A Future Refuge

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This time of year invites rest and preparation for the year ahead. We’ve spent our week at the cabin with extended family. Temperatures yearning toward zero for the high, with lows plummeting to -30. Our home warm, thanks to my husband’s handiness, the days of frozen plumbing and improper septic drainage a thing of the past. Warm, cozy, inviting, safe. An exquisite blanket sewn of snow, the idyllic portrayed.

The word Refuge comes to mind, the cabin, the family, the raucous games played into the night, filling meals, warm cups of tea and coffee nestled in frozen fingers. This refuge, invites reflection and projection, designed exclusively for my soul to rest and become, thoughts moving toward the obvious – what 2016 is asking of me. Chomping at the bit to reign in the delicacies and beer pints, to tackle new purpose and projects, finances. The calendar’s turn to January 1 holding more power than I care to admit.

A mild case of cabin fever has descended upon the peaceful quiet, a low-grade itch asking for freedom from thermals, wool, snow boots, mittens. Today, I succumbed to the need for a run while braving the subzero temperatures. Desperation trumped safety and sanity, but whatever, it’s why I carry a phone.

Birdhouses dot the county road, my favored run route. Perched upon the rustic and  substantial fence posts, the humble homes offer relief and comfort from the valley’s extreme elements. Filled with nesting materials, awaiting return of the delicate fowl, someone took admirable care in advocating for the least of these, providing refuge for the slightest of creation.

As a white, straight, American Christian, refuge comes easy for me and mine. I’m attractive, my body healthy, within society’s acceptable parameters. My mind is solid with but a few foibles here and there. Kids are decent and kind, husband generous, our families of good name and reputation. I believe law enforcement will protect us without bias. Most churches would welcome and allow us to participate wherever we felt led. If the business  hit the skids, we would have plentiful offers of shelter and home.

Refuge abundant.

The news continues in the disregard for black lives. A constant replay on Twitter of #blacklivesmatter and the injustice displayed toward black and brown bodies. The failure to indict the officers in Tamir Rice’s death this week came as no surprise to anyone. Families experiencing what no family should have to, death, suffering by those commissioned to protect and serve. Clearly a systemic breakdown, another lavish display of our collective simmering racism and white privilege.

The climate of fear escalating for people on both sides. One side afraid of losing influence and power, the other afraid to walk down the street or play at the park – knowing justice very well may not be served.

As a Christian, my call, my greatest assignment as a Jesus follower is to be a refuge – for myself and for others. How do I love and show grace to myself? My family? How am I providing relief to those in my world? Who is suffering that I can bear some burden?

In providing refuge for another, there is great risk, but also infinite reward. Comfort, time and money may be endangered, but the payout is remarkable. Our work is humility. Humility allows us to ask the questions, to seek the answers, to examine our insides and reach conclusions.

I can’t help but wonder: what if the tables were turned last November in Cleveland and my little boy was shot, lying in the snow, with no-one to tend to his young form? His sister unable to reach him, unable to lie beside him to comfort, to press her hands into the bleeding holes. My soul, my heart would shatter into millions of tiny pieces. 

What if I was there? Would I move Heaven and Earth to reach Tamir? To comfort him in his time of greatest need? I don’t know. I’d like to think my life would have room for such action, that I would demonstrate mercy and compassion in this horrific moment. I hope and pray inconvenience and comfort level would not be my main considerations.

My comfort level is nominal contrasted with the gross, vile, heart-wrenching, debilitating suffering in my own backyard. Discomfort is guaranteed when I ask key questions regarding my privilege, my opportunities. Never is it fun to challenge our assumptions, reactions, inconsistencies. Never. But, lives depend upon our erection of a fortress, a refuge, against the cold, bitter, frigid night. Those of us gifted must offer relief, beginning with the simple: a head nod, a smile, a kind word, a written letter, a phone call, a donation, a seeking sense of curiosity, asking questions, giving the benefit of the doubt, learning.

