Quiet Christmas

greyson-joralemon-171172

Greyson Joralemon

In the hustle and bustle of Christmas, in the throes of shopping, holiday parties and boisterous music; my favorite thing to do is remove myself from it all. I find the need to unplug the noise around me and to sit down in the stillness and meet the Savior of the world in the quiet humility of the night.

In the silence of the night I listen for the faint lullabies of the heart. I seek the sounds of tenderness; a mother, singing her newborn to sleep. I listen for the song of a Father who has tenderly immersed his daughter in love through the coos of an infant. I search for that tiny baby, swaddled in the arms of his mother. The one who came and allowed me to be swaddled in the love of his Father.

Sometimes it feels as if God gets lost in the fanfare of Christmas. For a child who entered the world in the quietest way, we make the spectacle of the ordeal. We celebrate him, as we should; but are we really finding him amidst all the noise? Are we truly grasping the example of the King of Glory who stepped down from his throne to become a servant and show us how to truly live? Or in our celebration of his life, are we missing the point?

 

It happens most often during the advent season that my longing for solitude is the greatest. I long for the simplicity and quietness of a mother waiting for the arrival of her first born. I long to sit in the quiet, waiting patiently for the Lord to reveal the glory that he brings. I long to hear the tender words of love from a Father to his daughter. Words of love, life, joy and sacrifice. The exact life he has called us to live.

Love – The love he sent was one of self-sacrifice. It was a love that challenged us to be more and to give more. It is a love that challenges us to open ourselves completely and love him with our whole being; and in the outpouring of that love we find it trickling over to our neighbors. Loving them just as we love ourselves (Mt. 22:37).

Life – The life he presented was that of a servant. One who consistently met the needs of those around him. He made himself lowly, and in that he showed us how to do the same (Mk. 10:43-45). Christ showed us that the joy of life with the Father was found as we lay our ego aside and serve those around us.

Joy – The joy we find at Christmas is present in all circumstances. It is the very presence of the Father in our life as we seek to become more like Christ. It is the contentment available to us in all situations (Phil 4:11-13). Our joy is the light of hope in the darkest corners of our lives.

Sacrifice – The sacrifice of Christ is not only seen through the cross, but also first in Christ’s willingness to leave heaven and dwell on earth as a mortal human. The comfort of Heaven for the pain of Earth. He left the perfection of God to dwell among the evil of man. His perfection and sacrifice showed us the necessity of our own sacrifice for the sake of the Father. Christ showed us that the love of our Father will take us to places that hurt and make us feel out casted, and even at times hated; but our small sacrifices for Him are what bring us the greatest joy.

When I step outside the noise of Christmas I find him. I find myself engulfed by his love. Lowering myself to become his servant; sacrificing my comfort to realize the fullness of his joy.  It was through humility that he entered the world and it is through my own humbled heart that he entered my life, only to wreck and redeem it over and over again.

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Two Years

I have been thinking about writing quite a bit lately. It is one of those things that my heart beats for. There is no thinking involved, even though there is so much thinking involved. When I can finally wrap my brain around a topic long enough to write the words, something amazing happens; I find freedom. My heart soars high like a bird floating far above. I find home.

I love to write so much that even the construction of a grocery list fills the need inside. I find my favorite pen and a large enough paper and I put the two together until I find the end result: the nourishment of my family. I sit down to write papers for school. I dread getting started but when the flow finally happens, I find fulfillment.

I know that I do not write very consistently, but it is not for lack of things to say. Instead it is quite the opposite. I have so much to say that I find myself silenced. There are so many things I wish I could write, but feel so stuck and trapped by life that I am unable to find the words. I think of something I feel so passionately about but then worry about the judgment of others if I say too much. Or what happens and hinders me the most often is that something begins in my head and as I am thinking I know that it should be beautiful, but I sit down to share and the words disappear. I love to write, but it seems that I am destined for historical background papers and grocery lists.

But I also realize that at this moment in my life, background papers and grocery lists are ok. Life as a student doesn’t always leave room for much more. But I know that there will be a place for my voice in the future. And in that time I know that God is working and refining. He is strengthening me in many areas and stripping away in others. Everything will come in the right timing, and the way I choose to wait is everything. And today I realized that I have already come a long way.

