going on a tree hunt

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Oh the agony + joy of attempting family pictures!  And all the mommas said Amen.

A few years ago, when we were living in Brevard we stumbled across this little family-run Christmas tree farm right outside of town.  It sort of birthed this dream in us to have a little place like this, a big white farmhouse, quiet hills with neat lines of evergreens where it could feel like Christmas all year long.  Space to raise a quiverfull of children and maybe a handful of animals, space to tend the earth.  I don’t know if that dream will ever be a reality, but every year since then, we’ve headed back to this little farm that reminds of and beckons us to the way of life we hunger for.  If for nothing else, it reminds us of Eden in some way or another, a haunting for that good life that was lost, the good life that will be ours again in Heaven one day.  A future hope that makes us smile and remember that while we are here on this terrestrial sod we are here to work hard, our time here is temporary.

We went again a couple of weeks ago with my brother + sister-in-law and niece, took turns snapping pictures of each other, and hunted for a tree.  The owners didn’t mind us taking our time, traipsing all over their property with our photo props, and they even offered our kids a fun wagon ride behind their tractor!  It’s well worth it to me to pay $30 for a tree to support this little place + family.

As 2015 comes nearly to a close, my heart is full.  Though it has been a year full of challenges and stress and strain, I look through these pictures and feel immeasurably blessed.  When I fix my eyes on these simple but profound gifts instead of the long list of things I could complain about or worry over, joy truly floods my soul.  Nothing can touch the joy I have in Jesus Christ, nothing can ever separate me from Him and all that He has won for me and secured for me by His death on the cross.  Second to that, nothing can come close to comparing to the profound depths of delight and joy I have in my little family.  What a crazy good and wise God we have to come up with the idea of family!

I know so many dear loved ones who long for this and struggle deeply with loneliness during the Christmas season.  Know that I’m praying for you, that I long for you to experience the joy of family this season too, even in the broadest of terms, even in the arms of your spiritual brothers + sisters, mothers + fathers, children + grandchildren.  Ultimately, in Jesus, we enjoy “family,” because He is Immanuel, God with us.  The God who is always there, always present, among us, within us.  The kindness of our God: we are not alone!  Praying He satisfies you with His presence this season + always.

The Gospels

It’s spitting rain outside right now.  A dreary start to the week, but I don’t mind.  The house is quiet, all three children, two of which are sick, asleep in their beds.  I can hear the tapping of rain against the roof and windows, a quiet rhythm, a beckoning.

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Quietly, I set the percolator back on the stove, the smell of freshly ground beans fills the kitchen.  I make my way to the fireplace, to the desk.  Normally I don’t allow myself such a luxury during nap time, but I’m battling this head cold too and my body is asking for rest.  I’m relieved, grateful for the excuse.  My soul has been so full lately, aching to spill out.

This season of motherhood is busy.  It pulls me in a lot of different directions.  Aside from that, our culture spins on the wheels of distraction.  So many things vie for our attention and seek our focus.  We have to protect our focus, friends.  What are the main things?  What can I simply not live without?  What is my mission, my purpose, my calling?  This is a process we return to again and again, we get out of balance and find ourselves exhausted, overrun, and numb.  We go back to the drawing board, we go back to our focus and we pare down what has come in and choked out our time and energy.  We pare down what might be good but not best.  We remind ourselves to stay fully present in this present season, that other seasons may come when our time must be managed differently.  But for now, hand to the plow, girls, hand to the plow.

“Don’t work for shortcuts to God.  The market is flooded with surefire, easy going formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time.  Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do.  The way of life–to God–is vigorous and requires total attention.”
{Matt. 7:13-14 MSG}

You may know by now that I’m a resource geek.  I love finding + sharing helpful books and tools to spur myself and others on in our journey to knowing Christ better and in displaying His glory in our lives.  And we certainly do live in an age + current culture of endless resources.  There are always more books, bible studies, online communities, and great companies to support.

The voices can crowd in and get a bit loud.

That’s how I found myself at the start of 2015, looking for a quiet refuge.  Feeling that my soul has gotten a bit harried.  Hurried and harried.  I love bible study resources more than any girl you know, but that still small voice that I’ve come to know and trust has been calling me to quiet down.  To come back to just the pure Word.  No other voices.  Just His.

