Still Christmas

......well pretend like it is. Mainly because I am posting this about 3 days too late. My blogging friend Margie wrote it and it is too perfect to wait until next year.

Definition of Advent:
Decorations
Tree
Lights on the house
Stocking stuffers
Pictures with Santa
Cookies
Rudolph and Frosty
Teachers’ gifts
Updated family picture mailed to friends and family by mid-December
Last-minute dashes to store
Gift-wrapping frenzy
Menu lists

We are immersed in a culture that starts “doing” Christmas months before the event itself. In September, bright banners waved along busy streets to announce this year’s holiday market opened October 2. The girls saw decorated trees when we passed them on our way to buy this year’s Halloween costumes, and the Jack-O-Lanterns sat one aisle away from holiday wrapping paper that was promoted by a display of gifts topped with large, oversized bows.

Our pastor suggested that the synonym for Christmas is distraction.

In Preparing for Jesus, Walter Wangerin, Jr. writes, “Mindlessly do the bells of secular celebrations jingle for Christmas. Meaninglessly do carols repeat their tinny joys in all the malls of America. No richer than soda pop is every sentimentalized Christmas special on TV. Fearless is the world at play with godly things, because Godless is its heart.” (emphasis mine)

I could almost see the author looking at me as he wrote those words.

While I don’t consider myself an overtly Christmas-y person – I don’t count down the days until it’s time to decorate, and I dread the rigorous task of hauling out dusty boxes of ornaments and setting up the tree – my mind has been far from the “reason for the season,” the celebration of God entering time itself for the purpose of redeeming our sinful, and Godless souls.

Distracted would best describe me, the answering of endless questions about presents and when? when? when? from the girls who, at ages 3 and 5, fully understand the gift part of the holiday. The poring over incomplete lists of family gifts, and wanting to get to cards, but never quite finding the time. Like Martha, I have failed to recognize Christ’s very presence – in my home, my prayers, my daily tasks.

In short, I’ve sent the Great Creator, the God of the Universe, and his redeeming lamb to the back of the line.

Wangerin says this: “A self-examination both humble and true must cause us to tremble before the living God…But even as we feared, so do we rejoice when we hear the light say, ‘Don’t be afraid. I have not come to punish but to give you life. I am no judge. I am the Savior born for you…’ The mercy of God? Is not this a dazzling wonder?” (emphasis mine)

Yes! Yes, I say. I need his mercy, want, and desire his mercy. I want to be transformed by His love, and by my own recognition that I desperately need Him. I want to sit at His feet, and find perfect rest.

Advent comes from Latin’s adventus, which means “the approach,” or “the arrival.” I will symbolically celebrate His coming in two days, and be reminded again Who He is, and who I am in relation to Him, that baby whose birth was heralded by angels of the Heavenly Host.

My merciful, gracious, lovely redeemer.

Jesus:
Name of wondrous love, name all other names above,
Unto which must every knee bow in deep humility.
Jesus:
Name decreed of old to the maiden mother told –
Kneeling in her lowly cell – by the angel Gabriel.
Jesus:
Name of priceless worth to the children of the earth
For the promise that it gave, “Jesus shall his people save.”
Jesus:
Name of wondrous love, human name of God above;
Pleading only this, we flee, helpless, O our God, to Thee.

(words by William W. How, 19th century)



And since I am posting this a little late, it begs the question. Did you miss it? Were you too distracted to focus on what yesterday was really about?
Don't wait until next year.
You can tremble today. And tomorrow and the day after that....even if it isn't the 25th.

The days after

The presents are all opened. Only one slice of pie is left. Now what? Why do the days after Christmas always feel like a let down.
Or a relief.
Like ok, Christmas done. Let's make our exchanges and go back to
our regularly scheduled lives.
If this was a book, that was the climax.
Then all the loose ends get tied up and we all live happily ever after, or just go back to work.
The build up is over.
All we can do is take the tree down and grade papers.
Or is there?
I think this is why we like to make new year's resolutions right afterwards.

Because it doesn't feel right to just keep going as normal.

