Author: Laura Crosby (page 1 of 36)

One Defiant Act You Can Choose This Christmas

I stand outside in the early dawn of my hometown, and tears pool in my eyes.

I am moved by this – the bravest picture I’ve seen this season. A picture of defiance over darkness, hope holding on.

My brother, David died of cancer 2 1/2 years ago.

He was an “everyone is welcome” guy. A “we’ll leave the light on” guy. A “stop by anytime…come as you are” guy. But since his death, the house has looked shadowed, like it was grieving too.

Until now. Until this small act of defiance, by my sister-in-law, Susan. A courageous act of choosing Life.

Susan chose the small, but significant act of putting up Christmas lights.

To me it shouts, “I will NOT let the darkness win!”

“In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:4-5

God made us for Life – life in relationship with Him, now, and forever. There’s nothing the Evil One would like more than convincing us that the darkness of loss and pain are too much, too pervasive, to allow us to ever walk in the light again.

Courage doesn’t mean the darkness doesn’t exist. It means you don’t give it the power to control your life. 

Many of you are experiencing pain, and loss this Advent.

You need to be gentle with yourself. Allow yourself to say “no”. Choose what will nurture and sustain you. Draw near to Jesus.

But I also know that you can make choices to courageously light a candle in your darkness. Your tiny light may look like

  • just getting out of bed in the morning
  • finding one thing to thank God for
  • calling a friend
  • listening to worship music
  • serving someone else

Every year our church has a special worship service at the beginning of December, specifically for people struggling with darkness and loss during the Christmas season. Each person who shows up is courageous…choosing light over darkness.

This year we opened with this song. I pray it encourages you.

God will make a way through the darkness. I’m cheering you on as you choose the defiant act of lighting a candle.

What are some ways you are bringing light to the darkness?

 

3 Crucial Questions Elizabeth May Have Asked

The sun is setting outside the sanctuary windows. I work hard to be present – to continue listening as a friend in the pew speaks to me before evening worship starts. I pray silently that she doesn’t see the tears that threaten to expose my emotional response to what she is saying. It’s stupid.

“I’m over this,” I scold myself. “I’ve been over this for years!”. The little stab of pain surprises me in the way a driver cutting you off in traffic catches you off guard.

My friend is rhapsodizing about another woman. A wonderful, talented, godly, beautiful woman who I too, cheer for. Over and over, my friend says, “She’s just SO GOOD! She’s just SO GIFTED!”

99% of the time I would just happily agree, but this evening, in this setting, where others are validated with titles and pay-checks, the Evil One translates “good” and “gifted” to “chosen where you’re not good enough”, “important where you’re not“. The words aren’t true, but they bump into a wound that makes them feel true. The wound has healed over with much prayer and attention, but there’s a scar, and in the right circumstances it can surprise me with a leftover ache.

I’m still trying to brush away the feelings of inadequacy as we sing the opening praise song. “Let the King of my heart be the shadow where I hide.”

Yes, Lord, help me to hide in You, in Your place for me, in Your words about me, in Your story.

Can any of you relate to this? Are there times when emotion – pain, fear, envy, resentment – knock you upside the head without warning?

This morning I was reading Luke 1… about Elizabeth, who, with a wound of infertility, accepted her supporting role for other characters who in turn pointed to Jesus as the main character. She was a cheerleader for Mary – the one who got pregnant with the Messiah without even trying. And mother to John the Baptist, odd desert-dweller, announcing the main event.

Maybe Satan whispered in Elizabeth’s ear,  You’re not important like her! Child-bearing came easy for her because she’s SPECIAL and you’re not! You’re just an ‘also ran’. Her kid will be perfect. Yours just a bug-eater”

And yet Elizabeth was humble and affirming of Mary.

You’re so blessed among women,
    and the babe in your womb, also blessed!
And why am I so blessed that
    the mother of my Lord visits me?
The moment the sound of your
    greeting entered my ears,
The babe in my womb
    skipped like a lamb for sheer joy.
Blessed woman, who believed what God said,
    believed every word would come true! Luke 1:42-45

Maybe there were times when Elizabeth’s scar ached in Mary’s presence. But I think it was because she knew it wasn’t about her OR about Mary that she had this godly perspective. It’s about Jesus. Always about Jesus.

It’s not about you. Or me.

But I wonder, did Elizabeth ever need to step back, be still, and ask:

  • Where is this pain coming from?
  • What is true? What does GOD say?
  • Who’s the hero of my story?

