Dec 19, 2014

The Un-Glossy Christmas Card

So here's is our Christmas card this year.  Actually it's a postcard because I figured out last year I could be even cheaper and pay for postcard stamps to family far away and it wouldn't be so painful.  Call me Scrooge. The only "issue" with that is that there isn't room on the back for more than a few bullet points of our family and our last year.  No long, glossy newsy letter.  No room for a personal note.  You get a simple postcard.  You're welcome.

 Our picture this year isn't glossy either but more of a candid.  Patience for picture taking was wearing thin by the time we took this only decent photo of us. Hi. This is us.

But honestly, this is us. So I chose the verse on the front on purpose.  The point of Christmas is "Immanuel, God with us" in our real, raw form.  Not the glossy perfect form anyways.

I was thinking Jesus's beginning and end moments here on earth. About how God arrived in the most third world way you could think of, homeless, in the dirtiest of conditions to the poorest of people.  It must have been purposeful right?  I was thinking how he left.  In the worst of ways, in the cruelest form of death the world has ever seen, in the greatest of shameful deaths.  It must have been purposeful right?  I was thinking about how in the middle He experienced the hardest of human conditions.  Poverty, betrayal and doubt from friends and family, grief, loss, threats, anger, and desperate wrestling with God in the garden of Gethsemane, pain and shame.  He was spared nothing.  It must have been purposeful right?  Truly, to be in God's presence must mean He is entered in with us in the worst of conditions, rather than He is outside of them. So when I experience fear, betrayal, doubt, grief, loss, threats, anger, pain, shame, and desperate wrestling with God, this doesn't mean that I'm not with God.  That somehow such thoughts and feelings are unholy and I approach holiness as I leave them behind. No, God is here among us.  In all the human condition and experiences. I was reflecting on some verses of the Christmas story that are often skipped over.  They are the parting words of Zachariah's prophecy on the birth of Jesus:
Luke 1:78-79
"Because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace."

The Lord shall visit us tenderly IN our darkness and shadows.  Even in death, He is there.  He comes as the sunrise, the dawning of hope coming, and walks with us step by step into the ways of peace.  That is Immanuel, God with us.  That is the true raw beauty in Christmas.  

Dec 10, 2014

Tiny lights of Joy

I wrote this post last year, but as I am working on Christmas cards again and my family is gearing up to walk the lights of Christmas tree lane, as I have the hard, gut-wrenching conversations of life with dear friends, I just wanted to post it again.  It still seems to be upper most in my thoughts this year again:
It seems as this Christmas season ticks away, there seems to be swirling around me in different waves, moments of joy and moments of sorrow.  I place the creche up on my carefully decorated mantle, and carefully fill out my Christmas cards. As I fill them out, I am overwhelmed by the bountiful blessings of friendships that have poured into my life over the years. Many cards bring memories of laughter. Many cards are going to friends and family who have grief and sorrow swirling around them this season. My heart is heavy as I address some and wonder how this Christmas season is feeling for them.  Then my daughter calls and I get a silly little delightful moment with my middle child, who is writing Lizzle the elf a note, leaving me smiling at her innocence and sighing that it is passing.  Knowing that there is no sure thing in this life.  So I collect this moment with Ainsley as a precious bead on a string of happiness to be pulled out and treasured in other times.  Joy and sorrow.  Little precious moments butt up in contrast against tough monumental life struggles.

It seems to me that joy and sorrow do meet often and that they are strongest when they do.  The line between them at times seems so thin it's like a screen door, full of holes, where the air between them mingles and intersects.  The warmth from inside feels much warmer in contrast with the clear, cold blast from out of doors.  A taste of sorrow intensifies the warmth of joy when it comes.  And sometimes the air is so intermingled, you can't pull them apart or tell when one starts and one stops.

