Serious Business

serious business

The news spread quickly across my social media feeds. "Snow!"

It's been 28 years since the last time this happened in South Texas to this magnitude. Measurable snow in San Antonio, Austin and the surrounding hill country. 

It was a odd convergence for us as our family of four drove south for dinner with friends slowly watching the rain begin to have "guts", the first indicator that its turning to snow. We expected some flurries, and the news reports had said, "possible accumulation in the outlaying hill country areas". I had rolled my eyes at the "weather advisory" notice that came across my weather app. After having lived through real winter, serious advisory notices and surviving the snowpocolypse of 2014 I held the prediction of snow with immense skepticism.

The further we drove down I35 heading for New Braunfels the more it began to snow, what started as thickening rain turned to small flakes which turned to bigger flakes and I was soon stunned to see the familiar sight of snow falling as we passed by parking lots where the bright lights gave a clear context to just how real that snowfall was becoming. 

My phone began to light up with photos from friends, "Its snowing here!!!"

Libby was just a bit tearful with glee, as her Michigan home felt less far away and Elly chimed in "You said it wouldn't snow here Mom, you laughed when I asked if we could have a white Christmas in Texas."

Indeed, I did.

The hours of snow last night across south Texas brought immense joy to young and old alike. words like magical and miraculous appeared alongside snapshots of children playing and building snow men. 

Joy is the serious business of heaven.
— C.S. Lewis

Advent invites us, invites me, to be present. As I chose last night to leave my skepticism and be fully present to what was happening around me I was given the choice to lean into what felt magical and miraculous. 

The odd convergence gave way to the sweet gift of joy being given.

This morning I awoke to snow on the ground and a gift from a precious friend.

Miraculous Joy

There is serious heavenly business taking place here. I suspect there is some where you are too, if you open your eyes and your heart to notice and welcome it.

Immeasurably More

Immeasurably More

I have heard it said that part of what is lost in the wake of traumatic experiences is imagination. Something about what happens to our brains when shattering events occur shrinks our ability to imagine. 

Two years ago on a cold snowy evening in Holland, Michigan when all of my "original" three children were home for Thanksgiving we decided to walk thru the shops in downtown. As we left my daughters loft apartment our five children walked ahead of me. I remember smiling as they talked and laughed with one another, the older three sweeping the younger one's along with them. I remember smiling because that was a such hard year and heading into Christmas I held a sense of dread in my heart, in some ways we all did. Christmas would bring some memories we knew were going to sting. Katy had gotten engaged at Christmas the year before, and what was such joy then was now just a place of loss and ache, and that was only one piece of what lay heavy in all of our hearts. 

As we wandered in and out of the shops I found myself trying to image how the month would unfold, and how Christmas would be, ultimately how would we all "be" moving forward, would it ever feel joyous again.

Standing in one of the shops we saw a sign that said, "God is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine."

Katy, Allison and Steve looked at me and said, "Mom, we need this."

I remember the tears pooling in my eyes. It was an odd moment of connection and solidarity. 

It felt like a vision statement, a reminder and a defiant declaration of hope all at once.

We all chipped in and bought it.

That year it became the centerpiece on our Christmas mantel, replacing the old wreath that had traditionally marked our fireplace. We purchased new accents for the mantel garland and began something new.

Immeasurably More

 

Today as I was talking with my friend on the phone I found myself sharing with her that I am just so grateful every day for the goodness that once again is marking our days. As we spoke I glanced up at that sign, still on our mantel, and recalled the story of buying it that cold wintry evening. It has been two years and today my eyes were tearful again as I looked at the words.

Today that sign is reminder of truth that we have felt and known over the past year and that we are enjoying deeply today.

I had lost my imagination for what could be. But God never loses His imagination for us, He is able to do immeasurably more that we can ask or imagine. What a good thing, especially when our imagination shrinks down to something very small.

Immeasurably more.

If you are in need of some imagination I would love to lend you some hope, and invite you to risk believing that more will come again for you too.

