The First One

You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so get on your way!
— Dr. Suess


There is something different about the first child to make you parent, in my case to make me a mom. First one to stretch my heart bigger than I knew was possible. First one to prove to me that I could really go with far less sleep than I thought. First one to expose the depth of tenderness in my heart. First steps, first words, first day of school, first one to graduate, first one to leave for college.

It was over a decade ago when I walked thru the last summer of everyone living at home, really living at home. That summer we did a little bit of shopping every month, slowly collecting all the items we thought Katy would need for her dorm room. I had too many opinions, and she carefully listened to them all, the journey of her becoming independent of us was only just beginning. We bought boxes for storing things, fun pillows for her bed, frames for photos of family and friends. I tried to imagine everything in her home away from home, telling myself again and again that it would all be ok.

I remember the drive to Memphis, 11 hours from San Antonio, each mile feeling a bit like a fresh stab to my gut. I was an ambivalent mess of pride and joy and excitement colliding with stunned shock that 18 years had really gone by and grief and sadness mixed with fear. What a cocktail of emotions, a bit like long island iced tea or fish house punch sloshing around inside my heart.

None of my friends kids had gone so far away, I'd heard stories from them about depositing their kids at Texas A&M or UT or Tech, but this drive was so long and we knew no one in Memphis.

I remember that Mark was a bit detached from the summer shopping we did, nodding with approval but not really engaging. But, once we were moving her in and the reality sunk in he went into full Dad mode. The first of many college drop off trips to Home Depot yielded a larger carpet for her room, tools...just in case she needed them, a fan, and plenty of batteries. You know, for all those last minute times you need batteries in your dorm room. We had agreed on how much money we had for last minute shopping needs and completely blew through the budgeted amount as we both tried to soothe the angst inside of us by buying tangible expressions of our love and care for her. 

When it came time to finally head home Mark hugged her, told her how proud he was and went to get the car while I stood there trying to stay present for what felt absolutely unreal. I tried desperately hard to not completely break down sobbing, tears leaking from my eyes and the giant lump in my throat nearly cutting off all of my words.

As our car turned right out of the front gate of Rhodes College I broke down and sobbed. It felt so impossible to be leaving Katy and driving home without her. What in the world would it look like now?

People had asked if I was ready for Katy to leave. What a question!!!! 

Yesterday at church I talked with several parents who were heading out to take their first child to college. They were feeling all the "feels" and wondering about how it would be after they got home.

I wish someone had told me that along with the feelings of loss and emptiness that there were such sweet things that would soon come.

Mark and I had been working with college kids for a long time when Katy left for school. We'd been the ones to hear the stories from kids who felt like their parents were overbearing, didn't trust them, wouldn't let them grow up. We heard how they really needed to just feel released and empowered to make their own choices and to ask hard questions about their faith. We were the "safe place" for hundreds of students.

And, when it came to parenting our own college student all of those things we KNEW to do felt SO HARD!! 

Parents of college freshman I want to applaud you, and say that whatever your struggle is looking as your first child starts college this week it is ok.

 All you can do is your best, and it will be enough. 

So...let go as much as you can, cry when you need to, don't turn their room into something else...they are coming back to it! Listen when they call, and try not to freak out and give too much advice. Remember that you've been caring for them and planting all your wisdom in them for nearly two decades, its time to trust that all that goodness will guide them. You can always say you're sorry if you show up too parental.  I've said it ALOT to my older three kids over the past decade as they've all made their way through college and into adulthood.

You are now officially in new parenting space! Welcome! We are all still figuring it out, parenting our "adult" kids, which in and of itself feels like an oxymoron.

And, for those of you who still have high schoolers, middle schoolers and perhaps a elementary aged kid as well, I will leave you with the idea that as I dropped Katy at college my youngest was just taking her first steps.

So really, trust me when I say you can do this, however hard it is we are made to do hard things.

Brave On!!





The question on the test was "How are we saved?"

If you answered "by grace" you got 100%. Every word you added took off points, such as "by grace through faith" 95%. My husband was at Dallas Theological Seminary at the time and the take away from this was powerful. We are saved by grace.