Mary must have felt that way as an unwed girl, laboring in a cattle stall, having a Son who is God, in poverty, having rough shepherds crash in on you during the night to talk about angels, and later, having kings visit with lavish gifts only to have to flee that night with your toddler across the desert.  Joy, pain, poverty, suffering, hope, chaos, love and wonder.  No wonder in Luke 2, it says of Mary that she treasured up all these things pondering them in her heart.
I ponder these things as well.
I wonder did Mary's joy and sorrow ever feel as if the separation between them was a solid as a heavy door rather than a screen?  Did seeing her son on the cross feel like being cut off from the source of joy?  Did she cling to the promise of hope and moments of wonder when the pathway to joy seemed to be slamming shut?  When Jesus's ministry years where spent rather opposite of what she had thought she had raised Him for, Mary and her other sons were embarrassed and tried to get Him to come home - and He publicly refused.  Did hope and joy mingle with confusion and pain?
And I ponder these things as well.
Do I limit God in my search for joy?  Do I miss that He is always at work?  Do I cling to Him when I cannot see?
I do not blame Mary if she had these thoughts at all.  I want to be like her.  I want to ponder, treasure and seize the little moments of joy and let them be sacred in their smallness.  Small pinpricks of warmth breaking into the cold, until the door is flung wide open and you are enveloped in it.  Sometimes joy is like that I think.  Sometimes it rushes in, and at other times, it's barely pinpricks into the darkness to remind us that joy and hope are just on the other side and closer than we think.  "Smallness" versus "bigness" don't seem to have a place in God's vastness.  To the Giver they are the same.  Therefore, the bigness of the sorrow does not make a small joy flippant or irreverent, rather it is a pinprick to be cherished.  A hope to cling to, a promise of more to come.
Like tiny little pinpricks of Christmas lights flung celebratory into the darkness.
Come, Lord Jesus, Come.
As I reflect on this post from last year, I was reminded that Christ is truly God with us.  We read about rainbows in advent one night last week and discussed that God makes and keeps promises.  That night I was struggling with just feeling the nearness of God and asked Him to help me.  I opened the door the next day to see this flung across my doorstep.  It was a complete rainbow, end to end.  The brightest I have ever seen right in front of me.  The best I have is a dull cell phone picture.  But it's burned in my mind.  I have seen many rainbows from my house, some partial, some even full.  I have never seen one like this. Several neighbors came out and stared with me. God didn't want any doubts as to whether this was an answer to me.

Truly He is God with us.  Even for little doubting, pondering, wondering, hoping creature like me.  A celebratory rainbow of light, flung across the sky.  For me.

Dec 2, 2014

The Leisure of Advent

It was a favorite theme of C.S. Lewis that only lazy people work hard. Great. I'm so encouraged. Per definition I am a lazy slob.  Eugene Peterson clears it up with this quote: "By lazily abdicating the essential work of deciding and directing, establishing values and setting goals, other people do it for us;  then we find ourselves frantically, at the last minute, trying to satisfy half a dozen different demands on our time, none of which is essential to our vocation, to stave off the disaster of disappointing someone."

Oh for the love of Pete.  Guilty as charged.  And by other people, this usually means the little people aged 10 and under that live in this house.  Just WHY do they need to eat 3 times a day and just HOW do they destroy rooms in 10 minutes flat and then draaaaag around taking 2 hours to put it back?  Just yesterday I discovered that while I put away all the Christmas decor bins I'd just emptied, the girl's idea of playing quietly in their play kitchen meant turning on the outside hose, creating mud, putting it in their play dishes, carrying it into the house in little pots, and then taking my jar of peanut butter and adding spoonfuls to the "stew".  Just how did that EVEN sound like a plan with which I would say "Oh sure, go right ahead kids.  I just love it when you are creative with mud and pantry items IN THE HOUSE."?
We are approaching what many call the busiest season of the year.  The perpetual motion of this season seems to be a great churning spin cycle leading up to Christmas Day.   I have three children and we celebrate advent each night with three different activities because we attempt equal opportunity culture over here.  Oh sure, it sounds all cute and cozy, but last night saw one child throwing a fit on the floor because it wasn't her night to flip the calendar. For the love of holy advent, child. Really?! We purposely do little activities to build excitement and anticipation of celebrating our Lord's coming.  All the activities, advent, parties, traditions and gift giving are all meant to build excitement for our Lord's day of birth but they also create a phenomenal amount of business and occasional fits on the floor apparently.  Some years I just want to crash and spend a week doing absolutely NOTHING after the holiday because there was no rest or leisure in that slow build of anticipation.  I feel I have to do all the THINGS or I'll crush the "magic" for my children. (Although this year, I say crush it, two out of three have figured out Santa is a dud, though we press on: Santa's coming! ). And this season rich in tradition and gift-giving can surely crush that's for sure.  "Leisure" during the Christmas season?  Bwahahaha!