 

Waiting

Waiting

I don't regularly bake cookies, why you ask, because they take too long. Cookies are laborious. You have to mix the cookie dough, parcel it out on the cookies sheets, wait while the first batch cooks, then cools, then repeat the whole process. My impatience with cookies is a picture of what has been true about me for much of my life.

I am impatient and I hate waiting, subsequently I haven't done well at waiting.

The world around me has been very accommodating. Microwave ovens, the internet, commuter lanes on the freeway, expedited shipping, email, order ahead on my Starbucks app have all tended well to my impatience.

It has been pain, disappointment and loss of control that have mentored the waiting place inside of me, stretching and growing my capacity to wait.

Thousands of years went by while God's people waited for the Messiah. Thousands of years, seriously, we have very little appreciation for the magnitude of that waiting. As I stood near the western wall of the temple in Jerusalem, the wailing wall, I quietly watched the Jews gathered there, waiting. They continue to carry the ache of hope, faithfully and passionately. It was stunning and heart wrenching at the same time as I pondered my own lack of awe and reverence at times for the goodness I know because the one they wait for has already come, and yet I still feel like I am waiting for Him. 

 

Advent is about waiting and the space can open up inside of us when we have to wait.

 

When we cannot find a way to gratify our longings or aching for something the space to consider whether we really want it opens it. It is curious what begins to fall away and become unclenched in our hands while we wait, because your clenched fist tires and cramps up begging you to open it and let go.

The things that I tend to clench my fist around most often are relational. They are about tension I want relieved, brokenness that I want restored, conflict that I want resolved. 

It's taken over 50 years for me to be able to say that slowly I am developing a waiting spirit, becoming a woman who can sit with my ache, my longing, my questions of God and wait. I entered into 2017 with some things my fingers were still holding onto, not totally clenching but definitely a firm grasp. As the months have gone by my fingers have opened and I have found that Jesus has come into those spaces, the tense, broken, conflict ridden places. The waiting did not bring what I thought was needed, but instead it brought a deepening of the felt presence of God. Some things have fallen away and others remain, but no longer are they clenched, they are held in the space that Jesus occupies inside of me and with His presence I can continue to wait and hope.

Waiting for Him to come is simply an ongoing part of my life. He has come, He is coming and He will come again. 

How are you at waiting? Where do you ache for Him to come this Advent?

 

 

 

A Scandalous Yes

A Scandalous Yes

The sound of rain drops hitting the darkened window next to me were the first signs of life outside of myself this morning. Overnight the weather turned, from 83 degrees and mostly sunny yesterday to an expected high of only 57 degrees today and a rainy start.

How quickly things can change.

I spent a little time this morning thinking about Mary and how quickly things changed for her, how a conversation with an angel completely disrupted and altered the path she was on and where she was heading.

Can you imagine the changes for her?

Can you imagine the conversations held behind her back?

Can you imagine the ones she had with her close friends, with her parents, with Joseph?

Can you imagine the losses, the people no longer interested in her or being in relationship with her?

Can you imagine how it felt to know people thought she was lying.

Can you imagine how it felt to be a disappointment?

Can you imagine?

Mary became a scandalous woman, really a scandalous young girl.

Scandalous and following God all at the same time.

I can imagine some of what it might have felt like for Mary, but only if I sit long enough to remember and feel where the context of my own story has left me feeling those things.

And, I suspect she never, ever was free from that story. It shaped her and changed her and the community she was from never forgot. She lived the rest of her life with the lingering scent of scandal, suspicion and rejection.

And, she had the most amazing experience of intimacy with God. 

The words remembered and recorded in scripture as hers in Luke 1

 “My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
And holy is His name.
And His mercy is on those who fear Him
From generation to generation."

Today I can feel the invitation to chose to lean into deepening intimacy with God, remembering that He has done great things for me. That if a young girl can chose to turn her face towards Him and say "Yes" to His call then I can do the same. If she could hold her face in the presence of accusations, disappointment, rejection and being misunderstood so can I.

If following God and being considered scandalous is the invitation then my answer is yes. 

 


 

Staying Woke

Staying Woke

The words came in a text from one of my older three children as part of their update for me on a political rally they attended where the police were called. The story being given by the media was not reflective of the actual happenings...#fakenews #staywoke.

