When changes and hikes are difficult

This morning I climbed a mountain. No, a hill. It was more like a hill. We have trails in our community that range from easy to “Are you insane?” and I opt for something closer to the former, so I don’t die. I made my way up a moderate trail that zig-zags its way through the foothills like a wound. It was difficult. Everything is already so brown because, desert, and I have sensitive knees (because I’m not old enough for bad knees) and I almost ate it a few times when I tripped over rocks. You’d think, if I were going to cry like a baby, I would have done it on the way up, but I didn’t.

I cried all the way down.

I was hungry because I forgot to carb load (if carb loading means I should have gotten a chocolate chip bagel from Panera) and it was 94 degrees and if I’m being totally honest, I cried because I’m super stressed and wildly worried. Because I. Hate. Change.

And there’s so much change right now; it makes my breath catch when I think about it.

When I was a kid I spent a few weeks every summer in Tahoe at camp. Each year I’d count down the days until it was time to escape to camp where I’d see my faraway-friends I only got to hang out with when I was there. By the time we were 15 and 16 we started attending as junior counselors. My last year there ended abruptly. We all got kicked out. On a Saturday afternoon, we went into town to do laundry and decided to get our ears pierced. The camp director called us things like “irresponsible” and “liabilities.” I still think it’s so stupid. It’s not like we went to London on a school trip in ninth grade and got a tattoo that looks NOTHING LIKE TINKERBELLE. Anyway, we waited for our parents and one by one we said our goodbyes. I only keep in touch with one of those camp friends; he grew up and got married and had kids and went to war for our country, but that day we stood side by side, so sad about the whiplash-like halt to our annual summer plans. That now-Army guy ripped his half-carat fake diamond earring out of his ear and threw it into the trees. I got so mad, I yelled at him about how it represented the end of LIFE(!) and how could he just throw it away?!

After all those years, all the traditions, the lame skits and campfires, and trips to Pope Beach and the freezing lake, everything changed.

That’s how I feel now.

I dread the end of the school year. Granted, I get over it during the languid, ice-cream melting, salty days of summer, but around oh, right now, I start getting sad. I was the weird kid who cried on the last day of school every year. That’s mostly because school was safe and home wasn’t, but also because I knew I’d miss the daily routine and my teachers’ support and my friends. I liken my kids’ school to a daily reunion and now a lot of the family members are moving on to middle school, or new opportunities are taking some of them to different places. My kids have been at the school for a decade and, while there have been some changes along the way, it’s remained relatively the same.

So as I trekked down that trail this morning I thought about the end of the school year, the end of the familiar, the end of tolerable weather, the giant question mark looming over my professional life, how much my people — my family, my friends, my mentors — mean to me, and all I could do was cry.

In the end, all of these changes are good. It means kids are growing up and friends are happy and, ultimately, all of the end-of-the-school-year changes will segue into those aforementioned dreamy days of summer and those days are steeped in memories and laughter. Enough to carry me into whatever new things are coming.





Advent Day 20: The Living Water Gives Joy

December 16

With joy you will draw waters from the wells of salvation.
Isaiah 12:3 (NIV)

The book of Isaiah, written about 700 years before the Messiah’s birth, is replete with prophecy of his arrival. Chapter 12 is only six verses long, but those verses paint a picture of what the life of a Jesus-follower looks like. They’re packed with praise over Jesus’ eventual coming, and encourage the believer to find joy in drawing from the well of salvation.

If salvation is a well, the reward of salvation – eternity, fellowship with God, grace, forgiveness, peace, life – is the water. The blessings that come from salvation are life-giving. One author offered this insight on Isaiah 12, “It is our duty by faith to draw water out of these wells, to take to ourselves the benefit and comfort that are treasured up for us in them.” The treasure of pure joy is the natural outcome of knowing Jesus as our life-sustaining Living Water.

For Today: What is one responsibility you have that is mundane or difficult? How can you change your perspective today to find joy in even the most routine tasks?

Advent Day 19: From Sorrow to Joy

December 15

Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.
Psalm 126:5 (NIV)

The holidays can be difficult for those who have suffered any form of loss. It’s a time that’s traditionally spent with the ones we love, but what do we do if the ones we love aren’t here? What if childhood hurts, addiction, anger, pride, or death have separated us from our people? How do we reconcile the pain we’re experiencing to celebrating the birth of the Messiah?

Psalm 56:8 says that God has recorded all of our tears on his scroll. Some translations say he has collected our tears in his bottle.  A God who keeps record of every one of our tears is a God who knows every detail of our lives.

God knows better than anyone that we’re hurting. Pain is the inevitable outcome of living in a fallen world. That’s why he sent Jesus to earth. Not to shine a light on our pain, but so the light of Jesus would overcome the pain-filled darkness. All the tears born from all the hurt have been overcome by the birth of Jesus. His life allows us to reap a harvest of joy from the tears sown in pain.

