Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Confession 144: Christ's Christmas Presents

Although it's not even December yet, the first Sunday of Advent has come and gone.  We had a lovely Hanging of the Greens service at church in which our oldest got to be a "star" (Literally, he wore a big foil star and ran down the front aisle then plopped himself down on the bench by Mary who looked at him like, "What are you doing here?")  Black Friday and Cyber Monday have both come and gone (mostly just gone in our household where homeade Christmas presents are going to be the theme this low-budget year).  Many folks have trees up, gifts wrapped and calendars set for the season.  It kind of makes you wonder, "What's left?"

To counter some of the materialism and commercialism and secularism surrounding our "Winter Holidays", we've started a new Advent campaign at church focused around James Moore's book, Christmas Gifts That Won't Break, a focus on the power of hope, love, peace and joy brought into the world through the birth of Jesus.  Signs are up throughout the church reminding us that "Christmas is not YOUR birthday!"  Our key question this season is, "What are you going to give to Christ this Christmas?"  In our congregation, we have set a goal to raise over $5,000 on Christmas Eve to purchase a Heifer International Gift Ark, which will help to support sustainable living for hundreds of people living in impoverished communities.  Yet, there are so many other opportunities and ways to give gifts to the one whose birth we celebrate, or should celebrate, this season.  As we move into this season of giving, I would challenge you to consider what you are going to give to Christ this season.

Yet more than that, my challenge to myself is to recognize Christ in this season.  I've been reading a study of Luke recently and have been struck again by the fact that so many who had a meaningful encounter with Jesus recognized him for who he was.  Mary and Joseph accepted the news that their son was the Son with incredible grace and humility.  Faithful Simeon and Anna were blessed to see the Christ-child God had promised to send and recognized him immediately as the Son of God.  Even John, in Elizabeth's womb, jumped for joy at hearing Mary's voice while she carried Jesus within her.  This unborn child recognized the Son of God before either of them had taken breath. 

So, here's what I want this Christmas to be about:  1) Recognizing Christ in the world and 2) giving to others in a way that gives a birthday gift to Christ.

What are your goals for this season?

Blessings and Peace,

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Confession 143: Gratitude Born of Contentment

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to live with nothing, and I know what it is to live with everything. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.  Philippians 4: 12-13
This verse has been in my mind a lot the past few days.  My husband used it as the basis of a Thanksgiving message for our local community Thanksgiving service last Sunday.  Chris and I were contemplating and praying through a situation yesterday for which we just don't know the answer.  We're in the "in-between time" right now.  We know the problem, we know God will solve it, but right now we're in between the two of those.  And it seems to me, that it's the "in-between" space where it is hardest to find contentment.  Yet, as Thanksgiving approaches, I realize that it is only by cultivating contentment that we can be truly grateful.  And I have so much to be grateful for...my family, my friends, health, home, food, God's amazing grace.  In a moment of epiphany yesterday, I understood clearly that this present challenge is actually a wonderful gift from God, an opportunity to simplify, to take stock, to prioritize, and to practice contentment.  I want to be able, throughout my life, to look out over the hills and valleys and declare, "It is well".  To pray, as John Wesley said, "let me be full, let me be empty...I freely and heartily yield all things to they pleasure and disposal."  Life should not be a series of challenges to master, a list to check-off as we go.  But rather, life should be an experience we drink in, a precious gift in which we give thanks to God for the opportunity to be, to do, to journey, to love.  And so, this is my Thanksgiving prayer for you:

May you experience the beauty and gift of every ordinary day that's left to you.
May you center your life on the things you are grateful for.
May you pay attention to what's worth caring about.
May you read the sacred in everyday life.
And may the God of grace and hope give you strength to do all that He is calling you to this day.
In Jesus' name,
*Taken in part from Katrina Kenison's The Gift of an Ordinary Day

Blessings and Peace,

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Confession 142: In Remembrance of Me