In November 2015 my very first Annesley article was published. I read through it and realized that the last two years of waiting and writing have left me with an incredible amount of change and growth. I have encountered situations that will leave me forever changed. I have stopped worrying so much about what others believe about her and started focusing more on believing in myself and speaking words of truth over my life. The writer of that first post is not the one who writes to you today.

 

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  • Hether in 2015 was timid. She was afraid to stretch her voice and challenge the status quo in any way.
  • Hether in 2017 has grown. She has been stretched thin and in the process has learned that honesty is honoring to both God and herself and timidity honors nobody. She is finding her strength and learning to lean in.
  • Hether in 2015 believed that writing was fun, but nothing would likely come from it.
  • Hether in 2017 still believes that writing is fun, but is also hopeful that it will become an important element of communication in her future.
  • Hether in 2015 believed that her writing would never impact people beyond her small circle of acquaintances.
  • Hether in 2017 believes that writing will become a key element in the way God uses her voice in the future to reach many. And she looks forward to that future.

 

*          *          *

 

These may not seem like significant changes, or you may see them as substantial growth, but to me they are everything. I looked at the woman I was two years ago and saw someone who was defeated and believed that defeat was all that life held in store, yet still hoped for more. The process of reversing this train of thought has been grueling. And it is a process that I am still constantly walking through. My confidence is constantly growing and simultaneously being shaken. God has given me a vision for the future and given me hope to cling to while I wait and work hard to get there. And though I may still doubt myself from time to time, I now know there is more to life than defeat.  I know that he is preparing me for something far greater than what I can imagine for myself. And yet I still wonder: why would he choose me. And it is in this process that I will continue to write, and continue to refine; both my heart and my pen.

Back to Discipleship

Recent events have sent me to writing. I have been learning to stretch my voice and it seems that the Lord is taking me far beyond my comfort zone. If you know me at all, I am not one to challenge or rock the boat in any way. I keep peace by not standing up.

But this time I stood up. And the response was overwhelming. I have often shied away from speaking out of fear that some will reject my voice. And perhaps some will, but I’ve decided that it is more important for me to use the voice that God gave me as my way of honoring him rather than living in fear that some will disagree with me; or even worse… unfriend me.

I can assure you that when I write it comes from a place of humility and is always directed to be received with grace, even if the message can be challenging to read. You can read my most recent words over at Annesley Writers. And I suggest that you do, because where I go next is a direct result of that article.

Again, the response that came from my writing was overwhelming, and encouraging. And it reaffirmed how necessary the message is. One of the comments that was written in response really challenged me to think about something I have been thinking about previously, however it is this comment that helped me articulate what it is I’ve been thinking.

“Sadly many (particularly white Christians) don’t see their nationalism as idolatry.”

American journalist Sydney J. Harris has an excellent quote that I recently read.

“The difference between patriotism and nationalism is that the patriot is proud of his country for what it does, and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does; the first attitude creates a feeling of responsibility, but the second a feeling of blind arrogance that leads to war.”

Between these two quotes, something has occurred to me. We may not see nationalism as idolatry because our lines have become blurred. The current Christian rhetoric is that we are a “Christian Nation” and that we were built on “Christian principles.” This currently repeated theme may make it is easy for some to start associating being a “Christian nation” with Christianity itself. The reason it isn’t idolatry is because it has become a definition of a form of Christianity. We can love our country and we can love God, but they cannot be the same love.

This is most definitely not the case with all Christians living in America. I want to make that very clear. However, a line that has been crossed that allows people to think that their love of country equals their love of God, begging the question: who is the God they are serving, the creator of the universe who sent his Son to change and wreck our lives completely; or has America become God?

If the second has become true, what steps do we take to change the rhetoric to Christian by national association to Christian by the way that we live, the way that we sacrifice and the way that we love? How do we move from a nation of “Christians” to a nation of disciples who are spreading the gospel through their zealous love of God? How do we become a nation of Christians who have abandoned their comforts (comfort zones) for the message of Christ?

In school I am currently studying the book of Acts, and it has repeatedly blown my mind and brought me to tears. It is incredible to read how the early church lived for each other and for God and the many ways that they sacrificed for the message of Christ to be spread through the world.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles teachings and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” – Acts 2:42-47

Where did our passion go? The Holy Spirit still works this way. Why have we changed the way we respond to his calling?

