Seeing God’s Smile in the New Year

“May the Lord bless you and protect you.  May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you.  May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace.”

Numbers 6:24-26 (NLT)

I still remember the first time my first-born child smiled at me.  I had worked sooooo hard for that smile.  Trying to coo and coax it out of him.  Worrying that perhaps he was missing that all-important milestone all the parenting books insisted he was fully capable of reaching by now.

And then, one day as I sat there with him on my lap gazing up at me, and me exhausting myself by making faces working so hard to get a smile out of him,  I remember I took a break and glanced up to catch whatever was on TV at the time.  When I glanced back down ready to get back to this business of making-my-son-smile, there he was gazing up at me and, just like that, a big smile broke out on his face.

What a beautiful moment, right?  Mother and infant child gazing with total love into each other’s eyes?  Well, unfortunately my reaction was much different, and doesn’t exactly get me Mother of the Year.

I screamed.

Not like, “Yay for you!  What a good boy!”  But instead– I guess because it was so unexpected– I scooped him up and held him away from me suddenly (like I would have if he had just filled his pants)… and I screamed.  (In my defense, it wasn’t a long horror-movie scream.  Just a quick, “Agh!”)  Not surprisingly, my holding him away from me and the loud noise I made were enough to completely ruin the moment.

He started crying.

Yep. Good feeling gone.

I was reminded of that moment with my son as I read today’s readings and wondered how I would feel if I were able to see God and make him smile.

At first, the thought of this inspired me.  I enjoy laughing and being with people who make me laugh and smile. I often consider it a great gift and one I like to pass on to others when I can.  But God?  To make God smile?  How much greater would that be?

And then I remembered how all that hard work I put into trying to make my son smile caught me completely off guard when he offered his first smile up to me without any work at all.  And how the shock of that made me react less like the loving mother I long to be and more like one of the Three Stooges.

And yet the lesson is still there, isn’t it?  That we don’t need to work so hard at it.  We only need to bask in it.  Turn our faces towards it.  Return the smile.

Because God does smile upon us, and he is smiling upon us, and always has.  As he created us into being.  As he brought us his only Son.  As he sacrificed himself on the cross.  As he rose from the dead.  As his poured out his Spirit that lives and moves within us today.  And though the thought of that may be a little intimidating (go ahead and scream about it…I won’t judge you!), the truth is that as hard as we try to make him smile, we will miss it unless we take the time to bask in the light of it.  To hold it up before us and give it back in turn.  To carry it in our hearts and wear it on our faces as we go about our day.

My son is now a teenager and some days I find myself working just as hard as I did those first few weeks and months of his life trying to get a smile out of him.  But then, often when I least expect it, there it is…his big, toothy grin.  And the thought of it even now makes me smile.  No less a gift today than it was sixteen years ago.

Also a gift is the ability to sit –even for only a moment– in prayer and think of God’s smile.  Him as creator.  You and me as his creation.  Being smiled upon.  Returning the smile.

As we start a new year, perhaps hopeful (or perhaps not), of what this new year holds, let us take a moment today to remember that regardless of whether or not we feel it, God IS smiling on us.  He is smiling at you.  He loved YOU into being. His love is radiating in and through us–you and me.  His peace, which my Bible footnotes (NAB translation) tell me are from the Hebrew word Shalom meaning an all-encompassing hope of happiness, good health, prosperity, friendship, and general well-being, is a free gift he offers us, if only we are willing to turn to him.

You need not work so hard for it like a first-time mom might.

Simply trust in it.  Soak it up.

And let the Spirit of it guide you.

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The Killdeer

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.

-Matthew 4:1

This is the opening line to Matthew’s story of Jesus’ time in the desert.  It is a perplexing one, and one that at first glance can bring fear and a sense of foreboding. After all, deserts are known for their unforgiving, barren surroundings.  It is clear that Jesus would not have much to help him if he was going into the desert.  Survival is not a given.  Yet it is there, in a weakened state from fasting, that he is tempted by the devil.  And the most perplexing part is that the Spirit led him to this!

The message then, is a strong one:  go to the place where you are vulnerable, hold onto that place and endure it for a while, and you will find something new.