As I wrote a few blogs ago, I've been drinking in Katrina Kenison's new book, The Gift of An Ordinary Day.  It's beautiful and deep and suffused, I believe, with grace abundant.  As Kenison was writing of her traumatic journey through her youngest son's adolescence, she says that her job was to remind her son of who he was during this time, to "help him remember, through words and touch, who he really is."  As soon as I read these words, an image of Communion came to my mind.  As Kenison went on to write that loving her son through words and touch gave her "the faith and patience necessary to survive his painful transformations", the image of the communion bread and cup grew stronger and stronger.  I  suddenly came to the understanding that this is precisely the purpose of our communal acts of worship--our holy ordinances, our traditions and sacraments, our sacred rites and rituals.

Taking perhaps ridiculous artistic license with Kenison's beautifully wrought words, I came to this...  Worship helps us in words and touch to remember who we really are.  As we take the Communion bread into our hands, as we roll it around our fingertips, the course textures remind us once again of that human body housing the divine which was bruised and broken for us.  As we dip the bread into the cup, we are once again reminded of the precious blood that was shed for us for the cleansing of our souls.  Yet more than that, we remember that we were redeemed so that we might truly become the people of God.  As Paul writes in Ephesians 3:6, we become heirs of the kingdom together with Israel, "members together of one body and sharers together in the promise of Christ Jesus."

It is when we gather together as the Body of Christ, in the remembering of who and whose we are through our sacred acts of worship, that we are able to survive the painful transformations life can bring.   In participating in the baptism of a new believer we are reminded that we, as new creations in Christ, have become dead to sin.  As we join in one voice that prayer which Christ Jesus taught us, we remember that the kingdom, the power, and the glory of God are eternal, lasting forever and ever.  Standing for the reading of the Gospel message, we remember the precious gift of the Living Word which dwells within us...our foundation, our source of strength, the lamp which guides our feet as we journey though life so that we can say with absolute conviction and assurance "Praise be to God!"

Finally, it is in our acts of worship that we come, as Kenison writes of her son, "a little bit closer to understanding his (for us, God's) true essence."  Kneeling at the altar rail after partaking of the bread and cup, I feel a closeness to God that I feel nowhere else.  I know that I am standing on Holy Ground.  My soul is laid bare to the Lord who dwells within me.  I feel the invisible tie that binds me to those kneeling on my left and right.  They are my companions on this journey.  And when I rise, it is as if I am being sent forth born anew with the Spirit of the Living God full within me to take and give to a world most desperate with need.

When you enter the house of the Lord this Sunday, let it be with the voice of Jesus ringing in your heart.  Hear him say to you again, "Do this in remembrance of me."

Blessings and Peace,

Monday, November 15, 2010

Confession 141: I Lift Up My Eyes

I just got off the phone with the health insurance company and am feeling annoyed and discouraged.  It seems that I am one of those dwindling lower middle class citizens who cannot really afford health insurance, but cannot really afford to not have it either.  Since I take 100mg of Zoloft each day, I fall into the "pre-existing condition clause" which basically means that I get to pay an extra $80+ bucks a month for a pill it probably cost about $.50 to make.  I called the insurance company today to try and change my plan, only to be left 45 minutes later with the same plan and an application for a new plan that I'm not eligible for until January 1st that might lower my premium $50 per month.  It seems that no matter how many health care reforms the government legislates, insurance companies keep finding ways around them.  I'm not going to go off an a tirade against health insurance companies, I'm just saying that to insure my boys and I it costs over $400 per month because I take one pill and my oldest son has Uvitis and sees an eye specialist on a regular basis.  The laughable part of all of this is that I signed us all up for individual health insurance policies because it seemed, in my research, that was going to be cheaper than putting us all on one!  Of course, with my son's pre-existing condition we have to go through a state sponsored health insurance pool because the insurance companies won't take him on, although the pool is run by a major insurance company.  Someone please explain that to me!!  Oh well, enough of the tirade.

