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Who Are You Really?   Leave a comment

One of the core reasons for my blog: brave


Posted December 12, 2016 by janathangrace in Uncategorized

The Disappointment and Hope of Advent   7 comments

Each year we wait like Israel of old, reenacting the anticipation and longing, the hope and heartache of an oppressed people looking for the Messiah.  That night long ago changed everything… and changed nothing to the common eye.  The day after Jesus’ birth, the Israelites awoke to the same oppressive government, the same self-righteous religious leaders, the same troubles with which they lay down the night before.  Looking around them, nothing had changed.


We have our own heartache and hope, and we await our deliverance.   But unlike that night long ago, December 25 changes nothing.  We awake the morning after with an emotional hangover and face all the same sorrows we set aside for the holidays… except for a lot of extra trash, extra bills, and a long, cold, dark winter ahead.  When we call Christmas “advent,” which is to say “coming,” what exactly is coming…in our day, in 2016?  What are we expecting?

One day redemption will come, but like that first night, our world is still fractured.  As the shepherds trudged back to their sheep that night, nothing had changed around them… but everything had changed in them.  They still stubbed their toes in the dark, but aching feet could not detract from that history-smashing story of salvation into which they had tumbled, a story that recast their whole world.  Whether they held onto that vision so that their whole lives after were shaped by it or whether that vision slowly dimmed and became just an old tale told by their campfires is the same question that hangs over each of our journeys.

Our God is the same in our celebration and mourning, in our feasting and hungering, in our brokenness and healing: a loving, true, faithful, mighty, gracious God.  And he knows that both the shadow and light are essential to our continuing salvation.  As we are able, we embrace all that our hearts feel and know, believing that there is hope, that light will spring up for us, even if it delays until the final day.  Until then, we walk in the light of that first Christmas, a candle even on our darkest days.  He has come and our lives will never be the same.




Posted December 8, 2016 by janathangrace in Uncategorized

The Headless Magi   9 comments

Last week we unpacked our old nativity scene from it’s wrinkle of wadded up paper and bubblewrap.  The set looked a little bedraggled from its journey across two states–the straw was mostly gone, the thatched manger roof was now bare wood, and one of the magi had lost his head.  Kimberly laid out each figure along with the headless wiseman, severed head at his feet.  After setting up and decorating the Christmas tree, I suggested that Kimberly take a picture for Facebook, which she did, forgetting the macabre detail until we had posted it.


No one would purposely screw up their Christmas decorations–stringing up lights with half of them burned out or hanging up broken ornaments–anymore than they would go to the Christmas eve service with a torn shirt.  We sing songs about a perfect baby Jesus (“no crying he makes”), and we sanitize the manger as though it was not a place where dirty, smelly animals kicked up the straw with their poop-coated hooves.  Like any birth, there was blood and muck and probably some screaming in pain from the bedraggled unwed teenager from Nazareth.

When we sanitize Christianity, make it respectable, middle-class, comfortable, we lose the radical message of the grace that is offered to those who have nothing to offer.  When we lose touch with our own spiritual poverty and the anguish of the world around us, our message is distorted.  The gospel of Christ is a bloody affair from the cradle to the cross, and we are called to that same suffering, our own and redemptively for others.  Some face this season without loved ones or with new diagnoses, with intolerable pain or lost hope.  My deepest sympathies are with you.  Let us live into the realness, the wholeness of Christmas, not just the angels and magi, but the blood of the innocents.  As one author challenged us: “Keep Herod in Christmas!”

Posted December 5, 2016 by janathangrace in Uncategorized

Miss me?   12 comments

I have been gone for a long time from these pages, struggling to survive the process of moving from Lynchburg, VA to Asheville, NC.  It was high stress on every level for the last few months, a story worth telling sometime.  I finally feel settled at my new house (rental), new job, new city, and new routines… settled does not mean pleasant or happy, just doable.  Kimberly is working as an adoption event coordinator for a local animal rescue called Brother Wolf.  My part time Home Depot job transferred, and I just went to interview for a part time job at a community college library.  I continue to flounder in life, wishing for some useful, fulfilling role to play in this world, but having little excess energy to invest in that whole pursuit.  So I drag along, trying to encourage and support those around me as I look for ways to lift up my own soul, though my soul seems immune to any remedy I apply.  For some of us, a participation award is the best we can do.

Posted December 4, 2016 by janathangrace in Uncategorized

The Rare Gift of Loving Well   Leave a comment

At my dad’s funeral, my sister Amy shared how dad planned great trips for his children and grandchildren, taking them on real adventures that created memories for a lifetime.  Pop took me on a trip to Washington D.C. when I was twelve, and it was truly memorable. For Amy, this “extravagant love” was the epitome of her recollections of a loving father.