Recently my leadership team received a message from a woman who wanted to let us know that she couldn't be involved in anything we are offering because Jen Hatmaker is one of our speakers for Brave On. Last year I had several women let me know they couldn't participate in Brave On because Sarah Bessey was one of our speakers. Unfortunately, these communications often come with concern over our theology and where we may be straying from "sound doctrine."

I am well acquainted with the narrative in the church that requires we be against things. I was nurtured and equipped to identify the "other" and build my case for why they were missing the mark, walking in sin, straying, or backsliding. The conclusions I reached demanded action, confrontation and subsequent exclusion if proper corrective action was not strictly followed.

I remain grieved today about times I know I left young adults in my care feeling rejected, judged and abandoned by me from this posture of rightness.

Grace unites us, everything that comes after that divides us. All the words that come next facilitate the process of sifting and judging. Setting up our rules, our dogma, our personal preferences for what it looks like to walk in Christ.

Beyond the grace that saves us we are each free to choose. Choose your personal preference, the doctrine of Arminianism , or Calvinism, be Charismatic, be Baptist, be Lutheran or Catholic or any number of other denominational choices. Why is it that in the midst of exercising our personal preference we also must judge and bring our power against anyone who doesn't share in that preference? Do we actually believe we are safe guarding the gospel or growing the Kingdom of God? I don't see judgement and exclusion as safeguarding or growing God's Kingdom.

You love Jesus, you believe He died to provide salvation for us. Awesome. We share that in common, how good is that!

As I age I continue to discover that I know less and less and my curiosity continues to grow more and more, I believe this is the nature of wisdom. 

Many things I stood "against" in my twenties and thirties are now part of my daily life. Things I was so sure were the "right" or the "best" have proven to be flawed, everything from people to organizations, to books and programs. 

My arms are more open, my table longer, my heart more expansive. There is much I do not know. But one thing I do know is that Jesus collected the people the religious leaders labeled as sinners, disobedient to the "law" and practicing poor doctrine. He often told them to go and sin no more, knowing full well they would go and sin some more. How good of Him to spill His blood for them, for me, for you.

So when you come to my spaces, Red Tent Living, Brave On, retreats or seminars or just to my home for dinner you will find a wide array of people who love Jesus. They may be Catholic, or Episcopalian, they may be LGBTQ, they may be breaking all of your personal rules and still claim Jesus as their own and have stories to tell about how they are learning to follow Him. Or they may desperately long to know Jesus more deeply and just like so many who found their way Him in the Bible they are broken and hungry and it is a privilege to sit with them and offer them nourishment and kindness.

And if you can't come, can't support or can't participate because Jen Hatmaker or Sarah Bessey or whoever else doesn't line up with your personal preferences is invited I grieve that for you.


Because I know today that I missed out on lavish love God wanted to pour out in my soul through all that had to be excluded during the years I practiced my personal doctrine of "againstism".

So I pray blessing on you along with my hope that Jesus comes to disrupt you in surprising ways that expand your preferences and enlarge your hearts space of welcome for “the other”.

And I hope that someday you will chose to join us, bring your voice and your story to the table, because we will be richer for having had you there.


My Passion is Personal #SilenceIsNotSpiritual

I was nineteen, a college student, volunteering in the youth group at a small church in a beach community. I had given him a ride back to the church parking lot following a youth event when a close friend of the youth pastor raped me in the church parking lot. I vaguely remember the drive back to my dorm.

A few days later my friend noticed that I seemed quiet and “not quite myself”. I shared what had happened and he encouraged me to talk to the Sr. Pastor and Youth Pastor. Bravely I made an appointment and my friend even agreed to go with me.

I sat in the Sr. Pastor’s office with three men and somehow found the words to tell them about the rape. My friend sat quietly nearby while the pastors questioned my story, and then told me that while they believed “something” must have happened it simply couldn’t be what I described. Whatever had happened I had played a part because this was such a good man and he and the youth pastor had been friends for years and he certainly wasn’t capable of such a violent act.