The Urban Dictionary says the term "stay woke" is derived from "staying awake" it means to "keep yourself informed of the storm going on around you in times of turmoil and conflict."

Advent is about staying woke and it is not comfortable in many ways. 

Yesterday in the Sunday morning class my husband teaches at church we asked the question, "How many of you dread or hate the Christmas season?" and multiple hands went up in the room. When asked why we heard that December, Advent, brings with it memories of loss, pain and emptiness running alongside demands, busyness and expectations. 

I believe the Christmas season shines a light on the realties of what we hold in our hearts and carry in our bodies all year long. During the rest of the year we may be more easily able to avoid the feelings of loss, pain and emptiness. At Christmastime we have to work much harder to shut those feelings down because the music, the decorations and familiar traditions  all seem to stir up what we often prefer to keep quiet.

Christmas pokes at us to wake up and to "stay woke" to our actual lives.

When I stay woke what I find is that my heart is more aware of the ache inside to what simply defines Advent, "Come Lord Jesus."

Come...into my sadness, into my loss, into my hungry heart. Come to my table, to my family to my church.

Come.

Come Lord Jesus to the fearful places stirred by the threat of nuclear war with North Korea, to the ravaged halls of the public and private sector where the reality of sexual abuse and harassment screams loudly, come to our social media feeds drowning in division and discouragement. Come to the millions of people exploited by human trafficking. Come to the women daily being harmed by gender based violence, Come to the Rohenga who have no place to call home.

Come.

Stay woke friends.

Advent is here and the invitation is sacred to engage with Jesus from the depths of your heart and in doing so enter into the reality around us in our world that is so desperately needs the hope and love only the gospel can deliver.

And then remember that you are the message bearer, living and breathing and sharing the good news in every encounter you have today.

Present for Advent

Present for Advent

Presence started at midnight last night for me. Laying awake in the dark, despite having slowly sipped my peppermint tea and read a bit before bed as is my usual sleep time ritual. Awake and aware, at midnight and again at 2am and again at 4am, finally I gave in at 5am accepting that I was not going to enter Advent asleep this year.

Today it feels as if everything inside of me is awake to my surroundings, the music at the coffee shop reminding me that I grew up in the 80's as Michael Jackson's "Thriller" filled the space with sounds very "un-Christmaslike". The voices around me including the teenage girls giggling as they instagram their selfies, leaving me to wonder why they weren't in class somewhere.

The hustle and bustle inside my head is begging some space. I can feel it.

Advent, latin for "coming" or "arrival" technically begins on Sunday December 3 when we will light the first candle. For me, it begins December 1 as my heart and thoughts begin to anticipate Christmas Day.

I am choosing to hold today, and its very early beginning just after midnight for me, as a gift...likely the first gift of Christmas.

I do not want to live into the hustle and bustle that will slowly invite me to numb and escape ultimately offering less that my fully present self to the next 25 days.

Advent begins for me with thought, purpose and intentionality.

 

I moved outside to escape the noise and distraction of the hustling Starbucks. I pulled out my journal and spent some time remembering and reflecting.

As day one unfolds the pattern of choosing to quiet my heart and mind, entering my day aware that it is a gift and filled with choices that either leave me living wholeheartedly or simply moving unaware and numb or distracted and tense seems a good way to start.

"What we learn in Advent is to stay in the present, knowing that only the present well lived can possibly lead us to the fullness of life."                  Joan Chillister "The Liturgical Year"

 

 

 

 

Ellyse Faith is Eleven

It's July 28th and Ellyse Faith is eleven.

"Mama, what time was I born? I think it was around 7:45 in the morning..."

I knew that was about right, she arrived early in the morning via a planned c-section. Planned because I wanted to minimize any chance of the kind of drama that surrounded her sisters birth 1 year and 51 weeks earlier.

Elly is why we have "the little girls"....two instead of one, planned perfectly by God's wild side and extravagant love for us. I didn't know I wanted two more littles, was pretty sure one would do.  But God....

