Moving Advent

My friend Christian and his family are lighting the next Advent candle this week at church and as a result he went on a quest of sorts to uncover what Advent is and means. We have these discussions from time to time over coffee and projects and while we didn’t really sit down and talk this one out, he made me think. After almost a week, I think I’ve finally landed. Advent = Adventure. But not a machete wielding, wildlife surviving, pith helmet required adventure. This is a much quieter, spiraling, seeking adventure.

A few years ago I saw an Advent spiral in Ann Voskamp’s shop that has seared itself in my mind and heart. The circular draw of the spiral speaks movement to me. Many refer to the season of Advent as a season of waiting but I think for me, it means moving. God moved closer to us by coming to earth in the infant Jesus. Just the same we can move closer to Him with our heart approach and adoption of what the four candles represent.

The first candle is Hope. I think we can all agree that this is a good place to start. Christian or not, we all hope for something better, more meaningful, different, more fun or (insert your own thought here) for our lives. We want a better job; a more peaceful family; a crisis averted; a loss recovered. We want those things and we hope they will happen for us. We believe they can happen for us. And we wait for that hope to be realized. And that’s when we move forward.

Love comes next and let’s face it, that is one of the things we hope for, right? We hope our love is the real deal when we are in a relationship. We know our love is the real deal when we are parents. We pray that our children will find true love when they are adults.  But love when we find it, becomes all our hopes realized and in living color. When we find that better job that we were hoping for, we quickly “love” what we do. It’s so much easier to love our families when they are peaceful and we appreciate those we love when the crisis is passed and the lost is found. And then we move forward.

It’s not hard to see how Hope realized by Love gives way to Joy. I mean, we got what we wanted right? We have what our hearts were longing for so of course we are going to be full of Joy! It never fails to amuse me that the joy candle is usually pink while all the others are purple or blue. Seeking, finding and then celebrating. And that is as it should be so we move forward.

And we find ourselves at Peace. We have hoped for something. It has been given to us and we celebrated. Now we rest and we are at peace with our lives and sit in the calm and stillness of the moment not craving any longer and not chasing after anything. We are still and quiet. Funny that this is the candle that is closest to the end. In our culture this candle is usually lit when families are at their most frenzied pace and moms are the most stressed and kids are wired because school is about to be out and all the magic of Christmas is about to explode. But we light the peace candle and are supposed to be in our quietest and most still moment.

Why? Because we have one candle left. The Christ candle. If I had my way the Christ candle would not be just one candle and it wouldn’t be in the center of the wreath. It would be four candles and they would alternate with the other four in one continuous circle.

We Hope for a more meaningful existence because we know that what is here on earth is just not enough. Something in our core craves a connection, a belonging, an unconditional acceptance that has no strings or expectations or requirements. It is to be able to be as we are and still a treasure to Someone. So God sends Jesus.

And in His arrival we realized that He is destined to be our ultimate penance, sacrifice, debt payment and that He is doing it willingly out of pure, true and unconditional Love.

We look at Jesus and we see the gift of our Easter redemption and the gate of forgiveness swings wide open. We have access to be as we are and know that we are a treasure to Someone. And our hearts and minds and bodies flush with Joy.

So we bow down – no, fall down – face first at the feet of Jesus in overwhelming gratitude but our words cannot even begin to explain our hearts. The groanings of our spirit try to express to God how profoundly we love the gift He has given but we are rendered speechless and still. So we lay in complete Peace.Image result for advent wreath

In the straw. In a cave. While shepherds heed angels and kings cross mountains.

Then we rise and we move forward. We find another Hopeful soul seeking Love. And we share in their Joy and smile at their Peace.

Because there, in the center of it all, is Jesus.

Hope promised: Isaiah 9:6
Love presented: Luke 2:12
Joy proclaimed: Luke 2: 17, 18 & 20
Peace possessed: Luke 2:19

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Meniscus

I am a language person so in school I took just enough science classes to cover my requirements. I also paid just enough attention to keep my GPA where I wanted it. That said, the following blog post has been reviewed for glaring errors by my long suffering science teacher friend Mr. Blizzard. He tells me that this is more chemistry and physics than earth science which makes me even more nervous than before. I passed chem by the skin of my teeth and didn’t even attempt physics so forgive me if this is an extreme over-simplification.

meniscusScientifically speaking a meniscus is the “bubble” formed when a container is full but hasn’t spilled over just yet. I tried to recreate one yesterday afternoon in my kitchen. If you look at the left side of the glass you can see a slight curve where the water is actually over the top of the glass but not spilling. Keep that surface tension in your mind as we proceed.