We need to wake up and remember that there is a responsibility that we all have when we accept the gift of eternal life through the sacrifice of Christ. His death was not simply a free ticket to heaven. However, his teaching was instruction on how we are to love one another, how we are to love God through the way that we love one another and how we are to “go out and make disciples of all nations” (Mat. 28:19).

It is time we shed our comfort zones and get back to the nitty-gritty of discipleship. We will never enact the change we wish we’d see if we don’t. Discipleship is not as simple as going to church and telling all your friends and family how Christian you are. Discipleship is sitting at the feet of Jesus and humbly listening as he teaches. It is allowing Jesus to tear down the walls of tradition that we have built up ourselves and replace them with more of his love, which will allow us to give more of his love to others. It is allowing our hearts to become wrecked and then restored by Christ. This is what will pour out and change the lives of others.

“I have learned that soap boxes don’t make me clean. But not being afraid to get my hands dirty has shown me righteousness.” – Amena Brown

May our words be full of grace and our actions be bold.

 

 

Denied

Today I feel a bit out of sorts.

Lost.

And a little bit stuck and stifled.

Twelve years ago I stumbled into the world of massage therapy and found something I loved. And something I was good at. A career that I really felt the Lord had provided me. It was something that I was good at and excelled in. And the bonus was that I was able to pass off personality quirks because I was a “flaky-hippie massage therapist.” It had become who I was as much as it was what I did.

My vocation allowed me to make a real difference in someone’s life, and that was what my heart desired most. And on the days when it wasn’t always fulfilling, I had plenty of hobbies that were to fill the void.

However I have struggled at times with my massage career. It is no secret that we have moved around a bit. And each time we moved it required me to get my license in a new state, find a new job and build a new clientele. It is challenging to start from the bottom every two years.

Each time we moved I feel as if I’ve lost a little bit of myself. I’ve had to start over from scratch and figured out what it was I loved and why. My hobbies and interests have dwindled down and I’ve been left with next to nothing. But massage was always there to reassure me that I was still me.

And then we moved to NY. And the process started again. However in the wake I’ve been left with little motivation to do anything that I once loved. But that little massage spark still twinkled and so I applied for my license and bent over backwards to fulfill all of their requirements.

And today it came, the letter informing me of their decision. The letter informing me that I do not have enough proof of experience in the form that they needed to receive it.

I’ve been denied.

 

The last bit of me that I knew was, in one moment, gone.

I knew that a time would come when I would retire my hands and move on. But I thought I would be the one in control of that decision. And now I’m left to wonder: where do I go from here?

What does one do with the shattered pieces of self that no longer seem to fit together in any form?

And yes, I know the easy answer. I have been in Sunday school for nearly 33 years and I am aware that it is the Lord who fits the pieces back together. And I do trust Him fully and know that there is something He has planned that I am unaware of. But that is the thing; I am unaware. What I am aware of is the emptiness of the shell that I inhabit. I am aware of the pieces of myself that have been chipped and chiseled away. I hold the remnants in my hands and watch them dissolve into tears and soak into the earth.

Maybe it is time for a rebirth; a time to create and make new. Maybe those remnants that dissolved soaked into the ground to nourish the seeds that were planted when I wasn’t aware. The question now is, what has been planted?

Volumes

I’ve been thinking about life as a volume series that each contain the details of our years. A volume for the younger years, the teen years, and many to cover the adult years. Some are a quick read, while others seem to drag on to the end. Some are filled with times of joy, while others, immense pain. But each details all the events that have helped shape and define our personal identity.

Next Sunday is a big day for us. Volume 1 of adulthood is ending as Dave and I celebrate our 12th anniversary. It seems, most of the time, that we make big changes, or life defining moments around the 5’s and 10’s of our life. But we’ve decided that year 12 is our year. And we are ready.

Volume I – The Learning Years
The first 12 years are scarred by lots of pain, growth, loss, change and joy. In that time we moved across the country multiple times; going from SD to FL, FL to AZ, AZ to SD, SD to CO, CO to TX. Each of those changes has brought a new set of challenges, lessons, friendships and losses as we’ve tried to navigate through life in a way that honors God.

