Advent Reflections – Faith in the Irrational

If you are like me, everywhere you turn you will see someone writing Advent Reflections. While I’d like to apologize for joining the crowd, I find I can’t. One look at headlines around the world and I’m convinced that our world needs as many Advent Reflections as possible.

From suicides to refugee traumas, from wars to famines, from deep loneliness to deeper despair, we are a people in need of hope. My job takes me into this hopelessness (if not physically, emotionally) on an almost daily basis. From statistics to stories, I witness so much difficult news, so much sadness, so much despair. It is in these darkest days, when even the physical days grow dimmer and shorter, that we come upon Advent – the coming of the Christ Child.

As I was reflecting on Advent and all it means this afternoon, I was once again overwhelmed with the mystery of the Incarnation, the mystery of Christ coming, his channel for coming a woman’s womb. For nine months he was nourished through what his mother ate and drank, protected by his mother’s body. He was, like all babies, connected to her through his umbilical cord, his life sustained by God through Mary’s placenta. The God who said, “Let there be light” and so there was light, reduced to the smallest of cells to become one of us. There is a line in one of the hymns of the Orthodox Church that says, “All of creation rejoices in you, O full of grace…. He made your body into a throne, and your womb become more spacious than the heavens,” and when I first heard these lines, I could hardly breathe for the wonder of them.

I get it when some of my friends and family say to me “I’m sorry, but it just doesn’t make sense. I just can’t believe it.” It IS irrational and yet, every day, I choose this over all else.

Perhaps this is why the first Sunday of Advent focuses on faith. Because faith is foundational to Advent. How can I possibly move into hope, love, and peace unless I first acknowledge the faith it takes to believe that God is the creator, author, and perfector of all of those?

I choose faith to believe the seemingly impossible. Faith to get up every day and live by this impossibility. Faith to not get defensive when others challenge that belief. Faith to say, “I don’t know how this all works, but I’m still going to believe.” Faith to believe in the irrational, hope in the impossible, and love with abandon. Faith to believe that somehow in the presence of God, all of this will make sense, mystery wrapped up in indescribable love.

This is the irrational season, when love blooms bright and wild! Had Mary been filled with reason, there’d have been no room for the child

Madeleine L’Engle

If you are one who celebrates Advent, may you be encouraged to continue on in this wildly irrational faith journey that ultimately leads all of us Home.

How Do You Draw Mercy?

dock into ocean mercy of God

If you were asked to draw a picture of mercy what would you draw? How would you take the tools of pencil and paper and use them to craft a concept like mercy? Would you draw an event in your life; an event where you were shown mercy and after that you would never be the same? How do you draw mercy?

But all the wickedness in the world which man may do or think is no more to the mercy of God than a live coal dropped in the sea.” William Langland

Though crafted with words and not a drawing, this quote has given me a picture of mercy that I never want to forget. I found the quote through Madeleine L’engle’s book One Live Coal to the Sea; a book where she explores mercy in the life of a family. Mercy in the midst of evil and dysfunction; mercy despite selfishness and betrayal; mercy when life demands justice.

In the midst of life’s journey, in the middle of hearing, seeing or thinking about evil, it is easy to forget the mercy of God. Mercy for apathetic teens and adults, mercy for passionate teenagers shot out of evil intent, mercy (dare I say it) for the men who shot her, mercy for me.

Today I picture that live coal, burning hot; a coal that can ignite a fire or burn a body, causing great pain and damage. And I picture that red, hot coal hitting the vast ocean where it can no longer do damage; where it is overcome by something so much more powerful. It is so far beyond my understanding, so much bigger than I could ever imagine. Evil confronted by the mercy of God and in that confrontation losing its power — one live coal to the sea.

How do you draw mercy?

“He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” Micah 6:8

Giving Voice to the Longing

voice to a longing

Thanksgiving is over. It was a day of grace and gratitude with people from around the world gathered in warmth and belonging. Israelis mingled with Syrians, Iranians with Americans, Greeks with Serbians – all over turkey and pumpkin pie. Candles burned bright and laughter came easily. We said goodbyes slowly that night and the goodbyes have continued as our adult children linger on for just a couple more days.

Yesterday as I sat on our couch, the light of day fast fading into a dark that comes too soon, I felt an inexplicable sadness and longing. My daughter Stefanie and I had taken out some Christmas decorations to bring some solace to our aching hearts and Sufjan Stevens played in the background, but it wasn’t enough. The ache was deep, the longing acute.

In years past I thought that much of my longing was about being a third culture kid; about living Between Worlds, not really belonging to either. That there is a unique longing and grief associated with growing up between worlds cannot be denied, but this longing is in a separate category. The longing that I felt yesterday is not the longing associated with place and people.

It’s the longing for whispers of sorrow to become shouts of joy.

It’s the longing for glimpses of truth to be replaced by complete and clear vision of that which is good, that which is holy.

It’s the longing for wrong to be made right.

It’s the longing for a broken world to be repaired and redeemed.