Christ was born.
Our lives should change.
And somehow all those packages and gift cards don't seem to do it for us.
So instead we promise to be better, or thinner, or whatever.
Even if it is only for a few days.
or weeks.
And then we give up,
and go back to our normal lives.
until we have something else to look forward to.

but what if we didn't?
what if you didn't make ridiculous resolutions that you can't keep.
what if we didn't forget about Christmas after we put all the decorations back in the attic?
what if we took the best things from the season and kept doing them for a while?
what if kept giving.
looking around in wonder.
singing in the car.
puting our quarters in those red buckets
you get the idea, now go try it...

love and journals

I used to keep a journal, before I started this whole blogging thing.
What was different about my journal was that it wasn’t supposed to be read.
But I think maybe I hoped someone would read it anyways.
I wrote in fear
And also with a little bit of hope..
That someone. Anyone. Would read it.
And that I would be known.
Really known.
And I hoped that that someone. Anyone would want to keep reading.
And still want to know me more.
And still want to be my friend afterwards.
And they would learn all the things about me that I was afraid to say. Outloud.
Because saying something outloud makes it real.

And this blog isn’t my journal.
But it is still pretty outloud.
And personal.
And I go places that I have a hard time going in person.
And sometimes someone will mention reading it.
And I suddenly feel naked.
Like they just read my journal without my permission.
Even though I post it on the internet for the whole wide world to read.
Known. and vulnerable and exposed.

But being known means you can be rejected.
Not just this persona that you put on.
Or the work you.
Or the church you.
Or the funny you.
Or the stressed out you.
But the real you.
All of you.
And that is a very hard thing to recover from.
So usually we hide it and shield it and protect it. Fiercely.
And this thing that we desperately want isn’t so much to be known.
But to be known.
Really known.
And loved anyways.

1 corinthians 13 - christmas style (week 4 - love)

No, I didn't write this.......but the author is unknown.

If I decorate my house perfectly with plaid bows, strands of twinkling lights and shiny tinsel but do not show love to my family, I'm just another decorator.

If I slave away in the kitchen, baking dozens of Christmas cookies, preparing gourmet meals and arranging a beautifully adorned table at mealtime, but do not show love to my family, I'm just another cook.

If I work at the soup kitchen, carol in the nursing home and give all that I have to charity, but do not show love to my family, it profits me nothing.

If I trim the spruce with shimmering angels and crocheted snowflakes, attend a
myriad of holiday parties and sing in the choir's cantata but do not focus on
Christ, I have missed the point.

Love stops the cooking to hug the child.
Love sets aside the decorating to kiss the husband.
Love is kind, though harried and tired.
Love doesn't envy another's home that has coordinated Christmas china and table linens.
Love doesn't yell at the kids to get out of the way.
Love doesn't give only to those who are able to give in return but rejoices in giving to those who can't.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails. Video games will break, pearl necklaces will be lost, golf clubs will rust.
But giving the gift of love will endure.

The joy of giving....

.....LESS
.....and more intentionally.

of course I'm talking Advent Consipiracy here. I posted that video last year (if you don't know what I am talking about you can read about it here).

but now here is one from trade as one:

advent week 3: Joy

This is a guest post from my friend Sarah. You kind find more of her witty stuff here : http://alittlewhineandcheese.wordpress.com/

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy. I Peter 1:8 (NIV)

