The Wednesday Writers: Lisa Brittain

Along the Way @

Gentle Reader,

It’s The Wednesday Writers!

No idea what I’m talking about? Read this.

Today we hear from my friend Lisa Brittain. (Post written in December 2017).

Welcome to Our Real

I didn’t feel like decorating the house for Christmas.  In fact, without all the exterior cues – store shelves stocked with Christmas, houses lit up, and city light poles decked in festive notifications – I would have barely noticed the season was upon me.  It was the sudden recognition I would soon be on Thanksgiving vacation, which squarely slapped me into reality. Christmas is almost here and it would happen with or without me.

The weekend after Thanksgiving I began dutifully pulling boxes up out of the basement.  It was simply time management.  Do it now or don’t do it at all.  Along the way, I opened each tote to peek at the contents.  My intent was to look for the bare essentials.  “There’s nothing wrong with a minimalist Christmas,” I continually assured myself.  My husband agreed, “Just enough so no one thinks we’re ‘skipping Christmas” – a reference to one of our favorite holiday movies, Christmas With The Kranks.

Please don’t leave… This isn’t an indictment of Christmas or the American way.  It’s not a judgment on those who are enjoying a festive season.  Please don’t feel or receive any condemnation for your choice to love Santa and display the Nativity.  

The peeking led to digging through and pulling up thirty years of Christmas memories.  Our walk down memory lane felt like an extension of Thanksgiving.  Both my husband and I benefitted from the activity.  Each uncovered item testified to the wealth we possess in family relationships, the full variety of life seasons and rich experiences of our past.

Though I had not the enthusiasm for producing a traditional Hallmark kind of Christmas around our house, I also had no intention of pretending Christmas was a figment of everyone’s imagination.  My heart yearned for the celebration of The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  The tug of war was and still is, real and intense.  I wonder, in a Charlie Brown kind of way, is this really all there is – commercialism, Pinterest worthy presentations and perfect pictures posted on social media, even giving to every conceivable cause known to man?

I would love to feel festive right about now.  It would be a relief to my soul to feel a sudden urge to don a pair of Christmas socks and gaudy Christmas sweater as official garb for baking Christmas cookies for our entire neighborhood.  Perhaps if I could feel the giddy joy of doing the stuff, it would signify a much-desired change of life seasons – out of the desert and into a lush meadow.

For this moment in time though, it would be fake.  In fact, our precious neighbor saw me outside putting red and white and gold shiny ornaments on our Dogwood tree.  Passing by she mentioned, “You must be feeling festive.”  I looked her straight in the eye, this one whose husband passed away in March just the day before my mother in law walked into Jesus’ welcoming arms, and responded truthfully, “No, I’m truly not.”  I saw relief flood her countenance as she confessed her lack of desire to set up her Christmas tree, which sat in a box in the living room.

Often, my heart screams out to the Lord, and sometimes to my husband, “I don’t know how to do this! I’ve never lived here before. Help me…”

I don’t understand Parkinson’s Disease.  And guess what, medical professionals don’t really understand it either.  We never saw it coming.  Too young, my man, to be hampered with such a life-altering, energy draining, and uncertain disease.  I don’t want to welcome PD into our lives.  In fact, I want to slam the door shut, and shout at the top of my lungs, “There’s no room in this inn!”

A new normal?  Sure, I get it.  Why not us?  Awful life circumstances happen to people every day. Younger older, richer and poorer, the ones who mean well, and those who don’t.

Just tell me the rules.  Where are we on the game board?  How do we avoid the pitfalls?  Did we somehow land on the square indicating we have start over?

Ok, so we can start over.  We have each other, and relationships with people who love us.  So, how do we start over?  And how do we move forward?  Because my man needs to work.  He loves to work.  So, we pray. “Lord, we’re asking for a path and an open door… Your Light to show us the new way in which You are leading…”

Surely, this is a grieving season.  We exhibit all the symptoms of grieving the death of a dream… the death of our vision for our future.  That’s what it is for me – the realization life isn’t going to be for us as we hoped and dreamed.  This is easier for me.  I’m the optimist in the family, and I’m not the biggest loser.

For my husband, the loss has been overwhelming.  First the diagnosis.  Then the job loss.  Now three years in, we are questioning the resurrection of his career.  During the same three years, his mother languished in hospice.  Her strong heart refused to quit after the stroke took the rest of her capacity for living.  Now she is with Jesus, for which we are abundantly grateful.

