Tiger Woods and Notre Dame

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Tiger Woods coming back to victory…Notre Dame burning down to ashes…none of it expected…all of it last Sunday. As I watched the newscast, I was captivated…in one scene the real-time destruction of a holy and magnificent place thousands have visited over the centuries, and in another, the amazing athletic comeback of an individual.

I found my reaction to the simultaneous scenes to be surprising. I had the privilege of visiting Paris and Notre Dame at age 18. It was spectacular. It was one of the many cathedrals I visited in that time of my travel abroad. I did not personally know the love of Jesus Christ at the time. I stood there staring under those very large ceilings in awe of a God bigger than me; in awe of the care, the detail, the history. As beautiful as it was, and with all due respect, my time in this breathtaking place did not change or transform my heart. But I watched flames engulf this iconic landmark in real time with my mouth wide open.

Notre Dame is a place I’ve personally been. My feet have walked there. Tiger is a man I’ve never met, a complete stranger. Yet, if we’re honest, we’ve all walked in his footsteps, haven’t we? The success, the highs, the mistakes, the shame, the behind-the-scenes effort when no one else is looking, the loss of loved ones, the injury, the despair, the perseverance, the come back…those footsteps have touched and transformed us as we’ve personally walked them.

Over the last decade as we’ve watched Tiger’s legacy burn much like the cathedral of Notre Dame, there’s one scene we probably all remember off the course. It was his wife hitting his car with a golf club after finding out his unfaithfulness.

So as I watched the newscast, my fingers started typing…there was one burning question…it surprisingly wasn’t the cause of the fire in Paris. It was, where was Elin, Tiger’s ex-wife, the mother of the son who hugged him tight? Having missed the Masters and having been out of the loop since that golf club incident, I was frantically googling if she was there. Was she proud of him? Was there ever reconciliation? Was she cheering in her heart? What happened with all of that mess?

The athletic comeback is so inspiring. There’s nothing like these stories. We’ve seen it with Tiger; we’ve seen it with Michael Phelps…the talent, the fall, the lonely moments in the shadows, then the growth, wisdom and unshakeable determination that drives the comeback, of more value to victory than sheer talent. All that to say, I couldn’t help but think of Elin. The question ran through my mind; why did I care so much?

I think it’s because when everything else burns away at the end of time, we are left with the people we love, the people in our lives, our family, our marriage. Those are the places where we’re really cheering for a comeback. If we look through the rubble and ash of our life stories, I think what we long to see resurrected the most are the hearts of loved ones. We long for miraculous reconciliation where there has been fracture. We deeply desire to hear the genuine words, “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you.”

Buildings will burn, success will be forgotten, and we are left with our relationships with each other and God. We are so much His treasure that He says our hearts are the place His Holy Spirit now dwells. We are the temples of the living God. Perhaps that’s why my heart was drawn to the comeback of Tiger more than the burning of Notre Dame in that moment.

There’s little I could find about Elin last Sunday. It didn’t appear she was there. And that’s okay. Theirs is not my story to write, far more complex than I can see, and redemption doesn’t always come in the way we would script it or want it to look. It belongs to God, not to us. But I think my desperate desire to find a photo of her cheering for Tiger perhaps points to our deepest hope. For our defining moments not to be the ones of betrayal, for a love that is bigger than our mistakes, for the people we’ve hurt up close and the God we’ve betrayed to, by the miracle of grace, still want to pull for us.

I can understand why Elin hit Tiger over the head with a golf club. I know betrayal, I know hurt, I know wanting to hit people (not my husband!) over the head with a golf club for breaking my heart…I know that I’ve broken the Lord’s heart like that. I know the anger I deserve for some of the poor choices I’ve made.

What’s harder to understand is grace.

In this startling picture of Notre Dame after the fire, the cross remained.

IMG_2596Isn’t that breathtaking? Jesus doesn’t beat us over the head. He doesn’t walk away either. He does the unthinkable…He stands in our place and takes the beating Himself. The earth shook and darkness covered the land in the middle of the day when he died. It was far more gruesome than the scene of that fire. He did it for us. His head hung low so He could lift ours high, not to look away in shame, but to see we are loved far more than we can ever imagine. We’re His treasure, our worth determined by Him, not by our failures and successes. All that’s left of our sin and mess-ups is that cross. At the end of the day, that’s the story. It’s the miracle of the story. It’s the crux of the story.  