Yet true love may not show itself in extravagant gestures or great sacrifices.  Sometimes the power and glory of love infuses the mundane.  In fact, the grand display can easily be a cover to hide our unwillingness to love as we should.  There are foolish and useless sacrifices… even selfish sacrifices.  A mom can pay dearly to send her boy to college in an effort to run from the shame of her own inadequacy.  A father can give everything up to make his son a great athlete.. but is this love for himself or his son?   The ultimate sacrifice of true love is not in giving to the other, but in receiving them into our hearts, inviting them in to reveal their real selves, delighting in their oddness and mystery, allowing them to shape the very direction of our soul’s growth.

We tend to be so self-oriented that we equate our view with what is normal and right, even reading Scripture with that lense.  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” does not mean that we treat others as copies of ourselves, assuming that what pleases or saddens us, what excites or frustrates us is the same for them.  Each of us is unique in our experiences and perceptions.  True love is not simply making room for the differences of others, but valuing those differences, trying to see and understand the world as they see it, gaining a new perspective and value system and appreciation for life that we did not have before.  I cannot truly love without being personally transformed by it.

This is especially difficult for parents because they have responsibility for teaching and training a child, helping them mature into kind, insightful, responsible adults.  But if the child is not given the freedom and encouragement to find out who they really are apart from, in distinction from, in contrast to their parents, then their lives will be hollowed out, learning good behavior but divorced from their own hearts.  Is a parent able to learn profound truths from their little ones, a new outlook on the world, a new way of being?  A real relationship in contrast to a coercive one empowers each other’s uniquenesses, especially when those differences are a source of conflict since those are the secret keys to unlock our own spiritual insight and growth.

The beauty and glory of true love is that it enriches the giver far more than the recipient.  It is the pathway to our own daily salvation.

Posted August 3, 2016 by janathangrace in thoughts

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God Cares   7 comments

We scrimp, we jerry-rig, we do without to make ends meet.  The driver’s window in my truck has been broken for two years… purposely in the down position so that it can pass inspection.  The rain pours in on the seat and floor and cups in the door pocket, then it dries out again… the door handle has started to rust tight.  My wheelbarrow is a 55 gallon barrel that I scavenged, cut in half, and bolted to a lawn mower chassis.  I buy my clothes from Goodwill, keep my shoes till the insoles wear through to the pavement, and cut my own hair.

I piece together my income from various sources.  8 months out of the year I work part time at a college library and try to make up the summer months with cutting lawns.  I also work at Home Depot part time year round.  I tried also working as a substitute custodian in the Lynchburg school system, but I rarely could make it fit between the hours of my other two job schedules.  Kimberly is usually working as well in a low-pay job.  We have somehow managed over the last 6 years, occasionally dipping into our meager savings.

Since we have not been able to find better jobs here, we decided to try our luck in Asheville, NC where Kimberly has wanted to move for years.  We put our house up for sale in April, hoping to sell it this summer.  Since I was busy fixing the house in preparation, I had to cancel my mowing jobs for the summer.  Kimberly also left her job, partly in anticipation of moving.  Now it has been three months without an offer on our house, and we have exhausted our savings on getting the house ready, our only income being my part time job at Home Depot.  My first paycheck from the library is still two months away.

We put Kimberly’s student loan payment on hiatus, postponed eye doctor visits, and cut our food budget in half.  Then we started brainstorming about how to make it through two more months of bills.  I had some vacation time from the library I could collect in wages (I usually use it to cover the Thanksgiving break gap in pay).  We could take a cash advance on our credit card (with a hefty interest rate).  I could take a loan from my retirement fund.  But borrowing from the future only works if you have some prospect of improvement–neither of us have jobs lined up in Asheville.  Kimberly had added up our average monthly bills, and even with my vacation pay, we weren’t going to make it through.

Over the weekend we started smelling a strange stench all through the house.  On monday I discovered that it was our hot water heater which had rusted through.

That same day we received an envelope from my dad’s widow with a check from my father’s estate, enough to get us through the summer and restore some of the savings we had spent on fixing up the house, including a new hot water heater.  Isn’t that just like God?

Posted July 12, 2016 by janathangrace in Life

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Them’s Fightin’ Words   Leave a comment

For those of you who find encouragement from challenges to fight on, here’s a great video:


Posted July 7, 2016 by janathangrace in Story

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Turning Pain into Poetry   3 comments

I got choked up when a friend posted this John Milton poem to my page, a poem written as he was losing his eyesight.  It so perfectly reflects my own present struggle that it resonated deeply with me in a way it never had before.