I look outside, the gently falling snow, the gorgeous landscape – my refuge. My gratitude, my gifts must propel me to do something, and in doing that small something, maybe I might offer a modicum of hope to this aching family and a multitude of others in like circumstances.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dashed Expectations

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Questions abound this Advent. The ways of God a conundrum and mystery. The sending of Jesus, a baby, in this nonsensical manner, not exactly what was imagined or anticipated.

I have expectations. Some are lofty, most are low. Children have taught me to hold any expectation loosely, little to none preferred, if they want to stay alive. No expectations, in many situations, far better than dashed ones.

Yet, the arrival of Jesus, this baby, brought forth all kinds of expectations. Hundreds of years’ worth. People waiting, longing for relief in the physical presence and form of God, the Messiah. There were prophecies and assumptions and, I suspect, a multitude of disappointments.

This waiting does that. We conjure notions, suppositions. We wait and wait and wait, expectations directly proportionate to the amount of time spent longing, dreaming. The longer the wait, the greater the expectation level.

Yet, the birth, life and death of Jesus all defied expectation. His birth, humble and mean, simple, not in the cool kind of simple we try to procure, but the gross simple, the undesired simple. The disheveled and grimy simple.

His life of no nobility, other than from the line of David. A carpenter, from Nazareth. What good can come from Nazareth? Who is this person claiming to be the Son of God? And that cousin of his. What’s his name? John? He’s a weirdo.

How is it possible this is our long-awaited, expected Messiah?

The waiting, the longing, the ache. It dwells so deeply. Like an open wound, somedays quiet, other days pulsing and radiating heat. The pressure, the throb shaping my relationships, my interactions, my worth . The present needs. Gross injustice in the world: Black Lives Matter, the refugee crisis, LGBT exclusion, homelessness, rising suicide rates, political rhetoric and fear, mass shootings, hatred of Muslims. All of it bleeds into my hope, slashing my expectation of right and just and good, rendering deep hunger pangs for righteousness.

Yet, I still have joy. How is this? This mystery, the wonder. How does the longing, the waiting, the fear, the angst all contribute to greater joy?

Oftentimes, the longer I wait, through the enduring discomfort, the questions appear to outrun their answers. Yet, is it possible to wait patiently, to be still, to know? Is it possible to wait and trust? The choice is ours, for the  work of the surrendered wait only enhances our capacity for Love, Grace, Hope. Jesus.

The waiting may threaten to undo, patience threadbare, a far cry from ideal. Yet I still wait. I know the waiting enlarges, expands, my love. I know the waiting increases the ache, exacerbates the feels, while growing my capacity for good. I know the waiting opens my eyes, allowing me to see deeper into another’s longing, providing the mechanism for compassion, grace far beyond anything I alone can manufacture. Indescribable, impossible joy in the midst of it all.

Jesus shines in our suffering, our questions, our anguish. He shines in our empathy, mercy and compassion. In our fear, denial, judgment – He still shines. In our confession, our forgiveness, our meager attempts at providing relief  – He shines ever brighter.

This wait, I now understand, is a call. Nothing can challenge the desires of my heart, reconfigure my dreams, alter my path, as the longing, the standing firm in defiance amongst the mess of my motives, my world, my fear. I know that for which I wait will come. I know who I wait for will come. Emmanuel – God with us. Emmanuel is in us. We shine bright the light and the love of Jesus Christ to the hurting world. We shine bright the hope of Jesus Christ in the desperate world. We shine bright the life of Jesus Christ in the decaying world.

Let us in our wait embrace and hold and trust. Let us in our wait be still and know. Let us in our wait invite the life of Jesus to be born and live in us.

He has come. He is here, dwelling. The ache tells me this.

Let it be so. Let it be unto us.

 

Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. 

Commit your way to the Lord: trust in him and he will do this:

He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, and the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him. -Psalm 37

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How I Wonder

It is a happiness to wonder; — it is a happiness to dream. -Edgar Allen Poe

I wonder where my wonder went. This Christmas season, wonder traipsed off with magic and excitement and left me with obligation and should and must. I don’t like those guys. They remind me too often that I am a 43 year old mother, who is required to create an experience I don’t feel.

Wonder. She shows up here and there when the kids are asking questions of Christmases past. Her head pokes in the side door when a song comes on, or a beautiful story is shared, or in the rare moment screens are set down in favor of a game.

