The Evangelical Cultural Divide

Christian,

Today I see a large chasm in the cultural divide among Evangelicals, though some of you have publicly (and some not as publicly) have abandoned that term to describe your faith. To be blunt, on a daily basis I observe as those who either did or didn’t get their candidate elected attempt to leverage the scriptures to potentially one-up their political opponents into a theological and political submission. Far too many are copying and pasting and googling whatever they can to prove their candidate/party/ideology/choice-of-cereal is God’s best for America. For the record, I’m still hoping someone will bring back Waffelos. There’s no debate regarding Waffelos Cereal.

Then there are these “labels”. We all sit here and watch the new arm-chair quarterbacks attempt convict us with terms based on our color, income, or political affiliation, joyously cutting and pasting or writing paragraph after paragraph until they pound you into submission, or at least somehow explain how their “label” makes sense. Often, they lack the educational, research, and life-experience to make such claims, but we can cut and paste, can’t we? We can just google a verse and win the post, right? Are we winning? Wouldn’t Jesus want me to change your mind, and enlighten you?

During the election my blog saw more hits than ever. My post entitled “The Gospel Coalition vs. Donald Trump” (https://thadriley.wordpress.com/…/the-gospel-coalition-vs-d…) still gets more hits than any other thing I’ve ever written. From where we stood then and stand today as Evangelicals in America today, it makes sense (I know. Don’t call you an Evangelical).

So, it’s on my heart more than ever just to share this. Stop. And let’s restart. Let’s get off of social media and sit face to face with someone of the other persuasion BEFORE we denounce their beliefs and opinions. Let’s befriend those who think differently than we do, and find out what makes them tick. Let’s dig in deep with Jesus, share our testimonies, and become the church once again. Not conservative. Not liberal. Just the sons and daughters of God the Father, hell-bent on keeping folks out of hell. Let’s be honest and take feedback in stride, knowing we don’t have all the answers, and are willing to listen to an opposing view.

My mission (besides finishing this book I’ve spent 15 months on that almost brought me to tears today because I’ve written and deleted the same chapter four times in four months – I am proud though I only binge ate 14 white cheddar cheezits from the emotional wreck I was) – my mission is to leverage my blog/writing to unite Christians into a narrative of peace, diversity, humility, and great listening skills. I will attempt to coordinate a meeting later this year between the top Evangelical leaders in our country and have them share their hearts, and begin a new story of peace and moving us out of the toxic political narrative we find ourselves in. Some of you are those leaders. And others I will have to get in front of. I think they will listen.

I’ll keep you updated as it happens. On this, the book, if Waffelos make a comeback, and my attempts to resist of white cheddar cheezits.

I am praying deeply for healing, a new narrative, and that those who love Jesus will see that unity in Jesus’ name means something.

Matthew 19:26 “Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Tears in the Coffee Shop

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Writing my way deep into Chapter 17 of the book and there’s this young couple sitting at a table not so far from me in this coffee shop. As Explosions in the Sky streams through my red headphones from Pandora, with barely glancing eyes I noticed her hand moved quickly to wipe away some tears which look like they came before she was ready. Maybe it didn’t matter why she started to cry. Maybe you and I don’t need to assume the reasons, but she did her best to hold back those tears, while people around her chewed on bagels and drank their chocolate raspberry coffee.

 

“Doug!” the young man hollers from  behind the counter. Doug’s egg and bacon wrap is ready, and an older man steps quickly to the counter to pick up his breakfast.

 

I forgot to wear it today. Every Tuesday I sit here in my “God Loves You” shirt, but not today. Just a denim button up was all I had to offer the world in this moment, substituting a message of hope for a little warmer clothing. Still, I could do something, couldn’t I?

 

A thought hits me. I grabbed my iPad and started searching for an image, for something. It’s the first one that popped up on my google search, so I adjusted my display to last as long as possible. With some sudden weird flutters in my stomach, I gently placed my iPad against the back of my laptop, facing the rest of the world around me.

