Tag Archives: worship

Why I love Advent–Which Starts Sunday! (And a free Advent devotional book for you.)

The ribbons and bows looked funny on that avocado plant, but my little brother and I beamed at our parents, showing off our “Christmas tree.” To their credit they didn’t reprimand us, but the delight my nine-year-old heart hoped to see in their eyes was pain instead. They hated to disappoint us, but they couldn’t encourage such “pagan” behavior. See, I was raised with the belief that Christmas and all its trappings were not of God. Jesus was from God. He was sent to save us. But Christmas was not His birthday, and the Christmas tree was nothing more than leftovers from people who worshiped a false god.

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My first Christmas tree

It was to be another forty years before I owned my first Christmas tree. Perhaps this is one reason I dearly love Advent worship. The process to shedding the beliefs of my childhood and learning to celebrate at Christmas has been long and confusing, but the search has also been pure gold. Since I wasn’t raised with traditions around the holiday, my heart hungered to understand why people did what they did, what God thought about it, and what was right for me.

 

The Advent devotional readings became one of my favorite things, and I’m always on the look-out for a good devotional book—one that makes me think about worshiping Jesus and celebrating not only His birth, but what He came to do.

When I wrote Soul Scents: Flourish, which is a thirteen-week devotional book about my journey out of spiritual, emotional, and mental abuse, I didn’t expect a month’s worth of writing to center of Advent worship, but it’s what God placed in my heart to write. I shouldn’t have been surprised. Captivity of heart, mind, and emotions is the result of abuse and my heart has fought for years to fight out of the captivity connected to my Christmas worship.

Advent cover smallThis fall, as I worked on my Christmas novella series, Tinseled Tidings,  the Lord prompted me to pull out the weeks of Advent worship and off them free on my website. I am pleased to do this. I like to think of it as giving a Christmas gift to all who will receive it! (You can get yours by visiting for free at my website.)*

As I wrote these devotions I found myself typing, “I was created to celebrate. The trappings of Christmas are simply an expression of this need to worship, to sing, to dance. What I really seek is complete freedom to be who I am, to praise my God in abandon, to enjoy every ounce of beauty I can find, without majoring on minors or intense self-evaluation of the rightness of every choice.

From the beginning of my life the enemy tried to steal this identity from me. Children of celebration don’t do well with strife, but I was surrounded by it from day one. They need free expression and movement and beauty. As a child, religion created within me a mistrust of the aesthetics. The culture I was raised in didn’t give much credence to the arts. In the early years movies were considered evil. Dance classes a sin. And much of art inappropriate. Beautiful spaces were not particularly appreciated. There was a prevailing attitude in the church of my childhood that poverty was more acceptable than riches. Too much emphasis on outward adornment was also suspect. As a religious culture, there was a scarcity in our ability to celebrate, to embrace the abundance of the gifts God offered us. Christmas was but a tiny piece of a prevailing attitude that found suspect anything that included too much celebration, too much joy, too much beauty—too much abundance of any type.”

As the words flew from my fingers I grasped something big. I wrote, “It isn’t just Christmas the enemy has tried to steal from me. It is life!

The right to be who I am and breathe my own air the unique way He created me to do it!
You see, I am a child of dance and song. I am a child of celebration. From the beginning the enemy has sought to steal this from me. He has tried to exploit my desire to please God by turning it into striving instead of joyful surrender and praising advancement. He tried to twist the deep parts of my personality, the “old soul” that is me to make me melancholy instead of simply reflective and insightful. He tried to poison my sanguine temperament with hopelessness.

But he has lost his battles. His schemes are crushed into the ground. Where he sowed pain and despair my Jesus came in and poured His healing blood and turned all that evil had planted into seeds of faith. My Jesus watered those seeds with the showers of blessings and storms of trial and the every-single-day-new-hope of His Light. The seeds are bursting forth in blossoms, and the garden of my heart where He dwells is fragrant with grace. The turtledoves have arrived and coo their love song there in my garden heart. The garden my Lord planted for His enjoyment. Here there is hope. There is dance and song and celebration. For I am His child, created for joy.”

As I share those words** with you today, passion rises, jumps, screams out of my body asking, “how about you?” Where has the enemy stolen your joy? Taken away your worship? Lied to you, forcing you into a box of unending self-examination and rules or held you back from enjoying abundance?

My friend we are FREE.

