It’s not up to me to spin the plates, conjure up all the wonder for this season. So often, I forget, among the gifts and the baking until midnight. A reminder to all of us that the wonder is with us and in the small things.
Christmas, Easter, devotions for everyday–if it’s a short little devotion, I’m in. Not sure why I love them so much; but thinking it has to do with what I love the most: writing in little bites combined with overthinking.
The latter of which is a tendency of my personality that can border on a bad habit, left to my own devices too long. But, a deadline helps corral that. And a husband that reminds me softly when I get out of balance.
So, with all that needless backstory, here is one of my Advent devotionals.
One of three pieces I’ve written so far this season; a way to preach to myself too, that perhaps the wonder and the joy is not all up to us this time of year.
A good reminder I need, maybe you need too, if you’re anything like me and perhaps so often forget we’re not the one that hung the stars.
O Lord, how long? I wonder silently, busying myself in the kitchen so perhaps it’s not so noticeable to my family, that I am really worrying way too much lately.
“Mom?” The littlest says, “Why are you quiet?”
I’m a quiet person by nature, but at home–he’s right: it’s an overflowing fountain of words of advice, funny songs, silly sayings and all sorts of things that just sort of fall out of my mouth all day. Which, depending upon things, can make me the best mom in the world some days, or the most annoying ever.
Most days, it’s the latter.
I should have known better than to keep quiet. They are so quick, so sharp, know me of course, better than I know myself.
“Mom,” he asks, “are you sad?”
Yes, I think, sucking in a big breath and heaving out a long sigh. I am sad. I am heavy with all the things of this life.
O Lord how long with all this, I pray.
I try to be a good person and a good Jesus follower. But lately, I wonder. I wonder, on days like these, emotional days or bad, bad news especially, if God is with us at all.
A thought, of course, that good, strong Christian people are not supposed to have.
O Lord, how long.
With all the things that have been unearthed. With death. With destruction. Another, another, another. I know better, to look at the news when I’m already tired and worn down.
It’s a new world He’s forming, I remind myself. It’s rebellious, it’s gloriously subversive, it’s a good thing, shaping new things out of trash, out of the utter you-know-what. That’s art if I’ve ever seen it, the true definition of redemption.
But for the birth pains.
Eventually I will rejoice, but for the pain. But for the marks left on all of us. But for the marks left on my heart by the exquisite pain we’ve had to witness, to endure. But for the grief and anguish and confusion of these times.
It’s a wonder we can hold on at all, as for the sharp, marring edge of the shell we’re breaking out of.
In that, of course, that eventually, lies hope. A great, big hope.
But in the meantime, so much, Lord. I’m feeling bookended by grief upon grief. Anxiety upon anxiety. I forget I’m hemmed in before and behind with care.
O Lord, how I long to remember. To recall deep in my heart that I’m lovingly hemmed in before and behind, looked after. And O Lord, YES, your kingdom come. The sooner, the better.
Recently, a friend of mine in a writer’s group invited us to share our thoughts and opinions about the church with her, as she wanted to do a series of essays of different views about the church. Views about the church as a whole; what the church gets right, gets wrong and any and all things in between.
I wrote a piece about why we need church…and specifically why I need church.
Here’s an excerpt:
I cannot express that enough; we need it, I need it. Some Sundays I need it to get through my week with my pre-pre-teen daughter who has strong opinions about all things, including my mothering and down to exactly how her school lunch should be made.
“But it’s so boring,” she complains, that long drawn out drawl of a whine that all mothers live for. I counter with words about how boring can be good for us, make us grow, stretch, and then say “I understand,” remembering a great deal about my church growing up and a countless number of committee meetings, dry sermons, and all the other things I’ve sat through over the years.
I’m not sure what the hell I’m supposed to be doing.
While I’ve had (what I’ve felt over the course of several years) was a calling from God to write, I’m not so sure anymore. There have been things that have developed (now that I can clearly see with two undistracted eyes) that need some addressing and taking care of, now. More immediate than the lifelong dream of being considered a “writer.”
Nothing bad, no, and thanks for asking.
But I’m seeing things and behaviors in my family unit that I just accepted because well, I was too busy to address, and here’s the frightening thing: even notice.