 

An hour later, and after some more random tears, she and the man stood, and with a quick kiss goodbye, he opened the door and was gone. Sitting back down at that table, I caught her glance a few times at my iPad, while I kept my eyes glued as best I could on the throws of my latest work. We all have a story, and whatever her story was, it wasn’t really any of my business, but maybe just a little bit. I could only offer one thing, I could offer three words of encouragement, and three words this world most assuredly needs right now.

 

After about ten more minutes, she gently scooped up her purse, slipped on her coat, glanced one final time my iPad, and she’s gone. Maybe it didn’t mean anything for her, but I remember a time when I clung to those words, when I cried out to God for them to mean something in the tragedy around me. Whether its tears or laughter, I think it’s exactly what we need, and maybe somehow this might have brought a little hope to her today. I know it means something to me. Those three words. Nothing more. Nothing less. And its everything.

 

“God loves you.”

 

The Church of the Broken, Divorced, Vagabonds, and Everyone Else

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Philosopher Khalil Gibran wrote “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls. The most massive characters are seared with scars.”

It was early 2014, and these scars were still unfamiliar to me, but there they were, right on me in full view. Losses had piled on deep and heavy, and, to quote Bilbo Baggins from The Lord of the Rings, I felt “like butter scraped over too much bread”. Just a few years earlier we had purchased my dream house, but now the memories of all that had happened in the past twelve months made this home feel cold and empty. I was alone, me and the kids were alone, and our entire world had been flipped upside down. I remember spending so many days hiding my troubles from my children, hoping the past year hadn’t broken them as much as it had broken me.

I had once been this happy-go-lucky guy, walking around Dayton, Ohio with a big, silly grin on my face. As a single father, I remember feeling more awkward than ever, like there was something wrong with me. There wasn’t. But everything still felt…off.

I had played by all the “rules” of this life, so how could divorce and all this craziness happen to me? The more I asked myself this question, the more questions I got. Sometime it just all felt pretty hopeless, but there was always that sliver of hope hanging out there. And here’s why –

Jesus said, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11:28-30 The Message).

Jesus. When life was throwing some wild haymakers at my head, Jesus was standing strong, in word and deed. You see, it was through the scriptures, in verses like these, I was able to secure my hope that God continued to have my back. He led me to a new church, a place where I could breathe and rest. I found comfort in the weekly messages from the Pastor, and encouraging conversations with my friends. I felt more alive in worship than I had in a long time, while becoming far more rock solid in my identity, which is the identity of being a child of God.

And today, I kind of feel like the church needs me, and needs my story of love and rescue.  They certainly don’t need the Thad Riley of 2013 who was pretty judgmental, with appearing to have most of his ducks lined up in a row. They need the once, twice, and at least three times broken Thad Riley, the guy who knows how much he doesn’t know and wants to be a friend to those who need some encouragement and a little of God’s love in their life. So yeah, I feel like I have much stronger role in my church today than I did before I got that “Scarlet D” emblazoned on my chest.

By the way, we kind of need you, too. And we WANT you. Right here. With us. On Sunday mornings. In church. I’d say it’s the perfect place for you. We have room for you. In our row actually. You see our row at church is filled with some pretty interesting folks, to say the least. It’s got divorced people, and people who’ve lost a lot in this life. There’s folks who are still thinking someone is going to start judging them for their past or their current life, but it has happened yet, so maybe this is a different place. We’ve got single dad’s, single mom’s, and some of the most interesting characters this side of the Mississippi. Does anybody but me say things like this in New England? Maybe not so much.

So, why not? I mean seriously, what do you have to lose? The truth is, you have everything to gain. The church, you see, it’s this place where your world collides with the story of Jesus, the one who did everything he possibly could to rescue you. It’s a place of encouragement and eternal optimists, who believe in things like hope and forgiveness and God’s love. It’s not a place of judging and raining on people’s parade. The church is part of what I call home, you might say. It’s one of the best parts of my life.

I hope you’ll think about. We’d love to have you this Sunday at 9 a.m. at Bethany Church in Raymond. What do you really have to lose anyway? We even have a free breakfast! How about this – I’ll save a couple of seats and just think about it. And if you think I wrote this for you, guess what? I did.