Wonder’s smart that way. She hides within the young. One must become childlike to see her. She doesn’t like to dwell with those of us who have perfection problems and high expectations and easy disappointment triggers. While always being available to adults, she has strong boundaries, protecting herself from obligation.

I needed her today, a hefty dose to counteract this dull ache that likes to show up during vulnerable times. And vulnerable times for me are most times. God, in forming my being, threw in an extra heightened sensitivity, a gauge of sorts that haywires during seasons that wield high expectations like holidays, birthdays, anniversaries.

Sensitivity, while on the one hand, prepares the way for empathy, kindness, generosity, grace; the other renders perfectionism, comparison, jealousy.

When wonder sticks around for an extended visit, she breathes new life, filling my lungs with relief. A balm, her magical way of softening my heart and calming my mind, delivering goodness and grace.

In Advent, wonder’s work is essential. She reminds us there is more, hope is possible, hope is preferable. The answers are not manufactured by our better efforts, our beliefs, our practices. The answers are only uncovered in the humblest of moments, as in the birth of a baby.

Advent forces a reckoning, a wrestling with what is and what will be, driving me to silence, to stillness, to seeking. My sensitivity problem suggests I surrender my ideas of importance, my notions of significance, my longing for notoriety. The newborn invites the relinquishment of my expectations and grand notions.

I am nudged to become as a child.

The wisest among us are those who recognize their lack, their need. This newborn – the most powerful of helpless creatures – has come as Emmanuel, God with us.

God with  us.

God with us. 

God with us.

I don’t think Jesus came so I could have eternal life. I don’t think Jesus came so it could be about my happiness. I don’t think Jesus came to teach us lessons.

I think Jesus came so we can have wonder and hope, despite the circumstances in which we reside, despite the political climate, despite the suffering. Jesus came to usher in freedom from the pulsating need driving our minds, hearts, bodies, souls. Jesus came to shrink the gaping hole that threatens to engulf us from the inside out by halting the overflow of fear in exchange for the torrent of fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control.

The antidotes to my dull ache, the antidotes to my open wound of discontent, the antidotes to my lack are wonder, rest, silence, solitude.

Now, to open my eyes, to become as a child, waiting in expectation, living in wonder.

Surrendered. Open. Watching.

Come Lord Jesus, come.

How I Manage on the Days I Just Can’t

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You know those mornings you wake up raw? When the dawn fails to bring the promised new mercies. When the new day reminds you of your failures, your fear, your competition, your inadequacy. The mornings that begin far too early, when the night still holds promise for some. The mornings that are wrong.

Where do we go? The coffee isn’t enough, a false hope. Writing, praying honoring the centeredness, rawness still persisting. The marathon’s twentieth mile, the long slog to the finish line of bed, pillow, down comforter.

And then the voices start. Yammering reminiscent of the Trumps, Falwells, Grahams.  Like a Congress gathering in my head – an obnoxious committee doling out hatred, rhetoric, fear. Whispers of hope and mercy, beauty and accomplishment don’t stand a chance, unable to rise above the noisy cacophony. Each party yowling for their cause, demanding my assent, my compromise to their bellowing call. Demanding I live scared.

My faith, my beloved Christianity has been hijacked by lies and extremism. Islam, the beloved faith of Muslims, also hijacked by lies and extremism.

The weight of the world threatens to stay awhile, unpacking suitcases, hanging clothes, drawing a bath. I am oftentimes far too polite, offering a cup of strong coffee, small talk, scone. The fear weasels through protective barricades, finding the low part of the fence, that part with the relaxed security.

What is the answer? Surprisingly, silence.

December 3 reading in my Celtic Daily Prayer book:

 

It seems strange to say, but what can help modern man find the answers to his own mystery and the mystery of Him in whose image he is created, is silence, solitude – in a word, the desert.

True silence is a suspension bridge that a soul in love with God builds across the dark, frightening gullies of its own mind, the strange chasms of temptation, the depthless precipices of its own fears that impede its way to God.

