Advent – Looking for Hope

Have you ever found yourself facing down the start of December with absolutely no spark of Christmas cheer?  That is where  I am finding myself at this year.  Advent has started today, and my Advent wreath has no candles in it.

Normally I look forward with great expectations for the coming start of the Christmas season and to going through the meditative Advent activities with my family.  I like to see us each being attentive and watching and waiting for the coming of the baby on Christmas morning.

This year, however, I just can’t seem to muster up a festive spirit.  I have a grieving and sad spirit.  The days are turning colder and the hours of darkness after the sun sets have been getting longer.  That is perfectly fine with me.  It matches the mourning and darkness in my soul.

In normal years, when the fall arrives I begin to get excited for the changing of the seasons, taking in the breathtaking beauty of God’s handy work as he changes the colors of the leaves to glorious autumn colors.  November comes in and brings with it one of my favorite holidays – Thanksgiving.

But this year, while I am still thankful for all I have been blessed with in this life, November itself has become a somber month filled with anniversaries of the passing of loved ones.

This November marked the fifteenth year since my beloved brother left us.  We celebrate his life and are grateful for the memories we have of him.  His passing marked the end of his lifelong struggle with a debilitating disease and we are comforted by the thoughts of him walking, running, and jumping with glee in glory – things that he could no longer do on this earth.   So all of these years there has at least been joy in the sorrow.  Happy rejoicing that Mike is free from the shackles that bound him here.

This November marked the first year anniversary since my beloved cousin was violently killed and taken from us.  One year ago my entire family was in shock and reeling from the unexpected and sudden loss of him.  While we are still all deeply saddened by this senseless loss of life, justice has been served and his killers are sentenced to jail for a very long time unable to hurt any other people and families.

This November has also brought with it another loss for me and my immediate family.  The sudden illness that lead to one of our beloved beagle dogs crossing the Rainbow Bridge on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  I am afraid that this latest loss for me has left me with a gaping hole in my heart.  It is never easy to lose a pet, but the unexpectedness of it all has left me feeling sad and lonely, even in the midst of people who care about me very much.

So I decided yesterday to force myself to go through the motions and began pulling out the storage totes with Christmas decorations.  We started decking the halls, so to speak, but when I came to the advent wreath, I must confess that I tucked it away back in the box it came out of.  I just couldn’t bring myself to go through the motions of watching and waiting for joy and peace when my heart hasn’t been feeling either of those things.

Then today at church, our pastor reminded me during his message that the Israelites had their entire world uprooted and transplanted.  They had been removed from the promised land and found themselves trying to make sense of it all as they attempted to pick up the pieces in Babylon.  The favored, chosen children of God had been abandoned by him.

They were feeling lost, lonely and alone.  Mourning and sadness filled their days.  And yet, the Lord God has not abandoned them.  He still has a plan of redemption for them.  He promises them a hope and a future.

So perhaps this year I am more uniquely suited to come into the celebration of the Advent season than in any year prior to this.  I am feeling the loss and loneliness that the ancient Israelites felt.  I am the one mourning, seeking to make sense of the losses that are heavy on my heart.  And just like those ancient children of God, I too can find hope and joy again.


The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
    to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and release to the prisoners;
 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
    and the day of vengeance of our God;
    to comfort all who mourn;
(Isaiah 61:1-2, NRSV)


The advent wreath is back up out of the box.  It is still empty, like I am feeling, but I have lit another candle next to it.  A spark of hope during a season of the dark night of the soul for me.  A spark of flame that tells me even in the midst of my sadness and pain, my God is still here with me waiting patiently for me to turn to him for comfort.



This world is full of lots of things.  Pain, sadness, and suffering, but also kindness, mercy, and gladness.  Most importantly, this world is filled with Love.  God’s love.  God’s love for us.

We are waiting for a baby to be born in a manger, but it is because of this baby that we have a hope for a future.  One in the Father’s kingdom where there is no pain, sadness, or suffering.

Love came down at Christmas, so the old carol goes.

God is with us.

O come, o come Emmanuel

Click here to listen to O come, O Come Emmanuel by Sovereign Grace


 

 

 

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Deciphering Me

So I must confess I have a guilty pleasure.  I love to watch Hallmark Channel movies!  It doesn’t matter how many times I have seen a movie, each one is like a dear friend to me that I enjoy spending time with again and again.

The up side to this is I regularly intake good, wholesome entertainment that always has a happy ending!  I also see the characters overcome adversity, find strength in spite of their human weaknesses, and mend broken relationships.  Some rekindle old dreams while others are discovering that change isn’t a bad thing.