God’s provision is often different from what we envision. Sometimes we forget the most important thing – He’s the author and main character in the Grand Story of redemption.

Today, can we be thankful we get to be supporting characters?

What Does a “Sacrifice of Praise” Look Like on Thanksgiving?

It’s Thanksgiving morning and I have much to be grateful for. We are surrounded by extended family and daughter Katy from D.C. showed up to surprise us yesterday.

But part of a verse has been running through my head this Thanksgiving week.

“offer a sacrifice of praise”

Like I’m watching an unsteady toddler, tipsy and bumping an ottoman then lurching into a chair, I feel like I want to catch this verse and make it safer.

Last night as we sang worship hymns I thought of friends and family for whom praise may be difficult. If I read this verse in other circumstances I would be decidedly ticked off at God.

I think of…

Friends in a rocky marriage

Those mourning loss of loved ones

A dear one with ALS

I would be like, “SACRIFICE?? MORE SACRIFICE??”

How are they praising God this Thanksgiving? I don’t believe “a sacrifice of praise” means inauthenticity. Not a “fake it til you make it” deal. So what is the genuine response of “a sacrifice of praise”

Here’s the context.

For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.

Hebrews 13:14-16

Although “fake it til you make it” doesn’t seem Jesus-y, it does seem there’s a call to move past our gut emotional response to circumstances, and instead choose the discipline of “in spite of”.

  • In spite of these circumstances I praise God because I can look forward to eternity with Him. (it is through Jesus we can do this)
  • In spite of these circumstances I praise God for His past faithfulness.
  • In spite of these circumstances I praise God for His character daily – He will never leave me. He redeems my sin. He loves me no matter what.

Here’s the thing, though… It’s not just my friends in challenging situations who may struggle with a “sacrifice of praise.” Maybe it’s you or me, in a season when things are pretty hunky dory.

One definition of sacrifice is: an act of offering to a deity something precious.

One thing that is precious to us is our sense of self-sufficiency, our autonomy. It’s the root of our sin, right? Like the lurching toddler above, we want to declare “I do it myself!”

Especially when things are going well, for some of us, “a sacrifice of praise” may be laying aside our pride and admitting “All that I am and all that I have come from You Lord. I praise You because You alone are worthy.” 

In the service last night we sang the hymn that has become our family’s. I pictured many friends and family as I sang the last stanza:

Pardon for sin, and a peace that endureth, Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide’

Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, 

Blessings all mine with ten-thousand beside!

Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness! 

Morning by morning new mercies I see; all I have needed thy had hath provided –

Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Three Questions to Prep You for a Dysfunctional Family Gathering

John likes to say he grew up in the Simpson family and I grew up in the Cleaver family.  For those of you born before this century that’s the Leave-it-to-Beaver-all-american-solve-the-oh-so-dramatic-problem-of-someone-telling-a-white-lie-in-30-minutes-and-live-happily-ever-after-TV-family-of-the-1960’s.DSC00619

I share that only because we’re coming up on Thanksgiving and Christmas and every holiday that involves families gathering together.

Some of us have dreams that look like this:

 

But reality can often look like this:

And as wonderful as my family is, and as much as I’d like to think they’re perfect, I’m resigned to face the truth that there is no such thing as a fully functional family.  We live in a broken world and we’re a broken people – dysfunctional in some way, every one of us.

It’s a little comforting to know we have some not-so-stellar company in Bible families.

  • Lot got drunk and slept with his daughter.
  • Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery.
  • David refused to deal with his son, Absolom’s sin.
  • Abraham slept with his wife’s servant.

Not exactly “Minnesota nice.”

“How is this encouraging?” you say!

Well, in spite of their sin, God forgave, redeemed and used them.  There is hope for all of us.

For those looking forward to Norman Rockwell gatherings this week, praise God.  But for those who are going into the crazy zone that is your family, what are some things you can do to prepare?

Think of the person or people you will see who brings out the worst in you. The person who tries your patience, or shames you, or prompts you to act like your two-year-old self.

Consider these insights from Henry Cloud:

“You can’t control outcomes. You can only control your behavior. Focus on that and you will get better outcomes.” 

  • What is it in you that needs to change?  What can you control?

“No one can manipulate you unless you need something from them….figure out what you need and you will discover the source of their power.”