Remember the truth of the beautiful carol, “In His name all oppression shall cease!” and join with worshipers of the ages singing:

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim! ***

May God meet you in joy and freedom this Advent season. I hope you’ll download my *free* Advent devotion and let me be a part of that.

From my heart to yours!

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*If you prefer to read on Kindle instead of downloading the free pdf, Selections for Advent is available on Kindle for 99 cents.

**Taken from week 2 of Soul Scents: Flourish Selections for Advent

***O Holy Night’s original verse by Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure in 1847, translated into English by John Sullivan Dwight (1812-1893)

 

Pondering With a Coloring Book 2

So yesterday I posted about how unhappy I was with my color choices as I started a new page in Lisa Joy Samson’s Colors of Hope (on sale today on CBD). I mentioned that as I colored the  Lord revealed to me  thoughts about being creative and brave and willing to try new things in life.

Following is what I pondered as I continued coloring that particular page:

I’m still not done with this coloring page or its accompanying verse (When you call out to me and come to me and pray to me, I’ll hear you), but I gotta say, I’m loving how this is coming together–even the yellow and blue I didn’t like at first.

Today three things went through my head as I colored and chatted with Jesus. The first was simply joy. I think the happy colors brought that out! I worshiped, with little praise songs freely bouncing around in my head. I wanted to celebrate His creativity, love, power, and beauty. This mixed with the ponderings I posted yesterday led me to think about what it looks like to be a follower who surrenders fully, like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, without forgetting that life has other gardens, too. Beautiful Eden gardens where we enjoy bounty and beauty and walk in intimacy with our creator.

I want to understand how to live as one who walks in surrender when called to hardship or a season of sacrifice–or even to live without getting angry at God when life sends me a curve ball.

AND I want to be a joyful woman who is adventurous and lifts her face to the breeze. Free. Focused on the glory of the life God desires for us. Believing in His goodness.

The second line of thought was about perspective. As I worked around the edges of my coloring page, I saw previous work differently. I was able to see little flaws I hadn’t noticed and fix them. They didn’t bother me. At this stage of the process I was far enough along to simply handle them. No stress. And as more spaces were colored I started getting a sense of the joy of the whole picture and how it fit together, not just the unfinished parts that made no sense at first. I don’t think I have to explain either of the metaphors popping out there!

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The third pondering was simple joy in God’s provision for play and refreshment as I color. In this season of my son’s upcoming wedding, my other son’s graduation, and my efforts to meet a May 1st book deadline, I’m incredibly grateful to the Lord for leading me to play through this devotional coloring book. What delight to see the happy colors, to be creative without need for perfection or plan, to just hang out with him.

The last many years He’s often pulled me out of my more serious approach to time with just the two of us. I’m learning to rest in His wisdom in leading our relationship. There are seasons for all kinds of relating with the Lord, and I love the deeper study times as well as the intensive prayer and journaling times, but He knows I can be too serious, too responsible, so He pulls me out for long walks or gives me a coloring book and asks me just to be in His presence.

To chat or not.

To play.

Isn’t our God good?!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this three blog series about the joys of coloring and the things Lisa and I learned while interacting with Colors of Hope. Next week I’ll be talking about navigating empty nest as I interview Vicki Caruana, who wrote, “The Joy of Letting Go.” This book releases April 1, no foolin’! Receiving an advanced copy of her book in the mail the week my oldest son married his beautiful bride was quite timely. (I hope to also blog about the wedding soon. It was a glorious day full of joy and peace! There is joy in letting go. 😉 )

Until Tomorrow,

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PS If you’re interested in hearing more about my journey out of the “quiet time” box of my past and into more freedom to be playful with the LORD, you can read about it at the end of my book, Soul Scents: Bloom, available now on Amazon.

First Gift Giver

Join us each day through December 25 for my journey to the manager–from a child who believed Christmas was taboo to a woman who longs to worship at Christmas. These devotional thoughts are excerpted from Soul Scents: Flourish, which releases soon. If you’re chiming in late, you can see the whole series here. Just scroll down to December 1 in this category.

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ. ~ 2 Corinthians 2: 14–15 NASB

imag0398I didn’t know Christmas had this fragrance. I breathe deeply, filling my nostrils with the clean, fresh scent of the evergreen tree. The aroma is like God’s favor washing over me. In it I smell His faithfulness. His kindness. His attention to detail.