About Life

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A letter about life written to my two oldest kids, but maybe others can find some encouragement, instruction, and peace within its lines.

 

Max and Kaitlin,

Good morning. I’m sitting in that big red chair, watching the flames in the fireplace shoot up and down. I have no clue who invented gas fireplaces, but I like them! It’s so much easier than the wood one your grandparents had when I was growing up. Popo and I used to cut down trees in our forest and chop the wood by hand. I wonder if I ever told you that before? One day, when I was sitting on the top of our woodpile, Popo took a big swing with an axe, and shot a big chunk of wood back in his face, breaking his glasses and giving him a big cut right off his left eye. He ran inside to wash off the blood, and tape up his glasses. It wasn’t near as bad as the time six years later when he fell off a ladder and dislocated a bunch of the knuckles on his left hand. There was a whole lot of blood and he had to drive himself to the ER, while I sat in the passenger seat staring at those horrible, unforgettable knuckles. I offered to drive my dad to the ER if he couldn’t, and I didn’t get much more than weird look and a head shake. Can you imagine having Josh or Summer drive you to the ER while you’re dealing with bloodied, dislocated knuckles? And I was a year younger than them.

Those are my most vivid memories of accidents I saw my dad experience as a kid. You can’t do anything about flying wood and sometimes ladders aren’t as sturdy as they look. Neither of those things were dad’s fault, but they both messed him up pretty good. Life happens, right? Some things you just can’t prevent.

And some things you can. I watched first hand as your grandfather drifted more and more away from the best things EVER in this world. I did not sit idle, either. As that eleven year old kid, I remember pleading with him to stop drinking so much wine. He just gave me that same look he did when he didn’t let me drive him to the ER. This time he should have listened to me. Dad allowed the foundational truths in his life to erode over a period of about three years, and by within five, he had zero interest in his spiritual growth, being part of a church, or encouraging his family in their love for God. It was no accident, it was simply his choice.

You see, our relationship with God is always a choice. If you fall off of a ladder, totally a “life happens” thing. If you drift away from a relationship with God because “life happens”, that’s on you. And you will be judged by God for your choices. There are specific reasons why the scriptures tell us to “fear the Lord”, but too often in today’s Christianity it’s been replaced by a good looking, young, Bernie Sanders version of Jesus and not much more.

The drift. That’s we’ll call this, and it’s exactly what dad allowed t0 happen to him. He didn’t build and maintain a strong foundation in his life, but made excuses and then sat there as the most important things in his life drifted away. The drift.

To build and maintain a strong foundation, you need to be proactive. It’s really not hard; it just takes a love for God and a commitment. People say they’re a Christian all the time or they’ll tell me “I believe what you do”, but their live don’t make any sense if that were true. 71% of Americans say they Christians, but we see that obviously isn’t the case. They haven’t built a strong foundation.

Here are a few specifics on how you both can build a strong foundation in your lives. I’ll be as detailed as possible, which will allow you to live in between the lines. Here goes –

  1. Wake up every day to something good spiritually. This could be one Psalm, a worship song, five minutes in prayer or maybe you do a whole devotional at this time. You choose! But having just a few positive impacting moments with Jesus to start your day can make your days start so much better.
  2. Read at least one chapter in the bible each day. If you read 3-4 everyday, you’ll read the entire bible in one year. I was 22 years old when I read through the bible in one year, and I’ve done it 3 more times since. If you feel bogged down or heavy, just a Psalm might be enough, but try to make it meaningful. Block out the world around you for a few minutes and you’ll be on the right track.
  3. Prayer – it’s impossible to have a relationship with anyone if you aren’t communicating. The more time you spend in prayer, the stronger your relationship with God will be. You may want to spend a few minutes in a quiet place on your knees, or be like Moses and get on your face. Remember, you are communicating with a massive and Holy God, but he loves you, so it’s good. Sometimes, when I wasn’t sure how to pray, I find a Psalm that feels right, and pray that as my prayer. A lot of folks pray off of lists, and that’s a great way to go, maybe even the best. It’s not a check off list, though. This is all about communicating with the God of all creation.
  4. Church – you need a solid base of Christians around you. Not some jokers who are religious or some folks who have excellent behavior, but you need people who actually love Jesus in your life. Those religious jokers will leave you feeling heavy and burdened, and the good people offer little but a high moralistic perspective. Find a legit group of other Christians who are actively pursuing Jesus and stick with them. This was the biggest thing that went downhill in your grandpa’s life and it went fast. He gave up on the church and didn’t see it for how great it was.
  5. You should always try to be reading one good book that encourages on your Christian walk. They are free for you because we all share the kindle, and Melanie and I can always help with recommendations. We own some really great books.