This morning when I went searching my old blog to see what I had written last year, since I always write about Elly on her birthday, I was both surprised and saddened to find no words for her tenth birthday.  A year ago I didn't write. I know why, as I sit here tearfully typing, things at the ministry I love and led were coming apart. On her birthday I had meetings at work and was buried in budget prep for a difficult board meeting looming just a couple of weeks later.  

Today is such a different day.

This week it was just Elly at home, with Libby gone at camp. We have made it her "birthday week" and each day she's chosen something to do in celebration. We've cooked, and shopped and watched movies and eaten fun food. 

I'm watching the inevitable transformation that happens as we enter the "tween" years. The glimpses of what kind of adult she will be are visible every once in a awhile. Elly is fierce inside, she won't be pushed around or pushed out. She learned early on how to create space for herself and hold that space, a necessary skill as the youngest of five with older siblings who all felt like adults from the day she was born.  She's creative but its rooted in something scientific and strategic inside her, it shows up in her cooking and the jewelry she makes out of odds and ends she finds. She loves tools, and binge watches HGTV, dreaming about the kind of house she wants to build some day. We had multiple conversations this week about making lipstick out of melted crayons and coconut oil....sometimes you just have to say no as mom, no to crayon lipstick. 

 

Every day this week she's run over to the neighbors house to play with their girls, even if it's only for a few minutes. She's extroverted and soaks up every interaction with people around her. She has a fort in her room right now that she refuses to take down, "because the girls will be back to play today Mom, I just know they will."

As we shopped this week she told me, "Hey Mom, I made a regret." I laughed, "What does that even mean?"  Her eyes sparkled, "You know, I made a mistake and now I wish I hadn't done what I did....so I made a regret."

That just cracked me up.

Yesterday she sent me a calendar invitation for the open house at the new middle school.  She'd been on the website and found the dates for it along with various other facts she included in her report to me about what I needed to get done for registering them for school next week.

She thinks I am old. It leaks from her. I like to believe its mostly about Mark and all his gray hair, he looks old...so I must be old too. I can feel her wondering sometimes if she needs to be alert on my behalf, telling me the light is green or asking me if I remember the way to the mall.  

A decade ago we drove from San Antonio to Austin on Elly's first birthday.  Our oldest daughter had a freshman welcome event here in preparation for her first year of college. I remember that day well. Katy ready to launch into adulthood and Elly teetering around the swimming pool just barely walking.

Today we will drive to San Antonio, a before school physical for her, and lunch at her favorite restaurant.

Something about Elly's birthday always provokes just a few tears of joy for me. Ellyse Faith, because Faith is the evidence of things hoped for (Hebrews 11:1). 

It was true eleven years ago, and it is true today.

The Valley of Forgiveness

I find myself wandering the terrain of my heart today, mostly in the valleys of betrayal, disappointment and need.

As I look up from the valley floor the cross is easily seen, Jesus there bleeding as He drinks the cup of judgement and takes my sin and the sin of the world upon Himself.

Down here in the twisting turning valley strewn with stumbling rocks and thorny branches I seem to move from scenes of feeling betrayed to being the betrayer, from having disappointed to being the source of disappointment.  It's cold down here, and bit damp too. The walls of the valley floor reflect back faces to me, friends and family.  Relational tension is thick in the air.

I can feel the presence of forgiveness, the ache for forgiveness needed and the desire to extend forgiveness.

All of this because of the cross.

It is a sobering day, one that begs taking the time to stop and feel all my feelings, letting truth wash over my soul.

Today I am reminded that Jesus paid for all that is down here in my valley.  He paid for the sin that has harmed and marked me, He paid for the sin that I have committed that brought harm and marked others, all the sin that has left me separated from The Father.  And yet, the relational tension remains in places of unresolved hurt, where somehow what's embraced as true is that His sacrifice wasn't actually enough.  

I am so guilty of not believing the cross is enough, not believing Jesus is enough. My primary strategy for managing my life has said again and again that the cross isn't enough. The repentance for this is daily, sometimes hourly. 

Today there's a call to release the tension with someone, tension that's there because I've not been ready to let go. There's no recovery from what happened, no going back to before, what's been lost cannot be restored.  And, I've started to see that it can be redeemed, and as I have opened my heart up to feel what God is doing in the wake of what happened I have felt my hand loosening its grip around the anger and now the pain.