I see the truth of this in nature each spring.  We have many killdeer in our part of the country.  And they are chatty and somewhat pestering birds when you get near their nests.  You will often stumble upon their nests unknowingly because unlike most birds who build nests in trees or high places, killdeer put their eggs right on the ground and use camouflage as their main source of protection.    They sit on their eggs like most birds, but when you get too close, they do an interesting thing…they feign injury.  They run off their nests and, as my dad says, “flop around and give you the broken-wing treatment.”  Which is exactly what they do.  They flop around on the ground, squawking and carrying on so that you think they are injured.  For animals who act on instinct (like my dog) this is a wonderful distraction as it drives their potential threat away from the nest towards the bird itself (who is not really injured at all), as a means of protecting their young.  It also works for distracting humans as they make quite a scene!

I’m on to their act now, though, so I know not to be distracted by their carrying on, and I go poking about in the rocks and stones looking for their nest, careful of my steps as I could easily crush the eggs if I weren’t careful.  Twice now, I’ve found some eggs hidden right among the rocks.  And there, for me, the message is the same:  new life is waiting to burst forth in the unlikeliest of places, vulnerable and exposed, lying against the harsh backdrop of raw, barren earth.

There is a measure of Jesus’s trust in the Spirit, that I see mirrored in the trust of the killdeer.

To me, the message of Jesus’ experience in the desert and the message of the killdeer are one and the same:  don’t be afraid to start a new life by making yourself vulnerable.  In many ways, this is what the Lenten season is about, really.  Giving up something we’ve been holding onto in place of God.  Letting go of old habits that have gotten a little too comfortable, a little too routine.  We are to shake things up a bit.  Only by doing this, can we see ourselves in a new light and observe how we react and protect ourselves (our egos) from the absolute truth of God.  Only here can we see how easily we let the devil—that is, the great distractor– take our eyes off the new life that God wants to create in us.

There was an encouraging email that went around a few years ago that said, “The will of God will never lead you where His grace will not protect you.”  As we witness Jesus’ encounter with the devil in the desert, we can be certain this is true.  In the end, God sent angels to come and tend to him. Yet, as we read the story in its entirety we find that not only was Jesus able to withstand the temptations of the devil all on his own, but he came out of the desert now sure of who he was.   We’d be remiss to never notice that it was only after the desert experience that Jesus began his ministry.

Reflect:  How has my act of giving something up for Lent, or starting a new habit for Lent, helped me make room for the Spirit of God to create something new in me?  Have I made myself vulnerable enough to let God move in?  If I haven’t gone searching in the “desert” of my heart, what am I afraid of?  How might the Spirit be leading me to discover a deeper calling for his work through me?

Pray:  Guiding Spirit, help us trust you as you lead us into places within ourselves that we’d rather not travel.  Remind us that while we may feel vulnerable and exposed, our fear is nothing more than a distraction keeping us from carrying out your work.  Hold us firmly as we lay open our hearts to you.  Breathe into us the confidence that angels will tend to us, if we are willing to let them, and that a new life awaits us on the other side of our shadowed, broken selves.

When God Regrets

The males and females of each living creature entered the ark, just as God had commanded. Then the LORD sealed them inside.

-Genesis 7:16 (ISV)

In his book The Art of Happiness, the Dalai Lama was asked the question regarding a painful moment in his life, “How did you deal with that feeling of regret?  How did you eventually get rid of it?” to which he replied, “I didn’t get rid of it.  It’s still there.”

As Christians, we too, know the feeling of regret.  We are hardly alone.  I have regrets.  You have regrets.  The Dalai Lama has regrets.  Despite our best intentions, it seems, we all have regrets.  Searching in my memory for moments of regret in Scripture led me to the story of Noah.

 Then the LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and he was deeply grieved about that.

Genesis 6:6 (ISV)

While this may not sound like the beginning of a story of hope and promise and love, it most definitely is.  It is, of course, in the beginning of one of the most popular bible stories of all time:  Noah and the ark.  While it may initially sadden us to read that God ever “regretted” creating us, what we may find comforting about reading this is the reminder that we are made in God’s image so if even God had regrets, then it must be OK –perhaps even necessary—that we have them, too, right? That leads to the question: what do we do with regrets?  Well, more importantly, what did God do?  He looked at this regrettable situation and the messy-ness his decisions had created and he found the good. He.Found.The. Good.

