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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Oh come, Oh come Emmanuel

While considering the message of Hope this week…consider the words, the pauses, and the inflections of this carol.

Oh come, Oh come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear

Rejoice, Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, Oh Israel!

Oh come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer
Thy people with Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight

Rejoice, Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, Oh Israel!

Oh come, Thou rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny
From depths of hell Thy people save
And give them victory o’ver the grave

Rejoice, Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, Oh Israel!
Rejoice, Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, Oh Israel!

Feasting for Advent

When the Lenten season rolls around,  there is deep consideration about what will be ‘given up’ in penitence for approximately 40 days. I’ve given up some unusual things for Lent…caffeine, sugar, worrying, cursing, men… and seen some pretty special life transformations afterward…

The Lenten season is a time of repentance and reflection on Christ’s death…and transformation of one’s self as a reflection of the resurrection and new life of Christ. So now I’m wondering…in preparation for Advent, could I ‘take up’ something instead? Rather than the Lenten fast, could I enrich my life with a celebratory feast? 

Could Advent be a season of joyous transformation in preparation for Jesus’ birth? Women prepare for their schedules to be altered when a new baby arrives. Families prepare for new responsibilities, new schedules, new memories with the arrival of a new family member. Isn’t Jesus more than just a new family member to us? Is it too much to ask that we prepare for our lives to be changed by his arrival?

Here are some Advent ‘feasting’ ideas:

Pray more

Pray more diligently

Read the Bible

Read the Bible more passionately

Sing praises 

Memorize Scripture

Be more intentional about helping others

Become more involved in church activities

We alter our lives when we have babies by reading to them, singing to them, learning new stories to tell them…it’s not too much to add to our lives these things when we consider Christ’s advent. What could you feast for Advent?

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image courtesy of the NALC (www.thenalc.org)

Intentional Advent, part 2

I lost the glow of Christmas five years ago in the dark gloom of postpartum depression. I was working a difficult job, raising a two year old son, anticipating the birth of a little girl, and the beauty of this holiday got lost. Worries about coworkers, worries about sibling rivalry, worries about raising a confident girl all dimmed the sparkle of the season. And though it has been five years, I haven’t been intentional about finding the jolly holiday again…until now. I’m calling this season my Intentional Advent.

I want to experience the joy of celebrating Jesus’ arrival as though it is my first time, again. I want to impart to my children that it’s more about the love of God than anything else. I want to cherish every moment this season and cultivate a joyous spirit with which to enter the new year as well.

So, here we go…

The first Sunday of Advent. The Sunday of Hope.

I posted earlier today the lyrics of an old poem/ hymn by Christina Rossetti. It has special meaning to me because of the dark place I am trying to leave this early-winter. As I reread the lyrics this evening, I realized how the hymn correlates to the four Sundays of Advent. Hope, Love, Peace, and Joy. 

The first verse of the carol is redundant with the gray gloom of winter…snow upon snow, bleak, iron, stone…nothing bright and cheerful. The Scripture for this Sunday in Advent is similar. Isaiah 64 reports, among other despair, ‘We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf; our iniquities, like the wind, take us away…’ Even Jesus declares doom in Mark 13 with, ‘In those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in heaven will be shaken.’ Snow upon snow upon snow… But there is hope. ‘Be aware, keep alert, for no one knows when the time {of his return} will come.’ The gloom will not prevail. The light will shine again.

And as Rossetti’s ancient carol goes on, love comes around.  Verse two reminds us that  ‘in the bleak midwinter, a stable place sufficed the Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.’ This amazing part of God that can’t be contained in heaven or on earth or in our imaginations. So great is he, that his love overflowed to us. That’ll chase away those bleak midwinter blues…

Though the angels could have filled the stable and the town with their presence and praises, quiet peace filled the air as ‘his mother only, in her maiden bliss, worshiped the beloved with a kiss.’ Gentle peace, gracious peace, calming peace…the compassionate parental peace that comes from one who knows their child like none other. God’s peace…

Rossetti ends with the antithesis of bleak…celebration. A heart that has been dark and gray now sees light and beauty…and wants to rejoice. ‘What can I give him?’ How can I tell him how much I appreciate his coming? I have nothing to offer, no tangible gift like others. What do I have…my adoration. My heart overflows with joy for him…all I can do is praise him.

This hymn resonates with me at the start of this Advent season. I wrestle with the dimness of the world and its commercialized hype, my own gray clouds and longing for sunshine. I want simplicity and joy again. In this bleak cold season, I think I will return to the manger to find my hope, love, peace, and joy. 

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Intentional Advent

        In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, 
	earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone; 
	snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow, 
	in the bleak midwinter, long ago.

	Our God, heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain; 
	heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign. 
	In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed 
	the Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ. 

	Angels and archangels may have gathered there, 
	cherubim and seraphim thronged the air; 
	but his mother only, in her maiden bliss, 
	worshiped the beloved with a kiss. 

	What can I give him, poor as I am? 
	If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; 
	if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; 
	yet what I can I give him:  give my heart.


                                      -Christina Rossetti (!830-1894)