I pause, away from the busyness, away from the bustle and noise. Seeking. Seeking Him.

“Thank you,” I whisper. “Thank you for what you have done and will do in my husband and in all of us. For being the One who fights for me, my family, and our hearts.”

He whispers, “I Am the First Gift Giver. I Am the ultimate Gift Giver.”

The day outside is a wintry gray, but my tree twinkles, full of light. The dimness outside the picture window only makes the lights prettier. I climb into the recliner gifted to us when Bernice passed away, the recliner that replaces the big blue one where I rocked my children and sought my Savior year after year. Pulling my special blanket around me I snuggle in, staring at the twinkle lights, inhaling the scent of Christmas.

“My Father is the Gardener.”

I grab my journal and listen, ink flowing across the page, recording the sweet Jesus whispers.

“My Father does great works of beauty in the human soul. I treasure the garden of the hearts of My people. When You let My Spirit cultivate a dwelling place for Me, you prepare a fragrant offering.”

I breathe deeply again, inhaling the aroma of this gift, this tree.

I watch the snow fall and think about Jesus.

How does He smell? Does Jesus have a manly, clean scent like that of my tree? Spicy like the cinnamon of my holiday baking? Or maybe his scent is hearty and tantalizing like homemade bread.

I may not know His exact smell, but I believe all these lovely aromas, like of all of creation, point to Him.

He is nourishing like bread.

Fun and a bit feisty like cinnamon.

Strong and clean like the fragrance of my Christmas tree.

My tree.

This gift of God, given through the willing hands of the man who loves me, is forever a reminder of the God who keeps His promises, the God who is forever green, strong and vibrant through storms, always producing something new in this world.

In my family.

In me.

And you.

And through all of us.

This Gift-giver is the God who gave His very self so we could be intimate friends with Him.

Friends close enough to catch a whiff of His fragrance.

My mind wanders to the Song of Songs, a love story I’ve taken for my own. I am the beloved of the Bridegroom.

We who love Jesus are His treasured bride.

His voice leaps from the pages of my Bible:

“I went to my garden, dear friend, best lover!
breathed the sweet fragrance.

I ate the fruit and honey,
I drank the nectar and wine.

Celebrate with me, friends!
Raise your glasses—‘To life! To love!’”

(Song of Solomon 5:1, MSG).

Precious Jesus, You are altogether lovely. You smell good. You are good. The garden of my heart is yours. Breathe in the fragrance of my love, the garden love You planted to be a sweet aroma to Yourself. How I love You! I celebrate You—Your entrance to this world as a baby, your offering upon the cross, your dwelling within me. But most of all I celebrate our friendship. Our love. Help me inhale Your clean, fresh fragrance every day. As we hang out together, make me so much like You that as I pass others a whiff of Your clean fragrance trails after me.

Still talking trees and Jesus tomorrow . . .

Until then,

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But We Don’t Celebrate Christmas (1)

~From my heart to yours~

My latest book, Soul Scents: Flourish, releases later this month. It includes devotional thoughts exploring Christmas. For the next few weeks I’m sharing excerpts. It’s my Christmas gift to you!

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(Excerpts from Christmas Memories found in Week 9 of Soul Scents: Flourish)

Christ made us free. Stay that way. Do not get chained all over again in the Law and its kind of religious worship. ~ Galatians 5:1 NLV

The ribbons and bows looked funny on that avocado plant, but my little brother and I beamed at our parents, showing off our “Christmas tree.” To their credit they didn’t reprimand us, but the delight my nine-year-old heart hoped to see in their eyes was pain instead.

They hated to disappoint us, but they couldn’t encourage such “pagan” behavior. See, I was raised with the belief that Christmas and all its trapping were not of God. Jesus was from God. He was sent to save us. But Christmas was not His birthday, and the Christmas tree was nothing more than leftovers from people who worshiped a false God.

It was to be another forty years before I owned my first Christmas tree.

Our daughter, Sarah, was three the first Christmas Jerry and I no longer worshiped in the denomination of my childhood. The church we attended had a tall, two-story Christmas tree. Lovely, it captured my heart and Sarah’s. But steps away from childhood beliefs are often tiny and faltering.

“When are we getting our Christmas tree?” our daughter asked from her booster seat.

“We aren’t planning to get one.” I tried to keep my tone light.

“Then I will go and get one myself.”