 The LORD was pleased with Noah, however.

-Genesis 6:8 (ISV)

And when God found one good thing amidst all the bleakness, he was able to find more!  As we read on we discover not only Noah, but his wife, his three sons, their wives and all the animals were still good and worth holding onto in God’s eyes!  So God focused all his attention onto the goodness that remained, commanded it to stay put, and tucked it all away into the safety of the ark.

 The males and females of each living creature entered the ark, just as God had commanded. Then the LORD sealed them inside.

-Genesis 7:16 (ISV)

After this, of course, a brutal storm rages.  Waves crash, winds howl and Noah and all the animals are tossed about, until finally, one day, storms have passed, the water has subsided and there is solid ground once again.  Here, finally, it is safe and beneficial to let out the goodness that had been tucked inside.  And that goodness—that is, in this case, Noah—makes an offering to God.  God, in return makes a promise:

 … “I will never again curse the land because of human beings—even though human inclinations remain evil from youth—nor will I destroy every living being ever again, as I’ve done. Never again, as long as the earth exists, will sowing and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, and day and night ever cease.”

-Genesis 8:21-22

Then, this happens to the goodness that was Noah and his family:

God blessed Noah and his sons and ordered them, “Be productive, multiply, and fill the earth.”

-Genesis 9:1 (ISV)

I see woven within in the story of Noah a recipe from God for what to do when we find ourselves faced with regret:

  1. Acknowledge our regret. For many of us, this is done best through the acknowledgement—or what modern psychologists might call “owning up” – of all of the ways in which we may experience regret.   This act of acknowledgment comes most powerfully in the form of a humble and contrite confession to God and is not limited to acknowledging only our poor choices but also the many ways in which regret and sin may find us, “in my thoughts, and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do,” as Catholics say in the Confiteor.
  2. Find something good to hold onto from the situation that brought on the regret. Most often it will be a new awareness or appreciation for something that perhaps was previously taken for granted. Regret over a poor parenting decision, for instance, may bring the “fruit” of a new appreciation for our children.
  3. Tuck that goodness into your heart and lock it safely inside. While God’s forgiveness is immediate and complete, the process of forgiving ourselves generally takes much longer. During this time, our emotions rage. All those Why did/didn’t I…? What if I had…? ‘s can be very taxing, but in time, the harshness of these thoughts will diminish if we let the tides of God’s love wash over them. Most importantly, while the storm of regret rages, do not forget that goodness, too, can and will eventually come from the darkness if you are willing to let it.
  4. Remind yourself of God’s promises. First, that he loves all of us and does not seek to destroy us, yes. But secondly, that throughout all our time on earth we will know “sowing and harvesting, cold and heat, summer and winter, and day and night.” In other words, we will know suffering, but we will also know joy! Again and again and again. This is not just a promise to love us always, but also a promise to reassure us that everything—even our moments of regret—are all a part of God’s blessing and design for us!
  5. Use any goodness from your moment of regret for a greater good. If your regret brought a new awareness of a social injustice, consider taking action to promote awareness of it, or donating your time and money to its cause. If your regret brings new insight into what led to your poor choices, remind yourself to make a better choice the next time you are put in a similar situation and give thanks to God for helping you see another option. If your moment of regret led you to find a new appreciation for life or family or Church or freedom, cherish that gift and give thanks to God for it and celebrate that gift with others.

It seems in the story of Noah, we can take comfort in believing that it is normal, maybe even necessary, to have some regrets. It is a gift to use them and learn from them. A life without any regrets is seemingly impossible, and arguably would provide little growth. As the Dalai Lama went on to say in his book, “But even though that feeling of regret is still there, it isn’t associated with a feeling of heaviness or a quality of pulling me back. It would not be helpful to anyone if I let that feeling of regret weigh me down, be simply a source of discouragement and depression with no purpose, or interfere with going on with my life to the best of my ability.” Put another way, we can realize through Noah’s story, that what we do with regret is our choice.  God gives us the freedom to choose whether we will hold onto the good that comes from moments of regret and move forward, or let them sink us.

