December 2009

This has been an interesting Advent/Christmas season for me.  As people came to our house during Advent, the huge Jesse tree always became a topic of conversation.   Friends and acquaintances had a tough time wrapping their minds around what we are doing with this rather large bundle of twigs and branches on our kitchen table.  More than a few, however, when we explained that we were reading through the Scriptures with our family in order to see the waiting, longing, and need for a Messiah, thought it was pretty neat.  (What I found interesting is that those who would not claim to be followers of Jesus found it more intriguing than those who were.  Perhaps, there is a certain numbness that comes within any religious circles…we think we already know the story, so why would we have to read it over and over, year after year?)

But whatever sort of responses I got to our Advent activities, it was nothing compared to trying to explain that Christmas is a season and not just a day…and that we would not be opening presents on Christmas Day (although we did a few little ones) but rather spreading them out through the whole 12 days to celebrate the Incarnation.  All around as we’ve seen people at church, the grocery store, or our neighborhood, the question we consistently get is “what did you get for Christmas?  what was your favorite  present?”  (I am a little cheeky and so I want to answer that I got Jesus – God with Us – for Christmas…but I’ve restrained myself!!)  I am simply getting used to explaining the 12 days of Christmas and getting some glassy-eyed stares and polite smiles!

However, I do have a favorite present from this year (and I know it will remain my favorite even though there are still presents under the tree to be opened.)

This last year we have been trying to teach our children about how to handle money and so we’ve helped them come up with a system of giving, long term savings, and short term savings (ie. spending).   All year long they have added up each of these categories and kept a record of them…and watched their money increase.   They had to give at least 10% to giving, but our daughter, who was born with the gift of generous giving, almost consistently put between 35 and 50% into her giving category!!  Not bad for a 12 year old!!!)

A few weeks ago, the World Vision catalog arrived at our house and as our children went through it, they became giddy with excitement.  They realized that they could buy goats, chickens, clothing, soccer balls…really whatever…for people in other parts of the world!!!  They had the money and they set out to write their “Christmas List” of what they wanted to do with their giving money.  ( In fact, we had a birthday party for our son a week or so ago and he asked that instead of gifts people could give him money toward his World Vision fund!)

So on the 23rd we went down to World Vision’s headquarters (we live very nearby) in order to give the money.  We stopped by the bank beforehand, pulled out the cash for each kid and gave it to them in an envelope to carry.  As we walked in to the lobby, both of our children were bubbling over with excitement!!    They both ran up to the counter and announced that they had money they wanted to give and they wanted to “buy” things from the catalog!!  I think the little lady sitting behind the desk was a little overwhelmed!

What insued over the next 20 minutes or so brought tears to my eyes.  Our children deliberated and calculated just how best to spend their money.  They agonized over where the money would go and even verbalized that they felt like they didn’t enough to give as much as they wanted to.  They knew the money was God’s but they wanted it to be used to the “most it could be”.  Then they gladly marched up to the counter, told the lady what they wanted to “buy”, gladly handed over their money and walked away with a huge grin on their faces!!

THAT was my best gift!!  I don’t even think I need any others.  To watch my children give generously and so gladly fills my heart!!  To see them want to give money for Kingdom Work is a part of my desire for them.  To get to be present as they experience the joy of giving to God is priceless!!

Later we walked through World Vision’s visitor center where our hearts were torn by the immense poverty and needs in this world and the hope that some followers of Jesus are just audacious enough to bring into dark places.   And I asked God, then and there, to not only let my kids know the joy of giving money to His work around the world, but to take them there as well, letting them participate firsthand in how these monies are making a difference in the lives of people.


Reading the story of Elizabeth and Mary this morning in the silence of a dark, sleepy house, I had these thoughts:

Both Elizabeth and Mary were expanding women.  Despite the gap in age, they found themselves in much the same predicament.  Something was growing in them that was pushing the edges of their physiques.  They were expanding beyond anything their bodies had ever experienced.