I don’t remember much after those words were spoken. Something inside of me went dead. I held that story in silence for nearly twenty-five years.

My journey of recovering from sexual abuse did not begin until well into my thirties. It involved both one on one therapy and participating in small group settings. As I experienced safe spaces to begin to share my story I also began to discover how my relationship with God had been impacted by my abuse. The process of recovery has been life changing for all my relationships, but most importantly my relationship with God.

Perhaps it is because part of my story involves that scene with the pastoral staff at my college church, perhaps it is because I am a pastor’s wife, perhaps it is because I have sat in small groups with both pastors and church leaders sharing their own stories that I have impassioned hope that the church can become a safe space for stories like mine.

Any church leader has the responsibility to learn how to care well for those in their congregation, both men and women leaders. Doing nothing, remaining silent, is a choice to perpetuate harm and poor responses add to the damage done by abuse. “Shepherds” charged with protection and care become weapons of war against the very people for whom they are responsible.

For over a decade I have been helping church leaders, missionaries and pastors learn how to become safe people and how to provide good care for the wounded. I have sat with them as they have been brave enough to explore their own stories and from there learn how to lead with more compassion, kindness and love.

Looking at what scripture has to say about abuse and considering what it means to begin to preach on issues of abuse is also critical. I’ve yet to hear a pastor preach from 2 Samuel 13, the rape of David’s daughter Tamar which includes incest. Rape and incest are relevant and present in every congregation. Or how about a message on Mark 9:42, “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea.” That passage is filled with strong words as it pertains to abuse of children. Stumble in this passage is the Greek word skandalizō and it means cause a person to distrust and desert the one whom he ought to trust and obey. The betrayal of trust that is always present in acts of abuse sow’s seeds of destruction in a victim’s heart leaving them with feelings of mistrust for their parents to God Himself. Jesus is saying it would be better for an abuser to have a millstone hung around his neck and be thrown into the sea.

Is there grace for abusers, certainly, and that grace can only be fully experienced when the weight of sin and the harm caused have been squarely faced. Silence is not spiritual and does not facilitate or nurture an environment of grace, in fact what it does is perpetuate the environment of violence leaving both abusers and their victims with no place to turn and without the healing that is truly available.

I said yes to Belinda Bauman when she asked me to come on board as a supporter and early signer of #SilenceIsNotSpiritual because I believe change is both possible and imperative. I have seen it happen when the men in leadership of a church humble themselves and determine to face their fears and have their hearts broken over the reality of the how many victims and abuse survivors they truly have sitting in their pews.





Uncomfortable Truth

Uncomfortable Truth

Two days ago I posted an open letter to Andy Savage and HighPoint Church. As responses and feedback have returned to me I realize that part of the challenge facing the church is a lack of understanding about sexual abuse.

When I was a kid we were warned in school about "stranger danger". Stranger Danger was the unknown creeper who would grab us, or lure us away from home and offer us drugs or worse. We were all taught to be on the watch for him and to run away if we saw him. 

Well, the problem is that based on statists stranger danger isn't who sexually abuses. No one spoke about the real danger, that an abuser is most often someone you know and frequently is in a position of trust in your life, a family member, teacher, friend, or church staff person.

Now it gets more uncomfortable, because abusers are not mostly creepy people you can easily identify and label. Abusers are oftentimes well loved and highly regarded. They have changed peoples lives, they've written important books, they've been the "loving" presence in someone's life. 

Dan Allender writes, "The abuser grooms the child by watching to see what the child needs that is so often missing in their primary caregiver's nurturance. The abuser reads the heart and life of the child and positions himself or herself as a trusting presence that offers what the others fail to provide."    

For the sake of this blog I invite you to consider how this so easily happens in the church, inside of a youth or children's ministry. And our discomfort grows as have to hold that oftentimes parents are grateful for this helping person, coming alongside their child. And, the child loves this person and wants to spend more and more time with them. And this has a spiritual component in that the abuser may be teaching and leading the child, or teen, in a growing relationship with God.