True silence is a garden enclosed, where alone the soul can meet its God. It is a sealed fountain that He alone can unseal to slake the soul’s infinite thirst for Him.

Silence, the gift waiting. Silence, the gift available, free.

The risk – my insignificance revealed. My insignificance the springboard for recognizing how loved I am, just as I am. To be loved and called by God is a reckoning with our smallest self.  Once my smallness is reset, my fears laid to rest, my Big Things resigned I can settle into grace.

Anymore, fewer and fewer days are entirely given over to the voices. I’m learning to nip the hollering early, chopping the committee off at their knees. Today I called upon the restoring power of the community pool, summoning the will to plunge into the chilly water, lap lane ropes holding me safe. My arms pumping and pulling, legs and feet fluttering…one, two, breathe. Oxygen gulped on the threes lining my body throughout. Life-giving, mind restored, issuing stillness and peace. Joy’s path and hope’s flow renewed.

It is my choice if I pick it all up again. Do I pull myself up by my proverbial bootstraps and steamroll my way into the day, or do I stay small?

Do I confess my own notions of greatness, rightness, significance?

Or do I shrink into the heart of God, allowing from my smallness, the work of God to flow out of me, surrendered, grateful, resting?

Yes.

 

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/40528219@N00/3551987474″>Swim training 14</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Acts of Defiance

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What is your small act of defiance? What carries you when the world’s weight becomes too heavy? What draws you out from under the covers to bravely face a new day? What do you cling to so you can parent and love and provide and honor? What do you pursue when all of it threatens to unravel?

The shooting this week in San Bernardino hits close. San Bernardino County is where I met my husband, my first day of a new high school in the January of our senior year. San Bernardino county is where my sister graduated, where my brothers grew up. Where three grandparents died, where my mother’s Memorial service was held, where this young teenager ate popsicles at the Grandma and Poppy’s house. San Bernardino County is where my husband raced his dirt bike through the prolific foothills, becoming the remarkable man he is today. The place where all the nooks for two very-in-love young adults were discovered, where we tied the knot. San Bernardino County is where my parents retired from a twenty-five-year ministry in a local congregation.

The facility under siege, the Inland Regional Center, where my Aunt received special provision for her unique needs. Her caregivers frequently associated with this county building.

A special place, a terrorized place. Our nation and world stretched to capacity, the wonder displaced by fear. Gun violence, terrorism, black deaths, Muslim deaths, transgender deaths, Planned Parenthood, schools. The questions asked, the answers evaded. The powers-that-be failing to protect, motivated by a myriad of reasons, none that seem worthy. Solutions slide through government fingers.

Plopped in a local coffeeshop, writing, listening to the buzz. Requests for cream and lattes, laughter and work meetings, punctuate the atmosphere.

Life goes on and on. The grind happens, the halting forward movement slowly flows again, for this is the nature of things, the world continues as it continues. The hurting still hurt, the distant are still distant, blood flows, oxygen gets breathed, laundry cycles, meals ingested. The species focused on the next and the next and the next.

We persist, we collectively grieve, we challenge fear, we forgive and right wrongs, we live in humility, searching to bring relief and hope to the weary and heartbroken. We find cause for celebration, healing conversation. We trust in curiosity and human dignity. We defy the power of evil, for we are no longer subject to that power. The malicious cannot claim us. We fight for life-giving hope, joy, love, mercy.

This defiance – honoring the good, the beautiful, the miraculous in my everyday – does not mean I live blind or callous or entitled. Defiant living means I live in truth, attentive to the rhythms of body and home life, aware of emotional demands.

Defiant living draws me outdoors to the beauty, draws me indoors to the puttering monotony. Defiant living gingerly, gently nudges me before dawn with steaming coffee and battered notebook, to my worn spot on the couch with tender whispers of surrender, stillness, counting, meditation. Defiant living propels me to the county dirt road – to run, to curse, to cry, to spill. Defiant living is the avenue for my peace, my joy, my hope, my love. Defiant living fuels my fight, directing me toward rest or persistence.