But not just their flesh, their minds and hearts too were being stretched.  What was God up to?  How is it that the old woman and the virgin are in the same position?  Neither should be pregnant.  What about all the messiness since angels had appeared and delivered their messages?  How would they explain what they knew to be real?

I remember being pregnant with our first child and looking at my rounded belly at six months thinking, “oh this isn’t so bad!”  Little did I know the stretching of joints, organs, and skin that would take place the following 12 weeks!!  Just when I thought I could not get any bigger – that surely I had reached the limit of my expansion – my skin magically found a way to stretch even more.

And so it is with God, I think.  He comes and plants something in us – something to be grown to fruition.  He finds us unprepared (and full of questions) for what He is about to do but that does not deter Him.  Instead, He grows us and stretches us to make us fit habitations for His handiwork.  He doesn’t ask us to understand but just to respond with Mary, “I am the Lord’s…may it be to me as you have said.”  Then He stretches our souls and hearts past the point of recognition – little by little…..and arrives (many times) in messiness and at an inconvenient hour!

Lord,  I know I carry You in me – in my flesh.  What I do not always know is what You are growing in the dark recesses of my body.  Sometimes I feel nothing – even doubting that I could be pregnant with Your Spirit.  Other times, a flutter, a kick, reminds me of Your presence.  More often, an uncomfortable stretching sensation – for You are expanding the limits of my heart and soul.  But it causes discomfort and I can no longer wear the clothing I used to wear.  I cannot see the inward development that is occurring.  Instead, I must trust that this expansion is from You and will be delivered in the proper time.

My family and I take an Advent pilgrimage of sorts each year.  It happens around our dinner table as we slowly take a journey toward Bethlehem.  We open the pages of the Scriptures and wander with the friends we find within – from creation to the birth of Jesus.   This year I have been struck with a question that Christine Sine asked…”What are we waiting for this Advent season?”  I took the question and mixed it with the point of view of being in the middle of the story of the Scriptures, and here is my answer:

I stand on the edge of unformed worlds and watch them come into being.  I see light, brilliant color and exquisite detail.  I hear rushing waters, animals calling to one another and the sound of footsteps on the gravel.  I hear the words “it is VERY good” and those words are forever imprinted upon my psyche.  They churn in me images of intimacy with the Creator, my fellow bipeds and all creation.  I taste joy and sweet glory dripping off this newborn terrestrial ball.

Then tears…the sound of pitiful weeping and the thud of an apple falling to the ground.  The taste in my mouth turns bitter with pride, shame, hiding and toil.  I feel the jolt of a planet askew in its orbit.  I must squint for the light has dimmed, my eyes relegated to the spectrum of shadows.  I feel the stabbing pain of jealousy, murder, arrogance, love of self.  I am disoriented with the rest of the planet.  I have become “homo incurvatus in se ipsum” – man bent in on himself.  I am trapped and only a whisper of “it is good” lies  below audible frequencies in the regions of my heart.

I am hot and weary from wandering a planet that does not cooperate with me.  I hear promises and I hope; I trust…I long.  I celebrate moments of light when the “very good” seems to well up almost to crescendo but then…always falls flat.

I walk, I lie, I settle down, I am oppressed, I am delivered, I run back to tyrannical idols.  I obey, I distrust, I watch generations die,  I hope, I am faithful, I disobey.  I watch leaders rise and fall, I cry in agony, I am carted off to foreign lands, I watch God be faithful, I am deafened by His silence.  And I wait…I long…for that “very good” rhythm.

I hear the sound of weeping again and this time find my face and hands wet with tears.  I cry as a sojourner in a strange land.  I hear the words of the prophets and they stir my soul awake with words of justice, wholeness, and intonations of “very good”.  My tongue, so used to bitterness, perceives ever so slightly, the taste of joy once again.

Then I hear nothing….