The downside of this is that I see these characters in all kinds of jobs that I think I would really love to have, which leaves me feeling discontent.  Women who run country inns or bed and breakfasts or are chefs, writers, artists, restaurant owners, bookstore owners, wedding planners, or teachers to name a few.


So for the past few days I have been trying to imagine what my perfect job and life would be if I had no current obligations and money did not need to be a consideration – both the money for any training and/or set up cost and the income from said perfect job to at least maintain my family’s current finances.  Because let’s face it, I can’t turn off the satellite service to save the money on that bill – how would I watch the Hallmark channel?!?!?

I would be a writer with degrees in biblical studies that may possibly moonlight as a college professor while also having either a bookstore with a cafe and fun events for the community or an inn, and may here or there conduct public speaking engagements or fill in as a substitute preacher on a Sunday morning.  My daily life would include walks in nature, time for yoga (which I have never done but REALLY want to), reading/writing/research time, and time for puttering around my house cleaning, decorating, and cooking amazingly delicious and healthy meals.   Phew! Now I can take a breath.

That’s all!  Is that really so much to ask for? Lol.

This career path looks absolutely NOTHING like my current job and life.  As I have reflected in the past, I made the life choices that brought me to this career path based on a desire to be successful.  Unfortunately the definition of successful I used was the world’s definitions instead of God’s.

This realization of what I want to be versus what I currently am leaves me with two choices:


  1. Continue to be stressed and bitter about what I wish my life could be, filling my thoughts with regrets and what ifs.
  2. Know that God has brought me through everything up till this point and that he will use all of this in some way in my life. I can start making little changes here and there to work towards achieving some or all of these visions for myself trusting in God to bring me to that place to be the person he is calling me to be in His own time.

In my old life I would have probably chosen option number one and made myself miserable allowing the bitterness to steal all of the joy out of my life.  But I am a new creation, content to trust in God that he knows the directions he wants my life to go in.  So I am choosing option two.

Starting here and now in fact (with this blog post) – because I am writing.  And I will use the planner I keep thinking to myself that I should use to schedule time so that I can be more intentional about writing.

I will also add to my prayer journal these petitions to the section on my own person goals and dreams (you know, the one I keep meaning to set up to be more intentional about prayer time).  My prayer will be that God takes this vision of what I think I want to be and uses it to help me find out who He wants me to be.  And perhaps who I am now is EXACTLY who and what he wants me to be.

Last year I tried the New Years resolution word thing – where you pick a word to describe something you are working on understanding or being in your life.  The word I chose was Enough.  I wanted to focus on who I am in Jesus Christ and that I am enough exactly as I am.

This coming year I already have my word picked out and it is going to be Intentional.  Intentional in my walk with Jesus, intentional in my health goals for myself, intentional in seeking further education in theology and biblical studies, and intentional in developing as a writer.

Perhaps this is a two-year resolution word…

As often happens, while I was trying to get these words out I ran across on Facebook a Bible verse shared by author Sarah Bessey that has put this all into perspective for me today.  Isn’t God’s timing perfect?!?!

Pursue a righteous life—a life of wonder, faith, love, steadiness, courtesy. Run hard and fast in the faith. Seize the eternal life, the life you were called to, the life you so fervently embraced in the presence of so many witnesses. – 1 Timothy 6:11-12 (MSG)

Regardless of what my current employment is or my current lifestyle, at the end of the day it doesn’t matter if I am an accounting manager or a published author.  What matters is how I live my life.  Do I chose the ways of the world or do I embrace my citizenship in God’s Kingdom?  Am I a humble servant of God that is obedient to God’s will for me?

My discontent over my job is just another worldly distraction.  I choose to be grateful I am blessed with employment at all.  And I choose to be more intentional about making changes for my future.  Counting my blessings daily and enjoying the simple things of God’s creation.


 

 

 

 

 

Bobby Pins, Fish Sticks, and Flowered Yoga Pants

Today has been one of those days that got off to a crappy start – literally!
Here is pretty much how my day went…

As I stepped out of our shower in the basement this morning I discovered that one of our beagles had decided it was much too wet to go outside and do her business.

Not long after arriving at work I received a call from my son that this same beagle decided to also have a field day in the kitchen and spent her time dumpster diving in the garbage can!

I had to confront an employee that I supervise about their recent bad attitude.  I dislike this part of my job very much!

Halfway through my commute home I ran into intense wind and rain.

Arriving home I got to work and  scrubbed the kitchen floor.

(Remember the dumpster diving beagle?)

 

Next came filling the sink with dish water to wash up the bowls and cups that had gathered through out the day. At this point thoughts of pulling up the recipe for Korean beef with rice and broccoli that was planned for dinner tonight had me completely overwhelmed. I was very quickly becoming the Crabby Mom Extraordinaire.