But then I added one more drop of water from a straw. untitled

Can you see the ribbon of water running down the outside of the glass?

From my very limited understanding, the water molecules in the bubble are in a state of cohesion. They are trying to hang on to one another and the rim of the glass through polar attraction. It has to do with electrons and polarity and a lot of molecular science stuff that (as previously mentioned) I don’t fully comprehend. Let’s simplify it to this point. That polarity thing creates the surface tension that keeps them together and helps them reach higher than they probably should. But one more drop adds too much mass for their polarity and they have to let go and release the extra pressure.

Yesterday was an emotionally bad day. There were several factors that fed into my mental state and for a few days I have felt like the meniscus. I was holding it together – stretched, but holding.

I was also terrified. I could feel the surface tension of my emotions and spirit and I knew one more drop of anything was going to push me over the top. My only prayer was that when that drop hit, I would be in the comfort of my own bed within arms reach of my box of tissues and I would have no obligations looming.  I was not. I was in a staff meeting and I can’t even pinpoint what the drop was. All I know is one minute I was standing in the back of the room and the next I was sobbing, hyperventilating and melting in the bathroom. Not some small ribbon of tears but a tsunami that left me confused, exhausted, drained and, if I’m being raw, more than a little embarrassed.

A dear, darling and genuine friend came to my rescue and in that moment instead of giving me platitudes and “it will be ok” she said, “I have no idea how badly you hurt right now but let me stand here and hold you up.” And she cried with me.

I’ve always thought I understood the following verses but I think that was limited to my head and my academic understanding. Today my heart heard them for the first time.

Psalm 34:15-19
15 The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous
And His ears are open to their cry.
16 The face of the Lord is against evildoers,
To cut off the memory of them from the earth.
17 The righteous cry, and the Lord hears
And delivers them out of all their troubles.
18 The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
And saves those who are crushed in spirit.
19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
But the Lord delivers him out of them all.

The Lord sees and hears his children cry out. As badly as I wanted to be holed up in my bed by myself when the tension broke, I needed someone to see me. I needed someone to see the hurt and help me see it too. “The righteous cry and the Lord hears.”I needed someone to hear my sobs. If a person cries in their pillow and no one is there to hear it, are they really feeling that way?  “The Lord is NEAR to the brokenhearted.” He holds them up when their legs are giving out and it feels impossible to breathe so they tango with hyperventilation.

“And saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

My breath was sucked out of my lungs. He doesn’t save them from BEING crushed in spirit. He saves the crushed spirits.

Everything with Momma happened so fast that I don’t think I ever registered all my feelings. I never registered the cancer and the fear that that diagnosis struck in my core. I never registered the phrase “there is nothing we can do” and the hopelessness that dropped the bottom out. I never absorbed the emptiness of her death until I tried to pick up the phone for the third time this week to call her and tell her a story about one of the kids and realized that she wasn’t going to pick up.

The meniscus grew and grew with all those emotions and suddenly without warning or reason there was one more drop. The tension broke and my spirit disintegrated like a saltine in the hand of a toddler. But here I sit, ten hours later and there is a spark of hope licking up oxygen.

Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
But the Lord delivers him out of them all.

If you are stretching like a meniscus…

If your surface tension is just about maxed out…

If the tissues are just out of arms’ reach…

The Lord will deliver you.

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The Path.

I don’t recommend walking alone. I mean sometimes going for a solo walk is an absolutely necessity but there are other times when directionally challenged individuals should not be released into the wild. Even if they have a map.

Case in point…

I went out on our local Greenway this morning after delivering children to buses and schools. Normally I would be just fine on the Greenway because my son would be with me and we would be on bikes and would be staying on the main nice wide paved path that we travel regularly. However, the lack of male child and being on foot instead of wheels inspired me to take a risk and explore “pedestrian only” paths I hadn’t been on before.

Detour #1. I took a branch of the trail that put me out beside a very busy, but still sidewalk lined main thoroughfare a fair distance from my starting point. I knew exactly where I was and how to get back to the path but the walk to the reentry point was long. The trip from reentry back to my car would have been even longer. So I turned around and doubled back.

