Mother’s Day Ramblings

mom and dad and Peter

A rooster is crowing in the distance.  Soft light dances through the trees as the morning breeze rustles the leaves.  Birds are in full song, up for their busy day.  The spring greens are full and intense after a long barren winter.  I sit in my favorite place on my back porch and it feels as if I am in a tree house.  The quiet morning is a balm to my soul.

The past weeks have been full of trips back and forth to Atlanta, to place my aunt’s treasured items in the hands of those who will appreciate them. I am unearthing history, and it feels like a museum of the past to go through all the memorabilia and determine what is of value and what is trash.  It is physically and emotionally exhausting, yet, it is fun at the same time to relive the past and to meet her lovely friends.  My sister Melinda has been helping me, but her father in law was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer so she headed right back into end-of-life care.  He passed in just two short weeks, but the back to back deaths have taken their toll on Melinda.  I am praying she can have some rest and recover from being the medical-go-to-person for the last days of life for two people she loved.  Grief is hanging over us all at the moment. Betty would have been 85 years old today.

Last week, Ray’s dog, Mango, was violently killed as he stood by and watched two big dogs tear him apart.  He tried to beat them off with his cane to no avail.  It is a miracle they didn’t turn on him.  Mango was his source of purpose and caring for him was what got Ray up in the morning.  It has been a hard thing for him to bear, and we have been popping in on him more than usual to be sure he is okay.

At the same time, we have had the joy of watching Peter graduate from Berry.  He is moving to his own place this week and we couldn’t be prouder of his new season of life. All the moving of furniture and rearranging of things has got me wanting to purge the house.  I don’t want my kids to have to figure out what to do with all this stuff someday!  It is not a good time to begin this task until we get all the other moving completed, then, watch out, because I am going on a cleaning frenzy!

I leave for a trip to Uganda next week.  It is an honor to be invited to a teacher’s conference.  I am always excited for any chance to encourage teachers, especially these who have experienced so much loss, and still go into classrooms to teach the future generation.  It inspires me.  I pray my friend Karin and I can bring some practical knowledge that will help them to help the children.  We will be taking some supplies for them as well as purchasing some supplies when we arrive based on how much money we raise to do so. Hopefully, we will be able to supply some books, puppets, art supplies, and maybe some chalkboard paint and chalk.  I am looking forward to this trip to see what God does among these amazing teachers.

As I read back over this, I can tell I haven’t been to my computer in a bit!  I am dumping out all my stuff. Thanks for listening. It is a good feeling to sit and soak in the peace and quiet, if only for a moment.  I had to get all that out of me before I can even start the piece I sat down to write.  Please pardon my rambling and disconnected thoughts.  It is where I have been living as of late, and it does seem that grief causes my thoughts to be more fragmented than usual.

Let me see if I can get back on track with my original intent. As I sit here on this glorious morning and listen to the symphony of the wind, I think over the list of the days I posted above.  So much gut-wrenching activity that could not be approached without a support system of family.  We are all leaning on one another these days.  It is a beautiful thing to have each other in seasons of change.

Mother’s Day is Sunday and all the latest events in our family have given me new eyes.    In reflection of how time marches forward, I have come to see clearly how my mom has been the backbone of our family.  She has been our rock.  My whole life she has supported my endeavors, even when she didn’t always agree with them.  She has been there for the good and the bad years, and has always had words of encouragement or wisdom. Not just for me, but for my siblings and her grandkids as well.  She is one who contemplates her words carefully before she shares them with those who seek her out.

I have watched her seek the Lord my whole life.  I have seen her wrestle with her own changing beliefs and have seen her step into herself more fully as she has aged.  Her home is her heart.  She has been a nurturer and her hospitality is welcoming.  She is a strong woman, who comes from a long line of strong women.  She has passed that family trait down to us, the women whom she bore, and we in turn, have raised our own girls to follow the pattern.