  • What are you looking for from someone else that only God can perfectly give you?  Approval?  Forgiveness?  Love?
  • What can you authentically affirm in each of your family members?  A kind word can diffuse a lot of tension.

Most importantly, though, maybe prepare by praying.  Hands open.

Lord, I bow before You, marred, and messed up, just like the rest of my family.  Help me to see myself and Yourself more clearly.  Give me grace to cover the offenses of others.  Give me humility to ask forgiveness where I have offended.  Give me courage to speak the truth and pursue healthy boundaries.

So as you anticipate being with family sometime during the holidays, is it with excitement or  a knot in your stomach?  Are you going in prepared and prayed up?

What to do With the Ding

You’re the only family not invited to a relative’s wedding. You wonder, whaaaat did we do wrong?

Ding.

You send an email with a question and get crickets, leading you to imagine all kinds of crazy scenarios why.

Ding.

A colleague always seems to outshine you, leaving you feeling inadequate.

Ding

Some close friends start avoiding you because they disagree with a leadership decision you made.

Ding.

A family member betrays your trust and disregards a promise, refusing address the issue.

Ding.

These are all real-life dings that friends have shared with me.

Your dings are different, but we all get them. It’s an inevitable part of…well…being us.

A ding can take our emotions hostage if we let it. 

It can bind and gag us, leaving us in a dark basement with feelings of “less than”, shame, and “not good enough”.

I think of Daniel, Shaddrach, Meshach, Abednego – all taken captive in Babylon.

In spite of the power being exerted over them, they chose not to let their spirits be taken hostage. They trusted in the Lord – His values, His opinion, His calling on their lives, not Nebuchadnezzar’s.

But think what intention this required! The temptation to cower, compromise, compare, or conclude they were second-class would have been constant. How many times did they repeat something like this to themselves?

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. Psalm 20:7

So…maybe we should ask a question of our ding:

God, what do YOU say to me? About me?

Confession: It’s easy for me to ASK these questions, but to be still and really listen for the Lord’s answers? Much harder!

Erwin McManus reminds us: “Don’t let an arrow of criticism pierce your heart unless it first passes through the filter of Scripture.” 

Instead of being held hostage by our feelings, can what we’re feeling be liberated by the sword of God’s Word? What perspective, peace, or promise frees us there?

Recently I shared a ding with a friend and she reminded me we are to “respond with the energies of prayer”. She wisely suggested praying: Lord, I welcome You into this ding. Let it bring out the best in me.”

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! … And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

How do YOU deal with the dings?

You’re Invited to Sit With Jesus This Advent

It’s 6 a.m. I sit in the dark, looking out the window of Starbucks at the twinkly white lights and a few snowflakes lazily dancing their way to the ground. It’s only the beginning of November, but if I’m not careful my mind can hopscotch right over Thanksgiving and land on thoughts of   goals for  stress about Christmas.

It’s coming. And we want sososososo much for it to be all about Jesus being born in us, meeting us on dark starry nights, overshadowing the chaos of the world with His peace that passes all understanding.

The Christmas our Katy was almost 2 years old, one day she took me by the hand and dragged me over to our manger scene that was set up by the fireplace hearth. (bottom left corner of the picture).

She pulled me down to sit in front of baby Jesus.

“Sit. Stay. Watch.” she commanded.

Ahhh such a precious invitation!

I believe Jesus will meet us anywhere we seek Him (yes, even in line waiting to see “Santa” in the mall), but He’s a gentleman and won’t barge in where He’s not welcome. As we approach the start of Advent, maybe we could respond to His invitation to sit with Him.

In June my friend Heather and I dreamed up a little project and prayed it would help people to meet with Jesus – really meet with Him, instead of reading a devotional with second-hand thoughts about Him. It was a “first effort,” and we’ve been working on creating an even better resource for Advent.

We want to get our new Advent Devotional Cards in your hands to help you press into Jesus this season.

Each card has a verse on one side, like the one above. On the flip side there is a longer reference if you want to read more in context and then a couple of simple invitations of ways to talk to Jesus about the verses. There’s white space if you want to draw or write your thoughts.

Here’s what I promise you:

They are simple.

They will invite you to look at, listen to, talk with Jesus.

They are portable and can be used in a variety of ways:

  • At your desk at work.
  • In the car.
  • Around the dinner table with older kids.
  • As scripture memory cards on your fridge.

“How can I get them?” you ask!