Detour #2. My second attempt at branching out lead me straight to a dead end. I could see on my GPS that the trail ended but I dismissed the map. Surely the trail didn’t end that abruptly! They just hadn’t updated the map to reflect the trail that just HAD to be there. I got to the end of the trail and I could see where I wanted to be but wouldn’t you know it? The map was right. There was no trail connecting me to my destination. So I turned around and doubled back.

Some people just don’t learn. I was almost back to my original starting point and car when my curiosity got the better of me. Someone had told me that there was a great hiking trail around the mountain bike path right at the entrance to the Greenway park so I thought I would “find” it. I saw an entrance to the bike trail and took it. I could see from the park map posted that the walking trail should be right beside me but I didn’t slow down to determine which trail matched the walking trail I wanted. I just marched forward.

See that sign on the left? It was followed quickly by the sign on the right. Now a sane person who had already failed that this “off the beaten path” exercise would have retreated immediately right? For starters, I was a pedestrian using a mountain bike trail. Not just a mountain bike trail but one that was open this particular day which greatly increased my chances of getting run over. And the most difficult trail available. But you know that first sign just egged me on. “Be prepared to finish. There are no bailout points.”

James 1: 2-9
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials,knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.  But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

As I was wandering around in circles on the most difficult path never made for feet, I thought about grief. I don’t have a clue how to grieve. There isn’t a checklist for this. There isn’t a map to tell me what is coming up or if the trail is going to lead me back to the beginning or if it’s headed to a dead end. But I know that I can’t avoid this path. I know that it is going to be a long process. Longer than I want it to be I’m sure. There are going to be times when I think I can see the end but there is no way to get there from where I am. I will have to backtrack and face emotions and thoughts and memories.And heaven knows there are no bail out points on this process.

I am encouraged by James in this. I don’t know the answers to this current trial. I know that it will eventually build me up and help me help others. That much is absolutely certain to me. Verse 5 gives me hopeful assurance that God will provide me with the guidance I need – the GPS so to speak. I laugh at myself when I get to verses 6-8. It was almost as if God walked beside me as I ignored the map with the clearly defined dead end.

I’m sure there are others who are finding themselves off the beaten path and facing a struggle they have never seen before. I encourage you to take the long walk. Work the whole process and look to God for your guidance and direction. Don’t ignore the clear indicators along the way and please, don’t bail out. Work it all the way through so that you can live in the promise and rest of verse 4.

And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

 

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Indispensable.

John 14:16-21; 25-28
16 I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; 17 that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. 18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19After a little while the world will no longer see Me, but you will see Me; because I live, you will live also. 20 In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. 21 He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.”….25 “These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. 28 You heard that I said to you, ‘I go away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.

A year or so ago my mother and I had a little dust up. I had been ridiculously busy “adulting” as they call it these days. Distracted by the demands of being the mother of four, wife of one and working full time, I had not called or returned calls for a while. I was in a foul mood and if there is one thing I have learned about myself, it’s that when I am in that head space, I have nothing nice to say about or to anyone. So I didn’t talk to her.

Momma being Momma called me out on it. “You can’t put people on a shelf, Sarah. You will turn around one day and they won’t be there. Stop being a martyr and look outside yourself for a change.” Needless to say I hung up the phone with my nose out of joint and an even worse mood. How could she say that to me?! She never had four children, a husband with retail hours AND a full time job! She had no clue what I was up against and she wasn’t even trying to understand. Everyone needed me and was making demands on my time and energy. I was indispensable around here and she would just have to deal with the fact that I didn’t have anything left to give. She would live.

Guess what? No one is indispensable. Our physical bodies make that very thing impossible. Jesus in his physical form understood that he had limits. He could not stay forever and be everything to everyone all the time. His physical body had to leave the planet and allow God the Father to send the Holy Spirit in order to meet our overwhelming demand for a Savior and Guide for life.

My arrogance and pride led me to believe that I was so essential that my world just could not function without me. Things wouldn’t get done or would get undone or would fail without my amazing presence, wisdom, and energy. How foolish!

It has become abundantly clear to me over the last month that the world spins whether I am here or not. Things get done. People survive. My sweet family managed for a whole week while I was taking care of Momma without me even having cell service. Granted, laundry was in a precarious state when I got home but I’m sure they would have handled that too. The office didn’t shut the doors and stop ministry because I wasn’t at my desk. They even managed to do my job for me! Who knew?!