You are both old enough to figure this out, but you can’t do it alone. You’ve always got me, and don’t ever underestimate Melanie. She is brilliant and strong and would help you all if you ever need it. But we aren’t enough, so stay on point 4, the church. Don’t minimize that point, ever.

The devil will try to make these things feel heavy and burdensome, but literally this is about thirty minutes a day, outside of the church stuff, which is a lot of fun anyway. And you will be in CONTROL of your life. Unless you’d rather be controlled by your circumstances or even the evil one, this is the path you need to pursue. This is my best counsel on how you can live a blessed life in God’s love and grace, and it also outlines the choices you need to make to protect yourself from the enemy.

My entire life I have had the shadow cast by my dad hanging over me, until about ten years ago. You see, I finally realized that I wouldn’t be like him one day, forsaking everything I believed in for another life. I understood I had built a strong foundation, and it was God’s love, grace, and that strong foundation that kept me following God no matter what life threw at me.

So, this is it. This is my best effort to set you up for your future, keep you close to God, and to protect you from the enemy, the devil, the one who seeks to destroy all of your life.

Love you,

Dad

“Home is behind, the world ahead, and there are many paths to tread”

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” Bilbo Baggins from the Fellowship of the Ring

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Two years ago we took a journey on our winter break, to celebrate our new love and life together. Our honeymoon ventured us to the Island of Roatan, Honduras, but something felt different about this trip from the moment we stepped on the plane. Having just finished Eugene Cho’s book “Overrated” on the flight over, we were looking for more than just a typical Caribbean adventure. Within hours we were eating dinner in the home of two missionaries, our now dear friends Bob and Debi Cowan. They didn’t know us from Adam, but God had plans a million years ago to bring the four of us together. It was a week like I’d never dreamed, and we came back refreshed and ready to conquer the world. God challenged us on those three foot long docks of the Sea Dancer, and within days Melanie took a new role at work, and I made the announcement I was leaving the wireless industry after twelve years. These moments in Roatan created the vision for the future of our family of eight, and we have truly never looked back.

Last year’s story landed us on the Island of Culebra, and took us to a place of much needed respite and adventure. We snorkeled with frighteningly massive rays and sea turtles aplenty swam by. We rested on the beaches of Flamenco, Zoni, and Tamarindo as we swam, snorkeled, rested, wrote, and read. We ate at Zaco’s Taco’s and had the best crème cheese breakfast pastry I have ever had the pure joy of indulging. We visited the coolest little, big store on the planet called Milka, which is like their Walmart in a building smaller than the average 7-11. They truly have everything you could need. We hiked, studied the culture and history of the island, and took pictures by the tank our country left sitting on the shores of Flamenco Beach. Frankly, it was weird. During the days of the World Wars our country used this island as a testing ground, recklessly shooting off high powered weapons, and risking the lives of the people who call this island home. Still, the beautiful people of Culebra love their visitors, and have a sweet and simple way about them. It’s like visiting a small town in Tennessee, only it’s an island in paradise. I read two great books that week, The Year of Living Like Jesus by one of my heroes in this life, the late Ed Dobson, and Whatever the Cost by my friend David Benham, and his brother Jason. Both books led me, instructed me and ministered to my soul. The highlight of the week, was the quiet moments I spent with the human I admire most, my best friend Melanie Jean. If there was ever a gift to our world, it is her, and I still have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t admire her. It was an amazing week with the best person I know.