Too busy to even notice.
From me, the Always Constant Noticer, the One Who Remembers, or so I’ve been called (and have recognized that tendency in myself ), this is terrifying.
Too busy to notice. Which is heartbreaking to me because it begs the question: What else have I missed?
What else has sailed on right past me because I was too busy building my career, focusing on me, wondering, just when in the hell, I could have a writing career of my own?
Please hear me: ambition, work, not bad things in life. Good things, actually.
But when you realize you perhaps, have a problem with ambition, in that it drives you to see only you and how things might work out for you, I think you have a problem. I’m using the word you, of course, meaning me.
What other things will I find under this big heavy rock of selfishness, I wonder lately.
And each time I wonder, more worms. More selfishness. More, sigh, dirt.
My husband reminds me that I’m changing too, a transformation of my own, and to not be so hard on myself.
But still I wonder what more I’ll uncover, hesitant. Though ironically knowing that what I discover about myself (negative or otherwise) is really, truly an opportunity.
An opportunity, yes. Even if it feels a little bit (I won’t lie: a lot) like pain and something I don’t want to have to deal with.
It’s like what they say about sickness and also well, my personal thoughts about clutter/cleaning up: it always gets worse (or seems worse) before it gets better.
So, that’s what I’m reminding myself now. To holding on. To hold on and know deeply that all the things and relationships I had in a certain arrangement in my previous life are transforming, changing, shifting. Just like me.
And through it all, remembering to listen to God. Because if He’s changing me, the dreams I’ve held for several years may also need a bit dusting off too.
So, life throws you curveballs sometimes and sometimes those curveballs are beautiful, wonderful little cherubs called babies, and that’s what has happened here. And I’m beyond blessed.
However, these little curveballs wrapped in cute dimpled flesh also have agendas of their own, needs that need to be attended to (and getting smiles a great reward for those needs being met) and also: growth spurts, reflux issues, and oh yeah-some allergies we just found out about.
But tonight, I steal a little time away from my tinies for me, and the best me-time I can get is writing. If only there were enough time and energy to write my days away, I would. But see paragraph above why I can’t. The loveliest of interruptions are my life now.
So, here is this, a Five Minute Friday challenge, one I used to do with some regularity a while ago.
And here are the rules, should you want to join me, which I hope you do some day. This is fun stuff here, and challenging, and a great side effect is that your writing gets better, stronger. And you also get to encourage others too, which is icing on the cake.
For a reminder-this Five Minute Friday thing is a weekly writing “game” from my bloggy friend Lisa-Jo Baker, who blogs (and writes heart-breakingly, beautiful words and stories) at http://lisajobaker.com/
So, here’s the challenge, should you accept it: you write for 5 minutes with freedom like you have no fear or shame. Or propensity for run-on sentences and inappropriate comma use, like I do. And then you have to be brave (or at least pretend to be) and link up to her blog.
Encouraging the writer who links up before you is part of the deal, too. This last rule is crucial, as we all need to encourage others. Why encourage another writer? Because at one point or another in our lives, we all need encouraging, yes, oh yes we do.
Each week is a new word, a new thought starter, and you have 5 minutes to write….and are you ready?
Worship – a beautiful word (and connotation) to many, but to me, it’s a word I equate with trying too hard, a bit of rigid Christianity, complete with images of The Church Lady from SNL during the Dana Carvey years; a word I associate with some of the seemingly try-too-hard and over-earnest worship music of the early nineties.
Worship, to me, is not this type of corporate movement or sort of idea. Worship may be what we do, but it’s simple; not these grandiose movements or actions or very active nouns. It’s isn’t loud, it’s a very quiet verb, a way of living life.
For me, worship is less formal, more intimate in nature—it’s the mental hand-wringing and pleading with God while doing the dishes; it’s the silent and urgent prayers while waving good-bye to your children at school. It’s the early morning sunshine, the dew on the grass, the uninterrupted and still-quiet world before it’s had the caffeine of traffic, rush hour, loudness. It’s the hushed, desperate thank yous for a positive test, a negative biopsy, a disease narrowly missed.