So I have taken two lessons from this. #1. Pride is a deceiver. Not only will it make you think you are much more important than you are, it will rob you of your ability to rest. So often we buy this lie that we are critical to the operation of the world. We force ourselves to press forward and do more and more when we should be stopping. We should be resting and healing and allowing others to do more.

You know the saying “Pride goes before the fall”? I’m pretty sure the fall happens because we push ourselves so hard that we collapse face first in a heap of humiliation and exhaustion.

creekbedLesson #2. Only the Spirit is indispensable. Only the Spirit restores, renews and empowers us to do even the small pieces that we can. Only the Spirit has the peace and rest we need and only time with the Spirit will make all that happen. We cannot allow others to impose the title of “indispensable” on us. We have to lean into the Spirit and discern what is really ours to own and let the rest pass. We have to set a timer on our life and give ourselves the room to tend to our spirit, physical body and emotional well being.

I guess that’s what all of you were saying a few weeks ago when you said, “Give yourself time.” ” Be kind to yourself.” “Get rest.” You were reminding me (in a much kinder way) that I am not indispensable.

I encourage you to do the same. Be kind to yourself and rest in the Spirit.

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Unintended

For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.  I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from the nations an from all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from where I send you into exile.
Jeremiah 29:11-14

I know.  We all see that first verse and take great comfort, don’t we? It’s used every time something happens that we just didn’t see coming.  Something that knocks the wind right out of us.  This is the promise everyone offers up to support the “God’s got a plan” platitude.

I have a very bad (or great maybe) habit of finding these common verses and trying to figure out (as Paul Harvey would say) the rest of the story. The message of Jeremiah was intended for a people who found themselves captives of another world power. They had been exiled from their own homes and sent to a strange land with strange people and strange customs.  But here’s the thing. They were warned!  It wasn’t an out of the clear blue sky thunderbolt! God had sent prophet after prophet to warn them.  He had (like a parent) laid out the consequences at the very beginning. Obey me and the land will be yours and you will live in peace.  Follow other gods, adopt other religions, and deny me, and I will abandon you and let your enemy have you.

So why “Unintended?” As I always do in the wee hours of the morning, I got up thisDSC01913 morning and made my coffee, showered while it was brewing and then grabbed my favorite mug, a spoon, and a saucer.  The mug obviously was for the coffee.  The spoon was
for the cream and the sugar.  The saucer? It was a spoon rest so I wouldn’t get a sticky mess on the counter with the spoon.  When the manufacturer created the saucer, he did not design it as a spoon rest. He designed it to hold a (unacceptably small) coffee cup.  I know what it is for; I just choose not to use it that way.

God did not abandon His people in exile. He didn’t even want them to be there in the first place.  But they had made their choice. So He used it for a new purpose.

***********************************************************************
This post was actually drafted  2 years ago – August 29, 2014 to be precise.

I haven’t seen it since until a few days ago. It took my breath away because this very verse was what Momma asked Casey (her pastor) to share at her funeral. Well, this and the salvation message with an invitation. She made him promise actually.

God knew the plan for her. God knew that her physical work on the planet was done but that Momma wouldn’t let it go without a “last stand.” And what is more future oriented and hopeful than the salvation message?!

I won’t even pretend to understand death or why it swept into our family and washed our feet out from under us. But I know the unfolding plan brings us hope in our salvation, encouragement in the stories we hear about Momma’s legacy, motivation for our future to live out God’s will for us.

Maybe, like my saucer, it’s time to think about being used in a new way. Having just retired in June, Daddy and Momma had a TON of plans. Plans to travel, visit with the grandkids, help grow their church ministries, mission trips, and home improvements just to name a small handful of the myriad they had lined up for retirement. Now Daddy is faced with doing all these same things – just in a new way. I am faced with doing my life in a new way.

If we have done nothing else over the last month, we have certainly sought God’s face with all our hearts. And we have found Him. He is restoring us slowly. He is gathering us to Him from our exile of grief.

And in that we have a future and a hope. It is just not as we intended.

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Come.