He’s not quite Job, though Job is frequently mentioned around our home.  I remind my man often, “I’m not leaving.”  We’ll learn to do this new normal together.  Our lives are full of blessings for which we are daily reminded to be grateful. 

My suntanned feet man having grown up in church and regularly fed on the Word of God from a young age, he knows the right answers.  Yet, somehow in the tremendous pit of pain and darkness, black writing on white pages isn’t enough.  He is in need of the real presence of God holding him, catching his tears and listening to his brokenhearted questions.

This Christmas, this is where we’re living.  I want real.  My insides are clawing for an understanding of what it really means to welcome the King of Kings and Lord of Lords into our home.  What if Joseph had come knocking at our door, his wife about to give birth?  Would we help them… give them a place to rest… watched as she birthed the Word incarnate?  Would we have believed Mary’s story?  The real of what God selected them to do was messy and hard and heartbreaking and lonely at times. 

My method for regaining equilibrium – finding my bearings in unsettling circumstances – is to ask myself questions: “What do I do when I don’t know what to do?”  And then I answer myself: “Go back, Lisa, to what you know is true.”

I go back to tried and true Scripture for a foundation.  Lately, I’ve found comfort in the 37th psalm.  As I read it again and again, I feel peace wash away the fear and anxious thoughts.  Here it is simply stated:

Trust in Him.  Do good.  Dwell in the land.  Enjoy safe pasture.  Delight myself in Him.  Commit my way to Him.  Trust Him.  Be still before the Lord and wait for Him. 

– Psalm 37:3-7, paraphrased

Other times I go back even further to where I started with God.  That time in college when He found me in the deepest pit of despair.  All was dark and I had no power to fix anything.  In the depth of my soul, I was simply trying to disappear.  I didn’t call it ‘wanting to die’, but my behaviors were leading me in the direction of death.

But God had His eye on me – many loved ones were praying, I now feel sure.  One night, in a dream, the most trustworthy person I could imagine, my great-grandma Becky, sat on the edge of my bed and spoke simple truth to my aching heart.  I dreamed it, yes, and please don’t make it weird. 

God spoke into the deep darkness His rescue plan for me.  When I awoke, I knew three things:  1) God loved me  2) He had a good plan for my life  3) I needed to follow Him.  This was the unlikely and humble place of God choosing and calling little me to be His ambassador and receive the mission He has for my life.

Perhaps this is the heart connection I have with Mary – not that God pulled her out of a pit, but that He sent a messenger to personally meet with her.  She knew when Gabriel left, stunned as she must have been, she had been chosen by God for His purpose.  Surely, she had more questions than answers. 

The real of her situation was that God’s calling put her reputation on the line.  Suddenly, Joseph was forced to choose between what seemed a plausible betrayal and the glorious gift of God.  The couple had to have been reeling as they too may have grieved the death of a dream for their lives.  Nothing would be as they planned at the beginning of their betrothal.

Yet, God intervened.  He confirmed to Joseph the truth of Mary’s situation.  They were affirmed in their calling.  Step by step, they lived the current day, no longer certain of what the future held for them.  They chose faith.  Trust.  Hope.  Obedience.  And God was there with them.  God, the Father, led the way.  He, the Son of God, came to live with them. 

With all my questions, I’m certain of this: 

The real of Christmas was hard, scary, uncertain and raw.  And out of darkness, the Light shone confirming the truth of God’s word and His presence with us.  Emmanuel, welcome to our real…


What about you, friend?  Are you seeking the real face of God in the middle of your circumstances?  I pray you will, like me, simply pour out your questions.  Be real with Him.  He knows.  He sees.  He’s been in every feeling, thought and circumstance alongside you.

  • What comfort do you find in the real of Scripture?
  • How might the real of your circumstances add Light to your celebration of Christmas this year?

Eyes on Jesus…you’re shining!


Lisa Brittain CBS profileLisa Brittain and her husband, Randy, will soon be married 30 years.  Together they are parents of two adult sons, and share their home with three adopted pups. By day Lisa works as a receptionist in the local middle school. However, her mission is to reveal the important voice of each woman and teach her how to share her overcoming God stories.  It is Lisa’s true passion for Jesus and introducing women to Him, which flows in and through and around all the open moments of her everyday life.

