Christmas

December 27, 2011

I’m not even going to mention how long it’s been since I’ve posted.  I have decided that I will post a blog when I can, without guilt or “shoulds” attached.

Another Christmas.  I always feel like the Christmas holidays are divided into two: the crazy, gift-buying, extra-busy, frantic, fun, elf-on-the-shelf and Santa excitement, kids acting wild, secrets gifts hidden in closets and drawers.  And then there is the Advent season and the thoughtful, quiet, hopeful, penitent longing for a Savior.

I know I’m not the only one to feel the disparity between these two celebrations.

Our family tried to balance them this year, as we do every year.  Decorations in the house, shopping and cookie baking alongside nightly candlelit Advent Scripture readings and prayer.

And now Christmas has come and gone and the fun and crazy part has been successfully (and rather moderately, thank goodness!) accomplished.  The aftermath of which left me feeling moody and emotional and worn out.

Tonight I went out alone, under the guise of needing to purchase thank you cards, and ended up eating a solitary supper at Panera.  Just me and and my bowl of tomato soup and my journal.  I scribbled away about all the frustration and sadness and loneliness I’ve been feeling in the aftermath of the season’s chaos.  And, gently, sweetly, as I looked at my angry, hurt words scrawled on the page, I saw – again -  my need for a Savior.  Once again, the mercy and grace that God heaped upon us when He sent Jesus to this cold, messed-up, miserable world, where even “decent” people like me (!) and Dave and our kids and our lovely extended families -  even we struggle to get along and live by His law which is Love and His gospel which is peace.  (According to the Oh Holy Night song, at least.)

So with grief and comfort, loneliness and consolation, anger and peace fighting in my soul, I felt Christmas tonight, and am grateful for the Rescuer that came.

Holy Gratitude

June 27, 2011

I have had the honor and privilege to co-lead a Women’s Co-Dependency group through our church’s recovery ministry for the last nine months or so.  It has been amazing to see these women – some of whom are quite broken, others who just feel a bit stuck -  come together each week to work through curriculum, bare their souls to each other, and form a community to aid in their healing and recovery from unhealthy relational patterns.

This kind of thing is my cup of tea.

I have always felt a bit out of place in the group.  I’m significantly younger than most of the women.  I have a loving husband and three great kids.  I am not in a place of crisis. I have, however, walked some hard and lonely and frightening roads in years past as I struggled with anxiety and depression.  At first I really felt like, “Who am I to think I can help these women?  What do I know?  What experiences have I been through that can compare to many of theirs?”  But they have graciously received me and accepted my presence and leadership.  And I have come to a vague sense of peace that, while I haven’t gone through horrendous, traumatic circumstances, I’ve had enough pain to have empathy.  I got healthier myself, and broke free from distorted thinking, and I believe God has called me to share some of that with these dear souls.

My gladness for my blessed life, and the way God has protected me in so many ways from evil became painfully apparent again this last week.

We were going through the section in our book about “Distorted Sexuality,” talking about the ways that our bodies have been used by others, or choices we’ve made to use our own bodies in unrighteous ways.  As I did my homework before the class, I thought and I prayed.  And I had nothing to write on the blank lines of this chapter.

Praise God.  He knows that I’ve messed plenty of things up in my life, but this area has remained whole and untarnished. Dave and I have enjoyed a faithful marriage and all that entails.  I was protected and cherished as I child. And I am so grateful.

But it was a hard experience that night, listening to the tearful confessions of regret about sexual choices, and worse, the damage inflicted upon many of these women when they were just children.  The resulting shame and misery have left scars on these dear women, and as much as I am grateful for my clean past, I felt like an intruder that night.

The group is so safe that I don’t think anyone resented my lack of vulnerability in this area.  There was nothing to be vulnerable about!  When I expressed my conflicted feelings, they assured me that they wished beyond anything that they could have the same claim to purity.  Of course they did.  It is a gift.

