Advent: Waiting in Love

Isn’t it difficult to act in love when you’re waiting expectantly for something? Or is that just me? Having passed my due date two days ago, I find myself a tad… just a tad – barely noticeable, I’m sure… cranky.

It’s okay if people pamper me and wait on me… I deserve it… I’m still pregnant. Right? Some folks were telling me that I was lucky that I could skip buying Christmas gifts and no one would hold me responsible because hey, I’m having a baby. 

How do you wait in love? How do you love others when your focus is on yourself or your expectation? It’s a bit of a challenge in my opinion.  

As we await the Christ child’s birth this week and the second coming each day, I am reminded not forget to love outwardly as the life of Jesus so perfectly modeled. It can become a temptation to focus solely on the waiting­­ or on the specifics of my own experience, but then I am missing the abundance of this life that Christ promised. There is redemption in relationship and beauty in service.

God bless your Christmas week and the celebration of the birth of Jesus!

Advent: Joy Down in my Heart... Where?

For this third week of Advent, I wanted to approach the theme of joy, but I am finding it difficult. I know in my head there is a distinction between joy and happiness. Happiness is an emotive state that easily fluctuates in relation to changing outside circumstances, moods, or other factors. Joy, on the other hand, is supposed to be a character constant that is rooted in the unchanging Christ.

I know that in my head.

Still…. how do I experience joy when I’m not feeling particularly cheery? 

As my advent reflections have focused on my own upcoming Christmas child, I think of the joy of having a little baby. Of course, word on the street is that it’s not always “happy”: there’s the whole labor situation (thanks, Eve), the crying, and apparently I’m in for some sleepless nights. Yes, somehow joy is not supposed to rest in our circumstances.

I was sitting in the drive-thru at the bank this week, and this forces me to look directly at a very dilapidated house where a variety of characters often saunter in an out in a variety of apparel (think... camouflage coat with pajama pants). This day was bitterly cold and no one was bustling about, but I noticed a simple Christmas wreath on the door. It seemed so out of place it was almost comical. But I immediately thought of joy. It seemed to me that amidst a house that seems to be filled with people struggling with numerous challenges, there was this recognition of joy. A small sign that signified there’s something to be anticipating… Christmas and the Christ child… something that is bigger than our momentary struggles. 

I want to wear that Christmas wreath of joy around my neck – a reminder that my God is bigger than my story. He is unchanging, loving, and magnificent. This reality encourages joyfulness when happiness may be harder to come by.

Where do you see joy this advent season?

Continue in this Advent series: Waiting in Love

Advent: Peace in Pain

Can you discover peace in the midst of excruciating pain?

I’ve been pondering physical pain a great deal lately as I anticipate childbirth. I’ve had moments where I wonder what I was thinking and that I can’t possibly follow through on this plan. Of course, that’s not an option, so I’ve turned to educating myself. After asking my midwife a question, her response was, “Well, I think childbirth is always painful for everyone.”

Man, that’s unfortunate.

But Billy and I attended childbirth class to learn about what to expect (theoretically) and to try to be as prepared as possible. There was a lot less frenzy and wild, banshee screaming than what you see on TV, which was good news. Still, Billy finished the day feeling somewhat overwhelmed at how much pain I might experience, but I came away profoundly at peace.

Why? Because at the end of the seaon of pain, there was a always a crying, squirming, live little baby. And the parents couldn’t have been happier. There was purpose in the pain. It wasn’t pain for pain’s sake.

How often do we focus on the pain in our lives without considering what God is actively doing during that suffering? How frequently do I let physical or emotional pain consume me, rather than trusting the process to birth something good and delightful in the end?

In this season of Advent and celebrating the birth of the Savior, there is always the reminder that Jesus was the Savior because of the forthcoming cross. Imagine Jesus’ thoughts in life, knowing that it would end in agonizing pain, yet with tremendous purpose. I’m not suggesting that this knowledge makes pain any less painful or more desirable, and we are reminded of that when Jesus prays for the cup to be taken from him if there’s another way. Still, the knowledge of God’s bigger story and the purpose in our suffering has the potential to fill our hearts with peace in the meantime.

“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” -2 Corinthians 4:17

Where have you experienced God’s greater purposes emerging from painful situations? How has God been glorified though suffering in your story?

Continue in this Advent series: Joy Down in My Heart... Where?