Saturday takes us on another adventure, heading back to Culebra yet again. This will be an exciting time to refresh, rest and re-energize ourselves. We are spending one night in Old San Juan, and then it’s off to Culebra the next day. The book I was supposed to read while there, Scary Close by Donald Miller, was too good and I finished it before this trip even begins. I’ll keep my ears open for something, and if you know of any great books I should read, please comment below. My favorites are always Christian books, the ones with real stories from real people, from authors in the realm of Miller, Goff, Niequest, and Ed Dobson. Anything inspiring will probably work.

But there’s something else. I can’t explain it, but I feel God’s leading in a certain direction, so I will be doing something a little different each day while I’m sitting in the sand, diving into the waves, and walking the through the open streets of Culebra. I will blog about it daily, and keep myself accountable to be part of a story God is already creating inside of me and on this island. Who knows where this adventure will lead us this year, but we are grateful for the time we have and the journey we are taking.

More soon!

The Riley Family Christmas Letter 2016

The Annual Riley Family Christmas Letter 2016

Dear Friends,

It’s been six years since I’ve begun the tradition of writing a Christmas letter. To be honest, I’m not really sure why or how this even all started, but this year, of all years, I’ve had some writer’s block around this, until the end.  It’s funny, but maybe this year it’s just meant to be after all. I’ve been starting and stopping this thing for a few weeks now, and it wasn’t until two nights ago this all kind of came together. This won’t show up in the Christmas Card. I’ll just put it here, and maybe, somehow, those Christmas Cards will magically mail themselves this year.

In 2013 I spent my first Christmas as a single dad. Since 1996 I hadn’t been alone, and suddenly, my world was turned upside down and everything seemed pretty crazy. I tried to do my best for the kids. We went to the same Christmas Pageant we attended every year, and the same Chinese Restaurant after the same Christmas Eve Service. I signed presents from Santa and Dad and did the best I could cooking that crazy, over-glazed ham. I got creative with the money I didn’t have and the bills I couldn’t pay, and did what seemed to be just enough to make it feel like Christmas in our house. We made Christmas more about the birth of Jesus than we ever had before, but it all felt different, just so very different.

I remember feeling very small that year. Overworked by my job in retail management, and stretched far too thin at home. “Like butter scraped over too much bread”. I also remember wondering if Joseph felt the same way, if maybe he was dealing with problems with his reputation and folks who didn’t understand why he was making some of the choices he felt like he had to make. No matter what happened it didn’t stop Joseph from giving every fiber of his being to be there for Mary. I didn’t like how I felt that year. It was kind of like always wearing a shirt that fit too tight. I wasn’t quite suffocating, but I wasn’t able to breathe so easily. I don’t think I felt like I belonged anywhere anymore. I felt incomplete.

Two thousand years ago Mary and Joseph trekked through the hills outside of Bethlehem in the rainy season, finally arriving in town. For all of her dreams of those first moments with her baby boy, she probably never imagined they would be like this. Joseph probably felt a little humbled and maybe even a little like a failure as a dad. Wasn’t he supposed to be able to provide everything for his family? I wonder what he dreamed the birth of his son would be like.

But Joseph and Mary did see something that first night with Jesus, didn’t they? And the shepherds, these rugged outcasts who lived in the wild, these men chosen by God Almighty to experience His very own Heavenly Host, as angels descended from the sky singing joyful proclamations of the Messiah’s birth. God Himself chose these men, and Joseph and Mary, to be the ones, the very first, to celebrate the birth of his very own son, the Son of God. Each one of them mattered to God. Each one of them was made complete…by seeing Jesus as who he really was.

This is your story, too, my friends. Each one of you, no matter what darkness you may have seen or have done, you are each made complete in Jesus. To any and all of my friends who are divorced or just feel alone this Christmas, I truly want…no…not want…I am praying you will see you are just like the rest of us, incomplete without Jesus. I am truly sorry for you have endured, and Christmas maybe doesn’t help so much, but it should. It should make you feel new, and the scriptures tell us his light shines in you!