Now we are acutely uncomfortable because this feels like a mess. 

So, when the 17 year old girl comes to tell her story she is talking about a beloved person, who has both abused her and cared for her. Her words are laced with ambivalence as she searches to find the right way to describe what happened and she struggles to unstitch her sense of desire and connection with him from the violence he perpetrated. And she couldn't say no, no wasn't in her vocabulary. It all happened too fast and no one ever prepared her for this scenario. No one teaches you what do you when your good looking, kind, youth pastor does something shocking and provocative in the wake of having groomed your trust and love.

Additionally, in the church we have curated a heterosexual narrative, which has minimized the reality of how many boys have been harmed by men, sexually abused by their youth leaders.   And because of the disdain and judgment the church has for homosexuality there is an added weight of shame for ever coming forward with a story of harm from a same sex youth leader. This applies to women as well, it is far less often, but women can be abusers also and it is impossibly hard for their victims to find words to speak the truth.

The church has fostered a culture that amplifies how difficult it is to tell the truth. The very place that should be safe is perhaps the most unsafe.

What it actually takes for a child, or teen or adult years later, to tell the truth is monumental. They have to face down their fear of what will happen once they tell. Families will be impacted, friends will be shocked, beloved leaders may lose their jobs. It is terrifying, and that terror is increased by the fear of feeling responsible for all that may be ruined. Placing the blame on the "beloved" leader is acutely uncomfortable for everyone, and so in nuanced or obvious ways the blame is left partially on the victim.

When a story of abuse is told poor decisions are often made because the truth is uncomfortable and leadership isn't prepared to handle things well. My plea to the church is to face the uncomfortable truth of abuse, and in particular sexual abuse. 

We must start by being honest. We must get more training and understanding for all pastors on the nature of abuse and the basics of understanding its dynamics. We need to have practices in place for when someone comes forward with their story of abuse. Practices that are protective for everyone involved. I am not saying protecting abusers from consequences, I am saying abusers deserve to be engaged with strength and kindness that honors their dignity as image bearers of God and supports them as they fully face those consequences. And victims deserve to be heard and believed and have their stories addressed appropriately, including reporting the abuse to the authorities. (which is mandatory for all churches, but often disregarded) 

Secrecy and word smithing are not helpful. Confidentiality and accountability with appropriate communication to the church body is needed. Bringing in a third party to assist is wise and advisable. "Handling" things in house is nearly impossible because emotions run too high and relationships are often too close between church leadership and the abuser.

The church can do this, it can get better. We can play a part by stepping up and asking our church what their policies and practices are, and by encouraging them to implement training and continuing education for their Pastoral staff on safe practices and how to provide good care for all victims of abuse.

Open Letter to Andy Savage


An Open Letter to Andy Savage

(and any other silent pastors guilty of sexual misconduct)


Dear Andy,

I’ve watched the story unfold in the media. The victim, Jules, has come forward to speak after twenty years of silence, telling the story of her trusted youth pastor, good looking and single, who noticed her and sought her out, who took her for a drive and parked somewhere and unzipped his pants and asked her to suck his penis.

In all the postings I’ve read, you have not denied doing the things she has named. However, the statement posted by you on the Highpoint website, and read aloud in church today, is a prime example of why #SilenceisNotSpiritual is needed now for our churches.

Silence in the church has long been encouraged with phrases such as “incident”, “respond biblically,” and “trust the redemptive process.” When responding to sexual abuse, sexual misconduct, or any other type of abuse, these vague generalities minimize the harm done to the victim and continue to promote a culture of silence. Speaking the truth is to accurately name the reality of what happened.

Andy, based on the definition used by the Department of Justice, what you did to Jules constitutes rape: “The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” (Department of Justice ARCHIVES January 6, 2012)

Additionally, as a church staff member, you were a man in a position of trust and authority over Jules. You had power and influence. As a girl in your youth group, she was not in a position to “give consent.” You stated her age but concealed yours by referencing yourself as “a college student on staff.”  This diminishes the reality of the situation and the part you played. The truth is simply that you were her youth pastor, she was a minor, and you raped her.