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I found myself aching to spend time with Jesus.  Of course, I know all of Scripture is God-breathed, all of it is His inspired word, all of it points to Jesus.  But suddenly I find myself aching to walk with Jesus and hear His red-letter words, to study and become exceedingly familiar with the three years of His precious life that we find recorded in the Gospels.  I find myself needing just to journey beside Him on His earthly journey.  What was He like?  What were His priorities?  How did He spend His time?  Did He rest?  Did He celebrate?  Did He laugh?  I remember watching the Bible series that came out not too long ago on the History channel, and feeling the winsome pull of this Jesus even imperfectly rendered in the series.  So much so that when He went to the cross (on the show) I missed Him.  I felt the missing of Him that I imagine the disciples felt when He was just gone.  I wept from the missing of Him and the longing for full fellowship with Him promised to us in glory that I can only begin to understand through His indwelling Spirit now.  A foretaste of glory.

Looking back, I had the best college experience imaginable.  I never saw it coming.  You see, I fell in love with Jesus in the pages of scripture when I was 18 years old, living on my own in the rugged snowy peaks of Breckenridge, Colorado.  Something shifted then in my heart, and although I had been a Christian since childhood, I was suddenly hooked by God’s word.  I couldn’t wait to study it and I couldn’t get enough.  It began in the Gospel of Mark.  With a commentary in hand and a journal, I read and studied and devoured God’s Word.  Shortly thereafter, in a strange turn of events, God interrupted my plan and brought me back to the gentle mountains of North Carolina to college at Montreat.  I fell in love with God there and He renewed and reformed me there.  My understanding of Him was so broken and He opened my eyes to the edges of His hugeness, the mere fringes of His glory.  I studied Outdoor Education, but I took + audited as many bible courses as I could possibly fit into my schedule.  One my favorites was a course called “Gospels” with Bill Cain.  He was the college Chaplain at the time, and he made a great impact on my life.  He was so winsome, so joyful.  I had never read and been immersed in the Gospels before like I was during that semester.  I remember reading Yancey’s book “The Jesus I Never Knew” and just falling in love with Jesus all over again.  I thought I knew Him, but He was a beautiful mystery.

Now, I am thirty years old, as old as He was when He began His earthly ministry, when He turned water to wine.  My husband just turned thirty-three, the age Jesus was when He went to the cross.  It’s hard to imagine that He completed His work at age thirty-three, a work so revolutionary it would forever divide history into two eras:  B.C. and A.D.  Before Christ + After Death.  We mark our entire human history around those three years.  

And I’m thirty.  It’s sobering.  I am called to be the literal and physical hands + feet of Jesus to the world around me.  I am equipped with the same power He had to perform the miraculous.  In fact, He said I would be able to work even greater works than His.  And so, I’ve been in Matthew.  I know I’ll dip into some other studies over the course of the year along with my church family and as God leads, but all year long, I intend to walk with Jesus in the Gospels, all the while asking Him to make it new.  To make me new.

I can’t even begin to tell you how precious and fruitful it has already been.  It’s like standing beneath a firehose with an open mouth, trying to drink it all in.  It’s hard to read the Gospels and not be struck by the shift in paradigm from the kingdom of men (constantly at work building our own kingdoms) to the kingdom of God.  It’s hard to read the Gospels and not see all the incongruities of my life and the life that Christ exemplifies and calls me to.  It’s hard to read the Gospels and not feel a bit uncomfortable with how comfortable I’ve grown in the world–how the constant barrage + current of the world system continually and daily pushes against me, tugging me to go along downstream, to go with the flow.  The kingdom life will look + feel like constant resistance, constant work.  A life surrounded by needy people — people who need hope, love, life, healing, forgiveness.

I read Matthew chapter 9 and I am absolutely floored by its end.  I literally read it in tears:

“Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.  But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.  Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few.  Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”  (vs. 35-38)

Can you imagine Jesus in the flesh preaching the Gospel to you?  Oh, to have heard that.  What a mess we were, and yet He was moved with compassion.  He sees how scattered and weary we are, bumbling about like idiotic sheep, scrambling, looking, bleating for a shepherd.

Listen to it again, in the Message translation:

Then Jesus made a circuit of all the towns and villages. He taught in their meeting places, reported kingdom news, and healed their diseased bodies, healed their bruised and hurt lives. When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd. “What a huge harvest!” he said to his disciples. “How few workers! On your knees and pray for harvest hands!”

It’s nearly more than I can bear.  I can’t wait to fall more in love with Jesus through the Gospel accounts and remembering what He was busy about when He was busy on this earth in the frail bounds of a human body.  If you’re looking for a place to read, if you’re curious who this Jesus is, consider joining me?  Grab your bible and a journal and read just a little bit a day and record what He says to you.  Write down what confuses you, what questions it raises.  Chase all the rabbit trails.  Take your time.  Let’s grow very familiar with Jesus together, friends.  Let’s fall in love with Him all over again.