In that time we sent to Heaven a mother/grandmother/friend. A pain that never fully goes away. We’ve made good friends and new family, only to have to tell them goodbye after a period of time that seemed too short. At times, I struggled to even make friends, knowing that soon I’d have to leave them and it would be better to leave lonely than to have hearts break as we pulled away.

And my biggest personal struggle of Volume 1 was with my sense of identity. Who am I? What am I here for? Why am I not living up to my potential? Do people really know me? In the thick of the darkness I found myself alone, wishing for change, but not knowing where to start. I wanted to let them in, but feared the rejections that could come if they figured out who I really was and didn’t approve. I shut myself in until I lost my voice. I lost my sense of self completely.

Volume I – Epilogue

The lessons that propelled us towards the end of this volume started slowly. We picked things up here and there and took with us what we needed from each place. But the last year and a half has been a period of intense growth and change, especially for me. And because I cannot speak for Dave, I will focus on my own growth.

January 2015 I received a clear message from the Lord that I was not allowing Him to work through me and that things needed to change in my heart. And for the first time in a long time, I was receptive. I entered school in April, but by October was so burned out from school and work, that I withdrew. By the end of 2015 I was working almost 60 hours a week between two emotionally demanding jobs and was spread so thin, I was in desperate need of rest.

January of 2016 marked the first time in 12 years that I was not being pulled in what felt a thousand different directions at all times. I had been given a period of rest. It was the first time in 12 years that I really had time to think and grow, and was in a mental space that was conducive for it. And what happened was hard. As I sought the Lord and his direction for my life, I found myself stripped of all the things I thought defined me. Things I loved I suddenly had no appeal. I knew I wanted to finish school, but struggled to remain focused as there was no reason why behind it. I struggled with the desire to make friends, but knew that I needed a community to surround myself with. So I pressed in.

Through this community I learned about myself. I learned that I am capable of far more than I give myself credit for. I learned that I am a driven woman, a compassionate woman, an empathetic woman, and a woman driven by justice and mercy. I have a voice, and while I am still working out its tune, some people might need to hear it.

I found myself back in school, but this time it’s right. I have clearly defined goals to work towards. And as I seek God through my schooling, He reveals more of his plan for me. Some of it seems so out of reach. I doubt my capabilities. But I am ok letting Him lead me one step at a time. I find my contentment in the fact that it is literally all I can do some days.

As this volume closes I’ve found myself open and tender, yet bold and confident. I have a new sense of self to press into. I want to let God make waves of change through me and I am opening myself up to all the possibilities of the future.

Volume II 

Next Sunday not only marks the end of a volume, but the beginning of a new one. Sunday after church Dave, the kids and I will be loading up or minivan for a cross country road trip to our new home in upstate New York. Seriously, God moves in the craziest of ways. This is a welcomed change and we are ready to start fresh, taking the lessons we’ve learned and applying them in new ways. We are excited to meet new friends and family and to develop roots in our life.

We’ve earned the title of gypsy within our family, but this time it feels different. There is a new peace accompanied that is unlike the peace I’ve experienced before. We have not yet arrived, yet I feel the roots growing. A home is waiting for us. A family is waiting for us. And we have been waiting for them.

While we are excited for new, the family we have made on our way to NY is so precious to me. Each person has touched my heart in a special way. I am so grateful for their presence in my life. People always met my heart when I needed them the most. As EE Cummings wrote, “I carry your heart with me (I carry it in my heart).” I take you with me as we begin our next volume.

I love you. I value you. I appreciate you. Thank you.

Transitions of the Heart

I have been thinking about transition a lot lately. Especially as we are walking through it again. It seems we are the aloof, gypsy family who just floats from town to town, pouring into our ministry until it’s over. Searching for home, but never fully finding it. But each time we have approached a change, it has always been prayerfully and with deep reverence and obedience to the Lord. Though it may seem that we just wistfully float through life, each of those moves has brought about a new depth and understanding about who I am, who God is and what our lives look like intertwined together.

Each new place has taught me lessons about living in humility, contentment, faith, trust and boldness. These have not been easy lessons. Humility is hard. Contentment is even harder. Living boldly in faith and trust that the Lord is going to catch you when you fall can sometimes feel impossible.