Your church leadership states that they stand with you, that they’ve had full knowledge of this event, as did your wife. I believe churches should stand by offenders in the full gravity of the truth and in taking responsibility for the violence that has been perpetrated, whatever the consequences include. I pray that Highpoint Church is committed to doing this with you and your family, yet a standing ovation in church does not honor Jules or you. Your actions then and your statement today are not worthy of an ovation. We don’t clap and stand. We weep, we wail, we grieve.

Today there are over 5,000 men and women committed to standing with you and Highpoint Church in saying NO to any further silence surrounding this event. #SilenceIsNotSpiritual is not designed to take down pastors—it is designed to implore the church to fully face the truth of abuse and care well for both victims and perpetrators. Silence, avoidance, and denial do not offer care for anyone.

Jules was and is your victim. She suffered at your hands, because of your sin. The ramifications are far reaching for her. She was marked and changed forever by your actions. She deserves for you to speak the truth and own the full impact of your choices. She deserves to receive professional help of her choosing and at your expense.

You may say, “What about grace?” or “What about forgiveness?” Great questions. There is grace available, and it will be experienced as you name the truth. The deeper you are willing to go in naming the specifics of your sin, the deeper your experience of God’s lavish grace will be. It would seem you have experienced forgiveness in some sense already, and more will come as you repent with greater specificity.

Any redemptive process that creates distance from naming truth is flawed and needs to be revisited. Your and Chris Conlee’s statement are anchored on the “redemptive process” you went through under church leadership in Texas twenty years ago. Though you have certainly done great good for God’s kingdom, this distancing ultimately further undermines and damages your credibility.

As a woman who cares deeply about healing what is tragically broken in our churches, as a woman committed to standing with victims and their perpetrators for the sake of the gospel, I ask that you revisit your redemptive process. It begins with using accurate words to name and take ownership of your past actions and then prayerfully considering how you and your current church leadership will compassionately respond to the woman who was your victim, then and now. Vaguely praying for her in front of your congregation is not helpful.

With Hope,



Tracy Johnson











Listening to 2018


The temptation is always there for me to create some beautiful and meaningful moment around my focus for the new year. Like I can craft a picture with my words that is steeped in meaning and dripping with goodness that leaves you hungry to come live in my world. Well, I am saying no to temptation and instead telling it like is actually unfolded.

New Years Day started out quite lovely, sitting by a roaring fire, drinking coffee with friends and sharing heartfelt conversation. The morning slowly ebbed away until we decided to pack up and head home. The bickering started before we'd pulled out of their driveway. My girls sat in the back seat disagreeing about who's turn it was to play music, what fast food stop we should make on the way home and who's turn it was to hold the dog...because taking the dog with us for New Years Eve had seemed like such an awesome idea. My nerves felt quickly raw and on edge.

By late in the day, as I worked my way through the house taking down the remaining remnants of Christmas the edginess of my mood had only increased. Nearly every conversation with Elly felt as if she simply wasn't listening to me, every request from me was countered with a question from her. Finally, it was time for bed and I was hopeful to put an end to the day.  I crisply commanded, "Leave your phones here, brush your teeth and head to bed." To which Elly responded with, "What are we going to do with my gingerbread house?" My body felt tight as I snapped back, "We will worry about that tomorrow, just get in bed."

Not ten minutes later down the stairs she came with that gingerbread house in one hand and her phone in the other. She placed said house on my freshly cleaned kitchen counter and I lost it. It's a bit of a fog but I know I heard the word "listen" leave my mouth at least five times as I unloaded my frustration from the day all over her little self.

"Ok mom, sorry. I will try harder tomorrow."

Nothing like a poor parenting moment to seal the first day of a new year. 

I can only tell you that there in the middle of my kitchen, in the dark, waiting for my tea kettle to heat up I knew that my word for 2018 was LISTEN. 

The listening has already been worthwhile. I noticed that the noise around me is loud. Social media, even in the limited capacity I've given it thus far, offers distraction and opportunity to feel pressure, failure, hustling and the subsequent shame that comes from sensing that I am not enough. Not enough education, not enough influence, not enough social justice work, not enough goes on and on. 