And it’s a gift that has been highlighted for me since last week.  I feel a stronger bond to my loving husband, and gratefulness for our marriage.  I feel more tenderly toward my children, knowing that thus far, they have been sheltered from that particular brand of damage to their hearts and bodies.  And I have a holy gratitude toward our good God, who is a good God to these women too, redeeming their lives, making all things new.  I’m glad to be part of the process of joining with them on that courageous journey.

The Fixer

March 20, 2010

As a Wheaton College alumnus, I have a great love of the school.  And so, I listen to the tri-weekly chapel messages via podcast.  A little dorky of me, I know, but they’re so GOOD, and make me feel connected to my alma mater.

A few messages ago, Chaplain Kellough was speaking about prayer, and how he was reading a children’s guide to prayer where the authors (I don’t remember the book or authors he cited) said, “Don’t fret, just pray.  The Holy Spirit will fix your prayers on the way up to make them be what they should be.”

This simple idea really appeals to me.  I like to think. It’s important to seek true understanding.  I think it’s vital to be well-educated in Christian doctrine.  I want to be well-informed and mindful of my faith and of reality.  But it comforts me to think of this gift God gives us – His Holy Spirit – who intercedes for us when we don’t know what to pray or how to pray.

Because as much as we understand and seek to understand, we’re so woefully limited in our knowledge.  Our perception.  Our perspective of reality.

I’ve begun extending this concept into my thinking about other activities as well as prayer.  I counseled winter camp for our church’s 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders two weekends ago.  It was so fun, so silly, so much energy expended in games and songs and craziness.  And in the midst, so much trying to connect with the kids’ hearts and pour a bit of God’s love and truth into them.  So much trying to challenge them to follow Jesus.  So much of our activity.  And I think a lot of it was great.  I think some of it probably went far off the mark of really doing “kingdom work.”   But you know what?  The Holy Spirit fixed our efforts on the way up.  He is the same Spirit that Jesus himself was filled with when He walked the earth and dealt tenderly with our limitations and weakness.

This past Wednesday night at church I had one of those strange moments of objectivity, when you take a step back and observe what you see and it registers as a little odd.  The director of our 1st and 2nd grade girls club was standing up front, holding out a box that looked as though it could have held a giant bakery cake, but in fact held a replica of the crown of thorns Jesus wore when He was crucified.  The girls all gasped and “ooohhed.”   And I can still see her, in my objective mind’s eye, smiling proudly and holding out this box.   And it is helpful to see how Jesus suffered to complete the Rescue Mission to bring God’s children back to Him.  And it is shocking.  And it seems just a bit weird to be showing 6 and 7 year old children this torture instrument while smiling broadly in the front of a classroom.  Great hearts, great intentions, and a great Fixer who intercedes to bring about goodness and God’s will in our efforts to minister in His Name.

Dodge Ball Dodging

January 14, 2010

Tonight, our family piled in the car to head to church for “Wednesday Night Clubs.”  Fun, crazy times!  Dave and I are both helping out with the 1st and 2nd grade girls group.  (I have been doing it for 2 years now, and just recruited Dave to help out, as we were a little short-staffed.  He has become the absolute star of the group in the eyes of all these 6 and 7-year-olds.  They’re all dropping out of their small groups to join his group and take great delight in tackling him, climbing him, swinging from his arms.  Very endearing for a wife to see!!)

Anyway!  Tonight we had “Gym Night” and played Dodge Ball.

I cannot stand Dodge Ball.  I think I still have P.T.S.D. from playing Dodge Ball in that very same church gymnasium 25 years ago.  I would go up to the edge of the game, urgently beg someone to gently tag me out on the leg and then slink off in relief to stand with the kids who were trying to pelt the inner circle kids with balls.  I was terrified of getting hit by the ball in the head or something, and the sheer suspense of waiting for such a fate was miserable.