The reality is that each of us has moments in life where we want to throw our hands up and say, "I give!"  It could be financial struggles, or chronic health struggles, or relationship struggles.  And, they come about not because we've done anything "wrong" or made poor choices or angered God in some way, but because we are human beings living in a human world.  Fortunately, as Christians, we know that this is not the end of the story.  We were not made to struggle through life giving in and giving up.  On the contrary, God has placed a spirit of hope within each of us to persevere through our struggles, to be steadfast with our eyes fixed on Christ allowing God to work within and throughout our hardships in order that he may be glorified when we triumph.

As Paul writes in Romans 8, we are more than conquerors through Christ who loved us, so much so that there is nothing in this world or beyond that can separate us from his abundant love; no insurance companies that can strip us of our faith and trust in him.  So when I feel that the world is getting the upper hand, I do as the Psalmist commands in Psalm 121: I lift up my eyes to the hills and see that my help comes from the Lord, the creator of heaven and Earth.  The God who set the mountains in place and told the rivers where to run is the God who is carrying me.  He will not let my foot slip.  Indeed, he who watches over his children will neither slumber nor sleep.

Thank God for the Word!  My day is suddenly looking up!!

Blessings and Peace,

Friday, November 12, 2010

Confession 140: A Story

A few pots ago, I wrote about the idea of living expectantly--realizing that God is capable of doing amazing things and raising our expectations so God can do them.  I received an e-mail this past week from a former acquaintance that I wanted to share which spoke directly to this.  I LOVE stories like this, and I hope you find as much wonder and encouragement from it as I did!

Blessings and Peace,

"My oldest son Devin who is 29 has been searching for a friend he had back in the 8th grade.   They were best friends and lost touch somewhere along the way.   He knew his Dad had been a preacher in the Houston area and that Jason had been a Marine.    Devin had been searching the internet and googling everything he could think of to find Jason for the past year.    Last week another friend of Devin’s called him to come “rescue” him.    He had been in jail for drugs and I guess just looked like warmed over death.   It really got to Devin.   This guy was a really good friend.   A renewed interested in finding Jason became urgent.

Devin came over after work last Wednesday and was telling me all of this.   I got on the laptop and proceeded to try my hand at finding Jason with no luck.  I told him about reading your article and that maybe he should pray “specifically” for God to help him find Jason.  “No Mom.   We should always ask for God’s will to be done.  Maybe I’m not supposed to find Jason.”    So I told him I would pray SPECIFICALLY that we would find Jason.  

The next day during a lull at work I did some more searching for Jason’s Dad.  I googled Pastor Paul Scott, Houston, Tx and after about 10 minutes and 6 pages of google, I found an article about “former Pastor Paul  preached Oct. . . . .  “   I made some phone calls and by Thursday night I had Jason’s phone number to give to Devin.     

I had forgotten the JOY that we rob ourselves of by not praying specifically plus we don’t give God the opportunity to surprise us.   It was a Goosebump God Moment for me and I think a wonderful witness for Devin.   And it reunited two long lost friends. 

So I just wanted to thank you for reminding me about praying specifically and the joy it brings and I will resume doing so now."

Monday, November 8, 2010

Confession 139: The Best

I just started a new book called The Gift of An Ordinary Day: A Mother's Memoir by Katrina Kenison.  It's the story of how Kenison and her husband packed up the life they knew, a life they had carefully cultivated, to move from suburbia to rural America as their two sons were moving through adolescence in order to make the best for them and to come to terms with their changing lives.  I'm only three chapters in, but already have had several moments of, "Oh, my gosh!!  That's so profound!"  I was actually reading part of the book aloud to my husband on a recent trip into the city while he was held captive at the wheel.  There was a passage in which Kenison was describing her older son that resonated with me in my dealings with my own oldest child.  Granted, Kenison's son was a teenager at the time and mine is four, so the circumstances aren't quite the same, but the message is still applicable, I think.  Kenison writes that:

"Rather than try to project who our older son might or might not one day turn out to be, we needed to try and appreciate and understand who he is right now.  And then we needed to meet him there, loving and accepting him just as he was, supporting his journey of self-discovery, crooked and long though his path might turn out to be." (pg. 26)