I felt the choice to listen to that noise or listen to my life.

I settled on listening to my life. 

Good choice, right?!

My life is now, and the only thing I can really do is listen to it and live into it. 

I cannot undo the past, I cannot make myself something I am not. I honestly don't have the energy to become my own brand, whatever that even means.

Last year I largely focused on being present in my life to grieve, heal and recover from the shipwreck that marked 2016 for me. This year it is time for me to return some things that needed be at rest for a season.

I know I am meant to do some very specific things and at the top of the list I am story listener. The #Silence is not Spiritual movement is very much about listening to stories and I will be part of doing that well and helping others to do so.

Listening to my own heart and finishing writing projects began long ago is also part of what this year will hold.

More will come I am sure, and it should be showing up here on my blog if I am faithful to what I have heard already in the few days of listening that 2018 has given me.




"Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel's strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart."

Charles Wesley

This morning I woke up earlier than I wanted, after closing my eyes well past midnight. The beauty and curse of technology at my fingertips afforded me a quick good morning text to my son, mostly to assuage my fear that he might not be up for his early morning flight. There was no going back to sleep as I waited for his response, imagining with each passing moment that he was still asleep. Do I call? Do I wait? He's a grown up, and my job is no longer to keep tabs or dictate his comings and goings or choices.

I waited expectantly for the return text.

It was ten minutes later, which isn't very long, but in our world of instant messaging it felt interminably long.

"Hey Mom, I don't have my boarding pass on my phone, can you help me out?"

Relief. He's awake and in need of his boarding pass, a good indicator that he's near the airport.

I am waiting with great expectation for his arrival and the hug that I haven't had from him in too many months.

I miss him.

There are plans for today, laid weeks ago, when we started talking about how this holiday season would be different with the little girls (who I know need another descriptor because Libby is now as tall as her sisters and will soon pass them and its ridiculous to refer to her as "little"). We decided back in November than we would wait to decorate our big family Christmas tree until everyone was home. The box of ornaments has sat in the hall closet in expectation of Steven's arrival this morning.

Yesterday my idea about chocolate croissants from Trader Joe's for Christmas morning was received with disappointment from Katy and Allison, "Seriously, Mom, we were expecting your cinnamon one else makes them."

Expectation can be tied to love, family, traditions, homecomings and goodness.

I lived for a lot of years with very little expectation. In fact, I prided myself on it. If I expected nothing, or very little, I was rarely ever disappointed. If good things came that was a bonus. In other words I lived with a deadness inside that protected me from feeling the ache of hope and love and required very little to no faith.

At this point many of you may feel like you want to roll around the difference in your heads between expectation and expectancy. But, this morning I don't want to flesh out that difference, it feels like too much word smithing for today.

Come,  Thou Long Expected Jesus.

Are you expecting Him today? 

Do you dare? 

Can you watch expecting for Him to show up in your hopes and desires for the next few days, for the next month or year? Or in your exhaustion and weariness? In the disappointed places inside of you that have no more room left?

I know in my commitment to not be disappointed with life or people I also killed off any sense of expecting for Jesus to show up with anything other than judgement and disappointment for me. A tragic loss for too many years of my walk with Him.

Admitting that I needed more, hoped for more, ached for more opened up the place of tenuous expectancy. That place continues to this day. Sometimes my expectancy feels more hopeful and confident, and sometimes it feels teetering and tired and on the edge of tears.

I've found that for me it's helpful to remember where God has surprised me, where Jesus has shown up in the past. Remembering helps me hope and watch, believing that He will come again.

I hope that you will join me and remember what God has done and allow your heart to hold expectancy for what He will do as Christmas continues to unfold for us all this year.




Yesterday we lit the third candle for Advent, the Joy candle. It honestly sounds a little cheesy as I type it, "Joy candle", like something housed in a elegant jar at Anthropologie, to be purchased for a small fortune in hopes of sending the scent of Joy throughout my house. 