Connect with Lisa on her blog, Eyes on Jesus and Shine, or on social media (Instagram / Twitter  / Tumblr)


Want to join The Wednesday Writers? I’d love to have you! Read this for more information.

Simmer Down


Gentle Reader,

I’ve avoided IF: Gathering for a couple of years. The direction the group was headed at the time wasn’t one that I could follow. Gather ye pitchforks while ye may, but I’m just not “progressive,” theologically-speaking. I actually believe that God is real and Satan is real and there is a spiritual war going on and that the things recorded in the Bible happened and that the commands on the pages are necessary to life and salvation. I believe in terms and concepts like Sin, Incarnation, Atonement and Resurrection. While I certainly don’t believe that people who don’t claim the title “Christian” can or should live as if they are, I do believe that those who call themselves followers of Christ have to completely, fully buy into the fact that He gets to make the rules.

(That’s all without nuance, because I also believe in interpretation, historical context and the proper, responsible handling of Scripture).

Some of the speakers/teachers associated with IF in the past have been people with whom I don’t align. And that’s fine. I’m not saying that only people I agree with have a right to speak or teach. I just chose not to tune in. Not a big deal.

Then I heard the buzzing of Twitter last Friday night.

Rebekah Lyons: made some remarks about anxiety and pooh-phoo’ed #MeToo.

Christine Caine: joked about schizophrenia.

Overall: “conservative” theology, which is just so backward.

Everyone was very upset.

I thought, “Huh. Interesting. I should look into this.” Because I’m curious. I like to know things.

I watched the entirely of the first session, which is over 4 hours long. (Full disclosure: I took many breaks and did it over a two-day span). Whatever joke Caine made, I didn’t hear. (That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen; I probably missed it). I’m not the biggest fan of hers, but her message was rock-solid. Nothing Lyons said bothered me in the slightest; not once did she say that anyone who suffers from anxiety (or, by extension, other mental illnesses) shouldn’t take medication or see a therapist. Additionally, the fact that she pointed out that women don’t rise in order to stomp on men – as men have so often done to women – didn’t cause me to twitch with anger.

Listen: I nearly committed suicide. I take Zoloft every night. I’ve been in therapy three times for myself, totaling roughly 2.5 years, and am currently in couple’s counseling with my husband as we wrestle out what God has for us since our lives look nothing like the lives around us (i.e., I can’t have children). Anxiety constantly buzzes in the back of my mind. I’m part of #MeToo and #ChurchToo. I wake up every morning with the knowledge that, at any moment, my liver can (and will certainly eventually) go to crap; words like “cancer” and “transplant” are never far away. My joints always hurt. My head throbs with migraines on a regular basis. Not a day goes by that I am not nauseated and exhausted.

Without doubt, I am hyper-vigilant for any mushy, gushy, false, prosperity garbage teaching. I am the enemy of the “health-and-wealth” preacher. I will without hesitation do battle with anyone who tells me to “pray it away.” For 10 years I have openly, publicly, shared about my suffering and how, in the upside-down way of the Kingdom, it has brought me closer to the Lord.

Do I believe that the church has to learn how to have difficult conversations? That we need to stop assuming that the “American Dream” is God’s plan? That we need to wise up to the fact that pain is, in fact, promised to those who follow Christ? That the hurting people who sit in the pews every Sunday need to know that there is a place for them?


I also believe that, sometimes, we are sensitive in unproductive ways.

That we go looking for something over which to be offended.

That, because we do not fully pursue healing, because we remain in a place of victim-hood, we read into (hear into?) messages things that simply aren’t there.

If I got upset every time someone made a joke or said something idiotic about anxiety, depression, OCD, infertility or suicide, I would literally never leave my house and I would definitely never go online.

There’s a difference between consistent, ongoing abuse and something said without consideration. Were Lyons and Caine flippant at points? Perhaps. It is important for communicators to choose their words carefully. Do they need to issue apologies and submit themselves to a social media flogging? No. Look at the entirety of their ministries, their teachings. Is there an ongoing pattern of idiocy or simple, isolated, human moments that we all experience?

Do not mistake me. Leaders are not immune to needing correction. But we cannot go around assigning beliefs and motivations to people just because others in our lives have had those beliefs or motivations at one point or another. That is not fair to those others and, in so doing, we set ourselves up to be re-victimized over and over again. What kind of life is that? Where is the room for trust, for grace, for relationship?