Reflect: What is my moment of deepest regret in life? How am I a better person for having that experience, despite any regret I may feel? What did I learn about myself or others from that experience that has given me a deeper wisdom? How can I use my regret as a catalyst for good moving forward to make my life better for myself and others?

Pray: Cleansing God, though they are painful experiences and memories for me, thank you for giving me moments of regret as milestones in my life. Help me to use them as reminders that growth is sometimes a painful process. Help me also to see that even in painful moments, your love for me and all of humanity endures. Like you sealed Noah and his family in the ark during the storm, seal the regrets of my life with the balm of your love. Amen.

Doing Nothing

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples,  “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”

-Matthew 26:36

Certain aspects of this moment with Jesus and his disciples in Gethsemane during his time of agony, are relatable for many of us.  Any time we’re “up against the ropes” torn between doing what is right and running from, hiding, ignoring or denying doing the right thing, we are in our own little garden of agony.  Those times of wishing our life could be another way, but knowing we must do what is right even though it will come at a great cost to us –be it to a relationship with others or to our reputation, or our integrity—are our personal moments of agony.  Here in the garden, Jesus gives us a clear model to follow in how to pray our way through accepting our fate, facing our suffering and holding onto hope that somehow, when it’s all over and done with, we too, will find a “new life” and be “resurrected.”

But what has perplexed me for some time now are the words Jesus says to his disciples in Matthew’s gospel while he is suffering. “Sit here while I go over there and pray,” he tells them.  Not knowing what to do with these words, I’ve chosen for a long time to focus instead on Mark’s telling of this same event where Jesus says, “Sit here while I pray,” (Mark 14:32), which can sound a lot more like “Sit and pray with me,” and to my ear, at least, is much kinder.  But Matthew’s recalling of Jesus’s words makes it seem as though Jesus wants to be all alone and gives the disciples nothing to do—not even pray with him– while he prays.  In essence, it has, at times to me even sounded like, “You knuckleheads go over there and leave me alone.  Something important is happening here and I need it to be quiet.”  And while “over there” the disciples fall asleep, not once, not twice, but three times.  Each time Jesus wakes them and reprimands them for falling asleep.  In Mark’s account, where their job of praying can be implied, it makes sense for Jesus to be upset that they fall asleep.  But in Matthew’s account, why would Jesus care if they are awake or not if he sends them “over there”?

Then, yesterday, as I held Jesus’ words in my heart, pondering them, I read a reflection by Macrina Weiderkehr, a Benedictine monastic nun, where she talks about herself waking early in the morning to go and pray in the cafeteria of her monastery and spotting another sister near her each morning who was also praying.   Upon seeing the other sister day after day in prayer, Weiderkehr is moved to tears recalling something she’d read earlier about the importance of a younger person being mentored by an elder:

Mentoring takes place…when a young person sees in an older person a bright flame of life, which is a reminder of his or her own small flame.  When these two flames connect, the younger person gets his or her flame blessed, while the older person moves into deeper wisdom. (pp. 14-15)

Weiderkehr goes on to say she realized then that seeing another sister’s faithfulness to prayer each morning was blessing and strengthening her “own tired flame.”

Through her sharing of this experience, I had a new appreciation for Jesus’ words and actions towards his disciples in this garden scene in Matthew’s gospel.  Perhaps it was Jesus’ intention to not just model for the disciples (and us) what to do in times of agony and personal suffering, but in doing so, to give them (and us) a final blessing. Perhaps Jesus wanted the disciples awake and attentive to his prayer because in his time of suffering, it was the only thing he had left to give to bless their “old, tired flames” of faith.  Perhaps there really was nothing for the disciples to do but witness the scene as it unfolded, and by their witness, Jesus could be moved “into deeper wisdom.”

In light of this reflection, my eyes have now turned from seeing not just how we, like the disciples, often “fall asleep” to the suffering and agony around (and within) us, but how we are, at times, like Jesus and like Weiderkehr’s faithful sister in the cafeteria, modeling for others how to continue our relationship with God no matter what.  To know that sometimes we are the witness and sometimes—hard as it may be to believe– we are the mentor.