“Because the God who said Out of darkness light shall shine, is the One who shined in our hearts to illuminate the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels that the excellence of the power of God and not of us.” (2 Corinthians 4:6-7)

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Thank you for reading this part of my Christmas letter this year. I have always told the story of our family’s year with this work, and I won’t be forgotten this Christmas. I just felt it was important to share my heart with you all, and know I am praying for many of you, my friends, tonight.

2016 was pretty adventurous, to say the least, and in fact, that may be the word of the year. At the end of February, Melanie and I landed on the Island of Culebra, about seven miles off the coast of Puerto  Rico. We had an amazing week, starting with Melanie riding as the copilot on the flight over the ocean! We swam with sea turtles, and we saw this massive ray swim under us. We ate at Zaco’s Taco’s and hung out on the greatest beach I’ve ever seen, Flamenco Beach. This week was a huge week for me in finishing reading two very inspiring books then I turning a big corner in the writing of my next book “Colossal”. We hiked, experienced the island, and spent time just hanging out together. It was a very good vacation, and much needed.

The rest of the year was like the circus dude getting shot out of a cannon. Max graduated from High School and before we knew it, he was leaving for Liberty University. His results in the classroom get better each year, and he continues to pursue his major in Cyber Security. We are very proud of the young man Max is and the example he is to the other children. Kaitlin spent the summer in the Bahamas serving kids, and will be forever impacted by her experience there. She is in the final months of her Senior year and continues to get very good grades at Exeter High School. Daniel, Josh and Summer were all baptized together this past summer, and we rejoiced in what Jesus continues to do in their lives! It was such an amazing moment and we were grateful for everyone who came to support them. Summer and Josh are in sixth grade at CMS, and Josh has really become quite the soccer player. He spent this year playing with the Exeter Hawks and his skills finally have started catching up to his natural talent. It’s been a blast to see him play. Summer has decided she loves to walk, and boy does she ever pound out the mileage. She walks anywhere from 2 to 5 miles in a day, and all of it right here looping around our little neighborhood. She is still loves a great story, but her new found love of art is taking over her world quickly. Her teachers and all of us are thrilled with her new found abilities and excited she has found something she loves. “Determined” Daniel wasn’t satisfied to stay on the same route as his big brother, and broke off to play youth tackle football this year for the Seahawks. And what a great year he had! His face lit up every time he talked about his teammates, the games and their practices. Daniel loves football and will continue to pursue this sport. Sammy is now six, and started first grade full time this year. We thought this transition might be tough on Sammy, but he jumped right in and has had an excellent experience right from the start of the school year and is enjoying the new found freedom of beginning to read!

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One of my favorite moments of the year was our first vacation together as a family. As soon as school was out we were off on a new adventure to Ocean City, New Jersey. Our beach house was a few minutes walk from the boardwalk and a marvelous beach. We ate a Brown’s donuts, went for morning runs on the boardwalk, and laid around the house with no agenda! The kids cannot wait for a return trip, which we are already thinking about for this coming summer.

In our world of races, nothing was more exciting than watching Josh and Daniel finish their first 5k. Josh blew out expectations finishing just behind some of the top runners, and nine year old Daniel fought through a tough first part and finished with a big sprint at the end. Melanie and I ran two Ragnar Relays, first the Cape Cod Relay in May and then were part of an ultra racing team in September when we ran Reach the Beach here in New Hampshire. Both journeys had challenges of their own, and we are so grateful for our wonderful friends who went on this journey with us.

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From Summer getting over going on giant Ferris Wheels. From Max pulling away in his black Honda heading off to college. From Sammy getting on a bus and going to his first full day of school. From Daniel running full speed onto the football field. From Kaitlin getting on a plane to the Bahamas and leaving America for the first time. From Josh paying great attention to his coaches and developing new skills on the soccer field. From Melanie sitting copilot on a flight where the pilot “kills the engine” to slow the plane to nail the landing. And from me leaving my final transition area running the final leg of 40.5 miles in the Reach the Beach Relay when I could barely walk to handoff point.