I know that some of you reading this are real mad right about now. You want to tell me that I don’t understand. You want to dismiss me as not being “woke.” So let me just go ahead and smash the last little bit of your toes: At some point, we have to move forward. We have to press through. We have to square our shoulders and decide, by the mercy and empowerment of Christ, that we are stronger and tougher than all the hurts of the past, present and future. We stand, bruised, bloody and sweaty, believing that our God is with us, come what may. We don’t slink around like invertebrates and we don’t continuously, obsessively claw off the scabs so that we can keep on bleeding. We have to stop indiscriminately demanding heads on platters in an effort to make ourselves feel better.

Pain is real. Jesus is also real. Choose Jesus in the midst of pain, keeping your eyes fixed on Him. That’s the message I heard during the first session of IF: Gathering. It’s a message we need to sit with. We have to learn to shun the extremes of both denial and dwelling. Jesus is in neither of those. He is instead in the middle, in the muscle-burning, soul-stretching work of one foot in front of the other, throwing off the things that would weigh us down and take us out.

Because, you see, people are dying out there. They need to see, to hear, the hope in our lives, the hope that gets us out of bed each morning. That will only happen if we are willing to go where they are, beyond ourselves, to the places God calls us. We can only do that if we are willing to submit to His healing work, a work of transformation that leaves the scar but heals the wounds.

It’s time.



How Can I Know That He Really Loves Me?

Look to the Cross

Gentle Reader,

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. Lots of candy, glitter and general, commercialized cheesiness. That’s what I’m supposed to think about it, anyway. I’ve always liked the holiday. My parents used to leave my brother and I treats on the kitchen table, waiting for us to discover at breakfast, from the time we were little all the way through high school. As an adult, Chris and I have celebrated in a variety of ways, all of which usually end up with us at some thrift store or another, searching for buried treasures.

Tomorrow is also Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.

Ash Wednesday is not specifically mentioned in the Bible; however, from Biblical times, sprinkling oneself with ashes has been a mark of sorrow for sin. Several times the Bible mentions people repenting in dust and ashes; for example: Mordecai (Esther 4:1), Job (Job 42:6), the inhabitants of Nineveh (Jonah 3:5-6), and Daniel (Daniel 9:3-4). Repentance in dust and ashes often was accompanied with fasting during Bible times. …

Jesus is calling His followers to avoid making a show when fasting, but rather to help those in need. He is calling Christians to think externally in avenues of service, instead of only thinking internally toward themselves. The point of that matter is this: Jesus is interested in the condition of the heart and not merely external appearances or show. As you think about your life…where is your heart? Are you others-focused or self-focused? Do you desire to have true repentance and fasting as mentioned in Psalms 51 (especially verses 10-13, 17), or are your actions merely based on outward tradition?

What is Ash Wednesday? (emphasis mine)

I didn’t grow up observing Lent and the season isn’t heavily emphasized in my denomination, though sermons in the weeks leading up to Easter usually focus on reflection and repentance. In past years I have experimented with different forms of fasting; sometimes I’ve given up social media, other times I’ve abstained from food completely on Good Friday. There are not hard and fast rules regarding the season; I believe that fasting, whatever it looks like, is deeply personal and must be guided by the Holy Spirit. One thing I have learned, though: When I give something up in order to focus on God, I have to actually, you know, focus on God.

Basically, fill in the gap left by setting aside the smartphone with Scripture reading. Or prayer. Or silence. Or worship music. Anything that trains me to put my eyes on Him.

This year I am thinking about the point bolded in the quote above: Jesus is interested in the condition of the heart and not merely external appearances or show.

All the fasting, contemplation and ritual in the world mean nothing if not done with sincerity. If the focus is just on the thing, rather than the Lord, it’s a waste.

Lent is about love. The great love of God that necessitated Incarnation, suffering and the Cross. Whatever we do (or don’t do) in the coming weeks should be out of a desire to thank Him for that love. To see ourselves as the weak creatures we are, the people totally incapable of saving ourselves. To gaze up into the sky, knowing that the Throne is just beyond our sight. To bow in humility, accepting that we can never do anything to earn His favor. It simply is, the greatest of gifts.

Long have I struggled with the concept of God’s love. I can explain it. I can define the terms for you. I can talk about the differences between agape, philos and eros. Intellectually speaking, I “get” it.