 "Oh, my gosh!!  That's so profound!"  Talk about being blown away!  How often, as parents, do we try to project our own dreams and desires onto our children?  We want things for them that we often wanted for ourselves.  We see the road that they should take, forgetting that it is in the winding journey itself that they will learn so much about themselves and who they were created to be.  My oldest son, at the age of four, already marches to the beat of his own drum.  We lovingly refer to him as "the weird kid".  I understand, of course, that part of the weirdness is just the age, but part of it is who he is.  And, I'm okay with that. He is who he is, and although middle school might be a bit rough, God has a plan and purpose for all that "weirdness"!

It struck me that, as Kenison calls us to meet our own children where they are, so God meets us exactly where we are, too.  He lets us make our own journeys of self-discovery and faith.  He allows us to try, to fail, and pulls us back up again.  Moreover, God loves each of us and accepts us for who we are.  This realization proposes a bit of a challenge for me.   There's a struggle in my spiritual life that I have been ignoring for years, and that struggle is coming to terms with the notion that God loves me for who I am, not who I think I should be.

Do you know what my prayer has been for myself every day for years?  "God, please help me to be someone today you can be proud of.  Please help me to deserve the love you have shown and let my life be worth the sacrifice you made."  You see, after spending my entire life, literally, in the church, I still fail to grasp the nature of God's love for me.  It is unfathomable to me that God can love me for who I am and not who I think I should be!!  As a natural-born people pleaser, I think that I need to "please" God, completely ignoring the fact that when God created me he pronounced to the heavens, "(She) is good!"  God loves me in all of my human-ness because HE MADE ME!!  Every quirk I have is a gift from him, and although my mother literally birthed me into the world, it was God who breathed into me that breath of life.  Instead of praying that I may "please" God, a better prayer would be that my day would bring God glory and praise.

My love for my boys is deep and wide.  There is nothing I can conceive of them doing that would diminish that love, no "weirdness" a mother's love can't overcome.  I can accept them for who God created them to be and encourage them along the paths they will take, even if the path is not one I would have chosen.  The challenge is to let God do the same with me.

Blessings and Peace,

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Confession 138: Working Girl

I have been subbing for the Family and Consumer Sciences  teacher all this week at our local high school.  I've been teaching Personal Finance again--it just won't go away!!  I'm also teaching Child Development and Nutrition, which has been kind of fun.  I was worried when I first went in to visit with the teacher last week before she left because she had a sewing machine out.  We would have had problems!!  Luckily, the focus has been on electronic banking, prenatal development and teen health--all things I can handle!!  I've been subbing quite frequently throughout our school district (it's tiny) and I have to say, I'm a little torn.  On the one hand, I love being in a classroom again.  On the other, staying home has been kind of fun too.  Scratch that last part--child number two is screaming for milk and working on pushing me out of the chair even as I type.  Don't worry, I'm not ignoring him.  He wouldn't let me, even if I wanted to! :-)

God truly works in mysterious ways.  I never thought I could be so content substitute teaching, but I actually love it.  My best friend told me shortly after we moved that God had placed something new and interesting in my life every time we moved and that he would do no less this time.  Of course, she was right!  I wish I could learn to have more faith in the moment rather than discovering it after all is said and done.  I'm sure God will give me plenty of opportunities for growth in the future!!

Well, I have a sheet cake and a huge vat of stuffing to make for our church's Turkey Dinner Friday, so I should probably take advantage of the boys being in the bath to accomplish one of those things.  Yet, as the daylight wanes and the nights grow longer, (and the Republicans take back over the House) (Sorry--couldn't help myself!!  Heaven help me, I'm a "Yellow-Dog Dem" to the end!) I wanted to leave you with this word from the Gospel of John:

Put your trust in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light...I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in the darkness.  John 12: 36 & 46

My Family

My Family

My Family 2

My Family 2