But, it’s not the end of the story.

We can look around today and see newness of life and spring everywhere; we can worship the Risen Lord and praise Him for the fullness of grace, for our inheritance, for His victory, for His personal mercy and love, for coming out of that grave to rescue us…

We can also look around and quickly see things that break our heart. Another death, divorce, sickness, the pain of poverty, the struggles of loved ones…

Today we wait in hope knowing this…He deeply cares about the things that break our hearts. And, the story is not over.

There will be a final end to death, grieving, the darkness, pain and tears. The brokenness of this world will be made whole, new…

We celebrate the resurrection and we hang onto Jesus’s last words,

“Yes, I am coming soon.” (Revelation 22:20)

He has promised us…a comeback. Maybe that’s why it gripped my heart more than the fire on Sunday. Beauty instead of ashes. That’s His promise; that’s our hope.

 

*photos by AP Images, Getty, EPA, USA Today Sports, CBC News

A Beautiful Day

Seven years ago, Will’s cousin invited us to the U2 concert in Nashville. We were about to leave town when we got the call that his wife was in labor. And it was not going well. They were headed to Vanderbilt Hospital and said we could come pick up the tickets from them and head over to Vanderbilt stadium.

Should we still even go? With mixed emotions, we hit the road to Nashville anxious to see them in person.

When we got to the hospital, we exchanged hugs as the doctors came up with a plan. Things were unsettled. The elevator doors closed as we parted ways with Will’s cousin, also a physician, who said, “it’s not good.”

With heads hung low, just steps away from that hospital room in the stadium, we waited for U2 to start in silence. Oh, how we wished the seats beside us were filled by the faces we had just seen. We felt guilty for being there and worried. We were waiting for news and praying while trying to make sense of the turn of events. The atmosphere shifted as U2 came on stage and played “Beautiful Day”.  At the exact time the song began, we got the text that baby Dylan had arrived and that momma and baby were healthy and doing great. With happy tears we sang the song at the top of our lungs and texted them a video of Bono’s words echoed by thousands of voices just steps away from that baby boy’s first cry. After the show we got to meet our baby nephew and rejoice in that oh so beautiful day!

It is one I will never forget!

Will and I had tickets to see U2 in Nashville again last night. I woke up thinking about that memory and song. I envisioned a picture of us there steps away from the band with a hashtag #beautifulday. We were ecstatic! Before leaving town, we swung by the pool for a quick dip with our kids. Long story short, Anna (our two-year-old) stepped into a pile of fire ants, and moments later her face was swollen and her throat was closing. We gathered our wet kids and bits and pieces of our stuff and found ourselves speeding to the ER, our whole world spinning, shaking out of control. We held our little girl and prayed to God to keep her alive as she lost her ability to speak.

In just a moment, our universe turned upside-down. The previous script of our day was thrown out the window as we held tightly to our baby girl wanting nothing more than moments with one another. There was something beautiful in that crazy moment of knowing that nothing else mattered. The cares that had previously consumed our morning were gone. We were fully present with each other and with God in the eye of that storm.

As Will rushed Anna into the ER, I parked the car with Mary and John, and a crocodile tear rolled down John’s cheek. “I was really hoping Anna was gonna get to turn 3 and get bigger.” It was, as Will’s cousin had said those seven years ago in front of another set of sliding doors, “not good.” Anna received excellent care and breathing treatments as the adventure continued in an ambulance ride to another hospital where we spent the night in the ICU.

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It was a nightmare in the middle of a summer day and all we knew to do was hold tightly to each other and claim God’s promises for our girl. We are so thankful for the love from our family and sweet friends who happened to be there in the moment to help and pray.

As it turns out, my childhood friend who lives in Nashville was able to go to U2 in our place. She texted me this video of that all too familiar song.

The words reminded me of the picture we had seen just hours earlier over the Emergency Room reminding us that God was with our little girl:

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“After the flood, all the colors came out…it was a beautiful day!!!”

As I held Anna in that hospital bed, I was overcome with the same feeling Will’s cousin had 7 years before.

Indeed it was.

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Anna is doing great and got to eat Skittles for breakfast this morning. She was discharged in hot pink style with an epipen and charge to always wear shoes outside. We have a cautious road ahead, but she’s a happy girl with an even happier momma!