Advent : Waiting for a Baby

“December 20… or maybe December 23,” my midwife told me as she studied the grainy photos from my ultrasound. I was thrilled to see “pictures” of a happy, healthy baby and felt more and more aware of the fact that there was a tiny person growing inside of me. Given my end of the year due date, I have been thinking about Christmas since about April of this year. So often we read the Christmas story, and we share the scene of the angel telling Mary she will give birth to the Christ child. Ten minutes later, we’re swaddling baby Jesus and lying him in a manger.

This year I’ve been sitting with Mary – waiting, hoping, worrying…. expecting. For the first time, I literally thought about the fact that she was pregnant for months, carrying Jesus. In this Advent season, I can’t think of anything that has required so much waiting from me as pregnancy has. I have tended to make major life changes suddenly and rarely wait on much. But this situation I cannot control, and as much as I keep asking my baby to come early … he or she has a little mind all its own.

So what do I do while I’m waiting? So often, I find myself turning to distraction… holiday parties, wandering through stores (often buying things for the baby as if choosing the perfect receiving blanket will encourage it to hurry on out and be received), or simply trying to forget time with activities and TV.

I have noticed signs of active waiting through preparation. We cleaned the carpets and set up the nursery. We rearranged to make space for the expected house guests that will arrive along with the baby. We’ve preregistered at the hospital and packed (sort of) our bag for the big day. We’ve taken classes to learn more about childbirth and child rearing in hopes of having some inkling of a clue in the moments ahead.

Yet I still find it difficult to dwell in expectation. I find myself wishing the next few weeks away and anxiously anticipating the future. At the same time, I have made conscious efforts to appreciate my husband and my spontaneous decision to see a movie one evening, knowing those outings may not happen (at least on a whim without prior planning) for this next season of our lives. I am trying to take advantage of days with time to myself and spend moments of waiting sitting with my Lord.

How are we actively preparing for the arrival of the Christ child this Christmas? How do we dwell in expectation for the remembrance of this past coming and the one that is yet to come? Do we rely on distraction to keep us from noticing the time? Wrapped up in the busyness of the holidays or our lives in general, do we let time pass without ever really preparing our hearts for our beloved? How can we be fully present and active in our season of expectation?

I feel challenged to evaluate the way I spend my time… seeking not to just hurriedly watch it pass, but to enjoy moments of God’s manifestation in this finite world. I am reminded to spend time with my Lord, preparing a space in my heart both in this Christmas season and in a life expecting a coming King. I want to truly notice my priorities and seek to make sure they are in order, knowing that any moment Christ could return and my world radically changed.

May your experience this Christmas season increase your ability to wait in expectation.

May you grow in silence and in preparation as we anticipate the arrival of the Christ child.

Continue in this Advent series: Peace in Pain.

Girls Can Fight to the Death

Two females are more likely to fight to the death than males are. It’s as if neither is willing to admit the other girl is “better than” she is, so they cannot come to a stable pack order. The males make that decision more readily in some cases, but the one who has to be submissive can take it more to heart than the female.

Taken from: “Adding a Second Dog to Your Family” on veterinarypartner.com

A couple months ago, we had a new roommate move into our house, and she was bringing her dog. The day the duo was supposed to arrive I decided to do a little “googling” about how to transition our home from one pup to two. Imagine my horror when I read the statement quoted above. Imagine my even greater trepidation when I thought too long about such an encounter between my Daisy, a mid-sized golden retriever, and Libby, the Mastiff/Labrador/Pitt Bull mix. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out which girl will win that encounter.

What is up with girls?

I wish I could say these “flights to the death” are relegated to the animal world, but human females seem to also wildly resist any admission that another girl might be “better than” she is at anything. And women relationships suffer for it.

When processing applications for Mission Year, we ask our women if they have any preference in regards to an all-female team or a co-ed team. Many do not, but there are also many applicants who explain that they struggle with female relationships and will do better in a co-ed environment. I think I wrote something similar on my application to Mission Year ten years ago.

Looking back, one of the greatest blessings I took away from my Mission Year experience was the authentic experience of women friendships. I was on a co-ed team, but my relationships with the two other girls in my house, as well as other women in my city, stretched me and encouraged me and blessed me in astounding ways. This lesson was of profound importance to me, and I am so thankful I had the opportunity to grow. Many women have impacted my life since, and I’m so thankful I haven’t missed out.

As for Libby and Daisy, they are now ridiculously inseparable. They play together all day long, taking breaks only to nap in close proximity. I am expressly grateful that no fights turned deadly. I hope more women can say the same.

What have been your experiences in women friendships?  Do you see these patterns or others?