So, now, as a leader, I hang back.  If there are girls who aren’t Dodge Ball enthusiasts, I chat with them a bit and then tell them in a conspiratory whisper: “I really don’t like playing Dodge Ball.  I never have liked it.  How about you?”  They always look at me with wide, surprised eyes, and they admit it’s not their thing, either.  Maybe I’m over-identifying with their relief, but oh! what I would have given for a leader to say that and give me permission not to like Dodge Ball when I was 6, 7, 8 years old.

Dave laughed when I told him my childhood Dodge Ball strategy as a kid.  He, apparently, was one of those children who try to take as many poor, defenseless players out as possible.

To each his own.  I’ll stay on the fringe, doing what’s comfortable for me.  Dodging Dodge Ball altogether.

For the last two Christmas seasons, I have enjoyed a Christmas album that a friend recommended for me.  It is Behold the Lamb of God; The True Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ. It is amazing.

This is not just a collection of Christmas songs, rather, it has a narrative arc that details God’s plan of redemption for His people, from Moses on through the birth of Jesus.

The first song, Gather Round, Ye Children, Come invites us in to listen to the “old old story.”

Passover Us recounts Israel’s bondage in Egypt, and the sending of the plagues, and God’s provision of a blood sacrifice to rescue His people from the fate of the last plague.  It then goes on to talk about the priests offering of lambs to attone for the people’s sin.

The next one, So Long, Moses is, I think, my favorite one.  It chronicles the people’s longing for a king, their delight in King David, their begging Isaiah to hear that another such King is coming.  Instead, Isaiah’s words are “He will bear no beauty or glory, rejected, despised, a man of such sorrow, we’ll cover our eyes.  He’ll take up our sickness, carry our tears, for His people, He will be pierced.  He’ll be crushed for our evils, our punishment feel, but by His wounds, we will be healed.”  I get a shiver down my spine every time I hear those words.

Deliver Us is the song of Israel, now under bondage to the Roman government, chafing for a deliverer and atonement from sin.

Then follows a beautiful instrumental version of O Come, O Come Emmanuel, and a funny song called Matthew’s Begats that runs through the whole genealogy.  My children absolutely love this one!

It Came to Pass is the story about the Roman census, Mary’s visit from the angel, Joseph’s willingness to stay with her, and their trip to Bethlehem.

The rest of the songs continue the familiar story of Jesus’ birth and there are beautiful “tie-ins” to what His birth means for each of us.

This is not a CD to have playing in the background of your Christmas party necessarily.  I mean, it’s beautiful and that would be fine. But I love just listening and absorbing the story.  It’s like an Advent devotion.  Highly recommended!

Extravagant

March 26, 2009

Due to a string of events that I don’t want to blog about, I am feeling worn out this week.  I would like a vacation, all by myself.  I’m trying to pray and get my attitude right and bend my will to serving my family with a cheerful heart, but I think the spiritual disciplines I need more than prayer right now are: silence and solitude.

So, I was caught by surprise last night.  I took the older girls to our church for the Wednesday Night Clubs.  On the way there and home, I popped in an old CD of Keith Green and cranked up the volume and regaled my skeptical children with funky old Keith Green hits.  It felt good to be belting them out.  On the way home, the song came on about the prodigal son.  It is really long, and I asked the girls to listen quietly.  (Phoebe grumbled about this, but Lucy was into it.)

What struck me (again!) was the shocking, extravagent love the Father showed his son.  His rejoicing at the son’s return.  His exuberance.  I had to swallow the lump in my throat and blink the tears from my eyes.  When I heard that story as a child, I thought that the point of it was: we should behave ourselves!  Now I see it so much more as not a moral lesson to tell us what to do and what not to do, but as yet another astonishing glimpse of who God is, what He has done to win us back to Him, His mercy and goodness and grace.  My actions may not look as “sinful” as that boy in the story, but my heart wanders far from my Father at times, and I defiantly want My Will to be done.  And He still longs for my return and almost looks like a foolish, co-dependent lover as He draws me back in.

And now I must go wake up my children for the day.  It’s late and the race to the finish line of “leaving for school” is going to be a tight race, indeed.