For Today: Is there a sorrow that is keeping you from experiencing the joy of Christmas? Take some time right now to pour out to God all of your pain so that he can help you walk through the next few days, and give you moments of joy in the midst of your sorrow.

Advent Day 18: Salvation’s Joy

December 14

Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose. The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them, he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God – he and his whole family.
Acts 16: 26, 29, 34 (NIV)

After Paul commanding an evil spirit leave the body of a slave girl, her master became angry and presented Paul and Silas to the authorities, claiming they were “throwing the city into an uproar.” The men were stripped, beaten, and ordered to prison.

Scripture doesn’t detail how the jailer treated the men, but customs of the time tell us that he was probably brutal. His sole job was to keep the two in prison, so when an earthquake caused the prison doors to fly open, he was prepared to die.

Paul implored the jailer to spare his own life, and in a change of heart that can only come through conversion, the jailer took Paul and Silas to his home. He and every member of his family believed in Jesus as their Savior, and they were filled with joy.

The Lord can work in any situation, no matter how dire, to reach the lost. He will use the prayers and songs of his children – like he did with Paul and Silas – to touch the hardest of hearts. After witnessing the Lord’s presence in Paul and Silas’ lives, the jailer and his entire family were forever changed. They were filled with the light of Jesus, and filled with joy. That same joy fills our hearts today. It’s the evidence of Jesus in our lives, and it’s as unmistakable now as it was 2,000 years ago in that prison.

For Today: Did you or someone you know become a Jesus-follower in the midst of a dire situation? If so, how was God’s work during that difficult time an encouragement to you?

Advent Day 17: Songs of Joy

December 13

Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.
Psalm 100:2 (NIV)

Worshipping Jesus through music is a reoccurring theme in scripture. We do this every time we attend a church service and raise our voices in joyful song. Coming before the Lord with praise-filled songs is an act of worship. It’s the opportunity to set music to the cry of our hearts, a way for a congregation to sing joyfully the same worshipful prayer, at the same time. In unison our voices can rise to the heavens. Just as powerfully, the Lord hears the whispered music of a single person.

It has nothing to do with ability, and everything to do with worshipping Jesus with gladness and joy. We can easily do this at Christmastime when we sing songs that paint pictures of the Christ Child’s birth. O Holy Night says that when Christ appeared, “the soul felt its worth.” Waxing poetic, the third verse of Hark the Herald Angels Sing declares that Jesus was “born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth.”

Silent Night describes Jesus’ birth this way: “Silent night, holy night; Son of God, love’s pure light; radiant beams from thy holy face; with the dawn of redeeming grace. Jesus, Lord at the birth.”

Sing. Sing of the most joyous of occasions, with joy-filled abandon and reverence.

For Today: What is your favorite Christmas song? Why? If it evokes memories, what are those? Why were those times special for you?


Advent Day 16: Jesus Brings Joy

December 12

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
Luke 1:41 (NIV)

Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, were cousins. They were also pregnant with their sons at the same time. The two women were visiting each other when John leapt for joy in Elizabeth’s womb because he heard Mary’s voice, and recognized the presence of Jesus.

Before he was even born, John was moved by the Holy Spirit, and Christ’s human existence. Merely being in the Savior’s vicinity gave John great joy. John spent his life proclaiming Jesus as the Savior. In fact, the Bible says that he “paved the way for the Lord.” Eventually, John would be the one to baptize Jesus. He served the Lord until he was martyred, when, undoubtedly, he was ushered into God’s presence.

John was on the fringe of society. He was wild. He was outspoken. With John, there was no gray area – you either repented and believed in Christ, or you didn’t. The message hasn’t changed. You can’t live with one foot in the baptismal, and one foot in the world.

The start of John’s life was marked with great joy, his life ended in joy-filled service, and it all began from his mother’s womb when he recognized the Savior.

For Today: Does your relationship with Jesus fill you with joy? If not, what is preventing you from feeling joy-filled? Ask God in prayer to help you experience joy this Christmas season.

Advent Day 15: An Inexpressible and Glorious Joy

December 11

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.
1 Peter 1:8 (NIV)

None of us were present the night Jesus was born. We weren’t there, blinded by the Light that flooded every corner of the dark world. We didn’t hear heavenly hosts proclaim his holy name. But we’re here now, celebrating the Savior’s birth. It’s because we know he came to save us. We can look at our lives and recognize his protection and provision. The light that covered the world like a blanket warms the coldest places in our hearts.

We weren’t there when Christ was born, but through Christ, we’ve been reborn.

God gave us Jesus, then Jesus gave us his life. That kind of glory fills our souls to the brim. We flow over with joy that is nearly impossible to express. It transcends heartache and trials and rests squarely on the shoulders of an infant-Jesus. It’s a joy found in knowing that we are loved personally and individually by the God who created the universe.

For Today: How can knowing you are loved by God cause you to experience joy as you approach Christmas?