Packing (ornaments) and pondering (church)

Unpacking the Christmas ornaments is always like seeing friends that have been gone for a while. Packing up the ornaments is different, though. It’s a melancholy experience, that should be accompanied by cookies and hot cocoa as it was a month ago during the decoration process.  But, after Christmas, often the main goal is restoration of schedule (and furniture), so undecorating is focused and fruitful, not peaceful and pleasant.

Today was the fateful day in our house. Time to undress the tree,IMG_6537 (1)

pack up the ornaments, vacuum up the needles, and replace the living room furniture. We played some background music and recounted the recent memories made this holiday season to improve the overall mopey mood. We felt blessed by times with family and friends, while returning our home to its eleven-month-a-year state of (dis)order.

As we packed the angels, snowmen, reindeer, and hand-made treasures from years past, we cushioned the soft ones against the fragile ones for protection. A sock monkey cuddled an ornament from the year we were married, while my childhood Strawberry Shortcake pillow provided a comfort for a pregnant s’more from my maternity days. Glass balls from Grandma’s farmhouse found solace with modern New York team ornaments. A soft, 8 -point buck given to my son this year kept company with a worn out dog and a three-legged cat. Old ornaments mingled with new, soft protected fragile, those with a story shared space with new arrivals who haven’t ‘lived here long’…

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And I thought…

‘This is what church should be like’.

The old and the new sharing space. The whole and the broken coexisting. The colorful with the plain, and the simple with the complex.  Those with spiritual ‘life experience’ reaching out to those who ‘haven’t been here long’. The soft, cuddly ones wrapping their consoling arms around the fragile or broken. Each listening to the stories the others have to share…and finding comfort in their common journey of love and celebration of the light of Jesus. 

The writer of first John wanted the same for the believers in the early church. He wanted children, parents, young people, and church leaders to be reminded of their mission in the dark world. To be love and light to each other because they were loved and valued by God. Their love and light were to add to the lives of those around them, who were struggling with the current darkness. The church was to be the comfortable congregation, vivid haven, the peaceful solace for those in places of darkness or light. 

I John 2:9-11, 4:19-21

 Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble.  But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them. 

I am writing to you, dear children,
    because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.
 I am writing to you, fathers,
    because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men,
    because you have overcome the evil one.

 We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

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We’ve a story to tell to the nations, that shall turn their hearts to the right,
a story of truth and mercy, a story of peace and light, a story of peace and light.
For the darkness shall turn to dawning, and the dawning to noonday bright;
and Christ’s great kingdom shall come on earth, the kingdom of love and light.

The United Methodist Hymnal Number 569
Text: H. Ernest Nichol, 1862-1928 (CWH attrib to Colin Sterne)
Music: H. Ernest Nichol, 1862-1928
Tune: MESSAGE, Meter: 10 8.87 with Refrain

 

 

 

 

 

Then, he smiled at me

It was an emotional afternoon in our house, in the living room specifically. The dog had shredded a toy on the floor, and I had asked my son to vacuum the floor. Pine needles, bits of wrapping paper and ribbon, dog toy fluff…they all needed to disappear.

So, he tried, bless him,…and the vacuumed died. I needed to compile a Sunday school craft, finish preparing dinner for my husband, unpack the bags I had just dragged in from the ‘final shopping trip’, and find out why my daughter was sulking in her room. I didn’t have time to deal with a sucky (or not-so-sucky) vacuum.

Nevertheless, I sat down and began dismembering the machine. Mounds of dog hair, pine needles, and other floor funk began piling up in front of me as I checked this tube and that tube, this connection and that connection. And my emotions began piling up as well. “I have too much to do to deal with this stupid vacuum. We should just buy a new one. There are good sales at this time of year. But we’ve just spend Christmas money. Maybe we should wait. But how long can we go without a vacuum?? I don’t even have time for this now! I have to get stuff put together for church, dinner, gifts…ugh!!!!”