Isn’t it marvelous that the miracles of God are so great, my friends, that even in these small moments of seemingly “doing nothing”– save remaining faithful and prayerful to God– that we are both a blessing to others and blessed?

Reflect:  What person or persons has been the greatest strength and blessing to me and my “old, tired flame”of faith?  How might I thank or acknowledge that person today?  What actions and behaviors do I demonstrate that may be a source of strength for others without my even having been aware of them in the past?  How might I make room for more such actions or behaviors to “deepen the wisdom” of God in me?

Pray:  Dear God, thank you for the gift of faith-filled mentors in my life.  Thank you for Jesus’ triumphant example of faith unto death and new life.  Help me to never falter in following his example.  Forgive me when I falter anyway.  Show me how I mentor others through my faith in you.  Shine in and through me. Use me now and always for your greatest good.

Birth Stories

 

 

And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.

– Luke 2:19, NAB

Every once in a while, I gaze upon my children in wonder.

I wonder at the people they are becoming.  Their kind and gentle ways.  Their warm and giving hearts.  Their open and receptive minds.  His strong, quiet leadership. Her grace and beauty and laughter.  His creative mind while he works.

And I wonder where did you come from?  How did you get here?

But, of course, I know.

I was there for every bit of it.

I was there when the idea of them began forming in my mind even when I was only a very small girl, playing dolls, playing house.  Mimicking and practicing the role of mother, long before I knew how a girl even became one.

I was there dreaming and wishing as a young woman about my Mr. Right.  Scribbling his name and mine together over and over again.  Trying them on for size.  Spending every free moment  with each other, but never getting our fill.  Waiting and hoping and dreaming until finally two became one.

I was there as the thread of my old life was picked up and sown into the fabric of a new one.   In this new life together, strengths and weaknesses could be measured and balanced.  Neither had to bear all the weight of any burden alone, and joys and blessings were multiplied because not only one felt it, but two.

I was there when this love for our life together could not contain itself.  When he and I gave of ourselves so much to each other that our love grew, right within me, into a life all its own.

I was there when that love spilled out of me and gazed right back at us with its own two eyes, not once, not twice but three times.  Him and him and her.   Lives of love themselves, born into love, and creating love anew.

All of this I know as I gaze at my three children, each one of them a miracle of our life and love—my husband’s and mine.

I was there for every bit of it, and still I look at them and wonder where did you come from?

While my children are my most profound and miraculous birth stories, they are not, however, my only birth stories.

In my life I have also given birth to other ideas and dreams that have manifested themselves in other ways:  faith formation programs and presentations, this blog, handmade gifts and goodies for family and friends just to name a few.  Simpler, sure, but nonetheless ideas of love birthed into being.

Even if only to a few people.

Even if only for a short time.

Yesterday, as I sat in church I listened as our deacon reminded us that Mary is not “just” the mother of Jesus.  She is the Mother of God.  She is The God-Bearer, fully human.

And, like the old song, I wondered did she know?  I like to think she didn’t know–at least not fully–what the miracle of her child meant for the world.  I like to think she only had a hunch sometimes, or caught a glimpse here and there, limited, in her own humanness because it makes her more relatable.  I like to think she doesn’t mind my doing so.

And I wondered how else I might be like her.  How we all might be.  And I thought about all of these things as I’ve told you.

And I’ve ended up with this:  Mary allowed God to enter into her and create in her so that she could bear God into the world for all to know Him and see Him anew.

As we start a new year, may we all take some time to gaze back upon the miracles in our lives–big and small–that God has created in us over the past year or years.   Like Mary, may we “keep all these things, reflecting on them” in our hearts, staying open to the possibility that God is still working in us creating life anew—even long after our child-bearing years– so that we may continue to bring Him forth to others.

Reflect:  What do I consider the biggest miracles in my life?  How/when have I been the face or hands of God to others?  What is the one big miracle growing within me right now?  How might that miracle be made manifest to others?

Pray:  God, thank you for the miracles in my life.  Thank you for making me part of your divine plan.  Help me see and celebrate the ways you’ve created things through me.  Help me stay open to your plans for me.  Take me.  Enter me.  Create in me.  Bear yourself to others through me.  I am yours.