Lack of Blogging

March 6, 2009

I’ve noticed recently that I’ve felt a lack of inspiration for blogging. I’m not sure why this is: I think maybe when I’m extra-frazzled and caught up in the fullness of daily living, I’m not paying much attention to my life, to that part deep inside that gives me inspiration for blog posts.

I’ve been reminded of paying attention to my life this past week. It is Lent, and though I no longer attend an Anglican church, I try to observe the Church Calendar and participate in small ways in the great corporate life of The Church. This Lent I’m reading through some readings by Henri Nouwen. Tuesday’s reading struck me and gave me more insight into why at times I don’t feel inspired to write or pay close attention to things or really experience my life as opposed to just getting through my days. This is what Henri advises:

Listen to your heart. It’s there that Jesus speaks most intimately to you. Praying is first and foremost listening to Jesus, who dwells in the very depths of your heart. He doesn’t shout. He doesn’t thrust himself upon you. His voice is an unassuming voice, very nearly a whisper, the voice of a gentle love. Whatever you do with your life, go on listening to the voice of Jesus in your heart. This listening must be an active and very attentive listening, for in our restless and noisy world God’s so loving voice is easily drowned out.

These are words that ring true to me. Simple truth, but a good and timely reminder for me.

I’m going to be counseling Winter Camp for our churchs 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders this weekend. I’m pretty certain that this particular weekend will not provide a ton of opportunity for me to cultivate some of this quiet listening in my soul, but hopefully God will choose to work through me anyway. And I will prioritize doing this upon my return.

So stay tuned…

A Book I’m Excited About

January 13, 2009

A few months ago, I saw a recommendation on a blog I read for The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones. I bought a copy last week and am really excited about its potential. The title didn’t do it for me. I don’t know if others feel this way, but I find most of the Christian bookstore to be an embarrassment to the faith. Silly trinkets and junk and Christian re-packaging of regular merchandise. And it feels sometimes that the Bible section is ridiculous. There is a specific Bible for every struggle under the sun, and I’m not criticizing this (well, maybe I am) but it does feel a bit like overkill sometimes. I’ve been equally bothered by the children’s resource section. The books, devotions, and study guides that are created with my children’s age groups in mind seem either too intense and guilt-invoking or too silly. Am I the only one who feels like all the “Christian books” out there have the same text with different titles? And text is “God is good. You are bad. Try harder.”

I am often mulling over the ways to impart my faith in Christ to my children. I want them to love God, to trust in His goodness, to walk in His ways, to be part of His Kingdom – both in the here and now, and when this life is over. But how? How do I do it? Is it possible to raise children in the evangelical church who love God and don’t embrace funky ideas of a long list of rules they’re supposed to keep, and a heavy sense of guilt for not doing as well as they should? Is it possible to raise them to understand that there is more to being a Christian than simply “praying the sinner’s prayer” and getting your ticket to Heaven? Maybe I’m over-identifying here, and my own issues of religious shame that I’ve worked through as a kid who “grew up born again” are coming into play more than I like to think. Maybe my own bitterness about some of the more reductionistic aspects of “Evangelical” Christianity have jaded my perspective. But already my sweet 10-year old Lucy has told me that she feels guilty that she doesn’t always read her Bible every day, and she worries when she doesn’t finish her Wednesday night “homework” for her church club. And there is validity to that. There are disciplines we need to keep. There is a time and place to force ourselves to read our Bible even when we don’t feel like it. But I don’t want all those “shoulds” to squelch my children’s natural heart response to the good news of God’s love and His redemptive plan for our lives.

(Whoa. I guess I feel pretty strongly about this. Getting back to my initial thought…)

The title didn’t do it for me. I thought it sounded like just another children’s Bible with new pictures. But this one is different. The subtitle? Every story whispers His Name. In the opening pages a quote from G.K. Chesterton: “I had always felt life first as a story: and if there is a story there is a story-teller.” Those were the first clues that this was no ordinary book. The introduction claims, “Now some people think the Bible is a book of rules, telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. The Bible certainly does have some rules in it. They show you how life works best. But the Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should be doing. It’s about God and what he has done. “

Okay. I’m hooked.

