A Letter to My Neice on Her First Birthday

baby annie

Dear Annie,

Today, you woke up to find your house filled with cake, balloons, and presents. Grandma and Grandpa are there, too, having driven 12 hours just to see you. Mommy dressed you in a new shirt and Daddy hung pink and purple decorations.

Today, we celebrate the day you were born.

It’s also a day to remember, and to feel deeply, that you are wanted. It’s one day of the year that says directly to you, “You, Annie Grace, are invited into life.”

It may not seem important now. All this inviting stuff. I mean, presents are way more exciting, right? But someday, it will be important for you to know, to remember, to celebrate at least once a year, that you belong here. In this world. At this time and place.

As you get older, get more accustomed to this thing we call “life,” you’ll discover our culture isn’t one of inclusion. Blame it on American individualism or simply on poor manners. Whatever the source, we aren’t a culture known for welcoming others into our life. It’s seen in the postage-stamp yards that surround the houses of suburbia. It’s why people in populous cities experience deep loneliness. And it’s why even churches have a hard time opening their doors to the unfamiliar and the strange.

But your experience of “un-belonging” will be much more personal. You’ll feel it be the day you’re picked last to play on a dodge ball team in gym class. You’ll experience it when when a girlfriend betrays you and talks behind your back. And again when a coworker tells you that your work isn’t good enough or when you are losing hope, waiting for Mr. Right.

On those days, in those moments, it will be so easy to think that the world does not want you. That you don’t belong in this crazy place filled with disappointment, hurt and fatigue.

Which is why today is so incredibly important. And every birthday to come. And not for the presents and the balloons and the parties. And not for even “turning another year older.” Your birthday is important because it’s a day for you to remember—and for those in your life to affirm—that God chose you. Of the billion other people He could have created, God decided to invite you into life, to be conceived, to be born. To show up.

And I, for one, am so glad you’re here.


This post was inspired, in part, by Emily Freeman’s wise words on Chatting at the Sky:

You have been given your life, what you hold in your hands, the ground beneath your feet. You have been asked to show up. How do I know? Because you were born. Show up as you are, not as you think you ought to be.Don’t run from your calling, no matter what it is….There isn’t one great thing you were made to do. There is one great God you were made to glorify….Throughout your life, you’ll do that in a million little ways.

Beauty and Joy, Tears and Heartache

As someone who struggles with depression, the topic of present joy is very real and pertinent to my everyday. It’s not something that I think about only when I reach a crisis or a particular turn in the road. No. I think about joy—the work involved in reaching and staying in a place of joy—all of the time. It’s a matter of survival for me.

This month I went on a couple of really beautiful, lovely dates with a certain young gentleman. They were fun—great food, great conversation, great company. Everything you would want from your first two dates with someone with whom you might start a relationship. Of particular beauty, the second date took us to the, new-to-me, Cincinnati neighborhood, Mt. Adams.

Mt. Adams sits atop a series of hills overlooking the river and downtown Cincy. It’s a place where cool restaurants, hipster bars, designer apartments and cobblestone alleyways line the streets. It’s a place where signs announcing opening weekend for the Mt. Adams’ Farmers Market grace public doors, where dogs walk their owners and where art and architecture are part and parcel of the community. It’s a place where the light dances with flower gardens, plays hide-and-seek along old brick walls, and beautifies everything in its path. In short, it’s a place of beauty, light and joy.

When I think about that second date with this particular gentleman, it’s this beauty, light and joy that I remember most.

Unfortunately, I don’t think my date noticed the beauty or the joy, either in me or in our environs, and there will be no third date. His reason? My “joy-quotient” was not high enough. Because I failed to portray myself as someone of “optimism and joy” (his words), he decided we were not compatible for the long-term.

For my date’s part, I don’t really blame him for this misunderstanding. Just that evening—the same evening of so much light, beauty and joy on Mt. Adams—I shared with him some of journey with and through depression. Most people advise against sharing such personal stories at first introductions, but I’ve never been one to follow that advice. To know me is to know my testimony of faith and it is impossible to share my testimony without revealing my personal struggles with depression. I’ve never allowed depression to define me and to share about God’s work through my sadness is always an act of worship.

But it should come as no surprise when someone hears my story and misunderstands. For me, living with depression is not unlike someone who must learn to live with Type 1 Diabetes—once you learn you have it, you treat it, manage it and deal with it. For others, especially a potential suitor, mention of depression may easily signify a “red flag” of the highest degree.

Hearing that there would be no third date because of my supposed lack of “optimism and joy” was a hard rejection. It cut straight to the core of my desire to run hard after joy—and not the fleeting kind called “happiness,” but the real, centered-on-Jesus joy characteristic of an “abundant life.” After hearing this particularly harsh rejection, my type-A tendency turned on and I offered him a rebuttal—an argument as to why and how I was, in fact, a person of optimism and joy. I offered a rebuttal despite my own hesitations to argue in these situations, as I know all too well that matters of the heart are often inexplicable and always complicated. I don’t think “arguing” someone into “liking” you makes good use of either person’s emotions.

As it turned out, however, my argument wasn’t for my date. It was to battle my own insecurities and self-doubts that told me my date was right. Despite all of my efforts to live in a place of joy, what if others only see the depressed me. What if I really am not joyful, or even merely happy? What if depression does define me? Does sadness make one un-dateable, unlikeable…undesirable?

It’s very tempting to think this, all things considered.

But it’s not true.