I reached around the Christmas tree to unplug the vacuum in hopelessness. And he smiled at me. IMG_6324

Little baby Jesus. In his manger. The whole reason for this season.

His tiny, precious face caught my attention and gave me pause. It’s all about this beautiful baby, not all the other chaos.

This season of celebration is about his arrival to earth. His presence and promise make our lives more full of love and hope and relationship.  He valued the women he encountered. The busy, frustrated, tired, weary women. The mothers, wives, entrepreneurs, leaders…the oppressed, sick, unfaithful, confused…they all found acceptance when they encountered Jesus. Despite their past struggles, their current predicaments, or what they thought were their future plans, they found compassion with him.

He smiled at them. He lightened their loads. He gave them renewed purpose. He restored their souls.

Look to him, weary mothers. He loves you more than your efforts. He values you more than your attempts. Let him smile at  you. Let him know you. Let him restore you.

“Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” (Mark 5: 34)

Family is not a brood of vipers, but…

Holidays are abundant with family gatherings. Whether its for a meal, a party, a gift exchange, or just a movie night, many occasions occur that bring families close…in proximity…and hopefully  in relationship.

We hope for the best when we’re setting the table for Aunt Gerry to be near Cousin Frank…they have opposing political views. And Sister Margie who indulges in her quiet, single life can’t stand sitting near Brother Bill, the doting father of six curtain crawlers. Mom wants to sit beside Dad, but Dad wants to sit by Uncle Paul and talk football, which Mom discourages because the brotherly competition gets too loud every year…and then Dad gets snippy with Mom, which makes everyone uncomfortable.  And then there’s the question of where to put the wine…in the kitchen or on the sideboard…near or far??

Family. We share genes with them, but sometimes, that’s all we share. Holidays bring out the tension when we know we’re ‘supposed to’ get along with our blood-kin, but it’s just hard to do so. Even among people who all claim to be Jesus-lovers, there is judgment.

I was amused when I reread over the passage in Luke 1 (verses 57-66) that tells of the family gathering after Elizabeth and Zacharias welcomed their baby boy into the world.

‘When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son.  Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy. On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah,  but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.” They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.” Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child.  He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.”  Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God.  All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him.’

The family was thrilled that Elizabeth had given birth in her old age, shedding the shame of her barrenness. They came to rejoice with her. You can imagine how this went: the veteran mothers gave advice, while the younger moms were whispering that they had some new ideas about baby care. Some relatives wanted to help with housework and others just wanted to hold the baby. The men were probably helping Zacharias fix something outside the estrogen-crowded house, and any little cousins were chasing each other in and out and around the busy home.

Then, came the all-important naming ceremony.  In the reverent Jewish tradition, the priest presented the baby to God and gave him his Hebrew name–Zacha…what?  Imagine Elizabeth shaking her head and saying, ‘No, we’re not naming him after his father. We’re naming him John.’ The questioning looks pop on the faces of the friends present, while the relatives begin mumbling ‘Who is John? I don’t remember him. How far back are they reaching to get a family name? What’s wrong with Abijah, or great-great-great grandfather Hashabiah…or his dad Kemuel? John? Where did she get that one?’ The sun rays of acceptance and rejoicing that previously shone throughout the house were now covered with clouds of doubt and disappointment. ‘Why is she changing the tradition?’

So they turned to ask a second opinion, that of Zacharias, for clarification. Now, Zacharias had been mute since the angel spoke to him in the temple, nine months prior to this happy, though increasingly awkward, situation. When he was questioned by the crowd of family and friends, he concurred with his wife. The baby would be named John. Immediately, Zacharias received his voice back and was able to verbalize his joy over the birth of his child and the message that Gabriel had delivered to him. “He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:14-17)

When the gathered crowd heard their friend speak again, after months of silence, and heard his story of the angel’s visit, the promise of the child, the vow the son would take to purity, they knew something was special about this baby. And they began to chatter and rejoice and spread the news. Like people do. ‘Ohhhhhhh, I am so thrilled for them. They’re going to need more cloths to wrap that growing boy in! I know I have some at home!’ ‘Did you hear what he said? That’s the vow that Samson took. I hope he doesn’t make the same mistakes Samson did…’ ‘It’ll be another Delilah debacle all over again.’ ‘I still can’t believe they chose that name, I mean, I know the angel told them, but still…’ ‘I have the perfect lamb casserole recipe that I’ll share with Elizabeth.’