It’s the longing that comes when I see a man, his body deformed and his ability to function impaired and weep for him to be made whole. The longing that comes when I hear of atrocities and cry for justice; the longing when I hear of pain and beg for comfort. The longing when I hear the stories of refugees, and pray desperately that they will heal and find peace.

The longing to see the world as it was intended, not as it is.

Advent allows me to wait with expectation, to hear whispers of hope echo throughout this world. Because this is truth –  from small villages in Pakistan to large homes in suburbia, our deepest longings are the same.

The season of Advent allows me to put words of longing and expectancy in the same sentence, the same breath. In the words of Madeleine L’Engle, it is the “irrational season” – a time when reason can be replaced by anticipation, trust, and expectant belief.

“This is the irrational season, when love blooms bright and wild. Had Mary been filled with reason, there’d have been no room for the child.” Madeline L’engle

Irrational Seasons

This is the irrational season, when love blooms bright and wild! Had Mary been filled with reason, there’d have been no room for the child*

I’m up early. I’ve got these gigantic sweet roll thingies in the oven and they smell amazing. Family has begun to arrive and I am in that sweet space of happy-tired that moms know well. The God who cares for the heart of a mom intervened yesterday when my son and his girlfriend missed their flight. Despite the busy season they were rerouted in record time and we greeted them with hugs and bursting smiles in the afternoon.

Every year I post this quote by Madeleine L’Engle.  It never gets old. When I’m tempted to doubt the miracle of Grace, to use ‘reason’ instead of faith I think of the woman who said ‘Yes’ and Love bloomed bright and wild.

I don’t know where your heart is this season – it could be so full of joy you want to burst or so dark with loneliness and depression that you want to turn out the light and not wake up – but today wherever your heart is, may love bloom bright and wild. May you above all know the miracle that is Grace. The miracle of the irrational season. 


Readers – Send your Christmas photos that replace Word Clutter today to I will be posting them tomorrow! Thanks to those who have sent already! 

The Unpublished Chapters

20130327-112312.jpg“My dear fellow. We all have chapters we would rather keep unpublished.” Lord Grantham of Downton Abbey

Jennifer Lawrence has wooed Hollywood and beyond with her real, down to earth, gutsy honesty. She seems to be what everyone has waited for. Some authenticity from Hollywood plastic.

We are in an era where authenticity is applauded. We want ‘real’. We want ‘authentic’. We want the gritty, the broken, the messy. Those of us who are Christians say we want it because we want to remind ourselves, and others, that Christ died for messy. He died for broken. He died to redeem all that.

And that’s not a bad thing.

But at the end of the day – all of us have unpublished chapters and perhaps we should keep it that way.

Perhaps it’s a good thing.

The idea that we are to be emotionally ‘naked’, fully honest with everyone is a cultural value gone wild. The idea that all can carefully handle our truth is a myth, a dream of a perfect society. The notion that ‘authenticity’ means bearing it all – a 21st century fallacy.

Because much of God’s work takes place in our unpublished chapters.

Much of his cutting, his cleansing, his replacing is done behind closed doors. Surgeons don’t let everyone into their sterile field – only those who have been properly trained and can assist with the surgery. I believe the same is true with God – he doesn’t want us to let just anyone in.

And perhaps that is the danger of the public world in which we live. A world where we are to tell all and more in order to appear authentic.

But then we realize the world can’t handle it and does not treat it with care. We thought we were being authentic – but we are skewered in the name of analyzing and critical thinking. That real, authentic, genuine stuff that we have gone through, felt deeply, shared with trembling, is figuratively cast before the swine of our day.

Instead of feeling free and supported, we end up crushed and hurt, feeling the weight of being misunderstood with our private selves revealed.

Can we give each other grace and understanding that there is a major back story without having to share it with everyone? Through blogging I have been privileged to hear a few of your back stories – your unpublished chapters. And they are amazing – they reflect resilience and grace, courage and faith. And I guard them with care.

In turn, I have been able to share with some of you my unpublished chapters – the things that will never go on this blog. They are too dear to me, too fragile, too counter-culture to share.

And so I say to you – Guard your unpublished chapters. Everyone is not capable of reading them and handling their truth.

“Because you’re not what I would have you be, I blind myself to who, in truth, you are. “~ Madeleine L’Engle

More Than a Merry Christmas

“Merry Christmas” said the gruff, well-seasoned bus driver. He paused. “And if you don’t celebrate Christmas I’m not talking to you!”

In politically correct Cambridge I thought my ears were going to fall off. And I feared a bit for his life. But in the spirit of the season, most people were good-hearted and merry about the interaction, wishing the driver a happy holiday or Merry Christmas as they left the bus.

It also made me think about the “war on Christmas”. I realize it’s not something I’ve fretted over. While I think ‘X’mas’ looks a little silly, I dismiss it quickly. I’ve lived in two Muslim majority countries where we celebrated Christmas without outside forces dictating the rules or grandmas getting run over by reindeer.   And as I walked away from the bus with a ‘Merry Christmas’ in my ears and on my lips, in an epiphany of sorts I was struck that my faith is so far beyond a mere ‘Merry Christmas’.