A quick call to my husband, and we both quickly agreed that frozen fish sticks with mac and cheese would make an ideal supper for tonight.   A very wise move on his part!

As I began to put together this quick supper I reflected back over the stresses of my day and began to hear the words of a hymn floating through my head.  The hymn is one that is inspired by verses 9-10 of Psalm 57 (NRSV):

I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;
    I will sing praises to you among the nations.
 For your steadfast love is as high as the heavens;
    your faithfulness extends to the clouds.

And I realized that maybe, just maybe, for once I should follow the advice from all of those articles that I read on a regular basis and focus on my blessings instead of my troubles.   

So, tonight I am extremely grateful for bobby pins.  They are currently pinning back my bangs which have grown extremely long.  And I am reminded by these bobby pins that later this week I will be going to the salon for a hair cut and relaxation.

I am very grateful to the company that took the time to catch and prepare the frozen fish sticks that helped form a quick meal for my little family.  In a burst of charity I threw some canned green beans into the microwave to class up our meal and round us out with a veggie.

I am grateful that today the grey floral yoga pants I ordered over a month ago were waiting for me in the mail box. The cheerful flowers on my comfy pants tonight have been a cheerful spot of color on a grey and rainy night.

I am also very grateful for my husband who came home and made not a single word of complaint about the change in tonight’s menu.  He tucked into his fish sticks and mac and cheese like it was a gourmet meal at a fancy seafood restaurant.

As this trend in my mind continued, I began to feel a bit like Pollyanna in the Disney movie from the ’60’s and started to play the Glad Game.

I am glad for a job that allows me the ability to be available when my son is sick or has a sports meet.  I am also glad for the opportunities to grow that have come my way in this current job.  Even having to correct an employee is a growth opportunity – it pushes me out of my comfort zone and forces me to learn new and better ways of communicating with others.

Wind and rain may have slowed down my progress home, but I am very glad and grateful that the car I drive is safe and dependable.

And yes, the beagle did try my patience greatly with her bad behavior and antics this morning, but I am very glad at the end of every day to see her happily wagging her tail to greet me when I walk through the door at night after work.

By the time the dinner dishes were done, I realized that I was no longer a stressed out crabby mom.  Perhaps my day hadn’t been so bad after all.  Turning my mind away from troubles and intentionally choosing to focus on gratitude acted as a balm on my weary soul. It is amazing how a little bit of gratitude goes such a long way!

Our Father in Heaven wants us to seek him in everything and he will gladly share whatever burdens we have.  In doing so, he will also help us to see the hidden blessings he is constantly showering us with if we but take the time to realize it.

Finding things to praise Him for in the midst of our mundane tasks helps to keep our hearts in perfect harmony with the One who created us.  He wants and deserves our praise – not just in the highlights of our lives, but also in the everyday struggles, joys  and the trials and tribulations of our daily lives.

Even on the most stressful of days, we can find the hidden blessings of bobby pins, fish sticks, and flowered yoga pants.

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.   – Colossians 3:14-16 (NSRV)

 

 

 

 

 

Sanity Check

 

Do you ever wonder if you are, perhaps, the resident nut job at your church?

Our church families are just as complicated as our biological families.  We all have that one crazy member that everyone can identify as THAT crazy person.  The one that we cringe at when we see them coming (yes, church members are still humans!).  We find them harmless enough, but they just don’t know when to stop talking or just have no filter……

I am wondering if that is me.

Over the last several years I have been involved in a variety of projects and served in a number of different ways in different capacities.   Last year I realized after soul-searching that beyond being a people pleaser I was also very prone to believe that my identity was found in the things I did.

After a lot of reluctance and stubbornness on my part, I finally surrendered to God’s will and began to step back from some things and give other things up completely.  This has put me into a very odd position for me.

I am not currently the person serving in different areas, but I have a ton of knowledge about how things have been done, changes that have been made over the years and why they were made, and other historical type information like that.   A repository of mostly useless information at this point.

As a result, I get asked a lot of questions……at least at first……and in a way, my busy-a-holic soul loved this because it kept me in touch with those positions I had given up.  I was still in the know……I was still important…….

And then the questions stopped coming……and I had to remind myself that this is a VERY GOOD THING!!!  I have successfully transitioned out of multiple roles with just a small remaining role in the worship planning/leading arena.

However, I still seem to stumble upon conversations coming and going at church and I JUST CAN’T STOP MYSELF at times from throwing in my two cents worth.

This is why I am now wondering have I become the resident church nut job?  The one who just can’t seem to keep her nose out of things that are no longer her concern?

So just as I have had to become more intentional about prayer times and scripture study times, I must now also become intentional about not picking back up the things that are not my current assignments from God.