She has been an example of how to love ALL my kids and to trust God to take them where he will.  I don’t think I fully appreciated my mom until my own kids began to leave the nest.  Watching your offspring struggle is one of the hardest things to witness as a parent.  You want to jump in and rescue, but that would circumvent their growth, and so you learn to keep your mouth shut and pray more.  I am sure that my mom’s white hair is due in part to my choices and struggles.  I also know that her strong prayer life is due to the fact she has a connection to God that only a mom on her knees can cultivate.

mom and dad.jpg

Mom has been dealing with memory issues, as of late.  It is difficult to watch her struggle to find words.  She has always been a communicator and I can see the frustration on her face when she cannot say what she wants to.  She has always been the glue and taken care of all of us.  Now, Dad is returning the favor. Caregiver is not his most familiar role, but his deep love for Mom is teaching him how.  They are adorable…always have been.  That kind of love is rare these days, and I have had the privilege of being an up-close witness to it my whole life.  The way he helps her, and the way that she lets him help her is a beautiful thing.

This Mother’s Day comes on the heels of a very difficult year.  It is taking its toll on us all, but we are all in it together.  Our mom taught us how that works.  Loving your people and being there for them.  It is what we do, thanks to Mom and her example of how family works.

Happy Mother’s Day!

 

Advertisements

Moving Forward

we are hope

The past several weeks, life has been on hold.  When a family need comes up, it takes precedence.  Everything gets rearranged and rescheduled, for all of us. Our family stopped to walk Betty to heaven’s door. I can’t think of a better reason to push pause, however, moving forward, I seem sluggish and not quite ready to move on, but I also don’t want to get stuck.  Grief is such an erratic emotional process. One thing I know is that it requires I give myself grace and time. I have gone back to work after the week of waiting for the end to come, but we still have much to do to handle the estate, including packing and going through her things. That brings its own unpredictable reactions, a shirt can bring tears, a bathing suit cover up can bring laughter. Although I know this place is perfectly normal, it leaves me raw and tired.  It would be nice if the world stopped turning when a family member dies, but it doesn’t.  Getting back into a routine is part of the healing process.

For me, that means planning my next trip to Uganda in May. One of the last lucid conversations I had with Betty was about my Uganda trip last January.  She asked me so many questions and responded clearly with her ideas of the situation at Hope Primary School.  It is a project that captured her attention because it is empowering children and teachers.  Education for those who are disadvantaged was her passion.  I told her of the refugees forming their own school. I told her of children who flee in the night and have experienced trauma that we cannot even comprehend. I told her of girls who cannot go to school during their menstruation periods because there are no feminine products.    Her words to me were, “Maybe with the current climate of empowering women, you can get something done and help them.”  It shows her clarity even a few weeks before her death.  As I am planning for my May trip, I am holding those words close.  They are fueling me to continue on moving forward to step where I feel called to go.

In January when I went, I had the opportunity to meet the teachers of Hope Primary School and do some training.  I have been invited back in May to train more refugee teachers at a teacher’s conference.  It is a collaborative effort with the Office of the Prime Minister, and the Education ministry of the Church of Uganda. I have a teacher friend in California who is going to go with me as well.  I am so excited about this opportunity to encourage teachers who are teaching in some of the most difficult circumstances, without pay, because they see the children as their hope for peace in the future of their country. These men and women are amazing and they do what they do with very little resources.  Our goal, along with giving them teaching strategies, is to bring resources with us.  It is difficult to teach children to read without any books.  When there are over a hundred students in a classroom with no walls or floors, it is hard to manage behavior without some sort of system. Paper and pencils are needed. You name anything a teacher uses in a classroom, and it is a need. The lack of resources for these teachers is beyond my grasp. My heart is both heavy and inspired by them.  I desire to take them something useful that can benefit the children.

For this conference, I am asking for your help in prayers and donations.  I realize not everyone can go, but you can still help if this project is tugging at your heart.  I am raising funds for teaching resources and some travel expenses.  Our entire team donates our services so that the money we raise can go directly to the teachers and students. If I raise over the amount posted I will get to take more supplies.  Any amount helps and any prayers are welcomed.  I will keep you updated as things progress!!

Here is the link to donate.   https://give.adventures.org/SouthSudaneseTeacherConference

My Dearest Lake Trail

 

IMG_2516.JPG

My Dearest Lake Trail,

I am writing to tell you how much I have missed you these past months.  My heart has been as bleak as the winter weather, which seems to be never ending lately.  I know in the past I have visited even in the cold, but for some reason this year I could not bring myself to come.  It seemed the cold cut through to my bones, and so I have been waiting for the warmth of spring.  The fickle season has been slow in arriving. She has been teasing me with hopeful sundrenched days, only to find the temperature plummeting when I step outside, or a cold wind sneaking in to steal my breath away.  I cannot tell you how disappointing it is to prepare to come for a visit, only to have a cold rain or unexpected chill interrupt a perfectly beautiful day.  I feel the time is near, where I will finally be able to make my regular outings to spend time with you.