For this God I love is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. He’s the bright morning star and the fairest of ten thousand. He is the babe in the manger and the King of Kings. He was there when the sea was formed and is there when the mountain goats give birth. He is Creator, Saviour, Comforter all in one. He is, and will always be, so much more than a Merry Christmas.

So today I wish you more than a Merry Christmas. While the magic of the season is limited, the reality of the living God will sustain forever.



Readers & Friends – Thank you….for reading, emailing, commenting, and, right when I’m ready to stop blogging, telling me that what I wrote helped your soul. Yesterday Communicating Across Boundaries made it to over 200,000 views in less than two years – and it’s because of you. I’ll be taking a break for a few days as my kids come in from different corners of the globe through international and domestic terminals. 


When Rational Thought Meets an Irrational Season

One of the best pieces I read this week came from the New York Times by Stephen Marche. Called “Let My Tebow Go” the author, an admitted atheist confronts his dilemma: how does he as an atheist make sense of good things happening. Just as the Christian struggles with the question of how a good God can allow pain and suffering, the atheist struggles with the opposite — and that, he says, is “contending with joy” or “how can randomly good things happen”.

For him this is represented in two things: the first, the 3-year old daughter of a friend of his fell down a steep staircase and got up, unharmed. “I could barely stand to look at her afterwards” he says. “Every time I thought about what might have happened to my friends’ child, a fierce constriction grabbed my chest and a sickening feeling roiled in my belly. Over the rest of their visit, I kept randomly repeating, “That was a miracle.” It was the only phrase I could come up with. I didn’t know how to deal with inexplicable good fortune. Even after my friends returned to New York, the strange constriction in my chest persisted.”

The whole thing didn’t make sense. It wasn’t rational.

Tim-Tebow-Sports-Illustrated-Cover-4The second – Tim Tebow. That Tebow, a quarterback who is not that good, led the Broncos to victory after victory is not rational. The author is “confounded by the absurdity”. He finds himself longing to see this continue, he feels the Jets must let Tebow play. “Tim Tebow is a prophet of happy absurdity. He is a moment of inexplicable joy.”

It’s rational thought confronting irrational happening. It’s Susan from Miracle on 34th Street “I believe… I believe… It’s silly, but I believe.”

And where is this most at play? During the absurd and irrational season of Christmas. A virgin birth is not borne of rational thought, a death on the cross and resurrection three days later is not logical, rational. And that’s the mystery of this whole thing, this whole season. A baby is born of a virgin and history changes.

Madeleine L’engle articulates it best in her book, The Irrational Season, and her famous words:

This is the irrational season, When love blooms bright and wild, Had Mary been filled with reason, There’d have been no room for the child.”

In the midst of this last weekend before Christmas, where the ‘rational’ demands our attention, may we make room for irrational joy and promise.

The Grace Mandate

I do a great deal of thinking about Grace. Probably because I have basked in its beauty, felt relief through its comfort, and experienced its power so much in my life. Although at one time I think I could have been a poster child for the Pharisees, knowing all the right things to say and do, through various events in my life I have tasted the sweetness of grace and I have been changed.

I have learned when a person’s behavior appears to be inconsistent with what I know about their life from the outside looking in, then I am mandated to give grace without information. I must be willing to give grace without forcing them to show their soul. It’s all about the mandate: to give grace with or without information.

I have also known absence of grace.  I have felt accusations and judgment from those who don’t know the situation and yet decide to write my story in their minds where it quickly becomes their reality. In the cast of characters I am labeled as either villain or vain. I don’t stand a chance. My inner voice shouts out at the accusers daring them to cast the first stone…and then I remember the grace mandate.

I want to scream against the mandate “It’s not fair! They don’t deserve grace because they don’t give it!” But my screams are met by a God who slowly and kindly reveals that this is what it’s all about. Grace for Pharisees, grace for sinners – no respecter of persons is grace.

Philip Yancey, an author who devoted an entire book to grace says this: “As I studied Jesus’ life, the notion of grace kept hitting me in the face.  All his stories made the wrong person the hero: the prodigal son not the responsible older brother, Lazarus not the rich man, the good Samaritan not the Jewish rabbi.  And I began to see grace as one of the great, often untapped, powers of the universe that God has asked us to set loose.  Human society runs by Ungrace, ranking people, holding them accountable, insisting on reciprocity and fairness.  Grace is, by definition, unfair…”From

And this is truth – Despite being surrounded by Ungrace, we are called to give Grace. It’s the Grace Mandate.

I will have nothing to do with a God who cares only occasionally. I need a God who is with us always, everywhere, in the deepest depths as well as the highest heights. It is when things go wrong, when good things do not happen, when our prayers seem to have been lost, that God is most present. We do not need the sheltering wings when things go smoothly. We are closest to God in the darkness, stumbling along blindly.
― Madeleine L’Engle