  • At Church. If you live in the Minneapolis area, you can buy these Advent cards at Pathway Bookstore at Christ Presbyterian Church in Edina. This way you can avoid mailing costs!
  • In Person. If you are going to be at an event where I’m speaking, I will bring some with me that you can buy for $17 🙂
  • On Line. If you live elsewhere you can order the cards by clicking on the sidebar for $20 (which includes tax and mailing) and we’ll send them to you asap! For bulk purchases (3 or more), contact us for shipping costs. (you can preorder today)

And if you’d be so kind…. If you receive these as a gift, we would love it if you might post a picture of yourself using them on social media with any (or all!) of these tags:

#adventdevotional

#shareadventdevo

@lauracrosby

@inspired.desire.co

Thanks so much and have a blessed Advent!

Soul Food for Darker Days

It’s here – the darker season. We’ve turned the clocks back. The days are shorter, colder, cloudier.

Halloween is over, but Thanksgiving isn’t here yet.

We don’t have the lovely snow of winter to distract us and the gray days can make us feel a little Eyore-ish.

via GIPHY

Hang in there! You’re gonna be ok.

Music

Last Sunday was All Saints Day, when we as a church remember the “great cloud of witnesses” who have gone before us. At our church we have a time of reflection and prayer as we scroll through pictures of those who have died this past year on the screens. This is a song that our worship leader, Heather Moen sang. It was beautiful and comforting.

Recipe

Ironically, I was set to post a soup recipe, when I re-read this delightful quote in Shauna’s Bread and Wine that is just perfect:

“Soup is cold-weather-dark-sky food. Soup is peasant food – odds and ends, bits and pieces, a way to stretch a piece of meat or a handful of rice… Soup is the wool sweater, not the little black dress. It’s the cardigan with elbow patches, not the pressed shirt and tie.”

This soup recipe isn’t from her, but is a favorite from Martha Stewart.

Pumpkin Mushroom Soup (I know mushrooms aren’t everyone’s jam, but my husband loves them!)

4 TB butter

1 TB (or less) curry powder

1 lb mushrooms sliced

1 lg onion chopped

1/3 cup flour

4 cups chicken broth

2 #1 cans pumpkin

5 TB honey

salt and pepper to taste

Heat butter in lg. pot. Add curry powder and cook 1 min. Add mushrooms & option and sauté.

Stir in flour and cook 3 min.

Sitr in chicken broth and pumpkin

Brind to boil and simmer 20 minutes.

Sitr in honey and simmer 10 minutes more. Add salt and pepper to taste. Can garnish with sour cream.

Makes 10 generous servings.

Movies

I wrote a post awhile ago about wanting to hear/see the better stories…the ones that inspire us to something higher. There are three movies based on true stories that I have loved lately. Take a look:

Victoria and Abdul

Marshall

Goodbye Christopher Robin

And my movie maven friend, Heather, also recommended this one. I read the book and am going to see the movie today:

Same Kind of Different as Me

What have you seen or read lately that has been uplifting? Share in comments?

Have a great weekend!

5 Important Questions to Ask About Boundaries

“I often can’t get away from work til around 8:00.”

“I make work calls on my 45 minute commute to the office.”

“I’m a stay-at-home mom because I want to invest time in my kids while they are young, but I’m in so many important volunteer positions that I’m exhausted and pre-occupied with all I have to do even when I’m with my kids.”

“I’ve been up til midnight the past few nights trying to get my work load under control.”

“If I go out of town or take a break on the weekend, I’m swamped when I get back. It’s not worth it.”

These are all statements I’ve heard recently.

So many of my millennial friends are in seasons of high stress, high demand, and long work hours. The discipline of setting boundaries while trying to establish a career is tough, and scary.

I know there is no silver bullet, but this ties into my post from Monday on your “The Hardest ‘Yes’ of Your Day”.

What do you have the courage to say “no” to?

Before anything, maybe journal about what values are most important to you.

Family? Faith Community? Spiritual Growth? Balance? Volunteerism? Peace?

Is it possible to prioritize these values within the career you have? Do you have clear expectations and boundaries built into your job description?

“You get what you tolerate.” Henry Cloud

Here are a few questions to consider asking yourself as you are making decisions:

  1. If I say “yes” to this request, what will I need to say “no” to? What will I need to sacrifice? Who will I be cheating?

2. Does saying yes to this (deadline, project, staying late..) tap into an unhealthy sense of “need to be needed” or pride? (Ouch! I know this is an important one from experience!)