Knowing Sarah was too small to carry out her plans, I didn’t answer her. I wasn’t comfortable giving her the theology of my childhood, but I was not yet ready to embrace Christmas, especially the pagan tree. I would belt out “Joy to the World”—oh how I love that song—but trees were a different story. Still the yearning of my nine-year-old heart had never faded. How I craved celebration! How I longed to understand how to celebrate the birth of the one who’d been my faithful companion since childhood.

How hungry I was for freedom.

1a70f259b20f21b688679e5e15d60bcfI watched others I respected. The leader of the women’s Bible study and I had a conversation about the origins of some of the Christmas decorations. She agreed that many had been used in pagan worship.

“Then why are you comfortable with them?” I asked.

“God knows the intent of my heart. I don’t see pagan symbols, I see beauty that draws me to worship.”

I pondered her response.

Always seeking. Trying to understand.

One friend shared with me about an especially intimate time she’d had with Jesus. One night after her family was in bed He prompted her to grab her journal and come away with Him for some alone time saying, “Come sit under the Christmas tree with me.”

It was hard to process. If the tree was evil, why did Jesus invite her to sit close to it and enjoy its beauty?

Maybe it was that picture of intimacy which most broke through my reserves.

I longed to savor the magic of Christmas with Jesus.

Eventually I embraced the idea of celebrating Jesus, from the heart, at Christmas time. But the progression of thought about how to do that has been a life-long journey. Jerry and I struggled for years with what was “right” and what was “wrong” in a nativity celebration.

As I look to the Advent season this year, I think worrying about the “hows” and “whats” of celebration miss the point entirely. What I truly yearn for is freedom to worship. However and whenever I feel the desire rise up within. I want to think less about the “right” way to worship and simply do it in joy. Christmas was stolen from me. In my desire for purity, I missed the freedom of redemption. In my efforts to follow Jesus perfectly, I missed an opportunity to worship Him fully.

A few years ago I walked through our neighborhood alone as dusk turned to night, and holiday lights began to flicker. As I passed one particular house, I gasped. Through the clear glass door I saw a glow that literally stopped me in my tracks. The beautifully appointed staircase with its carefully wrapped greenery, red bows, and glowing white candles took my breath away. As holiday decorations go, I suppose it was actually somewhat simple, but it was so lovely that my thoughts immediately lifted to Jesus. I stood on the sidewalk worshiping the most beautiful One of all. The King who willingly left heaven’s splendor with one goal—my redemption.

Jesus, You are King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Thank you for emptying Yourself of the splendor of heaven to walk among us on this earth and pay the redemption price. I declare You worthy of worship and glory and praise and splendor. You are my Loving Savior. Please lead my Christmas season. Help me feel free to worship with as much—or little—pomp as this year calls up within me. Let each holiday action remind me of You. Fill my home with peace and worship.

Until Tomorrow,

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Vulnerable at Advent

20161201_173427.jpg“We start with intimacy. Longing. Vulnerability,” said our choir director. “We’re moving from Advent to the Incarnation.”

He was talking about the progression of Christmas music we’ll perform at our concert on Sunday, but I heard it with heart-ears. It’s exactly how I feel.

Vulnerable. Intimate. Longing.

How I long for deeper connection to Jesus! How I long for release to joy. To celebration. How breathless expectation both rises in me in hope–and falls within me in fear of disappointment. How I need Jesus to come and meet me in some very tender, raw places. How I’ve tucked myself next to His heart as I ponder. Wait. Wonder.

Advent. The longing for the incarnation. Emmanuel. God with us.

How confused I get at what that means and how it looks.

I have Christian friends who say the same thing. “I don’t really get Advent. What exactly is that anyway?”

Their admission surprises me. Maybe I thought my background uniquely set me up to not “get” all things Christmas. See, I didn’t celebration Christmas for most of my life. There was no Advent calendar at my house. Heck, there wasn’t even a Christmas tree. Jerry and I grew up in a denomination which taught that Christmas was pagan worship. We left that church twenty years ago, but our struggle with understanding Christmas continues to this day.

My latest book, Soul Scents: Flourish, releases soon. In it I talk about a lot of stuff I’ve never shared publicly before. The last section of the books talks about my struggle with–and longing for–Christmas worship.

I can’t help but wonder if you might relate to my struggles to find Him in this season. Oh, our stories are very different, but maybe you and I both feel a little vulnerable. Hungry for more of Jesus, but kind-of afraid He won’t show up. Or that He will and we’ll miss it.