Nail Me Open: A Love Story

Dear Lord,

I am tired. I cannot think straight and I am finding it hard to understand your love for me right now.

But your love is all I can think about.

This morning, I am remembering how in years past I’ve spent this Holy Week feeling the heaviness of your suffering, the sadness of your death.

But not this year.

This year, I sit here thinking of your glorious return. Your unfathomable Resurrection.

Your story is such a beautiful one of joy and love and true power over self and the world, how can I feel anything but joy in remembering this story?

This week, you remind me that you are here to serve me (John 13:5), you are willing to give up all for me (Mark 15:37) you are willing to suffer, be beaten, ridiculed and punished unto death, for me (Matthew 27: 1-56). You tell me with each and every action of your life and with love pouring from your Spirit that I am worth it (John 3:16).

How can that be? Who can love me that much? What have I possibly done to deserve that kind of love? Why am I even here, that you should love me so?

You do not answer me with words, only actions. You wash my feet (John 13:5), you give me food (Matthew 26:26), you ask me to sit with you while you pray (Mark 14:32), and then you wait.

You wait for my betrayal.

And sooner than later, my humanity wins out. I hold onto the world and all it offers me (30 shekels of silver!) and I betray you with a kiss (Mark 14:45-46). Or, at the very least I deny you (Mark 14: 66-72).

And you are taken away (Luke 22:54).

Separated from you, I am without hope. What have I done? I wonder and worry while you are sentenced to death. Even as I don’t want it to happen, I know I will not speak up, will not defend you. I comfort myself with my sinful reasoning that “at least I’m not joining the throngs of people chanting for your death.”

But I can’t prevent your dying.

Even if I could, you wouldn’t let me.

And why?

Because death (yours and mine) is necessary.

And here’s where I’m confused—how can that be true? Why did we have to kill and betray you? Why did you let it happen?

Your answer comes again not in words, but in actions.  You offer yourself up and stretch out your arms in love—and as a reminder to me– you have them nailed open.

Always, always, always I will love you, this says to me(Ps 100:5). And you pour out your Spirit of life into me (John 19:30).

As I sit stunned at the horror of your death, your words echo in my heart…

“Follow me,” you said. (Matt 8:22, Mark 1:17, Luke 9:23, John 21:19)

And I try. Though I am so much more human than you, I do try.

I try to serve others.

I try to feed the hungry.

I pray.

And then?

Then I experience suffering, and betrayal and rejection in my life and I wonder and worry and blame you for punishing me for my goodness!

And you wait and you watch, wondering what will I do? Will I follow you?

But in my humanity, I become afraid and angry and I demand better. I do what you never did: I resist.

This is where the mind boggles and buckles, as the ego tempts…am I really to follow you all the way? Am I to give in now? Give up? Lose?

Then I think of the times you could have been killed, but you slipped away (Luke 4:24-30, John 10:39-42).

And I see now that your death has opened the door for me to slip away, too (1 Cor 10:13). In your forgiveness and mercy you give me another chance to try again, to serve more, to share more, to forgive more…until I, too, can finally let go of this world for the next one (Luke 23:46).

Again and again, bit by bit, ever so slowly, I let go (goodbye excuses, goodbye self-loathing, goodbye perfectionism, goodbye ego) and I open my arms to you (hello love, hello forgiveness, hello reality, hello acceptance).

And I ask you to nail me open, too.

Do not let me close my heart to you, nor to others.

And never, please never, let me stand in judgment without mercy.

Nail. Me. Open.

You taught me this. You showed me this. You lived for this.

You died like this.

I live because you loved me into being.

I die because you love me into New Life.

That is the love… that is the joy…that is the hope of Easter.

It is the Paschal Mystery. It is the Mystery of Faith.

It is a Love Story unmatched in history.

A Love Story for the Ages.

Amen.

Embracing Our Need to Receive

“Life is not a solo but a chorus.  We live in relationships from cradle to grave.”

           -Anonymous

This past weekend I had the great pleasure of spending a day in retreat with some women in my parish.  Many of the women who sat at the same table as me, shared things that have stayed on my heart and in my mind since that day.