3.  Who might benefit from me sharing this opportunity or delegating this task?

4. Am I letting urgent things crowd out the important things in my life?

 

5. Who am I coaching or mentoring on a daily basis so that not everything will be dependent on me? 

Whether you’re a boss or not, there are some great strategies here:

The One Thing All Great Bosses Do Well

Remember, your true self will never change. You are beloved child of God with nothing to prove. Your false self is based on titles, paychecks, and awards that will come and go.

At the end of the day may we, like Jesus, be able to say:

 I brought glory to you here on earth by doing everything you told me to. John 17:4

The Hardest Yes of Your Day

“It never gets any easier. There will always be something ‘urgent’ or ‘sparkly’ to distract you.”  This was a wise word from a mentor. She encouraged me, when my girls were toddlers, to put into practice, “chair time” – a daily meeting with the Lord.

Yes, in some ways it does get easier physically. In different seasons of life you may not have to hide in the bathroom to get alone time, with your “chair” as the toilet seat. And you may not be as sleep deprived. But emotionally?  Spiritually? Not so much.

What would Satan like more than to keep us from the priority of reflecting on God’s Word, opening ourselves to His power and presence?

We would never say it this way, but I think the way Satan distracts us most often is to get us thinking we are indispensable.

The world may stop spinning if I don’t get this email out, or if I don’t get into work early, or get this call made, or this thing mailed or this insightful tweet posted… I am soooo important!

We frantically commute and call and consult while God calmly causes the sun to rise each morning.

When we meet with God early, the fragrance of Him lingers throughout our day.

We may be reminded to pause and ask Him for wisdom when making a decision.

We may think to breathe in His name when we are impatient.

We may look for the imago dei in the co-worker who gets on our nerves.

Most of all, when we make time with God our most important priority it strengthens our ability to put boundaries in all areas of our life.

In order to say “no” to the things that are draining life from us, the things that are lowering our standards, the things that are drawing us away from our best self,  we must first say “Yes!” to chair time with God.

Where’s your “chair”?  This morning I texted a young friend at 5:45, thinking she would just get the text when she woke up, but instead she responded right away with this picture 🙂 She was having her chair time.

If you want a couple of resources for chair time, check out:

Pray as you Go

First 5

Authenticity and Telling a Better Story

Recently I did something I rarely do. I got 250 pages into a book and quit.

I had invested a lot of time, but I just couldn’t finish.

It was well written, compelling historical fiction about the wife of Emperor Franz Joseph, but I could tell where the story was heading and I just couldn’t take any more narrative about bad, sad choices, no matter how factual the research was.

Do you ever feel weary of authentically depressing news? Disappointed or dismayed over person after person modeling less than noble behavior?

Over the past ten years we have put an increasingly high value on “authenticity”. We want speakers, leaders, pastors, writers who tell us the whole messy truth. We want vulnerability and  transparency. No plastic saints thank you ma’am. This is a good thing.! A great thing even!

Scripture says,

“Confess your sins one to another…” (James 5:16)

“The truth will set you free…” (John 8:32)

But the stories we’re telling aren’t the only stories to be told.

There are true accounts of courage and sacrifice and service.

Stories can be authentic, but also good and inspiring. Not perfect or formulaic, but capable of lifting our eyes and motivating us to become our better selves.

This past weekend John and I were at an event hosted by Opportunity International – an organization that gives micro-loans to the poor to start small businesses, lifting them out of poverty.

The CEO of Opportunity shared this story:

Arles Mina is a client of Opportunity who now makes cheese curds and sells them from a hole-in-the-wall storefront in Bogota, Colombia.

However, there’s more to the story.

A young loan officer found Arles on the streets of Bogota. He was a drug runner for Pablo Escobar and was high on drugs when they met. The loan officer told Arles that he had a future and insisted he take a loan to start a formal business so he could earn a living and work his way off the streets.

Now, Arles says, “Opportunity has made me who I am.”

Arles received a loan from Opportunity. He repaid it and got another loan, and another, and another, expanding his business. Now he employs 3 women.

3 widows.

3 widows whose husbands were killed by the drug cartel he used to serve.

This is an authentic story. A story of redemption.

“…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Phil. 4:8

Yes, we should be informed, and the truth can be ugly, but what if we major on the kingdom stories of restoration, reconciliation and redemption so we may “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24)?

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