As families will do, they had their opinions. What will become of this boy? His birth was a miracle. His arrival was angel-announced. His future has been forecast. He will bring our nation back to God. What? How? Why?

In a few years (Luke 3), John was doing exactly what the angel had predicted. Calling people to turn from their selfish ways and prepare their hearts for God’s work.

John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”  And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”  As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. “

Long story short, families are going to have joys and opinions and quarrels and chasms. There will always be some loving  relative who questions our choices. But we don’t model our lives after them. Our focus should be on what we can do on this earth to draw people to God. I don’t suggest calling out the fam as a ‘brood of vipers’, but see them for what they are…needing God’s love.  We can’t do that with brow-beating, critiquing, arguing, or ignoring. We do it by showing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.

Before all the family came over to see new little baby John, I am certain that Zacharias and Elizabeth spent time in prayer, both being from priestly families. And that’s what we need to do. Wrap each gathering of friends and relatives in prayer, like the precious, temporary gift that it is. And then enjoy it for what it is…an opportunity to share the message of God that was given to us directly.  Love.

 

 

 

Anticipation

Thanksgiving is late in coming this year. Well, it’s the fourth Thursday in November, as usual, but the lateness of the 28th has built the holiday tension. Holiday playlists are tapping their feet as radio stations hold off on playing Christmas carols until after the turkey has been carved. Many businesses have advertised ‘Pre-Black Friday’ sales to ensure that holiday sales are as plump as usual, despite the shortened shopping season. If you listen carefully, you can hear nutcrackers, snowmen and reindeer getting restless in their boxes, cabinets, and attics…maybe even arguing in their cute little holiday voices.

One of my favorite images of preparation occurs at a family-owned garden store in my neighborhood. During the week of Thanksgiving, they put out their stakes, knowing that the Christmas trees soon will be there.

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I love the feeling of expectation shown here. Peter and Gemma, the owners of the greenhouse, don’t toss the stakes down in the grass and sigh, ‘Well, I guess the trees are coming. We’ll put up the posts when we see them.’ This hard-working couple doesn’t leave the stakes in storage and act surprised when the truck arrives with this years pines. ‘Oh, is it THAT time already? Gosh this year flew by!’ They set those stakes in the ground because they KNOW that the trees are on their way. The arrival date may change due to calendar, weather, or transport issues, but the trees will arrive. No doubt.

Seeing the stakes pop up this week made me smile…and feel that holiday sparkle. It’s coming. It’s almost here. A month of joy, lights, fellowship, songs, excessive and delicious quantities of butter and sugar…the whole shebang! It’s almost upon us!

This enthusiasm led me back to the book of Luke. We often overlook the story of Zacharias and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist, in our rush to get to the manger. But as I reread their story, I saw lives of anticipation.  Both Zacharias and Elizabeth were ‘righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.’ (Luke 1: 6, 7 NRSV). They had already chosen to live Godly lives. They came from centuries of Jewish believers who had seen God’s hand actively at work…delivering them from Egypt, parting the Red Sea, defeating enemies, providing for their needs. There was no doubt who God was or whether he deserved their worship.

As Zacharias was a priest, he was serving his term in the temple. Here’s how Luke retells the story in chapter 1, verses 11-15:

Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.” 