Feeling that love, sensing it in my soul, is another story.

We cannot allow our emotions to rule our lives. We have to operate out of what we know to be true. I know this. I preach this. Feelings aren’t bad, though. They are God-given. Jesus cares about what’s going in our hearts. A relationship with Him is about more than mental assent.

Honestly, that freaks me out.

I don’t like vulnerability. This may come as a surprise to you, given the things that I share on this blog, but I hit “publish” on the intimate posts only because I know that there are others out there who battle the same things I do and I can’t be the Barnabas that I want to be if I’m not doing the thing along with everyone else. If I had it my way, if I operated entirely out of my natural inclinations, only the sarcastic, intense, intellectual side of my personality would bleed through onto the screen.

So for me to know that Jesus has the desire to get in there and sort out all the feels in my heart so I can really, freely live out the things I know to be true…yikes.

He’s God, though. You can only fight Him for so long.

This Lenten season, I invite you to ask God one scary question (I’m asking, too): How can I know that You really love me? Then sit back and read. Open your Bible and watch Him in the Garden, agonizing, terrified of the pain and separation to come. Sit in front of the Cross, taking in the full horror of the Savior’s naked body, drowning in blood. Stand next to the women who could not bear to leave Him behind. Weep with Peter. Bow your head in the silence of locked rooms, hope snuffed out like the last bit of candle. Allow the weight of mourning and disappointment to press upon your shoulders.

Contemplate the great sacrifice this Perfect Man, the only Perfect Man, made – because of you. Because of me. Because He doesn’t want to let us go.

Lord God, You know how we struggle to feel loved. You know how easily we believe that You are just like we are, fickle and reckless in Your affection. You know how terrified we are that one day we will wake up and find that You don’t love us at all. Help us, Jesus, to come to the Cross in a fresh way this season. Help us to see with new eyes. Pierce our souls with the grace, the mercy, the true and lasting love that is ours by right of submission to You. Enable us to both feel and to know Your love that we may live confidently in this world, secure in the assurance that we are Yours. Thank you, dear Lord, for the Incarnation and the Cross. Thank You for the Resurrection. In Jesus’ name, Amen.


Photo Credit: Diana Simumpande

The Wednesday Writers: Tara Ulrich

Along the Way @ (2)

Gentle Reader,

It’s The Wednesday Writers!

No idea what I’m talking about? Read this.

Today we hear from my friend Tara Ulrich.

Bethlehem Lights

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see they lie, above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by, yet in thy dark streets shineth, the everlasting light, the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

But today, the lights in Bethlehem are no longer burning bright. They have been shut off because of those in power who think they are doing the right thing. Yet they do not know the consequences of their own actions.

I find myself crying out, “Do you know not what you are doing?” This city of peace is no longer a city of peace. The hopes have been dashed and the fears of today are still there. In fact, the fears have paralyzed the people in this city.

I am usually one who will sit and listen to both sides of an argument. Yet as I listen to my friends who have visited this holy city, I can no longer stand silent. I must speak up for this city of peace. The city where this precious infant Emmanuel is born in a manger. His cry pierced the darkness. The Holy One whose birth into the world proclaimed the good news of God.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”

– John 3:16-17

In the midst of chaos and unrest, can we trust in this one who brings about the peace that passes all human understanding? This one who promises to come down and rend the heavens; bringing God’s kingdom on earth – a kingdom where there will finally be peace for all the world – peace for my LGBTQ friends, peace for Muslim friends, peace for my brown and black friends, peace for all of God’s beloved children.

And when this day comes, the city of Bethlehem will once again stand with her lights shining bright, knowing that Christ came into the world through this holy city that calls us all to proclaim God’s redemptive love and peace.


TaraHeadShotTara Ulrich blogs at Praying on the Prairie. She is a minister of Word and Service; a deacon of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) serving in western North Dakota as the Director of Home and Congregational Life. She has served at churches in Dilworth, Minnesota, Beulah, North Dakota and Minot, North Dakota.

She is a farmer’s daughter, granddaughter and niece. The prairies of North Dakota are her happy place. She is also the daughter of a woman who lives daily with a mental illness. You can read their story in the book Living as a Daughter: 31 Days of Mental Illness.


Want to join The Wednesday Writers? I’d love to have you! Read this for more information.