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Divine Weavings

I am notoriously bad at putting lights on the Christmas tree. The first couple of years I put the lights on the tree, it looked like the tree had a been wrapped in a single line of lights. It was nice and orderly, but not aesthetically all that pleasing. Now, my approach is a bit more haphazard. I like to weave the strands of light up and down and around trying to make it look like the little bulbs of lights are appearing from out of the branches in a magical kind display. I take time to stuff the green strands as far back towards the trunk of the tree as possible so that at least upon first glance, you can’t see the way all the lights are connected.

There’s something about the tiny burst of light and the hidden strand that connects them that is mystical. And as I get up in the cold, dark morning and make my way over to the tree to turn on the lights, I am reminded of the Advent season. In this season, we try to trace the light of the world as it gets closer and closer to earth. We travel the journey of hope, love, joy, and peace getting closer and closer each week.

It’s a magical, mystical season in the church calendar. A season that asks us not to look at the single lights, but the divine weavings, the strand that holds all the lights together. Even in the midst of the influx of news about children being separated from their parents, children not receiving health coverage, and tear gas being thrown at children, I have seen little lights shining. But I’ve lost track of the divine weavings. I haven’t been able to find as clearly the strand of divine and holy work tucked away, invisible to the naked eye.

As Advent season draws near, there is a whisper calling in the darkness, “Search for the light.” And as my ears and heart open to that invitation, slowly a strand begins to appear. Emanuel, God with Us, here on earth working and weaving; Light to light; hope to love to joy to peace.

Holding Onto Advent

This is the longest I can remember our having our Christmas decorations up. Because our celebrations and traditions center around sharing kids, there have been many years where we haven’t gotten our Christmas tree until the second or third week of December. This year we went to get our tree the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  This morning, the Christmas tree is still lit as we await Epiphany.

There’s something magical and mystical about celebrating and studying peace, hope, joy, love and the arrival of the Christ Child and then holding onto each of those until Epiphany. It’s something that we often miss in our haste to celebrate a new year and get things back in order after our Christmas celebrations.

This time invites us to include peace, hope, love, joy and Christ into our lives in the quietness and the stillness. This time invites us to wonder and question what including these things into our lives year-round would really mean.  It’s a time as a Baptist who didn’t celebrate the Christian year that I’ve missed most of my life, and one I hold dearly to now.

May the Christ Child continue to fill us with wonder and awe as we draw near to Epiphany.

Decorating the Tree

I can remember decorating our Christmas tree growing up. All of the six kids came together to decorate the huge live tree that had been strung with colored lights. The majority of the ornaments I remember hanging were ornaments we had all made in school, Sunday School and Missions activities at church. With six kids, those ornaments really added up.

But I can’t say that ever thought much about what it would be like to hang ornaments on the tree that came from my children I hadn’t imagined their pictures of their little handprints or even their names. I hadn’t thought about whether they would be girls or boys because for the longest time the tree Sam and I decorated still had those handmade ornaments I had made; a gift that had been given to me from my parents.

I was walking by the tree going to grab my keys and I saw this picture. The girls hanging next to one of the first ornaments Ben has made. I had to stop for a minute. A picture I had never imagined, there hanging on our tree. Three kids surrounded by colored lights. Three kids full of light and love. Three kids who helped decorate (or in Ben’s case undecorate) our tree this year.

The longer days and the break from school make the holidays a time to make memories and also to remember how far we all have come since the last time we decorated our trees and houses for this season, something Europeans have been doing for hundreds of years.

Sometimes peace and joy in this season come in the form of tiny handprints and pictures from years ago hanging on a triangular tree that represents the Trinity, the presence of God with us no matter what your journey had held. Thanks be to God for Divine light shining in the dark season of winter.

Waiting in the Parking Lot

I’ve heard from many Toddler Mamas that you will do a lot of waiting. Waiting for your toddler to eat, waiting for your toddler to speak in more than just those words and phrases, waiting for your toddler to buckle his or her own shoes, but on Monday I found myself waiting in the middle of the parking lot.

This wasn’t a sit-in protest of being hurried out of the line of cars or onto the next activity or next stop on our list of things to do. This was a sit and see. He was genuinely interested in the touch and feel of the asphalt. He was fascinated with the way the shadows were playing on the gray surface and that he could make the shadows move by moving his hand. He was in awe.

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 

In the midst of Advent, there often isn’t time to be in awe. We are booked to the brim with shopping and celebrations with family and friends. We are waiting and preparing for children’s programs and worship services. In the midst of all the hurrying, there is time to wait and wonder, even if it’s a in the middle of a parking lot watching shadows.

What Did You Expect?