Did you catch that? Zacharias and Elizabeth had been praying for a child. They knew that their ages made child-bearing unlikely, but they also knew the God they served. Their lives had been dedicated to honoring and worshiping him. So they prayed. With anticipation. They planted their stakes of prayer in the ground of faith and went on with life.

Communing with God means that we have a trusting relationship with him. We lift up our quiet prayers, our feeble hands, our tired eyes…and we look at his loving face with anticipation, trusting that he will deliver what we need. Zacharias and Elizabeth had likely prayed this prayer a long time. Verse 25 says, “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”  Elizabeth had endured a range of emotions while still raising her prayers to a God whom she knew would answer. She continued to worship and live an honorable life of devoted anticipation. 

When we raise our prayers, our hands, our faces, our hearts, our tears, our cries. and even our shouts to God, he hears us. He knows what we need more than we do. He looks on us with compassion while he works for our good. Romans 5:3-5 reminds, We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.’ And Romans 8:24 and 25 smack our impatient, childish little thoughts with, ‘Hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.’

As the decorations of the Christmas season begin to appear, raise your hopes and prayers to God. Whatever they are…and lift your eyes in expectation…and be patient, knowing that sometime, your expected delivery will arrive.

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This year, she wanted to be a shepherd

 

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We are celebrating Christmas at a new church this year, and that’s okay. After my kids and I found our place in the ministry here, I was asked to direct the children’s Christmas program.

My son was a narrator, reading the scriptural transitions from Mary to Gabriel to Joseph and on to Bethlehem, where the next narrator took over. My daughter, I assumed, would be an angel again. She’s not quite old enough to have a lengthy speaking part, and not quite veteran enough at this church to take on a primary role. She understood those criteria, but she didn’t want to be an angel.

“I’m tired of being an angel, Mom. I’ve been one every year. Can’t I be something else?”

 

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She had the valid yet unfortunate point that many children in the annual pageants make…I’ve been that role for ____ years. I’ve worn my bathrobe for 3 years. I’ve worn the itchy, glittery white costume with lop-sided wings for 4 years. I’ve had animal ears for 2 years. Can’t I be something else?

We examined the options, and she decided to be a shepherd. “I’ll be their costumes are more comfortable anyway,” my blond-haired, blue-eyed angelic tomboy smiled with relief.

And so, she took on the role of a shepherd. IMG_9017

The evening of our dress rehearsal, the night before the performance, I asked her, “Do you feel okay being a shepherd?”

“Sure,” she replied with utmost confidence. “I mean, they’re basically the same as angels.”

“Really?” I asked, wondering if her line of thinking had more to do with the play’s roles or something more theological.

“Well, yeah…they were both messengers. Angels were messengers in the sky, from heaven. And then after they did their job, the shepherds were messengers on earth.”

Well, yes, yes they were. And there it was, my 2017 Christmas revelation.

The angels had a job, a critical role…to tell the humans the heavenly  news. But then, the angels were done with their job. They went back to heaven. They didn’t come back night after night, year after year, reminding the shepherds of the good news of great joy.

Remember what Luke chapter 2 says…

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,  and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”  15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.

The angels did their job and returned to heaven to their mysterious celestial tasks. But the shepherds’ work was just beginning. They talked to each other (“Did that really just happen?” “Did you see what I just saw?” “I’m pretty sure there’s a prophecy for that.” “I think I drank too much goat milk tonight.” “Well, this is what we’ve been waiting for…” “Come on, y’all…let’s go!”)Then, they ran to find the holy family and celebrated with them.

No doubt, their disturbance in the streets awakened visitors in those over-crowded inns…and they shared with them what had happened.

And then “they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” They kept walking and talking. They kept sharing the news….for the rest of their lives. In temple. At the market. At family gatherings. In the fields. On the dusty roads they traveled with other shepherds while they were doing their job. 

That’s it…they were just doing their job. But their job had a different appearance now.

Wander the hills with other shepherds. Share the Messiah.

Lead the sheep to water. Pour out the news of a promised fulfilled.