I have often complained that I don’t like people stepping on my callings, or feel like I am at times being held back by folks from doing the currently assigned tasks from God.  However, if I refuse to let things go, then I am the person stepping in the way and holding others back from their full potential in God’s callings for them.

Letting go doesn’t mean losing a part of me, it instead is actually FREEDOM for me.  Freedom to continue to grow and the ability to allow others to grow as well.  Freedom to spread my wings and be open to trying new things.

My identity is found in belonging to the one true living and eternal God.  The God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph.  The same God that Deborah, Ruth, and Esther belonged to.   This needs to be my focus.  This is what I need to be intentional about.  I am being prepared for “just such a time as this” (Esther 4:14 – NRSV).

What I do at church does not define who I am in Christ.

My new guiding verse can be found in Isaiah 58:11 (AMP):

“And the Lord will continually guide you, and satisfy your soul in scorched and dry places, and give strength to your bones: and you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.”

Going forward I will speak less and listen more.  I will reserve my opinions and keep them to myself unless asked specifically for them.  Yes, yes, I know, but please try to contain your laughter at those last two statements…… I will, with God’s strength and guidance, be able to accomplish even this!

So, while I may be a recovering busy-a-holic, and a recovering nut job (okay, may not be any way for me to escape this one!), at the beginning, the middle, and the end of every single day I am a child of the one true King.  And that makes me ENOUGH.

I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:12-13 – NRSV)

Offering My Opinion

Trust in the Lord, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.  Take delight 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 act. Psalm 37:3-5, NRSV

I am so tired of trying to figure out who I am supposed to be and where I am supposed to be this person at.  I don’t want to be political.  I don’t want to be religious.  But I also don’t know what I do want to be.

Am I a theologian?  Who knows.

Am I a disciple?  I am trying desperately to be one.

But I don’t know who or what I am reaching out to in a world that is crazy and getting more so all the time.  When did chaos become the normal order of the day?

We as a country, as a people, and as communities have become so opinionated and divided.  When did opinions become rights?  Do I really have the right to voice my opinion on the serious matters of the day if I haven’t taken the time to research and educate myself on the matter at hand?  I mean, really truly study and know the ins and outs of whatever it is that I am about to make an opinion on.  Googling and following social media does not count as a valid source of education.

Opinions are not rights.  They are educated, intellectually thought through pieces of information that should only be offered if I am prepared to have others with differing opinions question or challenge my opinions.  It is also expected that others will have different thoughts and perspectives from mine.  That is perfectly okay.

It doesn’t make them stupid.

It doesn’t make me stupid.

It makes us challenge each other.  It pushes us to be more.  It helps us to continue to be motivated to seek wisdom.  It challenges me to be the best me that I can be.

It makes me a life-long seeker and learner.

Funny, because that could be the very first required task listed on the Job Expectations and Requirements for the job of Disciple.

Why are we so afraid to engage with each other in debates?  What has happened to agreeing to disagree?  Human lives are messy.  There is no way we can ever all agree on everything exactly.  What a dull grey world it would be!

God has made each of us uniquely different. And he has also made us each uniquely gifted.  We are meant to go out and color the world around us with grace and mercy painting fresh ideas of what truly matters.

Teaching what true salvation is.

We don’t always have to agree on everything.  I can still love without being in total agreement and perfect harmony on thoughts and important issues of the day with my fellow mankind.  We are only here for a short time.

Let us try to make the world around us, a world filled with darkness, a brighter place to live.  Shine the lights of grace, justice, and humility everywhere that you go.  At the end of the day it is eternity that is what matters.

I want to walk as a faithful woman of God.

As such, I must live in community with others because that is how God has made us.  We are created to live in community with each other.  Every man for himself is a human idea of strength.  Survival of the fittest has been one of the fastest paved roads to hell right along with good intentions.

We each have a place to fill in the Kingdom of God here on earth.  We must learn to appreciate each other’s gifts and be encouraging to those around us as we each learn to use the gifts given to us.

Don’t step on or belittle my gifting’s.  Let me grow into being the full woman God has created me to be.  Help me to spread my wings and explore the different ways I can serve and uplift and bring along others on the journey with us.

Affirm me when I possibly get it right, and encourage me to keep searching and seeking when I get it wrong.

Don’t discount the lessons I have learned along the journey so far.  And help me to find rest because we all need Sabbath time.  Remind me that my worth isn’t in what I do but who I belong to.

Pray for me and pray with me and let me pray for you.  I am a wife and a mother, I am an employee and a manager, I am a worship leader and a teacher, I am a sinner and a child of God most high.

I am a seeker and a disciple.

— But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:33-34 – NIV