As I look back on our eleven years in ministry, it feels as if the last eleven years have been one continual transition. Rather than a transition from city to city and church to church, it has been a continual journey from old heart to new heart. At times I’ve equated the last eleven years to our wandering in the wilderness. Our journey in the woods while we wait for the home we dream of. Though Israel wandered because of disobedience, I sought to be obedient in my time in the valley and wilderness of life and it provided me the opportunity to emerge as a new creation with a boldness to chase the Lord that I lacked in the comfort of my youthful understanding of life.

My lesson in humility has taught me that I can be vulnerable. I can ask for help when I need it. I am made strong through admitting that I cannot do things alone. Humility is not weakness. Humility is not living in my shame. Humility is not saying yes to everything someone asks of you. Instead humility understands the sovereignty of God. Humility loves ones neighbor as ones self. Humility delights in the glory of God rather than the glory of self. Though it is a tough lesson to learn, it has made me so thankful for the grace of God. Humility is not about me; it is all about him.

Contentment was much harder to learn as I had to change my view of what contentment looked like. For a long time I thought contentment came when I was happy with everything in my life. Happy with my job, happy with my home, happy in the city I lived in. Unlearning this view of contentment hurt. It hurt a lot. Everyone dreams about life and it seemed as if I were so far from my dreams that they’d never be achieved. And then one day while I wrote a sermon about contentment, and it finally started to make sense. Phil 4:11-13: “for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” How on earth was it so easy for Paul? Well, he knew that our contentment is not what we have or what we do; it is who we have within us and who we live for. This created a radical shift in the way I lived from day to day. Some days this is still a struggle, but the way I react to discontentment is much different than my life before.

What these two main lessons gave me was a new found boldness. Learning to be content and humble showed me that I can live boldly through faith and trust. I can believe in God’s word boldly. It opened up my heart to new dreams, new gifts and new opportunities that I would have never dreamed of. And through faith and trust, God is showing me one step at a time how to get there. And the most beautiful thing is that I don’t have to be afraid. I know that I will fall, but I know that he will pick me up. I know that others will say things about me, but I know what God says about me and he is whom my heart desires to please.

So as we continue walking through this new transition and a world of unknown, I believe wholeheartedly that my family is about to leave our wandering and step into our promise. But I hope the journey doesn’t stop. Settle down and build a life full of community, yes. However, I never want to fully reach the spiritual destination. I never want to forget the lessons I’ve already walked through. Instead I always want to grow and learn, knowing that every step I take I am faithfully seeking the Lord.

Running on Empty

I was sixteen years old when the Lord called me into ministry and I was eighteen when I knew I’d marry a pastor. These are the only two things in my life I have ever felt sure about. I had a vision in my mind of all the amazing people we’d meet and all the amazing ways God would use us to further his kingdom. I wanted nothing more than to bring him glory.

What this ministry has actually looked like, however, is more of a long, uphill marathon. Complete with a hurdle every ten steps. We have watched our friends in ministry engage with their churches. They are so loved and well received. They thrive. And then they receive calls to even better jobs. Ministry is smooth sailing. Meanwhile, we end up feeling a little more alone every year. Our job prospects dwindle down as we crave from the depths for longevity, acceptance and healing for our worn spirits.

Sometimes I feel like the brother in the story of the prodigal son. Not angry of my brother returning home and not jealous of my friends’ successes in ministry, but forgotten by my father after spending my life faithfully loving and following him. I wonder what I did wrong that I have so many lessons to learn. Surely the growing process has to slow down soon. If every trial is God’s way of teaching you a lesson (as I’ve been told), then surely I should hit sage status any time now.

My spiritual lungs burn as I long for breath. The constant stream of sweat coming from my eyes have left my cheeks with river like grooves. This race has been long and taxing and feels as if it will never end. I am nowhere near the finish line. I know I’ve seen that rock before. And I swear, it feels as if I’m running in circles. My cheering section has dwindled down and I’m left wondering if I should even bother finishing the race.

At what point is enough, enough?

My heart is at war. it knows better than to believe that God is anything but on our side (Romans 8:31). Or that he is anything other than good (Psalm 136:1) and just (Isaiah 30:18-19). But the other half feels forgotten and abandoned. Called into ministry and then left to run the race alone. And though I have had a relationship with the Lord long enough to know its completely untrue, I am hurt. And it’s hard to know where to go from here.