Heavy weighted under this unbearable nothingness lies my hope.  It is suffocating – being executed by the crushing weight.  In its final breath, a single Baby’s cry rings out and shatters the grip of this oppressive foe.  The weary planet shudders and takes, at long last, a gasp of fresh air.  The Baby’s cries reverberate to the outer edges of the universe and command the attention of a King.  The planet stands up straighter and a new creation process is put into place.

The Advent journey ends here for many, but I do not think it should.  For we  live in the unraveling story outside the pages of the Book – a story not so different from the one gone before.  A story of longing and waiting and hope.

Though able to breathe, this planet still wheezes and coughs within its brokenness.  It groans for full restoration – for the new creation to be complete.  And I stand on its infected skin hearing children crying and people yelling.  I feel the pain of wars and hate and cruelty.  I, like back at the beginning, still taste the bitterness of sin.   I still live with that awkward curvature of my soul.

And I wait…Though I catch glimpses of Reality, I long for this Baby to return in the fullness of His Kingdom.  I long for Him to immerse a tired creation once again with the fullness of His glory.  I long for peace.  I long for a world put to right.  I long for the reign of a just King.  I long for healing and for joy to be the only flavor in our mouths.  I long for rest…for Shalom.  And I long to live fully in the dance of “it is VERY good”.

(But Lord, as I wait for Your Son to come again and to make His Kingdom fully established, let me labor to make to make it a present reality- more visible wherever I am. )

I had the privilege of speaking to a group of moms the other day.  I always feel as if I should take off my shoes when I enter into a room full of young moms because I know I am standing on holy ground.  Though often mundane, tedious and exhausting, mothering children is truly entering in and co-laboring with God.  (There is a similar post here.)

I spoke on being Simply Present – connecting with God and our children in the moment at hand.  (Something I will confess that I am always practicing – never perfecting or becoming an expert.)

So as we are in the midst of a culture who is so frenzied about finding and purchasing  just the right gift for a certain date, it got me thinking as to what is that “perfect gift”.  True, it is different for each person, but for kids I think it is the gift of our presence.  After all I do believe that every kid’s favorite toy is Mom or Dad!

So I am challenged as the current outside my door rushes to the malls, to hang lights, to concerts, to parties, to purchase, to mail and to mmet all the deadlines – how do I live differently?  As a mom I want to choose to give gifts that my children “will love rather than ones that meet deadlines” (thanks to Maggi Dawn for these words).  And the gifts they love???  To be together, to play a game, to read together, to snuggle as they are going to sleep, to help them make their sandwich for their lunchbox, and to have a place to talk about their day.  I did a photo shoot yesterday for a family that was in the middle of the decorating frenzy and trying to get the perfect Christmas card picture.  Half way through the session, we were down on their beach and dad started a bonfire.  We warmed ourselves around the flames,  the family toasted marshmallows and the boys were just loving the very presence of their parents.  I photographed these moments and afterward mom said to me “I get so caught up in schedules and timing that I forget to live in the moment and have a fire on the beach and eat marshmallows at 10 in the morning.”  Those are the gifts that don’t come on the “right date”, but rather in the right moments.

My dad gave me a wonderful gift 13 years ago although I don’t know if he knows it and I didn’t know it until weeks after he “gave” it to me.   I was six months pregnant with my daughter when my dad, who had bravely fought cancer for three years, died.  After our daughter was born I remember nursing her one exhausting night almost at the end of my rope, wanting that certain date when she would sleep through the night, when I realized the gift my dad had left me.

In his death, he taught me that I am not guaranteed another day with my children – there are no “certain dates” that I am promised.  But what I am given is the moment at hand.  And that is all I am given – the moment before me to be fully present in.  To play, to sing, to talk, to correct, to cook, to connect, to whatever…but not to let a certain future date on the calendar overshadow the NOW.

Lord, as I am preparing and looking forward to the celebration of Christmas, may You help me to live in the waiting and expectation of Advent.  Help me to be simply and fully present – each given moment – to You, my family and to those You put before me.  Help me to be like You – giving good gifts in the right moment and not on a certain deadline!