The Angels tell the Shepherds in Luke 2 "Fear Not! We bring you good news of Great JOY!" Joy and fear paired up in the same greeting. The word for fear in that verse is the Greek word "Phobeo" and has in its meaning "to put to flight, to flee". In others words, leave so you don't have to present anymore. Of course there is the physical fleeing we do, but there is also an emotional flight, fleeing your feelings because to stay with them feels undoable, unpleasant and frightening. What is it we want to flee and how might that correlate with Joy today?

I believe there is a propensity to flee sorrow. Our world offers us a million distractions every day to keep us from having to stay with our sorrow. And yet, it is in staying with our sorrow, sitting with it, that we also experience joy. They are inseparable. 

I think we have been mislead to equate joy with happiness, and so we pursue happiness which allows us to run from sorrow and declare ourselves victors as we fill our lives and with passing "happy" things.

Joy and happiness are very different to me. Happiness is based on our circumstances. Choosing to be "happy" can feel plastic to me, often lacking depth.

"Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain."  Khalil Gibran

I believe Gibran's words to be true, I have found them true in my own life. I believe that Joy and Sorrow can be contained in the same frame.

Last week I found myself tearful as I watched this commercial.


I cried because I loved the story of loss and sorrow and joy intermingled in just a few moving moments of video. I cried because I could create my own two minute version of a story of loss and sorrow and joy intermingled. (I suspect you could do the same.)

We shared one such story yesterday as we lead the Sunday morning class with our deepening community group at church. Part of that story included telling about a couple of years ago wandering through Hobby Lobby with my daughter Allison when we found a sign that said JOY, a huge sign, that we bought and placed next to the front door for Christmas. It served as a reminder every time we walked through the door that Joy had been present, was present and would be present again. In the midst of sorrow and deep loss we wanted to hold onto Joy also. It could not be manufactured, but we could be intentional about noticing it when it was present, even if it felt minuscule in comparison with the ache. 

The sign stayed outside our door, all the way through the sale of our home in Kalamazoo. Joy in December and the dead of winter. Joy as spring came and went and summer too. Joy day after day for nearly 18 months. 

The day after Thanksgiving I pulled it out again and placed by our new front door. Grateful for the memories it holds, grateful that the season of needing by the front door passed, grateful to have it once again adorn our Christmas decor for all who pass by our home.

The Joy candle has been lit, it is the week leading up to Christmas. Can you let sorrow and joy be held in the same frame this week? Can the Great Joy of Jesus, God with Us, mingle with your sorrow and leave you present for this week of Advent?

I so hope it can.

Passing the Peace

Passing the Peace

Yesterday in our community group at church we lit the second candle for Advent, the peace candle. Mark and I shared some thoughts about peace and the group entered into discussion. It didn't take long until the word forgiveness was spoken as something that keeps us from experiencing peace. 

I shared something I'd written awhile back, about my own journey with peace.

It seems to me we are divided over more than unites us. I find myself wondering who needs to be heard, what stories have been stiffled, silenced and ignored that have brought us collectively as  "the church" to where we are today. 

We disagree and "unfriend" one another due to hot words spoken about race, gun control, the lgbtq community, refugees and immigrants. I feel torn inside as I read it all and then decide to sign off social media, only to return because I believe something more is possible and withdrawing feels like resigning in hopelessness.

The word that returns to me again and again in the midst of the turmoil that marks the larger narrative of our days is peace. It seems so obvious, and almost cliche to speak that we need it.

Truth is often obvious, simple and sitting right in front of us. The devious and destructive nature of evil in our world is that it so often takes truth twists and distorts it some and we lose sight of it.

My need for peace became profound a few years ago when circumstances in my life left me starving, grasping and pleading for it. On Sunday mornings our pastor would conclude the service, "Peace be with you." and in unison we would say, "And also with you." I felt the lump in my throat and the angst in my heart as I stood amidst people acutely aware that peace was eluding me and others around me. I became obsessed with figuring out how to make peace, facilitate peace and talk about peace in my relationships, while also praying for God to provide it. For me this is my sin, my addiction, the driving force within me that is tied to my fear of being controlled by someone or something that will betray me.