The cross, brutal and bloody, where innocence paid for every dark deed ever done.

It invites me again and again to live something better than a life mired down in shame, guilt, contempt and revenge.

So much to surrender, more letting go.

So much peace and love to welcome in the space opened up.  

The journey of forgiveness continues.

 

 

Resurrecting Generosity

The day began while it was still night.  3:23am to be exact.

Stirring and a bit restless Mark and I were both awake enough at 3:23 to acknowledge that there was much in our hearts and heads.

Coffee and solitude came for a bit at 6:15am as I sat in my chair with the sun just starting to peek through the budding trees in the backyard.  Wise words from a friend, spoken to me several weeks ago, returned to my thoughts in the quiet dawn moments.  "Are you willing to let it all go?"

Such a question, so good, provoking both my thoughts and my heart.  

What would that mean?  What would "all" include?

I've wondered about that for weeks now, slowly sifting through the things I hold onto, what I grasp in my hand, what my heart holds tightly.

Philippians 3:7-10 is the chosen passage this week for a prayer circle I have with a few other women.    

"7 But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. 8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11 if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead."

When we focus on losses it is tempting to give in to a scarcity mentality, one that fears there is not enough or will not be enough, it yields a tightening of our hands around what we believe we must "have".  And yet, this passage invites me to consider that the losses are in truth a way to join in the fellowship of Jesus' sufferings, to be conformed to His death.

This all seems to timely as we anticipate Good Friday.  

This morning Mark and I let go a bit more.  We surrendered to the reality that the sale of our home will not "net" what we had hoped, or what our realtor hoped either.  It was time to really lower the price and let go of our plans for how this will all turn out.  Where we are going, how we will get there and what it will all look like is not about how much money we get from the sale of the house.  But, it has been something to hold onto and put a bit hope into...foolish I know, but so very human! 

Slowly I find myself saying yes I am willing to let it all go.

I am trusting in God's generosity, and the real truth is I have loads of evidence that He loves me and that He will care for me and my family.  The lie that seems to suck me in, and my guess is that it gets you too from time to time, is that I have to figure it all out and take care of things myself. This lie is not helpful and takes up a great deal of space when being believed.  It produces tightness, control, worry and a scarcity mentality.

Letting go frees up the space to enjoy God's provision and generosity.  

I saw this poem posted on a friends Facebook page today and it felt like another piece of convergence in the message Jesus is speaking to me with staggering consistency.  I love the final paragraph which asks God to sink His generosity deep into our lives. I hope it speaks to you as we all walk towards Good Friday and Easter Sunday together.

"On Generosity"
by Walter Brueggemann

On our own, we conclude:
there is not enough to go around

we are going to run short
of money
of love
of grades
of publications
of sex
of beer
of members
of years
of life

we should seize the day
seize our goods
seize our neighbours goods
because there is not enough to go around

and in the midst of our perceived deficit
you come
you come giving bread in the wilderness
you come giving children at the 11th hour
you come giving homes to exiles
you come giving futures to the shut down
you come giving easter joy to the dead
you come – fleshed in Jesus.

and we watch while
the blind receive their sight
the lame walk
the lepers are cleansed
the deaf hear
the dead are raised
the poor dance and sing

we watch
and we take food we did not grow and
life we did not invent and
future that is gift and gift and gift and
families and neighbours who sustain us
when we did not deserve it.

It dawns on us – late rather than soon-
that you “give food in due season
you open your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.”

By your giving, break our cycles of imagined scarcity
override our presumed deficits
quiet our anxieties of lack
transform our perceptual field to see
the abundance ... mercy upon mercy
blessing upon blessing.

Sink your generosity deep into our lives
that your muchness may expose our false lack
that endlessly receiving we may endlessly give
so that the world may be made Easter new,
without greedy lack, but only wonder,
without coercive need but only love,
without destructive greed but only praise
without aggression and invasiveness
all things Easter new…
all around us, toward us and
by us

all things Easter new.

Finish your creation, in wonder, love and praise. Amen.