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God, thank You for Your mercy. Thanks for waking us up and reminding us of the miracle of life. May we love well, live with purpose, keep perspective, and hug our family. Thanks for the joy in those anticipated moments on our highlight reel that are extraordinary. Thanks also for those unexpected moments we would never write into our script that send us to our knees and reframe the ordinary as beautiful days. In Jesus’ Name we thank You. Amen.

Receiving!

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Is there anything like watching a little kid open a present? This was my four-year-old opening a package sent from his grandmother this week.

 

Oh, the joy!

During the Christmas season we often teach our children about giving, but I believe we have much to learn from our children about receiving.

Because somewhere along the way, as we grow older, we lose the art of it. In the moment John received his power ranger, he didn’t think a minute about paying his grandmother back. He knows he can’t! And I’m pretty sure he didn’t envision writing her a thank you note later like I did. None of that crossed his mind. He was completely fixated on the gift that was now his! And nothing delighted his grandmother more.

There’s a reason families arrange travel plans to be wherever the kids are on Christmas morning. We’ll do anything to be able to see those faces the moment they are overcome by surprise and wonder! We don’t want credit for the gifts; sometimes we even attribute them to a man in a red suit. It’s not about keeping score. We plot and plan and spend without counting the cost because…it’s a joy like none other to watch a child receive a gift.

We love it because, in many ways, we’ve lost it. As adults, we have a harder time receiving. We feel awkward accepting a compliment. We feel uncomfortable when someone gives us a gift and we can’t repay them. We feel unworthy. We’d rather earn it.

We focus our attention this season on giving. And giving is an incredibly beautiful thing. But, as children of God, the birth of Jesus is perhaps more of a time for us to receive. A time to receive a gift with wonder and awe that’s impossible to pay back. A time to receive a love that pursues us relentlessly despite how short we fall. A time to see that we are indeed unworthy, but accepting that somehow we’ve been miraculously—chosen. A time for us to become as Jesus said, “like little children.” (Matthew 18:3)

The birth of Jesus into our lives is a time when our Heavenly Daddy gets to see those of us who know we’ve been tragically naughty receive the gift of extravagant grace with the same foot-stomping excitement that John received his power ranger.

The joy is ours.

The joy is His.

Let earth receive her King!

 

Dear Lord,

Thank you for the precious joy we get to see in little children this time of year. Please help us learn from them how to anticipate with great hope and how to receive in exuberant joy. Please open our hearts by the power of Your Holy Spirit to receive the extravagant gift of Your Son. Thank you for joyfully receiving us as Your children. May the miracle of grace fall so fresh on us that we can’t help but dance a jig!

Amen.

 

Christmas in June

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We hear a lot about baby Jesus in December, but not much this time of year, so I wanted to share this little heartwarming moment today. We love to read children’s Bibles with our kids, and it is neat see each child identify with the stories. John’s favorite is David and Goliath and every time Goliath dies, John slaps the book as hard as he can and roars. It usually scares his sisters, but he is a precious little warrior. Mary’s favorite stories include the Marys; Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany and Jesus’s momma all captivate her because she shares their name.

But Anna, at age (almost) 2, usually just wiggles around and tries to eat the books. She has just started talking more and wanting to read books by herself, so I handed her the Jesus Storybook Bible the other night. There was one (and only one) person she wanted to find:

“Oh baabeee Jeeee-Zus….Where are euuu?

She flipped and flipped and flipped the pages until she found Him lying in a manger, and then her face lit up with joy.

“Der’s baby Jeeee-Zus!” she squealed with joy when she found him.

It blows my mind that the One who made the gigantic sun became as tiny as a baby. The One with all Heavenly power arrived powerless. The One who can hold all creation in His hands needed His mother to hold Him.

The Living Word had to learn how to talk just like Anna. And so she, one of the the least of these, can relate to Him! I find it incredible that we don’t have to change and grow to get close to God, but that He changed and became small to grow close to us. What a beautiful upside-down Kingdom; what an amazing love!

As Anna was pointing to baby Jesus in glee, I asked her if she remembered his momma’s name.

“Mar-wee!” she said with excitement.

“That’s right! And what about his daddy?” I asked.

“Moses!” she said confidently.