Head back into town. Greet travelers with the good news.

The shepherds continued their leg-work after the angels were gone. The angels were back in heaven, preparing and praising. But the shepherds stayed on earth, mingling, walking and talking,  passing on the Gospel for generations.

I love the idea that my daughter’s role changed this year. And I love her new role as a shepherd. I hope that Christmas’s good news will be the news she shares throughout her blessed life.

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For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace… Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

                                                                                                                               (Isaiah 9: 6,7)

 

 

Anticipation

The weeks leading from Thanksgiving to Christmas are full of anticipation. Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 10.45.18 AM

Kids counting down until the magical morning arrives.

Parents checking online orders and hoping for timely deliveries.

Ministers preparing for each meaningful Advent service.

Teachers, police officers, postal workers, garbage men, retail clerks…all kinda wishing the best but enduring the worst of the holiday hype.

Anticipation. Waiting and hoping.

I snapped the picture below at the local garden store on November 25. The Christmas tree delivery was due the next day.

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I loved the depiction of eager expectation. Little metal posts extended like open arms, waiting to hug their trees. They know what’s coming, and they know it’s going to be good.

Likewise, the buds on this Christmas cactus are preparing for their days of glory.

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Once a year, they share their beauty with the world around them. Their tiny nub of a bud slowly swells with natural enthusiasm and explodes a bloom of brilliant cheer.

Christmas can lose its thrill for adults. We know all the gifts…few surprises there. We have to shop for the gifts, wrap the gifts, hide the gifts, assemble the gifts…and clean up after the gifts. This season can turn into a season of toil instead of joy.

But let us not lose our anticipation. With the disappointment of adulthood also comes the wisdom that it’s not all about Christmas morning. It’s about what happened that night. It’s about the journey, the baby, the news…none of that was very thrilling to the adults involved. They were burdened with the journey, labored with the baby, and confused by the news. But they knew there was a  deeper meaning of it all. It meant change was coming…for the future world.

Let us reflect on what is to come, not what is happening now. It’s not about the present(s), it’s about the future. We don’t know what that holds. That’s still a surprise…and God is going to take care of that! Let us lift up our arms and hearts to receive that good news. Let us allow our hearts to swell with natural enthusiasm…and explode with brilliant cheer.

Watchful waiting. Eager excitement. Anticipating Advent.

It’s a Tangled life

In the movie “Tangled”, baby princess Rapunzel is taken from her palace home when she is an infant. An evil old woman named Gothel kidnaps her and her sun-drop magical gift.

Mother Gothel raises Rapunzel in a tower distant from all human connection. Rapunzel occupies her time with painting, playing with her chameleon Pascal, cleaning, painting some more, reading, cleaning, pottery, ventriloquy…waiting for her life to begin, as the lyrics go. She watches out the tower window and notices what happens to the world around her. Her favorite event is the annual light show that occurs in the sky from the nearby kingdom. After a few years, she realizes that the lights appear in the sky on the night of her birthday. Finally, she asks her ‘mother’ if she can go see the lights as a birthday gift.

Mother Gothel replies (in Disney song) with a list of all the terrors that are out in the world, thus hoping to burst Rapunzel’s bubble of hope about the outside world. “Ruffians, thugs, poison ivy, quicksand, cannibals, snakes, the plauge…” (artistically sung and choreographed, of course). And her scheme of discouragement works. Rapunzel changes her mind about wanting to leave the tower.

Enter Ryder Flynn, criminal extraordinaire. When Gothel left the tower to acquire supplies to mix more paint for Rapunzel, Ryder unexpectedly arrives, hiding from other thieves whom he has insulted. Through a series of events involving various (and humorous) whacks with Rapunzel’s frying pan, this ‘ruffian’ agrees to take her to see the castle lights, in exchange for the safe return of his satchel of loot.