Every Christmas I try not to miss it, to miss Him. I make it my goal to complete all my myriad tasks in an organized and timely fashion, so when the time comes, I’m serene, peaceful, and ready. I hurry and scurry and plan and prepare, so that when The Moment I’ve set to enjoy Jesus comes, I don’t overlook it.
The truth is I usually still manage to miss it. Every year I fall further behind. More unexpected guests show up, or my Christmas banana bread implodes, and I’ve got to make another batch. When I finally look up from the holiday wreckage, I discover that it’s time to pack up the ornaments, and I haven’t met with Jesus at all.
I can blame my busy schedule, my chronic procrastination, or my overwhelmingly large family for my failure to connect with my Savior at this most precious time. But if I really care to stop and examine my life, I see an insidious pattern of activity and planning, with very little room for stillness and worship. I realize the busyness is not the problem but a symptom: I haven’t the first clue about how to enjoy Jesus.
My faith is generally characterized by action. I go and do, I serve and help, and I make giant spiritual to-do lists to track my personal progress. But lately, I’ve felt a tug on my soul in the opposite direction. “Get back to Jesus,” it whispers to me. “All this activity will never fill your heart and deeply satisfy you.” “But,” I argue, “what about all the things on my list? They’re good things, things that need to be done.” “Yes,” says my soul, “but unless you do them from a heart overflowing with Jesus, they will not bring you the joy intended for you.”
So where do I begin this process of enjoying Jesus? This process that cannot be wrapped up and conveniently opened on Christmas morning, like a much-anticipated gift. If I want to experience the Christ in Christmas this year, I have to allow my soul to experience the discomfort of not knowing what to do or how to connect with Him. I have to sit at His feet, over and over, waiting patiently as He breaks down the walls I’ve built to guard my heart from His. Walls made of control and lists, of disappointment and fear. Simply put, I must learn to worship.
Truthfully, though, the worship transformation I need cannot only happen in my quiet times, although they are the bedrock. Instead, I must learn to enjoy Jesus all the time. John Piper says about worship, “It is not a mythical interlude in a week full of reality.” I’ve got to find a way to change my spiritual glasses so that I now see everything in my life as evidence of the presence and love of God and as proof that He is marvelous, glorious, and ultimately satisfying.
Enjoying Jesus is not a feeling I can conveniently manufacture at Christmas time. It must become my lifestyle, as much a part of my daily routine as breathing. Retraining my heart to recognize and praise Him in the everyday parts of my life will enable me to stop and enjoy Him, even in the middle of the busiest Christmas chaos.
I experience Jesus and know His presence in my life as I love and enjoy being loved in return. I must also translate my happiness and enjoyment of His good gifts to me into worship. If I can recognize His goodness, mercy, and glory in my everyday life and respond with a grateful, praise-filled heart, then when I am confronted with the enormous and overwhelming love He showed in His Advent, my heart is prepared to respond.

advent week 2. peace and funerals


Phillipians 4:4
4Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

The small house was filled with people. As usual, we were a bit rowdy and loud, even on this grim occasion. Owen ran circles around the living room. Tess scowled at anyone who tried to hold her. Too many people were in the kitchen and I was on at least my second cup of coffee.
But the little quiet old man in the room managed to get our attendtion because he wanted to say a blessing.
And we were silent.
And he thanked God for his wife of 66 years. He thanked us for being there. He thanked God for the food that had been prepared.
Even if we the cinnamon rolls were a little burnt.
His voice was barely over a whisper but we hung on his every word.
And he started to tear up. And so did the rest of us.
But he thanked God for his wife.
That he would bury in a few hours.

There was no anger or doubt in his voice.
And that is peace.
To be able to pray and thank God in that huge cloud of grief.

Over breakfast he would tell me that they had a routine.
That every night starting about 5:30 that they would play gin rummy.
And have a few drinks.
And start dinner.
And go to bed.
Every night for as long as he could remember.
And now he’s not so sure what to do.
Every night without her.

Later he would seem so sad and so fragile as we shivered at the graveside.
His wife, was my husband’s grandmother.
And I had only met her a half dozen times,
But tears still slid down my face and I watched his shoulders shake as he cried in the pew in front of me.

But I kept remembering his prayer at breakfast.
And I know that this was a man he knew and trusted in the Lord.
A man who wasn’t sure how to get through the next evening.
But could still pray.
And that is a peace that transcends all understanding.

hopeful still

know it is Sunday, and we are already on to week 2 of Advent (Peace), but I just read this......and have to post it here.
It is written by my friend Beth, that many of you read about here.
I have been really pondering on these words ( hope, peace, joy and love)….and struggling to try and tell you what they mean and how to be them. To really offer up hope and peace and joy…and I have been coming up a little short. These little nouns and how to be them are more than I can wrap my words around.

But hope. I thought of Beth. She has been down an ugly path this last year. And she is so so sad. But she is also hopeful. I like that she doesn’t pretend and trade one out for the other. Her grief is real and visible on her face even these many months later when the condolences have stopped coming. But she also smiles and laughs and keeps living.
That is some ridiculous hope. And here is what she had to say……..