“…There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.”

Goosebumps. Gratitude at God’s mercy. That’s what I’m sensing as Dave read these first pages aloud to our children on the couch after dinner. I’ve flipped through a lot of the stories, and there is a recurring phrase that is used to describe God’s love – A Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love. I’ve got to do one more quote from the story of Adam and Eve and the Fall: “And though they would forget him, and run from him, deep in their hearts, God’s children would miss him always and long for him – lost children yearning for their home.”

This is going to be a good book. Suitable for ages 4 and up, the back cover claims. Amazing. It taps into one of the abiding principles I try to shape my life around – getting back to the Created Order, where God is God, and I am one of His creatures, not trying to be God, but content to be me and to gratefully utilize the “grace upon grace” He offers to be part of His Kingdom.

Fairy tale language! Fairy tale themes! And best of all, it’s the Fairy Tale come true.

Advent

December 4, 2008

It is the season of Advent. We don’t go to a church that recognizes the Church Calendar, but a few years in an Anglican-style church won me over to the beauty and importance of the Liturgy. So we do our own celebration of Advent. I try to do the Daily Office prayers, with the help of Phyllis Tickle’s wonderful guide, The Divine Hours. It is a rare day when I pray through all the offices, but even one or two keeps me in a nice rhythm of praying, and most helpfully, praying with a structure, so that I am mindful of concerns beyond my own little sphere of daily interest.   And our family lights a candle on the Advent wreath each evening.

This year we are also doing a “Jesse Tree.”  No one I’ve talked to seems to have heard of this, so I don’t think it’s a super-popular Advent activity, but this is what it is…  We took a bare branch from a tree, stuck it in a pot, and each night after our candle is lit, we do a reading from the Bible and hang an “ornament” cut from a booklet that I picked up a few years ago.  The first reading was an explanation of why it’s called the Jesse tree  (“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. Isaiah 11:1) and then goes through the sweeping story God’s interaction with His people – Creation, Fall, various Old Testament stories and characters.  It will culminate in the birth of Jesus, the Messiah promised and pointed to throughout the tales of Scripture.

It’s been interesting.  Our older girls are really into it.  They also like taking turns trying to strike the match to light the candle.  (Dave: It’s a good thing you girls have Mom.  I’d never let you try that.)   Bridget has been a bit more challenging to keep engaged in our brief evening ritual.  Due to age and personality, she isn’t that fond of sitting quietly and listening at the table.  The first night she was okay, playing with the plastic nativity figures I’d just gotten out.  The next night, she keep repeating in a loud voice some unintelligible noise that’s sole purpose seemed to be to divert and distract.  I decided to be swift and ruthless in my response.  I quickly swept her up and took her upstairs for a “together time-out.”  In a stern voice I explained that she is allowed (and encouraged, for Pete’s sake) to talk and sing and be merry in our family.  But during our Advent readings, she is to be quiet.

I felt a little conflicted doing this, because I want all the children to have warm, fond memories of observing Advent.  At the same time, I want to put a little “holy fear” in my children, that this is serious business.  Advent is a sober time, as we look at the dark room and remember the darkness in our own hearts and our need for redemption.  I love the sense of longing and anticipation that is created by that simple act of lighting a single candle.  We like to turn off all the lights in the room and notice how dark it really is.  With even one candle lit, that darkness is displaced and we can see – a little.  Each week builds on that sensuous experience of darkness being gradually overcome by more and more light.  I like doing the readings and singing “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” and “Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel.”  But the candle-lighting tradition alone would speak to my soul.

After we re-joined the family, Bridget was wide-eyed and serious, and has behaved herself very well indeed for the last two nights.  We’ll see if it sticks.  She didn’t seem traumatized by my sterness.  Another case of underestimating children, I guess.  For now, I’m glad.

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