FB_IMG_1472095871990So here I am. It’s 9:53 pm. I have been at life since 5:27 am. The children are allshowered, brushed, kissed and tucked into their beds. And I’m finally making some hash browns for my dinner because I was so busy during “pizza time” this evening at church, I missed dinner all together along with 22 calls from my poor family.

And that familiar enemy Exhaustion has finally taken up residence. I’m ok with being tired, wiped, sleepy, and done for the day. Exhaustion is more than all of those. It’s all consuming. My emotions are wiped out. My body is tired. My brain is past sleepy and now in pure basic bodily function mode.

There hasn’t been time over the last month to be any of these and now that everything is done, they all came home to roost.

Matthew 11:28-30

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Come. Take one more step. God acknowledges that we are tired and weighed down and He still asks us to take one more step and come. That’s when we receive rest.

Take My yoke and learn from Me. When we were growing up we raised hogs and had to haul feed and corn across a wide open field to take care of them. If the load was uneven or one arm was carrying more weight than the other, we would have to stop halfway across and switch arms because we were to tired to go all the way. Take my yoke; my burden and learn how to carry it so that it doesn’t wear you out.

You will find rest for your souls. My soul needs rest right now. I have run from fear and uncertainty when Momma first got sick to anger and confusion when we learned how serious it was. I was devastated to learn nothing could be done and compassionate when we brought her home to hospice care. I saw unbearable heartbreak when I had to say goodbye and cathartic release when Daddy told me she was at rest at last.

Then peace. A peace that could not be explained and made everyone around me question my sanity even though they were too kind to say so. The peace was replaced with rejoicing as the impact of my mother’s too short life was revealed.

And now I am empty. Too tired to feel anymore and still required to put one foot in front of the other and take the next step.

So I come. And I will find rest. Because He promised.

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The Pancake Burden

“Good morning Uncle Harry!”
“Good morning.”
“Is there something I can help you with today?”
“Yes. I have a job for you.”
“Name it. Anything you need.”
“I need you to come eat pancakes.”
“Great! I’m starving. I’ll be right there.”

True story and it happened twice.

Dad was making pancakes for us Monday morning before we went to Momma’s final service. He loves to cook and he can make pancakes with his eyes closed – or so we thought. The pancake batter was clicking right along until he reached into the cabinet, grabbed a measuring cup and proceeded to pour double the milk needed and created the need to double everything else. Now we had pancakes galore – more than nine people could eat!

And that’s when the phone call happened. At the time I was more than a little tickled and had quite a giggle at my poor father’s expense. But sure enough my cousins arrived with syrup in hand and helped gobble up pancakes.

Dad summed it up with a wink and a smile. “Sometimes you have to ask for help in unusual ways.”

Galatians 6:2
Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.

Matthew 22:35-39
One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

See, it started out being about the multitude of pancakes that my father’s already overflowing fridge and freezer just would not accommodate. But it became something more. My dad had effectively (and very unintentionally) surrounded himself with people who love him and just wanted to make his day  – an unbelievably emotional and difficult day – a little easier. They wanted to help him bear his burden.

When the pancakes had disappeared, the balloons came out. My momma had insisted all her life that when she died we were not to mope and mourn and bring flowers. We were to sing “I’ll Fly Away” and release balloons to celebrate her trip to heaven. That morning my sister, brother in law, cousins, uncles and father sat on the front porch and filled, tied and prepared balloons with scriptures to be released in honor of my mom. Watching it unfold I easily recognized that it could have been challenging for one or two people and it was certainly emotional for us.

Pancakes and balloons. When Paul was speaking to the Galatian church, he was teaching them how to be a church. The whole passage has all manner of instruction for keeping one another on task but verse two is about helping one another.

14138140_10208467822665616_2016375976677953934_oAs Daddy and I reflected Monday night on the porch, he talked about a variety of people who knew and loved Momma. Over and over, I heard him say, “They’ll need to come have porch time.” “Porch time” is just sitting with coffee on the back deck and talking. Watching the sun go down and the stars wake up and counting the airplanes flying overhead. It is just being with someone else and carrying the burden together for a while.

People are going to ask for help in unusual ways. You may not have to eat pancakes or fill balloons and you may not sit and stare at stars. But a bag of M&M’s, cutting firewood, cleaning a yard, putting up a Christmas tree, or maybe just sitting could be the best help you could be.

Love your neighbor. Bear one another’s burdens. And eat pancakes.

 

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