I chuckled. Anna may not know Jesus’s earthly father’s name yet, and she may not know His Heavenly Father either. But…He knows little Anna. And He loves her so much that He made Himself small so that she could know Him too. She may be little, but she matters in a big way to that baby Jesus.

And that is worth a joyful squeal!

Possess the Gates

Hi Friends,

Today, I wanted to say how much I appreciate you as someone who reads my blog. Thank you for sharing life with me! I hope your Valentine’s Day was filled with extraordinary love. Today’s post is on OurCityOnAHill. Please click below to read. YOU OWN THOSE GATES! Read, and you’ll see what I mean!

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As a mom at Christmas, I write a script in my mind for how the magical moments of this season should unfold. I have these special memories of Christmas as a child; they were probably messy and chaotic, but when looking at frozen pictures of the past, they appear to be Norman Rockwell esque. So as I prepare meals, shop for gifts and make plans, I envision these magical moments with my family. The script in my mind is perfection.

But…for some reason, it doesn’t usually play out that way. This happened last week. Mary asked for an experience for Christmas this year…an ice skating date with mommy. Then dinner at her favorite pizza place right next to the rink, a cozy restaurant below the art museum that looks at the tinsel trail of trees. You can imagine the visions I had of gliding on the ice together while Christmas music played and then nestling in at that special restaurant in the middle of the park.

And, as we walked up to the rink in our three pairs of socks, two coats, and two pairs of pants in the surprise record low temperatures that hit on the date we chose, we saw the hip hop radio station’s van. Rather than Christmas music, we heard the bop of the nnst, nnst, nnst. As we walked up, they were blasting a song about “dropping your a..” at full blast, and we could hardly hear each other. Perhaps fitting for what was happening on the ice, but not fitting for the precious Christmas experience I envisioned with my five year old. Oh dear. Maybe we should come back another night. But then I remembered the efforts of stuffing our three-socked feet into our boots and zipping up all our zippers. There was no turning back!

At check in, Mary proudly told the woman how this was her Christmas gift. We stuffed our feet into the heavy skates and bravely made our way onto the ice. It was quite hard. As soon as our skates hit that awaited ice, the dj in charge told everyone to clear off for their game of turkey bowling. Clear the ice. We just got on. The woman in charge saw the looks on our faces and quietly told us that we could stay.  So, we had the entire ice rink to ourselves which, for safety reasons, was very helpful. While the dj manned the turkey bowling game, the Christmas music resumed. It was fabulous! But not exactly the gliding together I had envisioned because Mary was determined to skate without a helping hand from me. We laughed as she fell about forty times, and thankfully didn’t hit her hard little head. It was wet ice mixed with crashes and cold wind. But she loved it. She would not quit until she did a whole loop by herself. It looked like a painful disaster to me, but Mary was thrilled. And she finally did it!

Then we walked to the pizza restaurant, starving. It was full of people and the hostess greeted us with the news it was closed for a private party. What in the world?! On our night?! This was absolutely not part of the plan. Rather than head home, where my numb feet wanted to go, I drove Mary to a little place down the road that I hoped would still be open. It was empty and they told us we could sit anywhere. Mary chose the bar, the high seats, of course. She ordered sweet potato fries that came with a chocolate dipping sauce – something, Mary told me, is only at fancy restaurants. This was way better than pizza.

As the wait staff gathered around us and rolled silverware, Mary told them all about her ice skating adventure. They were thoroughly entertained by their small visitor. She told them all about her excitement for Christmas and her love for baby Jesus, a topic that was warmly welcomed out of the mouth of Mary. Wine was poured, Christmas was celebrated, more stories were told, and laughs lingered as we all embraced our unexpected, warm moment before braving the cold again. Mary did about eighty percent of the talking and beamed with glee as the center of attention. As the ice melted off my legs, I looked around at our new friends and at her windburned, laughing face with chocolate all over it…somehow the magic I was hoping for found its way to us.

I made this picture into an ornament as a gift to Mary to remember the gift of her experience.

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But really, it is a gift to me. It’s a reminder that in our failed quest for perfection, sometimes we find ourselves enveloped by a better storyline…that in the midst of unexpected cold, hard falls, closed doors, and moments we’d never put on the script, perfection makes its way to us. And that is the great joy of Christmas.