Community through Aluminum Foil Earrings

My family never really celebrated Halloween. Well, maybe that’s not entirely accurate. I may or may not have waded up aluminum foil into two small globes, threaded a paper clip through each of them, and clamped them onto my ears before heading to church adorned as Queen Esther. Anybody else…? Comfortable? No. Creative? I think so.

October 31st is one of my favorite holidays, namely because of candy and costumes, two of my favorite things. (I can do without any gore, coffins, goo, or the like.) There’s an exciting creative energy around planning a costume each year. In fact, this year I will be beginning my eighth month of pregnancy, so I’ve had the joy of entering a whole new realm of possibilities. (Beach ball, bun in the oven, “Expecting Barbie”… what do you think?)

However, my friend and I have recently been discussing how much creativity is undervalued in our urban neighborhood. Kids will show up at our doors on Halloween, hold out a bag, and expect candy.

No, no.

You have to keep your end of the bargain. At the very least, you must say “Trick or Treat,” but in reality, we need to do something about your outfit. We know folks who have invited kids inside to quickly transform them into cats, superheroes, and fairy princesses.

So this year we’re doing something different.

My friend and I have loosely organized the “South Atlanta Treat Street.” We solicited candy donations from our community Civic League. Volunteers are preparing to set up various stations at our neighborhood thrift store: Costume Concoctions for $1, face painting, football toss, fishing for candy, decorating a candy sack, and a cupcake walk. A local dance instructor even plans to coordinate all the dolled up kids into a group dance of “Thriller.” What a fun night!

So much of our dreams for our neighborhood focus on creating beauty, peace, and justice and witnessing the powerful redemption of God. Seeing Halloween not as a day of darkness, but as an opportunity for community, fun, peace, joy, and creativity is a beautiful picture of how our community can look.

And I’ll be on the lookout for a young girl who comes dressed as a princess, fairy, or Biblical queen – whatever might inspire her to wear paper clip/aluminum foil earrings until her lobes ache… girl after my own heart!

How have you creatively nurtured community where you live?  And, of course, what stellar costumes have you invented over the years?

God of Every Hidden Corner

Characteristics of God I’m Reminded of at the Beach:

God is rhythmic and orderly, but never predictable.
God is peaceful, but not safe.
God is restorative and rejuvenates us.
God is vast, bigger than I can fathom.
God is moving and full of life.

Characteristics of God I’m Reminded of in the City:

God is diverse and carries boundless creativity.
God is surprise beauty around every corner.
God is ever-present among the poor and hurting.
God is able… to carry all suffering, joy, pain, and delight.
God is moving and full of life.

Ode to Daisy

My dog Daisy is a fun-loving, half-crazy, people-overwhelming, sweet and cute golden retriever. She adores meeting new people, wants to be right next to me or my husband every moment, and just generally loves life. I usually try to avoid making too many spiritual parallels to my relationship with Daisy, but today she is at the vet being spayed, so I figured a short blog in her honor could be ok.

Here are a few things I’ve learned about God and life from Daisy.

I should trust more, worry less

In preparation for today, we tried to soothingly explain what was going to happen, prepare her in advance, and apologize for her upcoming suffering. All Daisy comprehended was that we were petting her and talking to her. Other than that, her mouth hung open, tongue slung to the side, and she was happy. It’s beautiful not to worry and to simply trust that the one who takes care of you will always take care of you.

God doesn’t withhold good gifts

Chocolate makes dogs sick. That’s what I’ve heard anyway. But that doesn’t stop Daisy for begging shamelessly when she finds me popping York pieces. She wants some, but I don’t give it to her. And she’s sad. But I know it’s not good for her. I also don’t feed her my hair curling cream when she begs for that when I’m getting ready in the morning.

I, however, am wildly guilty of assuming God is withholding from me the very thing that would satisfy me. “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matt 7:11)

We can be greedy for God’s gifts

My dog loves ice, which I believe is somewhat strange. Still, when I’m filling a cup, I usually drop one on the floor for her. She chases it around, carries it over to the stairs and chews happily… until she realizes that someone else is filling their glass with ice.

Then she runs back to the refrigerator to beg. All the while, she is chomping furiously trying to finish the first piece so she has room for another. Sometimes I wonder… how often do I rush through the good things God has given me while begging for another?

I often look at my dog and wonder if God laughs at my foolish attempts to be God the way I am amused when Daisy clearly thinks she’s a person. The parallels aren’t always the same, and maybe it’s somewhat of a silly stretch to pull too many spiritual lessons. But sometimes she just makes me think about God in a new way, and it’s fun to find those reminders in the simple corners of life.

What examples of God's lessons to you find in unexpected places?
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