This year has created so many moments when we all had to find a little courage or to get over some fear so we could experience something new, something different. I don’t think we could do it if we weren’t on the same team and pulling for each other. And I know we couldn’t do it without the promises of God’s word.

”But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31).

 As the dad and mom, our children don’t always agree with or appreciate the decisions we make, but they know we love them and are doing our best to honor God with all of our lives. Jesus, more than any year, has blessed our family with his presence. He is definitely the focus of our Christmas and our celebration together this year as family. It is He who is at the core of our family and unifies us all together under his purposes, and through the teachings we read in the Bible.

It was small, the very first moments in Jesus’ life. God didn’t need to make it spectacular, because he already did. Jesus just being there was enough for the shepherds to leave their flocks, and wise men to travel from distant lands. Jesus is here with us, too, and it’s all the reason to celebrate this Christmas unlike any other. The peace, hope, and joy his birth has brought our world is the greatest story and the world still needs to hear it. All men and all women need to hear it, and to experience God’s love this Christmas. I hope you do, my friends. I hope you have discovered the real meaning of Christmas.

We love you,

 

The Riley Family

Joyful Seasons and Hard Losses

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Joyful Seasons and Hard Losses

Sometimes I wake up and struggle a little with this reality. It is a surreal thing, this life. Suddenly it’s 3 AM, and a dream jars me awake, and my brain has to catch up to what state I live in, this beautiful woman next to me and how I got here.

You could hear a pin drop in this house, on this frigid morning in New England. They say it’s too cold to snow, but maybe we will see a few flakes falling down later today. I like the snow most of the time, because it reminds me of Christmas. If there was ever a time our world needs to talk about the birth of Jesus, I’d say it’s 2016. Some of you say I’m a bit religious. I’m not, actually. You might say I’m just all about the hero of the story.

What makes this morning feel so “surreal” is within moments of my son returning home from his first semester away at college, I found out a friend of mine who twenty-three years ago attended that same college with me, lost her baby girl in the last half of her pregnancy. It’s hard for me…maybe it’s hard for all of us to understand how things like this happen. As one set of parents experience joy, others suffer in a deep loss. I can’t begin to tell you I understand how she and her husband must be feeling, but she wrote something of deep, poetic beauty. It taught me. It broke me a little.

By happenstance, I read James 1:2-4 to the kids this morning. You should look it up if you don’t have it memorized. I am so very grateful our hero, Jesus, provided us with scriptures like this as we endure heartache and pain. The writer, James, was the brother of Jesus Christ himself, but didn’t believe Jesus was the Son of God until after his resurrection. It’s just my opinion, but I think more than anyone James would be the writer most influenced by Jesus, and he launches his book with the words of comfort to those who suffer. It feels like Jesus’ words, like the words we see in the Beatitudes at the beginning of Matthew chapter five. If you spend any time in the bible, you understand this. There are pages and pages of encouragement and love for those who are suffering.

Christmas can be a very tough time of year for so many of my friends. And let’s be honest. It’s weird. This humble story of our Savior coming to us and being born as a baby in a manger has somehow been transformed into this commercialized thing. More than ever, in times such as these, we need Jesus and the hope in our eternity with him. The idea of parents reuniting in eternity with the children they so tragically lost is the kind of hope we can hold on to. God loves us so much he offers forever in paradise with Him, Jesus, all the babies we lost too early, and everyone who claims Jesus as King. I don’t know how anyone could ever have any hope in this life without Jesus. I hope all of you know him.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the losses you’ve experienced lately, and the ones that still haunt you in this life. There is hope for all of us, in the overwhelming and powerful love of God. This doesn’t mean we don’t suffer. But it means we always have hope, the same hope that came to this earth as a baby over two thousand years ago. Christmas is all about hope, yes, a humble hope, but a powerful hope indeed. Its about the hope for all mankind to find peace and love in the arms of Jesus. In our sorrows and suffering he’s just who we need. He’s the reason the angels said…

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you; you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

And so with the Christmas of 2016 we celebrate the birth of Jesus who came to bring hope to me and to you.