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide;
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

Posted July 4, 2016 by janathangrace in Poems

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Waiting Is so Hard!   7 comments

If your life is working out reasonably well, I am happy for you.  It is not my experience, though I daily put my heart and will into doing my best.  I feel like a dog chained to a post and told to fetch.  Most of my life I thought the whole exercise was about figuring out how to get loose so as to fetch.  That’s what smart, resourceful dogs would do.  I tried various strategies–twist to loosen the chain or pole, pull to break the chain.  I was apparently doing it all wrong, because I was a failure at fetching.  I saw other dogs retrieving all sorts of things for their master.  They had various schemes for getting free of their chain, but none of those worked for me.  I don’t have a life verse, but Kimberly one day laughed at spotting my life meme: “Well, that didn’t &#%! go as planned.”

Finally I decided that I had misunderstood my master’s intentions, and he just wanted me to sit and wait.  But what should I do while waiting?  If I were eventually going to be let loose to fetch, perhaps I should practice the skills needed… except those skills were only relevant for a retriever, and maybe that was not my purpose after all.  I was waiting for something.  What?  Was I supposed to simply learn to be good at waiting?  What does that even mean?  Patience and trust, I suppose.

Okay, so that is what my attitude should be, but what do I DO while practicing that attitude?  Is there a better way to sit or lie?  Inside the doghouse or out?  Do I keep my eyes closed or look at something… at what?  I was sure there were better and worse ways to wait.  Slowly anxiety overtook my patience–I need to be a better waiter!!  Apparently the one thing I do really poorly is wait.  And I am so legalistic I can even turn doing nothing into a standard to meet.

But look at all those other dogs doing their thing!  Dogs have legs to jump and run and mouths to grab and hold… they weren’t designed to just sit.  Are these joys of life the rewards for getting good marks in waiting?  Or is waiting well its own reward?  It doesn’t feel rewarding.  It feels like being forgotten, or worse still being rejected, like I’m not good enough to fetch.  As you can see, I still have a long way to go in learning trust and patience. Doing nothing is really hard!


Posted July 2, 2016 by janathangrace in thoughts

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True Love Is Never Blind   2 comments

We humans are deeply flawed.  The Bible calls it sin, the evil and brokenness that infests our whole world, right down to the roots of our own heart.  It not only distorts our hearts, but our minds, our volition, our self-understanding… it taints every part of who we are.  One of the primary ways this plays out is to make each of us the center of our own universe, both perceptually and morally.  We have a default to justify ourselves while blaming others.

Self justification may at first glance seem like self compassion, being on my own side, but it is really a Trojan horse, the gift that keeps on taking, because it is rejection of the truth, and that never leads to health and strength.  Fleeing our shame makes us no freer than the prison escapee who is running for his life.  Our only hope is to embrace our shame, our failings, our faults, with the arms of grace, to openly confess our flaws from within the safety of God’s unconditional love.

I’m sorry to say that I often find it easier to see the failing of others than my own, and to then fault them for it as a moral flaw.  But fixing that tendency to blame others by trying instead to justify them leads to equal disorder in our minds and hearts and relationships.  Grace ceases to be grace when it avoids the truth.  Being generous-minded (assuming the best rather than the worst) certainly has its place, especially if our default is to blame (as mine sadly is), but our aim is to seek out what is true, not what is nice.  Flattery is deadly, especially when it is sincere.

Our response to our parents often falls into this unfortunate dichotomy–we either blame them or exonerate them, justify ourselves or justify them, and both responses are equally damaging.  In the complexity of processing through our emotional entanglements, we will likely go through stages of both blaming and justifying, I certainly did, but these should never be an end in themselves.  We seek to know ourselves through the dynamics of our early upbringing so as to find truth and freedom in which to grow forwards.  Things need to be unlearned or re-organized or re-evaluated or put into perspective.  Getting stuck in blame or justification cuts off true transformation.

One key tool in growing into a gracious outlook towards others is to separate the impact of someone’s behavior from its sinfulness.  To say that my father or mother impacted me in a certain way is quite distinct from saying that they are to blame.  They may have been doing the best they could.  We do not ultimately know what internal resources they did or did not have, the motivations for their choices, and so on.  “To his own Master he stands or falls.”  However, we have the emotional and spiritual obligation to carefully evaluate behavior as itself beneficial or harmful, otherwise we will mindlessly carry on those relational patterns into our own families by adopting them or by reactively adopting their opposite.

Posted June 25, 2016 by janathangrace in thoughts

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