It seems I have been called out of my blogging sabbatical to share with you about one thought in particular:  our need to receive.

The story we were reading as a group was the story of a paralyzed man whose friends carried him on a mat in order to meet Jesus and be healed (Mark 2: 1-12, Luke 5:17-26, Matt 9:2-8).  Before reading this story, we were asked to “tell about a time a friend went above and beyond to help you in a time of need.”  Many of us shared how, while we were grateful for those times when others do things for us as part of social convention (like bringing us meals after the birth of a child, in times of sickness, or after the loss of a loved one), what stood out to us most, were the little things others have done for us when we were least expecting them.

Later, we were asked if we could see ourselves as a kind of friend that could appear in the story of the paralyzed man.  One woman bravely admitted that while she would gladly help a friend in need, she had a hard time seeing herself as the one who would allow others to do this for her.

Her comment struck me. While I didn’t say it at the time, I felt the exact same way.  Hearing it come from someone else, though, made me wonder what if we all felt this way?  What if we all wanted to be the one to help, but are not willing to be helped except in times when it’s “socially acceptable”?

If we are truly followers of Jesus, the point is clear.  In his own life, he demonstrated for us that receiving the help of others is a necessary part of humanity.  Jesus was open to receiving from others.  He received baptism through John the Baptist (Matt 3:13, Mark 1:9, Luke 3:21), he received anointing with expensive oils from a woman others rejected (Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, John 12:1-11).  Beyond that, in the garden as he agonized, Jesus requested help from his apostles to stay with him while he prayed.  (Matthew 26:36, Mark 14:32).

If Jesus, who needed nothing, was able to receive and even request help from others, why should I think I am above similar help?  Seeing Jesus in this way, makes me question whether I have, in fact “picked up my cross” at all, or am I trying instead to create  my own twisted, incomplete version of one?

This first week of Lent–when the spotlight often shines brightly on our call to serve–I am grateful for having also been reminded of our need to receive.  As a result, perhaps the next time I find myself waving away someone trying to offer their help to me I will remember one stark observation made by another woman in our group:  if the paralyzed man had not allowed others to help, no miracle could have occurred.

2014: Starting My Year on Sabbatical

“In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.”  Mark 1:35

After a wonderful Christmas with family and some time spent reflecting on what I want and hope to see happen in the New Year, I’ve felt compelled to take a step back from blogging for awhile.  I have some writing projects I’m working on with a good friend and have found after some practice that I’m simply not equipped to “do it all” (i.e., keep up a blog, and work on other writing projects, plus, you know, be a mom), or at I least I can’t do it all at once!

At this point, I do not have a specific idea of how long I will be away from the blog, though I know it will be at least a month…perhaps several…perhaps the entire year.  Time will tell! 🙂

I hope the New Year brings you much peace and prosperity.  I have embraced the word “Wellness” for the New Year, and it is already proving to be a nice navigational tool for my health and fitness focus (hello dry-roasted almonds, goodbye Peanut Butter Blossoms) as well as for the the six other areas that encompass overall wellness.

Thanks for reading along with me the past few years, and thanks for dropping comments or encouraging words along the way. They have meant more to me than you’ll ever know!

Until we meet again…have a blessed 2014!

Manger Moments: The Nativity as Metaphor

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As the Advent season meets Christmas, I find I am able to relax just a bit more and begin to accept the outcome of Christmas as it will be.  I don’t fuss so much now.  Soon, what is done will be done and what is not done will likely not matter.

That insight came to me late last week as I realized that I will soon celebrate my 41st Christmas.  Yet, from all those years, I do not have a long-running play-by-play memory of each and every moment of those Christmases, only little bits of memories.  Some memories are of sicknesses experienced during the season, like the year I had Chicken Pox, and the year my daughter was hospitalized with pneumonia.  Some I remember for the gifts I received, most notably a stuffed dog named Ralph and a stuffed monkey named Zip when I was little.   Some are more general memories of the laughter shared with friends and family, songs we sang together, and food we enjoyed together.  And then there are the few memories of truly magical moments, when we would set out from Grandma’s farm for Midnight Mass to find freshly fallen snow, as if God read our minds and delivered the gift beyond our power to purchase…a blanket of white for us all.