Recovery from addiction is painful, often requiring the intervention of a loved one.

I am very loved by God.


So ironic at some level that my addiction would be surfaced in the context of being unable to control a peace process for myself and a team of people I loved.

When I ran out of ways to try and make peace happen I was left to sit with my heart and wonder about what it meant for the peace of Christ "to be with me, and also with you."

I cannot offer what I do not have.

My intervention, staged by God himself, came with so many circumstances reeling beyond my control that friends sat nearby tearful and speechless because it defied explanation. 

My personal experience in some ways parallels what I see on a grander scale today. Madness. Mass shootings, terrorism, racism rally's, rejection and judgement of brothers and sisters in Christ, venomous spewings from one side of the church being hurled at the other.

As people are objectified and vilified we no longer have to hold their humanity or our own. The distance we create keeps us feeling powerful, barricaded and without a need for Jesus or the peace He purchased for us.

The peace of Christ is mine because of the work of Christ on the cross. I had to sit and wonder for myself what was it was that kept me from experiencing that peace. In His wisdom I believe God forced my hand and left me with only Jesus to provide the peace that hurt, brokenness, loss and betrayal had left me feeling. And, in doing so I found that peace was no longer tied to my circumstances.

The fuel for division and destruction is fear, distrust, and a loss of control. We resist the true surrendering of our hearts because we fear what will happen and mistrust those we perceive to have power and therein we refuse, grasping tightly any shreds of control we believe we have.

Peace be with you is a common greeting found in the New Testament and in making it part of our practice today we engage in training our hearts and minds to practice peace, if we take it to heart and don't speak the words lightly. 

Truly passing the peace means I look into your face and eyes an consider that the cross of Christ is between us and from there we can be at peace.

It is about the cross being enough.

What would it mean if we personally engage our own hearts and put the cross between us? What could we confess? What could we forgive? Would we experience that Jesus is indeed enough and through Him we can be mutually be at peace?

We passed the peace in our group at church yesterday morning, holding a prayer candle and feeling the light and warmth from it, one by one we looked into each others eyes and spoke the words,

"Peace be with you."

"And also with you."




Serious Business

serious business

The news spread quickly across my social media feeds. "Snow!"

It's been 28 years since the last time this happened in South Texas to this magnitude. Measurable snow in San Antonio, Austin and the surrounding hill country. 

It was a odd convergence for us as our family of four drove south for dinner with friends slowly watching the rain begin to have "guts", the first indicator that its turning to snow. We expected some flurries, and the news reports had said, "possible accumulation in the outlaying hill country areas". I had rolled my eyes at the "weather advisory" notice that came across my weather app. After having lived through real winter, serious advisory notices and surviving the snowpocolypse of 2014 I held the prediction of snow with immense skepticism.

The further we drove down I35 heading for New Braunfels the more it began to snow, what started as thickening rain turned to small flakes which turned to bigger flakes and I was soon stunned to see the familiar sight of snow falling as we passed by parking lots where the bright lights gave a clear context to just how real that snowfall was becoming. 

My phone began to light up with photos from friends, "Its snowing here!!!"

Libby was just a bit tearful with glee, as her Michigan home felt less far away and Elly chimed in "You said it wouldn't snow here Mom, you laughed when I asked if we could have a white Christmas in Texas."

Indeed, I did.

The hours of snow last night across south Texas brought immense joy to young and old alike. words like magical and miraculous appeared alongside snapshots of children playing and building snow men. 

Joy is the serious business of heaven.
— C.S. Lewis

Advent invites us, invites me, to be present. As I chose last night to leave my skepticism and be fully present to what was happening around me I was given the choice to lean into what felt magical and miraculous. 

The odd convergence gave way to the sweet gift of joy being given.

This morning I awoke to snow on the ground and a gift from a precious friend.

Miraculous Joy

There is serious heavenly business taking place here. I suspect there is some where you are too, if you open your eyes and your heart to notice and welcome it.