I find myself asking, “What did you expect?” as I enter the Advent Season this year. I expected to be a teacher until retirement. I remember clearly sitting in the new employee’s meeting at 22 and hearing that I could retire in 30 years. I couldn’t imagine being in the same job for the 30 years, but I could imagine teaching for 30 years.

Now I find myself planning and preparing for my fourth Advent Season as a pastor. I certainly didn’t expect to be a pastor and preacher.

But Creator God has a miraculous way of hearing the parts of our hearts that even we ourselves silence. The Divine whispers, “What if…” in a way that makes us dream of the unexpected and hope for things yet to come. Those longings speak to our souls, to that Divine spark nestled within us.

Advent is a season to give voice and space to those longings, to shed our expectations of how we thought things were going to go in our own lives and dream and anticipate new life. When we allow the Divine this voice and space, I can guarantee you will say, “I didn’t expect that.

Expectation, Anticipation, and Revelation

As we worshiped together during the first Sunday of Advent yesterday, I shared with my congregation how difficult it sometimes is to manage the expectations of what this season is supposed to be. This is the season of love, joy, hope, and peace and we are expected to eagerly await the coming of the Christ Child and yet for so many of us the season brings only expectations of grief.

I have struggled against the expectations of how I was supposed to behave as a woman raised in a conservative community of faith. When I expressed a call to live out my faith, I was met with the response that I would make a great minister’s wife and that my calling as a teacher was just as important as a call to ministry. Underneath these comments were the expectations of what I could and couldn’t do as a woman. Those expectations didn’t fit who I was and who I was called to be.

And as this Advent starts, I am feeling the weight of expectation to bring hope, peace, love, and joy, but as I shared yesterday I am filled with grief this season. I am filled with grief for friends and family who are celebrating this season without loved ones who they have lost suddenly over the past year. I am filled with grief for my youth who have lost classmates and encountered unexpected death much too soon. I am feeling grief and disappointment that the expectation we had that this Advent season would bring the birth of the Christ Child and another child for us will not be realized.

While I hold this grief for us and for those we love, the anticipation of the Advent season is beating in my soul. This anticipation can only be held alongside the expectation of grief because of the revelation that the Divine is among us and indeed with us. The Divine is still whispering that this season is a special season of revelation of how God is with us. God is with us in our grief. God is with us in our disappointment. God is with us in our joy. God is with us in our peace. God is with us in love.

And God is with us in hope.

Hope that invites us to shed the expectations of how we are supposed to act, what we are supposed to say, how we are supposed to worship, what we are supposed to sing and who we are supposed to be in this season. Hope that instead invites us to simply experience the presence and wonder of the Divine. Hope that anticipates without fully understanding what we are anticipating.

May this Advent upend our expectations with the anticipation of the Christ Child, the revelation of the Divine here among us.

A Year of Healing

I found myself lying on the floor staring at the ceiling next to a basket of unfolded laundry unable to believe that 2016 is almost over. The day had started with a celebration at Transitions with the youth of New Hope Christian Fellowship and our three kids where we sang carols, drank cocoa, and ate cake together. We fellowshipped and celebrated making it through Christmas, one of the hardest holidays for the homeless population we have been working with over the past seven months. I was thinking about the forty people we had crammed into the big day room and wondered what was going to happen if our numbers continued to grow at the rate we have been growing. This was already the third room we had been moved to because we had outgrown the space in the other two rooms.

But even as I reflected and breathed a deep peaceful breath that all of the planning from Advent and all of the celebrations with family were concluded, the overwhelming thought that kept repeating itself was, “I never thought I’d be here.”

Even though I haven’t been vocal about it, I make a commitment each year to concentrate on a mantra or discipline, something that will stretch and challenge me, something that I hope will bring me new insights and new understandings.

In 2015 I concentrated on new life and on rebirth as I stepped fully into the role of pastor without being a student/pastor. I concentrated on nurturing and feeding the baby that grew within me. It was a beautiful time of recognizing and practicing resurrection helping my first community of faith to see that there is always a new start and a chance for joining in creating alongside of a Creator who walked with humanity in the cool of the evening. It was a year of anticipation and excitement.

2016 has been one of the hardest I’ve chosen because it’s been a year of healing.

In January, I had to acknowledge the impact nine months of pregnancy, hours of labor, including back labor, two attempts at an epidural before one actual took had taken on my body. I learned what my grandmother meant when she said she was “bone weary” as we navigated cluster feedings and growth spurts nurturing and caring for a mini human trying to wake up to the world around him. It’s been a year where I have had to accept more help than I’m comfortable and leave more things undone than I’d like.

It’s been a year that I have wrestled to understanding my story, one that includes spiritual abuse and will always include people who would rather me not tell my story. It’s been a year where I’ve had to say goodbye to a community of faith so influential in my journey as a follower of Christ and pastor.