I realized that none of these moments are exactly newsworthy in and of themselves.  None of them make a great story or show all my hard work, or the hard work of those who loved me enough to make them happen.  What they show, I guess, is that I am still no different today that the people of two thousand years ago.  I still prepare for Christmas looking for a majestic King, not a humble babe in a manger.

Year after year as Advent dawns, I try to make Christmas royal and perfect:  A Celebration To Remember!   I am searching for a regal palace, not realizing that all the while all my busyness has left no room in my heart for anything less that the Royal Coming that I am prepared to celebrate.  Meanwhile, quietly, in the midst of all my running errands, buying and wrapping, baking, mailing and all-out-busyness, God is working behind the scenes journeying with me, even as I feel my feet sinking into the sand.  He strengthens me as I become overwhelmed by the pains of my labor. He finds rest for me, as I protest and keep searching for somewhere better, somewhere nobler, somewhere more worthy.

It is only in His perfect timing, that I am finally left with no better choice but to look around and realize that the hay is soft enough, the barnyard warm enough, the blankets gentle enough to welcome New Life into my heart after all.  Only there, in that moment of acceptance, do I begin to see that even now, at Christmas, I am a child who believes in One she cannot see.   Though the gift now is not the latest gadget or the newest gizmo delivered by a Man in Red.  The gift now is a stirring up of memories from within that are the pinpricks of light from years past, moments of light from today, and the hope of more moments of light yet to come.   These memories, experiences, and promises are the little bits of light strung around and through my heart that I hang in celebration for that Invisible One I long to see…but not yet.

And I realize, as I look back at all the preparation and labor, that I have begun to slow my breathing now, exhausted, and waiting in anticipation of that last final push, when I will welcome and see with new eyes the One who in true devotion, never left my side, but rather humbly allowed himself to disappear into the shadows of my heart, so that he could emerge anew.

Rejoice!

He is Emmanuel, God with us.

Enjoy your Christmas!  I look forward to seeing you again after the New Year!

Expectant Waiting

 

 Mary kissing Baby Jesus

On this day forty –some years ago, at least two mothers I know sat in hopeful expectation of the birth of a child.  The first mother already had three little ones at home.  This, the delivery of her soon-to-be fourth child, carried a greater reason for concern.  There had previously been complications, and, if her doctor had had the final word, this child would not have been created at all.  The risk to both mother and child for a successful delivery was greater than he felt comfortable delivering.  Nevertheless, a child was soon coming into the world, and despite her doctor’s fears and concerns, the mother held out hope and confidence that this child would be delivered safely into the world.

The second mother had one child at home and was eagerly looking forward to the experience the delivery this second child promised.  For the delivery of her first child, her husband had been absent due to the growing conflict –many called it war—in Vietnam.  At that time, she’d had to wait six months before even introducing their first-born child to his father.  Now, the war had ended, her husband was home, and this baby would know the loving gaze of both its parents, right from the start.

In both instances, there was much to celebrate:  obstacles overcome, milestones reached, dreams realized and the simple reality of promise and hope soon to be held in their arms.  Both instances also had very real doubts about the possibility of it all working out.  What if something is wrong with the child?  What if the child or the mother doesn’t survive the delivery?  But these questions would only be answered by moving forward through the process, when the time was right.  Waiting and worrying were hardly productive. There was only room for hope and promise now.

Remarkably, (or perhaps not so remarkably, because most days we take it all granted) the first mother went on to have a healthy baby boy, and the second, a healthy baby girl.

Almost twenty years after their births, these stories merged where few would have guessed.  The boy and the girl grew up, met, and fell in love.  They went on to have three beautiful children and as normal a life together as anyone could hope for them.

This month at our house, we celebrate the birthdays of those two babies born so long ago.

The boy was my husband.

The girl was me.

As I reflect on these stories today, through the eyes of my mother-in-law and my mom, I am reminded of the expectant hope in all of us this Advent season. May we wait with the same quiet confidence and joyful hearts of soon-to-be mothers everywhere.

And may God continue to reveal himself to us all in ways we never imagined!

Happy birthday, Ted!

Love,

Lisa

Photo source:  Google search, artist unknown