You can hope for silly things. Like, I hope Texas Tech wins the Big XII. And, you can hope for important things. Like, I hope my daughter grows up to be a good person. But, the hope I'm talking about is that thing -- the gas that keeps us moving. Our reason for being.

It was the worst day of my life. And, I hope it will be the worst day I ever have on this earth. I knew he wasn't moving. I knew when I got to the hospital that they wouldn't find a heartbeat. My 35 week old son's heart stopped beating inside of me. I held him in my arms and weeped. I was empty as Michelle so honestly wrote about in her blog "For Tucker". Not a day goes by that I don't picture his face, and miss him, and want to hold him. But, I know that all of this sadness is just for me, and that my little Tucker is in a better place. I know that he never had to experience the hardships of this world that I will never be able to protect my daughter from. I know that there are much more beautiful lullabyes in Heaven than I could ever sing. And, I know I'll see him again some day. That's what keeps me going. The possibility of having another child who needs me. The promise of eternal life with my son. I've been reading a lot of blogs written by men and women who lost an infant due to still birth or other reasons. Many have tattoos and many of those tattoos say or symbolize Hope. Some people didn't have names picked out for their children, and named their still born daughters, "Hope". What is it about loss and despair that would inspire HOPE?

I am so glad that Jesus was born. If Jesus was never born, I wouldn't have the promise of Heaven, and I wouldn't know where my son is, and I wouldn't know that I will get to see him again and hold him again some day. The fact that Jesus was born onto this earth -- the Word became flesh -- is the ONLY reason that I have any hope at all. This world is not all that there is. This is not the end. We have eternal life, and that is what I can put my hope in.

"Faith is being sure of what we hope for." Which means that it's not just something that we know is going to happen, but it's something that we WANT!

I used to hate change. I used to despise the fact that change is the only constant. I used to be so nervous for something new. But, then I grew up, and life got harder. Now, I am thankful for change. I hope for change because it means that things won't always be this way. Everything is temporary, and I'm glad for that during trials like this.

I am sad. But, I am also hopeful. And, it's okay to be both.
I'm very thankful for all that I have been blessed with on this earth. And, I am so thankful that Jesus was born...

Hope

Just a few years ago I gave birth to a son. I took a packed bag, received an epidural, made a mix cd, and I think the hospital even had cable…..although I never thought to turn it on. I had multiple doctors, nurses, pillows and morphine ( lots of morphine). All my friends and family showed up. A few friends even waited all night (literally!) behind closed doors for that first cry. Afterwards I received flowers, presents, 19 staples, ice chips and of course a beautiful little boy swaddled tightly in his hospital blanket.

Mary, was just a scared teenager out back in the barn. No epidural or even clean towels.
I love these humble beginnings.
This is the Christ child.
God could have orchestrated his appearance on Earth anyway He wanted. He could have been beamed down like an episode of Star Trek. He could have immediately sat on a throne. Or He could have at least reserved a room for him in the inn.
Instead he shows up where we least expect him.
Out back in the manger. Small and helpless with only his scared parents and some shepherds for an audience.

At Christmas we focus on that babe in a manger. Before the miracles, before the sermon on the mount, before the resurrection. As purely the hope and promise his appearance offers. This baby hasn’t conquered anything yet, and yet even the stars shine brighter and kings come bearing gifts!

So often, I forget to come and worship. Instead I treat my Jesus like Santa Claus and bring him my list. I ask for help, I ask for rest. I ask for healing. Sometimes I ask for other people, but mainly I just ask for myself. Either way, I am asking and expecting him to deliver. It seems that I am putting my hope in his answering my requests, not just that HE IS.

I want to take a little while to remember Christ as that tiny baby swaddled in a manger. Like I held my son in the hospital those first few days. Just as a pure and precious gift. I didn’t ask him to say please or pick up his toys. I just wanted to hold him close and memorize the moment.
It makes me wonder when the last time I just stared into the manger, not the cross, and pondered all these things in my heart.
Like Mary did.

"So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. "
Luke 2: 16-19 NIV