To me, worship is an internal space with God, an intimate and constant conversation with Him throughout the day, throughout my life.
So as the story goes we’re all children of Noah, right?
If you follow the Old Testament and read the Bible and remember all the stuff that went down about that flood, if you have any belief at all in Christ or in God, if you remember the story, the whole earth was wiped clean because humankind was so dirty, bad, almost un-savable.
Everyone, of course Noah and his family.
And if I remember correctly, even God was sad, even God was a bit regretful He made us, His finest creation, and He was deeply sad about having to wipe the slate clean so to speak, but there wasn’t a way around it, with God being who He is.
Argue the theology all you want and try to rectify that into your understanding of God. It’s a hard concept to grasp from the God of love, but if you think of a parent disciplining their child, or letting their child take responsibility for their own actions, I think you’re coming close to maybe grasping the concept, although no one can really grasp the strange backward paradigm that is God.
But I’m not here to argue theology.
I’m here to remind us that we are Noah’s children. God’s children too. We are offspring of holy. Holy. Let that sink in.
And I think we need a reminder in this time of too much bad and graphic news, a reminder that we are holy and precious things, people from the holiest man at the time. Children from a family that God, God alone chose to save. We are children of Noah.
And because of God’s great and wonderful promise, he promised not to wipe us all out again in a flood.
Lately, after seeing how destructive and cruel and inhumane we as humans can be, and with the recent development of the kidnappings in Ohio and all the gory and inhumane details that will spill out about that house and those men, in a matter of days, some days I wonder if a flood again, to wipe us out, would not do us just a tiny bit of good.
I’ll say it: all un-Christian and everything: there is a large amount of hate, of vileness and repulsive feelings I have for those men, for any people actually, who hurt, abuse, and/or use power in a perverse way over humans and animals.
Those people, I think, well, some days I think a flood would be helpful in their particular cases. But those are not nice things to think, not Christian things to think at all.
They get me worked up into a mix of rage and sadness, so much so some days that I have to remind myself that I am a Christian, and as one, I don’t get the last say.
I don’t get to go be negative and get revenge. Some days this is good, as it keep the latch locked on the fence of the wild pony of my emotions that would love to jump over the fence of discipline and shout obscenities (amongst other things) at people who do so much wrong, so much hurting. But I don’t get the last word on that. God does.
And while I’m choosing to trust God and not become the bitter and revengeful person I can so easily be, I still have a call as a Christian I do have to speak up and do something. And writing is where I start.
Here’s the thing about my wishes and the flood–God’s not going to do that again. This is a mixed blessing, a mixed bag, because a part of me always wonders, always wants a report card—God said he won’t do it again, but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t worthy of it happening—are we as vile, cruel, unloving and destructive as those people from the Old Testament?
If our God wasn’t as loving and as faithful as keeping his promises to us, how many times would we have been wiped away, gone, already, in this age? I have to say I’ve pondered this one too many times in the last 6 months or so, every time something horrendous happens, and I’ve pondered it more times that I would care to admit.
But that’s not the point of all this.
The point is to trust God, that all things will be redeemed in His time, in the end.
This makes no logical sense, really. This is something I grapple with daily, because it feels a lot like giving up, like being passive. But n actuality, it’s probably the most aggressive and radical thing you could believe.
But the whole ‘everything will be redeemed in His time’ concept? That’s a long time to wait, maybe. And that’s a lot of trust we have to put into a God that we think is taking too long, or a God we don’t quite fully grasp, a God in reality, that is much bigger and wider than any of our minds can comprehend.
On these days, the down days, I wonder what heaven is like, if it really is perfect. I, of course hope so, but wonder: then does it get boring? What happens with perfection, with things always going so good?
And then I think of the news last week, the horrors we feel and see and hear and think to myself: heaven, redemption, you can’t get here fast enough.
That cool glass of refreshing water that is heaven cannot arrive too quickly.
But in the meantime, we have to live, and love and somehow maneuver through this world, carrying both the pain and the joy of living in these days.
And we get through with each other, and the answer isn’t a cape and a 28-minute episode where all bad things and people are resolved at the end of the show. It’s doing small actions, the small things, inconvenient steps, each day.