Rapunzel struggles with her conscience as she begins her adventure out of the tower. “Mother would be so furious…this would kill her…this is sooooo fun…I’m a horrible daughter…I’m never going back…I’m a despicable human being…Best Day Ever!!!!’

Rapunzel’s experiences thus far remind me so much of my own life. Locked in a place that looked like home, seemed like home, had the ‘comforts’ of home for years. Told truths of safety and security. Encouraged to make the best of where I was, not to try anything risky. Warned of dangers known and unknown. Promised that ‘mother knows best’. And truthfully, isn’t that simple, uncomplicated life ideal? Isn’t safety desired?

Well, when I look at the life of Jesus, I see so much more. I see him mingling with questionable characters. I see him encouraging people to have faith in something bigger than they can earthly imagine. He says, ‘Step out and walk on the water.’ Walk around city walls and watch them fall. Hold up your arms and the sea will split, the sun will stand still. Love your enemies. Rejoice when persecuted. Pray and give and you’ll be rewarded. You’re watched and cared for more than anything else in creation, so don’t be afraid.

You see, like Rapunzel, we were stolen from our original family. We have been told the lie that earthly goals and mankind’s dreams are the best we can do. ‘Mother knows best’ comes in the form of ‘they know best’, ‘the media knows the whole story’, ‘the Joneses are the ones to keep up with’…lies, lies, lies. Our Heavenly Father knows best. He speaks truth always. He tells us that it won’t be easy; we will be persecuted, times will be hard. But he is with us and has, from the dawn of time, has greater plans for us than our sheltered tower life can provide.

I love the lyrics to the song “I See the Light”…because it describes exactly how my life changed when I realized what I could do with God in my life.

All those days watching from the windows
All those years outside looking in
All that time never even knowing
Just how blind I’ve been
Now I’m here blinking in the starlight
Now I’m here suddenly I see
Standing here it’s all so clear
I’m where I’m meant to be

And at last I see the light
And it’s like the fog has lifted
And at last I see the light
And it’s like the sky is new
And it’s warm and real and bright
And the world has somehow shifted
All at once everything looks different
Now that I see you.

It’s a Tangled life. Mixed messages, broken promises, twisted confusions… but it all gets straightened out when we acknowledge that God is greater than all the mess. He wants us to be brave enough to take that first (barefoot) step out of our comfort home to seek the adventure he has for us.

image from http://www.etsy.com

Scripture references:

Exodus 14 (Crossing the Red Sea)   Joshua 10 (Sun standing still)

Joshua 6 (Jericho’s walls fall)          Matthew 5-7 (Rejoice when persecuted)

Matthew 14 (Peter walks on water)

 

 

 

Chains

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When I was a kid, I really enjoyed making paper chains at Christmas time. Maybe it was the challenge of how long it could grow when competing with school  friends. Maybe it was the monotony of rolling, stapling, rolling, stapling…a menial task with maximum benefit in the midst of holiday rush. Maybe it was the simplicity of the decoration…paper and staples could fill a lot of gaps on the tree when ornaments were scarce. Whatever the reason, I liked making paper chains.

As my Christmases have become more umm…involved over the years, I haven’t had the pleasure of sitting down with a pile of colored paper, scissors, and staples in a while. Until tonight. These post-Thanksgiving days have been uncharacteristically relaxed. The weather has been balmy and perfect for children to run their vacation energy off outside. Their ages make it easier to release them to an independent activity while I relax on the couch a bit. It has been eerily calm.

While my son was biking with friends this afternoon, I was working on cutting some paper for a church project tomorrow (first Sunday of Advent!). I had a pile of decorative FullSizeRender(1)paper spread out in front of me and some scissors, some loosey-goosey little paper scraps and a roll of tape. I asked my nearly-six year old daughter if she’d ever made a paper chain. She said she didn’t think so. As she is methodically minded like her mom, I figured she would enjoy this project. So I grabbed the stapler (I know that makes it more rewarding, more quickly) and showed her.