As I pondered what I want this Christmas season to look like for me, I realize I long to celebrate Jesus and give good gifts. The very best gift ever given is Jesus, and so for the next 25 days I offer Him to you by sharing a little of my personal journey to the manger. I feel like the little drummer boy. I have nothing of earthly value to give you, limited resources, but I offer what I have to give. He played his drum. I write my words. And I give them, as a Christmas present, to you and to Him.

The devotional thoughts I share until Christmas come from Soul Scents: FlourishSome will be published in their entirety; others will be edited for brevity or clarity (since you don’t have the context of what comes before them in the book).

So I hope you’ll journey with me for the next 24 days. Invite your friends. Comment. Send me little Christmas notes via the blog-o-sphere and I’ll write you one back. It’ll be like exchanging mini Christmas cards! Let’s celebrate and journey together.

Until Tomorrow,

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The Meeting Place

It doesn’t matter.white church

Honest.

God can meet you anywhere.

Under a tree. In the shower. At the movies.

It also doesn’t matter the style of worship.

It was almost surreal that twenty-four hours of my life.

10 a.m Day 1:

Swaying to light guitar. Banners swirling. Gentle. Repetitive. Hands raised, seeking Presence in the intimate places.

6 p.m. Day 1:

Hubby puts his earplugs in. The worship band of vocalists, electric guitars, and drums rock the house. Singing praises in the roar.

9 a.m. Day 2:

Donning choir robes we lead the liturgy, remind ourselves and everyone else that God is on the throne. The anthem we offer says the same. Voices lifting declaring Deity.

Three very different churches. Three very different styles.

One God.

One me.

Connecting.

Until Next Time,

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Gift Upon Gift

Gift upon Gift.1 musical-notes-symbols-pc57zyxcB

Joy upon Joy.

After I posted last Wednesday something beautiful happened. I got an email offering me a JOB singing WORSHIP music. There are few things I enjoy more than singing, and no singing I love more than music that focuses me on God.

You know, Jesus tells those He cares about not to worry. But that post on Wednesday was related to worry. Maybe someday I’ll tell you the story, but this is not the right time. Anyway, here I am stuffing my emotions and eating my emotions, and not ready to talk to God about my emotions. I mean I know I need to pray, but it was just one of those times I didn’t feel like talking.

So in the middle of all this angst the call comes for this job I applied for. The worship pastor hires me to sing in the church choir. He needs a section leader type who can help carry the sound. I’m thrilled. I mean, really? I’ve been asking God for a little extra income knowing I am not supposed to take a full-time job because He’s asked me to enter more fully into the writing and speaking He asked me to do. For years I’ve also told Him I miss singing. So there He is, LOVE in ACTION, giving me a job that feels like play.

The worship pastor says he knows it is late notice, but I’d be welcome to come early for the church dinner and a lenten service. Now because of this big thing in my life I was trying not to worry about I’d decided about 3 pm to put on my jammies and lose myself in one of my favorite BBC mini-series. Instead I’m putting on makeup and rushing out the door. The soup and salad is wonderful, the people precious and welcoming.

Then the service begins.

I’m not overly familiar with liturgical worship or church calendar, but have sung a lot of high church music over the years in choirs and as a music minor in college. The service was only 30 minutes and a gentle, simple time of reflection. Peace washed over me in the words sung in the liturgy.

God is in control.

He sees.

The pastor encourages us to write out a prayer and place it at one of the crosses at the front of the room. I lay my burden down.

No emotional processing, crying,  or hours of journal writing (which is often my MO). Instead a simple laying down. Trusting.

“Sorry I’ve blown you off all day, Lord,” I whisper.

I feel His gentle answer. He understands a momma’s heart. He knows sometimes it’s just too deep for words. He’s not offended. He knows I couldn’t talk about it yet.

He removes all guilt. He doesn’t comment on my emotional eating or how I should know better. He doesn’t chastise me in any way. That’s simply not His character.

His character is to love even when I don’t open myself up to that love.

Even though I couldn’t seem to formulate a prayer, He answered the wordless prayer of my heart. He set it all up, my Sweet, Sweet, God. Pouring peace and joy in unexpected ways.

He soothed the deep waters of this little momma and made it all okay.

How I love Him.

Until next time,

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