Switching gears a little, have you ever felt that time with the Lord was an additional item on your plate, or is it just me?  Have you heard of people talking about carving out time to do an advent devotion, putting it on their schedule as another "have to"? Sometimes spending time with God is like blasting myself with a fire hose in the face with scripture, trying to stuff a biblical meal down quickly, and doing a quick blast of of prayer requests.  Check, done.  If I'm honest, sometimes getting my devotion in is a source of guilt if I don't, and dryness when I do.  I've come away thinking, well, that was good I guess but it's not really changing me that I can see.  Going back to the quote at the top, was that devotion essential to my vocation?  Just what is my vocation anyways? Maid, wife, short order cook, teacher, bum wiper?

Having gone through seasons of this, I have been approaching my time with the Lord differently.  I've been approaching it as unhurried leisure and rest.  Hey wait, don't stop reading, you'll like this next part! It's a conscious detachment from the business of the day with giving my soul and body permission to do so.  It is a time to be silent in His presence. Leisure doesn't have to do with length of time but rather the kind of time I am spending.  This is not a mental blast of scripture, but time to read it and let God speak.  It is an enjoyment with the company of God.  It's a time to crash mentally and let God take over.

Every year my kids quote Isaiah 9:6 as part of our advent. "For unto us a child is born, for unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulders.  And his name shall be called, wonderful counselor, The mighty God, the everlasting father, the prince of peace."  My favorite part of this was two years ago when Ainsley thought that He was the "prince of quiche" and joyfully shouted it every time. It was so good I let her do that for a week before I finally corrected her.  And poooossibly even got that on video. Better than quiche though, which once gave me the worst case of food poisoning I have ever had, He is the prince of peace.
Advent is a time for coming into this marvelous God's peaceful presence.  He is a wise counselor, mighty, a father and gives rest.  Advent is a time leisurely savoring His life among us.  And if He truly is all that, it's listening more than talking.  I want to know what the wise, peaceful, mighty counselor has to say to ME, as my father.  

Truly, Christmas is the best season to reflect on "Christ among us" and therefore, the enjoyment and unhurried time in His presence.  I am not blasting a devotion down my throat, I am sitting enjoying His companionship, even if I only sneak five minutes.  Some ideas to get that whole silence thing going:
1.  First sit for a couple minutes thinking of nothing else but Christ with me and me with Him.  Nothing else.   Banish all thoughts of what you will possibly feed the minions from the bare pantry, and which room is currently being destroyed by them.  Give yourself permission to bask in his peace.  Be a fat cat in a ray of sunshine.  Be silent before the Lord himself.  You can do it.
2.  Take a small chunk of scripture and read it slowly.  Ask God to speak and reread.  Perhaps stop on a  phrase.  Listen. Ponder.  Meditate.  Savor it.  Along the leisure lines, this is metaphorical chocolate and fine wine for the soul.
3.  If you have a thoughtful devotional reading this might be the time to break it out, but don't read for knowledge.  Read for the enjoyment of being with Him and being able to listen to Him. As you would to a friend who is telling you a story.
4.  Pray.  Don't pray to get something.  Pray and listen.  I really want the wise counselor to speak to me, but sometimes I do all the talking. Mmm hmmm.  Fat, crazy, diarrhea of the mouth talker sometimes right here. Forget perfect phrases and "right" words.  Just tell him your jumble of thoughts and let Him sort them out.  Don't worry about presenting whatever is in your head in the right way or with the right emotion.  Dump them out.  Be messy and take off the filter.  I'm pretty sure He can handle it.  If He really knows me as well as I think an all knowing God would, I'm also pretty sure I'm not shocking him with my thoughts.  And then BE QUIET.  Yes. Be silent again in your thoughts and let Him be your companion.  This is a back and forth conversation, be careful not to do all the talking.  Rest in the peace that you have given it all to Him and He is trusted to sort out your thoughts and the events of the day.  Fist pump.  He's got this.  

Other ideas might be to light a candle to symbolize God's presence with you as you pray.  Pray with your hands open in your lap as you physically show you accept what He gives and give up what you have.

Those are simply ideas but you see how that works there?  The intent is a leisurely rest in His companionship and peace.  I truly want this season to be "Immanuel, God with us".  While the season won't slow down, I can.  I don't know if I can promise that you will be as rested as enjoying a sunny beach trip to Cancun reading your favorite "Jesus Calling" and "1000 gifts" book with a week to journal with your perfect slim point felt black pen and the perfect blue Bible highlighter. I can only do so much for you. I suggest five to fifteen minutes at a time.  Busy holiday person, that's all you get, but it can be enough.  It can be your lifeline. 
Go. Be blessed and leisurely.