday school group a few years back. One morning during Lent, we were revisiting Jesus’ arrest, suffering, and death.

We discussed the road to the cross and the method of crucifixion. We read about the inscription, the casting lots, and about how the soldiers didn’t break Jesus’ legs.

The kids, especially the boys, were curious about the details of crucifixion: How did they get the nails in? Since Jesus is God, did he feel it? Did he scream/fight back? Was blood pouring down the hill?

I guess I’m used to their weird curiosities and obsessions, so I marched through their questions like a pro, without flinching, until this one came from Will’s half-shouting voice: (more…)