Oh yes, inconvenient. If we are going to change the world and revamp the world into one we actually want to live in, we’re going to have to put down the iPhone occasionally and look up, look within, and notice what is going on within and around us.
And that means we simultaneously guard and open ourselves, our families, our communities.
We help each other with things get bad.
If things or life or our choices completely fall entirely off the rails, we are open enough to admit it, get help and move on.
We are open to community.
We are not afraid.
And we are not afraid to take action, step in, step on our neighbor’s toes in the process of trying to get it right.
It does not mean ignoring, feeling pity for others without praying; it does not mean, for certain, indifference. Or a lot of “that’s too bad” comments on blogs. It means we need to do something. It means action.
We care about our neighbors, and those in our community we get to know them, and we say hi and make efforts. These little things are the big efforts.
We don’t just pull our car into the garage and hop from one location to another, keeping to ourselves or to our phones, just barely noticing others.
In short, it’s that we realize that we are all family and we all have a duty to help each other out, even if that comes with defensiveness, feelings being hurt, missteps, mistakes and all of the awkwardness that comes in knowing one another authentically, as people.
And we continue to do it. Get into relationships with other people.
Even when it gets hard, messy, ugly.
And we ask God for all the help we can get, and all the help He can possibly give us.
And we pray. We pray like the world needs help (it so desperately does), like our society needs more help that just simply a Band-Aid, a patch over problems, and we get on our hands and knees and pray like our lives are depending on it, because they are.
And we trust, still radically trust, that He has it all under control.
So glad you are reading. Just wanted to drop a little note–tonight I have 2 posts that I’ve written that I am fighting off the fear and going ahead and hitting the ‘publish’ button.
Of course, that’s not how the proper, professional bloggers do it, it would be a bit more balanced. Not two posts in one night about more or less the same subject, but then again, I never fancied myself to be a professional blogger. Nor do I have the consistency they do either. I roll with what little time (or energy) I’ve got.
The point of these posts is just to say what I’ve been longing to say, it’s to somehow try and express the feelings that are so mixed and confused and hurt, just heart-heavy hurt over the news from Cleveland last week.
I’d love to say that I’m one of those that is strong in my faith (maybe-almost-there, someday soon, kind of strong) and I’d love to say I don’t struggle or grapple with faith, hope, trusting that everything will be alright in the end, but that would be a lie. I struggle, I wrestle with this, even though I’ve read the end of the story, and everything turns out ok, better than we could have ever imagined.
So, here in two posts–is real and true grappling with my faith, with God. Trying to hold water in my hands, trying to struggle to understand and hang onto hope.
Hope my expressing this, helps you in someway too-that’s always the aim of my writing.
Waiting on Heaven
Some days I think it would be some much easier to live, to just live day-to-day if I lived elsewhere.
Maybe in Australia, where the president had enough of people killing people that he banned all guns.
Maybe in Canada where there is better health care, and better maternity benefits.
Maybe in some other foreign country, like France, where the eating disorder rates and the obesity rates aren’t through the roof and sky-high like they are here.
Maybe somewhere even in this country, like Portland, where the big, open green spaces are protected, and every time I turn around I don’t see a huge plot of land being ground up, churned, mutilated for new development, or for a more convenient location to a Wal-Mart or CVS.
I just want to live in a place where my heart doesn’t constantly hurt. Where it isn’t constantly broken by people or problems or things.
I just want to live in a place where human and animal rights are protected, not abused. Where people can be people and co-exist with their neighbors and not worry about being tormented or used or abused or tortured in new and unusual ways. And ditto for the animals-that they can co-exist and trust all of us, instead of having to suffer through life abused, used, broken or tortured. And a world where they get to actually keep their habitat instead of having to constantly find a new home, re-adjust to a world that is constantly changing and trees and habitat that just keep being cut down.
I just want to live in a place where each person knows the value or his or her own life, where they don’t have to play ghost, play dead or play invisible by starving or stuffing themselves to death.
I just want harmony. I just want us to appreciate (and love) the life we are given and the animals and environment around us.
It’s clear: I just want heaven, redemption. And it can’t get here soon enough.