I know what you’re getting…

This year for Christmas, I’m turning the kids’ playroom into a ‘maker space’. As preschool is long past, the building blocks and baby doll strollers are just taking up space. Now that the days of elementary school are here, new hobbies have arrived. img_9070

B likes to work with his hands, often to the detriment of household items. The kitchen whisk has been untwisted, his alarm clock met an untimely demise, and several remotes are  remotely useful now. To save our sanity and his college fund, we are just giving him his own construcIMG_0012tion/destruction space.

D likes to craft, write, draw…and be generally artistic. She draws on paper, pillows, bouncy balls, doors! While we have had to establish some boundaries for her crafting, we have also realized that art is her hobby. She also needs a place to work out her talents.

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Bizarre storage unit, before it got some lovin’

Sooooooo, rather than giving them more toys to scatter throughout the house, this year, we’re giving them space. I bought a card table for $10 at a yard sale for him, and for her, I repurposed a table from elsewhere in our house. I found a bizarre storage unit and some pegboard in my parent’s basement to use for housing the kids’ respective supplies. After a trip to the dollar store for little storage containers and labels, and a trip to the hardware and craft stores, badda bing, badda boom…Christmas is on its way.

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Notice the space, not the dangling monitor, which has since been removed

This project has been in my mind since September. I’ve been slowly gathering materials, planning layout, removing old toys, cleaning the empty space, and waiting for the big set-up night. The kids have NO idea this room makeover is coming. They think I’m just on some crazy cleaning spree. Now that they’re home for Christmas break and antsy for something to do, I am more and more convinced that this room of creativity is desperately needed. I’m so excited for them…and I can’t wait for Christmas morning!

A thought occurred to me today as I was buying the final item for the room and considering my own excitement. Is this what God feels like when he’s waiting for things to fall into place in our lives? Is he watching us and saying “Just a little bit longer… and things are going to change for the SO MUCH BETTER.” Does he smile at our restless talents, knowing that they have specific purposes in the future? Does he bite his holy lip and suck in his holy breath when we are on the verge of making a decision that would really just postpone our happiness? Does he keep certain events a secret until the time is right because we would probably interfere if we knew too soon? Does he say to himself, “I really want to tell you what’s coming, but it’s just not time yet”?

Thimg_9419is year, I’m as eager as the kids for Christmas morning because I know they’re going to love what we have planned for them. And now, I have a new perspective on how God sees us when we’re in the waiting times.

The prophet Jeremiah had an incredible message from God for His children in exile (ch. 29) God told them to build homes, plant gardens, get married. He knew what was in their future. He told them to settle down and chill out a bit. His ultimate plans weren’t ready to unfold  just yet…and they wouldn’t be ready for DECADES! Verse 11 has this promise: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” He wanted his people to maintain hope and trust in him during the waiting times and believe that he had  really good things planned for them.  13 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14 I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations…”

I struggle to keep my holiday cheer for a few weeks when life is going well, much less maintain my trust in God’s goodness for decades! This project has given me his perspective briefly, as a reminder that he always has good plans in mind for us.

I hope that as the ‘new room’ becomes a part of our lives that I’ll remember the excitement I had in knowing what was coming for the kids…and beaming at the thought of it. And I hope that I remember that’s how God views the plans for my life. He beams when he considers my future and my fulfillment.

Psalm 37

3Trust in the Lord, and do good;
    so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.
Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him, and he will act.

 

 

 

To this person,

Dear person who left me this note,  img_9323

First of all, I apologize for making your afternoon challenging.

And, secondly, let’s consider a few things.

I am driving a vehicle that is unfamiliar to me. You see, my car has a few significant problems right now, so I am driving my husband’s larger vehicle. I can’t get my car fixed right now because, well, money is tight. My husband and I are both ‘public servants’ and as such, we don’t get paid immense amounts, so sometimes we have to budget our money carefully.

I’m glad your car works for you now…and I’m glad you have the mobility to get in and out of your passenger seat TWO times…once to get your pen and paper and a second time to put this note on my car.

I notice that your note was written on a receipt from McDonald’s…and that you purchased 2 Happy Meals, which probably means that you have kids. I do, too. And that’s why I was rushing into Wal-Mart today before I picked them up from school. It’s easier that way…to go quickly without kids.

You must not have had your children with you, because you took the time to climb into your car, write a note to me, climb out of your car, affix the note to my car, and then climb back into your car. Good thing your kids weren’t waiting for you.

I noticed that you wrote with a permanent marker, which probably meant that you couldn’t find a pen quickly. Yes, it’s frustrating when you just want to get a quick job done, but there is an aggravation in your way, isn’t it?

I also noticed that your grammar, spelling, and punctuation were immaculate. You must be an educated person. I hope that you pass on the importance of education and good manners to your children. I am a teacher, and I have to work with all manner of children and their parents. It always helps with parents have taught their children the value of kindness, patience, and tolerance.

Finally, I noted that you ended your missive with ‘Merry Christmas’. I’m so glad that you celebrate the birth of Jesus, the holy child who came to earth to become human and forgive human sins. I hope that this Christmas season is special to you, as you have made it special for me.

Your note was meaningful to me. It has taught me many things, not all about my dysfunctional parking. Rather, about mercy and grace and forgiveness and humanity.

I hope your car will always be parked perfectly…and if it’s not, just watch this video. It will cheer you when you need it most. Particularly the part that begins at 4:18. Merry Christmas to you, whomever you are.

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.

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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