What’s true is that constant optimism and so-called joy are not prerequisites for Christ’s love to dwell in you. Christ himself was well-acquainted with grief and sorrow. What’s more, Jesus does not require us to have the joy-thing completely figured out before we can be in relationship with Him, nor does he promise there will be no tears when we walk out our journey of faith.

In a powerful, and timely, reminder of this truth, my devotions took me to Hebrews 5:7—

“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death….” (NIV, emphasis added)

Like us, Jesus carried sadness with him. Burdens. His heart ached. I am not any less desirable because I feel deeply, sorrow often and shed tears easily. What’s more, God is always at the ready to hear my fervent cries and tears, and he likes me no less for offering them up to him frequently.

Tears, sadness, burdens and heartaches. And beauty and joy.

And third dates.

Yes, please.

New Year’s Resurrection : Part 3 : Personal Connections

(Author’s Note: This post is the third in a set of three considering the importance of Christ’s resurrection in the Christian’s life. The first and second posts post can be found here and here…)

PERSONAL CONNECTIONS

To make the subject of resurrection and it’s importance in the Christian’s life more personal, I should share some of my own struggles with those same fears of calling and legacy, meaning and purpose.
Immediately following college graduation in 2007, I began work as a graphic designer. My job was a “cushy” one in the sense that it offered great benefits, good pay, and promised to be everything a new graduate could want.
Around this same time, I learned of John Piper’s book, Don’t Waste Your Life. Now, I must first admit that I have NOT read the book in its entirety…but I’ve read enough of it to know the book’s central plea to forgo the pursuit of success as the world sees it and, instead, focus on finding your purpose and success by serving in ways that glorify God. Living a God-glorifying life of purpose certainly isn’t something to scoff about, but there are two major hiccups with predominantly be a Christian striving to “not waste your life.”

First, the appeal to “not waste your life” requires it be possible that you can wast your life, even if you have Christ in it.

Secondly, that the Christian life is more about what you do than who you are.

These two lies dominate much of Christian teaching today, especially teaching directed toward young twenty-somethings. In a stage of life marked by discovery, these early years of independence are often under girded by pressure to “finds one’s calling.” The task of finding a calling is wrapped in language of vocation and suggests that what is we do with our time and how we make a living somehow contributes to our value and worth, or lack thereof.

For me, the pressure to discover my “calling” led me down a path of fear— fear that no matter what I did, I was going to end up feeling like I wasted my life. That no matter what job I took, it wouldn’t be big enough, important enough, Kingdom-changing enough to not be considered a waste. That no matter where or how I lived it wouldn’t be enough.

Add to the struggle of trying to discern my calling I was getting really stressed out about the possibility of dying before I had any chance to do anything worthwhile. Even if I did discern my calling, I feared that people would consider my life a waste if I hadn’t fully accomplished that calling before I kicked the can, so to speak.

It’s in this place of fear that Christ’s resurrections speaks loud and clear of freedom and joy. 

You see, if I believe that I have eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ, I have to believe that I never, ever run out of time. That I have no “deadline” at which point I no longer have a chance to do what it is God has called me to do. The truth is, that our life on earth is just the beginning of a thousand times a thousand years of my life…Yes, we are mortal sinners in flesh, but through faith in Jesus Christ alone, we are truly eternal.

While this mindset could give way to an attitude of laziness, but I think that risk is well worth the gain of complete freedom in the knowledge that our life does not have value because of what we do or don’t do. Our personal worth—and the worth of our life—is not determined by whether or not we accurately discerned God’s calling for our lives and successfully carried it out.

No, the truth of the matter is that Christ’s resurrection allows every believer the freedom and joy to live, knowing that they are enough, by themselves, just as they are.

New Year’s Resurecction : Part 2 : Personal Reflections

(Author’s Note: This post is the second in a set of three considering the importance of Christ’s resurrection in the Christian’s life. The first post in the series can be found here…)

I’ve been struck by the resurrection of Christ, and its importance in our daily life, for quite some time. When we say we believe in the resurrection of Christ and that, through Him, we are granted eternal life, what we are really saying is, that somehow or another, those who have faith in Jesus are immortal. Wow! That’s pretty powerful!
But most of our current understandings of death make it anything but something to be anticipated with joy. Instead, Western thought by-and-large deals with death as something “tragic” or, at the very least, to be delayed as much as possible.
In Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, Eugene Peterson summarizes our present obsession with viewing death as either tragic or untimely. He explains:

The view of death as tragic is a legacy of the Greeks. The Greeks wrote with elegance of tragic deaths—lives pursued with the best of intentions but then enmeshed in circumstances that brought a fatal flaw into play and, indifferent to heroism or hope, cancelled the intentions….

Procrastinated death is a legacy of modern medicine. In a culture where life is reduced to heartbeat and brainwave, death can never be accepted as having meaning beyond itself…

It’s this negative view of death that can underline most, if not all, of the other core fears we face. For instance, isn’t the fear of death the underlying fear when we ask ourselves “Am I doing what I am supposed to be doing with my life?” or “What kind of legacy do I want to leave?” and even “How will history remember me?”

A proper, Christ-centered response to this question requires every believer to remember, as Peterson points out, that death, particularly Christ’s death, is ‘for us and our salvation’. In other words, if we truly, truly believed that, through Jesus, we have eternal life, these questions no longer have any place because they are all temporal questions, questions stuck in our view of our lives as something with a beginning…and an end. These questions emphasize an understanding of death as something that is final, as “the worse case scenario” for any situation.

Truly believing in the eternal life promised through faith in Jesus reminds me where I really need to focus is trusting and obeying Jesus in a moment by moment sort of way…because, somehow, through faith in Jesus Christ, there will always be more moments.