This defiance is not pie in the sky hope, this defiance is my attempt to string together enough goodness, beauty, gratitude as strength. A shield crafted in quiet combat, to stand firm in opposition to the fear and hopelessness, confident and knowing our promised peace is possible, reigning. Here. Now.

The world calls, the grocery store is full of people needing an eye-meet and covert smile. My daughter’s mouth needs braces, the kids have friends over, piano gets practiced, eggs are collected, the grappling of homework, heated conversations over beer, reveling in a ridiculous game, adorning the Christmas tree. It all happens. It is all part of the counting, the defense, the honoring of the hurting and broken.

The seeking, the naming of good, beautiful, remarkable, miraculous, and holy in the midst of the chaos and suffering is not a turning away, it is a defiance, it is an invitation to own, to dwell, to abide in the mystery, abundance.

Love fueling lives of generosity –  Heaven on Earth. Here. Now.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice ! Rejoice ! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Dayspring, from on high,
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice ! Rejoice ! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
And order all things, far and nigh;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And cause us in her ways to go.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife and quarrels cease;
Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/94353977@N00/9681623794″>A rock and a hard place</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>

How I Will Navigate Christmas

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One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas day. Don’t clean it up too quickly.” 

Andy Rooney

Christmas carries a weight with it, a weight that sits on my chest, threatening to unravel me. The middle of the night desperation, battling expectations, to-do lists, entitlement. The shoulds and musts colliding full force. Cold sweat dripping fear, longing, disappointment. The supposed delight of the holiday season interrogated even before the calendar flips to December.

My work, to create the holiday, to make the experience for my children. But this year, the clash of the world’s neediest with the copious American dream has me reeling. The potent urgency to provide relief, while challenging my comfort; the reconciliation of my excess with the deprivation and suffering wearies me, threatening to abscond with my joy.

On one hand, I find the disparity and discomfort difficult to reconcile with my affluent life. Yet, on the other hand so deeply grateful for eyes that choose to see, and for a heart that seeks to shed relief upon the burdened. I often succumb to the tendency, the need to implant these burdens, somehow upon the hearts of my children. I must demand they know how good their lives are, how #blessed, to make them see and feel and hear the pain of the needy, grasping the privilege they possess.

The greatest responsibility I have is to love my children, while modeling a life of gratitude and generosity. Raising these young men and woman, to send them into the world with full knowledge there is nothing they can or cannot do to alter this love in any way is my work. There is no way to increase or decrease, no way to run and hide, no way to earn more. Our love for our children is here, to stay, forever, only growing.

While observing the Nativity, I visualize passing sterilized towels to Joseph in the stinky stall. The temptation I face, at Jesus’s birth, to allow guilt or shame because of the human I can be, because of my failings, my selfishness, my whining. What I fail to see is this Jesus, this baby come, to spill his love on the ground at the base of the cross. Love dripping, abundant, full of grace and mercy. This is not a mechanism for guilt, this is the avenue for our joy, our purpose, our hope. We are loved with a deep desperation, fierce longing, desire.

This baby, born in the meanest of ways enables us all to live in generous, overflowing extravagance. And I have to believe, I have to dwell, knowing God holds the hurting, the very least of these, closest.

The lessons I hope to impart to my children, through our abundance, through grace and mercy, involve choosing to live in the discomfort, recognizing privilege, honoring the responsibility through being given much.

We will donate money and time to needs that arise. We will involve our children in these choices. We will invite them to the homeless shelter. We will continue to have frank discussions about politics, church, the news. We will not shield them from world events. They will be aware of evil, but I will stake my life on making sure they know the good, they live the good, they receive the good. For through this bounty and security their eyes, ears, hearts, I pray, will burn for justice.

Nothing really changes this year – all of us well provided for. The room will be littered with the detritus of wrapping, bows, tissue, stocking stuffers, and candy. Thoughtful gifts given, hearts and bellies full, the morning over by 9:00. I will retreat to my bed with Netflix, Eric will build stuff. Naps are a definite.

Yes, Christmas is equally beautiful and treacherous. The lists are long, the days are short. I will err, but my hope is I err on the side of love – the richness, the fullness, the infinity of love.

Love, born to us, lived with us, died for us.