StarFullSizeRender(3)t with a circle of paper, stapled together. Slide a strip of paper through the circle and staple it to itself. She grasped the simple concept within a few loops and began to connect them herself, just asking that I do the stapling. ‘This is fun!’ she observed after about 8 loops. I knew she was hooked.

As I recalled the last time I made a paper chain, probably elementary school, I considered how much my life has changed. How the plans I had then didn’t exactly happen the way I expected. I had visions of a chain of life events, a certain color scheme, a certain length, but that wasn’t the order God had for my life.

Each little loop of the chain of life has a special meaning, a connection to the rest of the sequence. A preschool friend who has grown up with me, my first job FullSizeRender(5)where I overcame my shyness, my few athletic successes, the job I didn’t get, the guy who shattered my heart, the day I saw my future mate, the church who allows me space for my visions, the book that opened my eyes, the evenings of mommy failure…each momentous connection to others adds a loop to my chain.

Long before paper chains were invented, Seneca said ‘Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.’ (That wasn’t just a late ’90s Semisonic lyric…) More recently, though not much, the psalmist David recorded, ‘You have taken account of my wanderings. Put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?’ Our days and weeks are full of new experiences, some we want to cherish, others have brought us tears. They begin, they end; new ones begin and become old and end. But God keeps an account of it all…he has a list of our life events, our chain of events. And through those events, he crafts colorful connections to other people, those who need us…and those we need.

We don’t know how long our chains will be, but we can appreciate the simple beauty of the fact that they exist. Each twist or turn, new or old, makes another link that forever joins us with those around us.

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Oh for a Silent Night

My oldest friend, well, friend for the longest amount of time, gave me a frozen lasagna, a bag of frozen peas, and a package of ear plugs when my son was born. It was a blessed, but bizarre gift, but she promised, ‘You’ll need them.’ The food was eaten one evening when sleep and patience were both in short supply. The ear plugs, well… of course, she didn’t want me to ignore the cries of my newborn son. She wanted me to have some peace while he slept, so that I could sleep, too. She already had a son, and she knew what it was like to need rest but hear the sounds of duty calling…the laundry piles moaning for attention, the dirty dishes slipping in their filth in the sink, the vacuum sighing out of loneliness. The new woes of a new mom could be deafening. She knew that I would need, at times, to block it all out and rest.

Dear friends, we are in the midst of Advent…a time of preparation for Christ’s birth. And the noise is already deafening. The email dings reminders of Christmas plays and party invitations. The Christmas play parts are practiced loudly, ‘so my voice will project’.  Christmas songs and carols drone in the background of the swiping and clicking of commerce. Bags rattle, trunks slam, bills drop on the table, sighs whisper forth. Kids giggle at silly Christmas cartoons until their siblings want to change the channel and giggles turn to feuds. Phones ring, doorbells chime. ‘All the noise, noise, noise, noise!!’ to quote the Grinch.

But we don’t want to be Grinchy. We want to enjoy it all. Despite the rush and commitments, we want to love every minute. We want to deny that Christmas is stressful and overdone. We want to relish every moment…like I wanted to do with my new baby. But we can’t. The reality is that there is too much…and we need to pop in the earplugs and close our eyes and be quiet.

Did you know that ‘Silent Night’ is the most loved hymn? Maybe it’s the gentle, slow pace…maybe it’s the simple, straightforward lyrics. Or maybe it’s just the title. Silent Night.

After the kids go to bed, before the kids wake up, in the middle of the night when nature calls, in the car before leaving the driveway, at a stoplight, in a parking lot…put in the earplugs. Block out all the noise. Close your eyes and imagine that stable long ago. Just the quiet animal sounds.

Maybe the soft flickering of tails or ears.

Mary’s peaceful humming.

Joseph’s smile.

The Baby’s gentle murmurs.

God’s presence.

Be still and know that He is God. And that’s all that truly matters.

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