It’s been a year where we’ve had to wrestle with the question of what’s next for months and months of uncertainty and fear in a contentious presidential election and then attempt to find our footing after the results came in.

It’s been a year when I’ve finally felt strong enough to start running again: running a long race, running old paths. And just when I started to feel my body heal, we were confronted again with how our whole lives can change in a week as our journey of healing moved from me to Sam. I’ve wondered how it be so tiring to give your mind and body time to heal. Isn’t it supposed to be a peaceful and restful process? And the image of Jacob limping away from this wrestling creeps into my mind knowing what the long journey of healing he had ahead of him looked like. 

As I got up and reached into the basket and started folding clothes dividing them into three stacks for our three sleeping kids, I wondered why I had made those late night promises to God to take time to heal in the early part of this year. Why hadn’t I chosen a different word, a different journey for this year? But even as the questions came to my mind, I knew that this time of cocooning ourselves and trying to give ourselves time to heal has been so important.

And as I look to next week, next year I can’t help but wonder has this all just been a part of the metamorphosis to come?

What will 2017 hold?  

Signs from Above

[W]ise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”

I know it’s too early to celebrate Epiphany. I know we are supposed to wait for Christmas and then for twelve long days after Christmas, but I need a sign from above now before the Christ Child is even born. I need wise men to tell me that they have seen something remarkable in the sky, something worth journeying and traveling in order to pay homage to a baby.

I need to hear the angels proclaim again and again, “Fear not!” this Advent season. I need dreams, signs, and angelic proclamations to know that the divine is with us. I need the story of the birth of the Christ Child born to outsiders. I need the story of the birth of the Christ Child to a poor couple, unsure and uncertain what their future holds knowing only they have to journey together.

I need to know Emmanuel, God is with us.

I need Christmas to be on a Sunday this year, so I can gather together with our community of faith and we can remember this story together. We need to gather to worship and remember that what we experience the other days of the week doesn’t change the truth and light that we hear on Sunday. We need to gather so that we can strengthen each other to have the courage to that the light of this Christ Child within us.

Come, Lord Jesus, come. Your people are waiting, dreaming, and looking for signs.

A Divine Blended Family

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There’s something about the picturesque nativity scenes that have caused to me to ponder this Advent season. The cast of characters are usually the same in nativity scenes leaving out part of the story like the camel-hair wearing, locust-eating voice crying out in the wilderness. He’s just a little too out there. I mean how would we explain him to our kids?

Not only have I been wondering about why some people are included in these scenes and not others, but I’ve also been wondering about the peaceful expressions on these characters. Last Advent was a blur of new motherhood, but even though it is a blur, I know for certain our family certainly wasn’t this peaceful and put together. And as I’ve thought about our family and this divine family, I’ve been struck this year that they were a blended family. Did Joseph worry about whether his son would look at him one day and say, “You aren’t my real father!” like so many stepparents do? How were they going to explain to this baby that he was different than other families?

And as these questions roll around in my head and heart, I realize that although nativity scenes decorate our communities of faith during this Season, these questions of challenging truths don’t often accompany the scenes. Instead, we preach a peaceful, picturesque gospel that sits on a shelf, decorating our lives, but not transforming our lives.

If we really preached how revolutionary this blended divine family was, then we would have to question our nice, neat faith that allows us to worship both the Christ Child and Santa Claus at this time of year. If we really preached how this Christ Child gathered the outsiders and outcasts of society in a barn where animals slept, then we would have to question our pretty, festive church buildings. If we really preached what the birth of this Christ Child means, then we would have to accept the understanding that Jesus’ birth is a celebration and not a way of life for us.

There is nothing picturesque or peaceful about the birth of the Christ Child.

Wrinkled Joy

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We finally got our Christmas decorations up this weekend. We were waiting until we had our girls again and I wasn’t quite ready to move from the season of gratitude into a season of waiting and searching in our home. Couldn’t I teach our kids more about thanksgiving lasting all year if we just left up those decorations?

But as I watched them walk around the tree light debating over which tree would be easiest to pick back up if their younger brother decided to try to pull up on it, I knew we needed this season. And so we climbed the garage to get down the boxes marked Christmas and there at the bottom of the ornament was joy wrinkled and waiting.

Wrinkled joy.

The joy of the birth of the Christ Child wrinkled with the realities of a year of uncertainity and grief in so many ways. Joy that has been packed away, waiting to be brought out for this season of Advent. Joy that just needs to be shaken and ironed out.

Or maybe, this is joy wrinkled by the truth of a messiah born in a manger surrounded by outcasts. Maybe this wrinkled joy is exactly what we have been awaiting.