Last weekend, I had a small window of a chance to come, and oh, how I enjoyed our time together.  You are looking so well.  What the wet and cold winter took from me, she must have given to your lake, because it is full to running over.  It is lovely to see the forest green waters so high along the shore.  A flock of Canadian geese are enjoying this, hanging out on the banks and honking at passersby.  The spillway is a waterfall, and therefore the river beneath must be bubbling along as well.  A few people are gracing your path, trying to soak in the warmth, as am I.  We smile at one another as if we share a great secret. The warmth of the sun and the breath of fresh mountain air does wonders for the muscles in our faces, not to mention our hearts and lungs.  A brave fisherman floats on the water in a bright yellow kayak.  I believe he is sitting there just to enjoy the sun, but trying to look busy, so he occasionally moves his rod around.  I never see any fish.

Little children, just ahead of me on your path, run as soon as they see the playground.  One little boy, probably 2 years old, grins and gives his dad a thumbs up and takes off for the slide.  It is the way my heart feels too.  I give you an invisible thumbs up in my mind…thank you Lake Trail…this is just what I came for.  Beyond the playground filling with children, I cross your creek which, like your lake, is healthy and full.  The gurgling is loud and rambunctious as if the waters are playing with the children. Your life is obvious today and it pours into me like water into a thirsty man.

By the time I get to your fishing bridge, I can feel the stress of the long winter leaving my body. My friend, I am sorry to say I had forgotten what benefit I get from our visits.  It seems you know just what I need, when I need it.  It is still a bit early for the butterflies, but I see one or two flit along my journey, and there are quite a few red flashes of cardinals dashing from place to place. There are leaves unfurling in all shades of green, just beginning to peek their faces out.  You will be in the shade soon, but on this day the sunlight is a welcome companion on my walk.  Laughter erupts from some teenagers who have braved the lake waters.  As I approach the beach, the cold temperature can be heard in their gasps and squeals. It seems I am not the only one seeking outdoor fun.

My favorite part of you is the places that curve and wind through the coves of your lake. There is a sweet smell here, not quite time for honeysuckle, but whatever is blooming drips the sweet fragrance and it hangs in the air over me like incense. Like a prayer. Somehow, it is this section, where my brain is finally able to let go of worries and concerns.  I like our communion together here where we are of one mind. My heart is beating hard and it fills my lungs with glorious oxygen.  I begin to hear your beauty more clearly in the bird songs.  I see your depth in the reflections of the trees in your waters.  Your mountain views stun my eyes and fill my soul.  I become calm and peaceful, as my heart beats the stress right out of me and it takes flight with the birds. This is why I come to see you Lake Trail.  It is because you are such a good friend and you know just how to listen to my silence.  We understand one another, and though I have neglected our time together as of late, you still get me.  You still wait for my return, and meet me there to re-center whatever state I am in when I arrive. You fill my soul.  Thank you, my friend.  You will never know how much you mean to me, no matter how much I tell you, there is more depth than can be expressed by words.  Fortunately, you are the kind of friend who doesn’t need words.

Much Love,

Michelle

img_7303

In the Silence

In the silence, images float across my mind…

Images of orphans running in the night.

Fleeing for their lives.

Dancing in freedom, that isn’t really freedom, but feels like it.

Their smiles glow, even with pain behind their eyes.

They are beautiful.

eating lunch 11

Images of teachers and pastors moving forward.

Knowing the hard truth.

Getting up each day anyway.

Speaking hope, teaching love, praying something takes root.

Their weary souls knowing they are not abandoned, even though it feels like it.

They are faithful.

IMG_3276

Images of women standing strong.

Working for their families.

Despite pain, despite hardship, despite poverty.

Sharing their talents to feed their children, and grandchildren.

Smiling in their contentment.

Teaching others what it looks like.

They are wise.

Images of laborers in the dump working hard.

Digging trash.

Sweltering in the heat, wading into garbage, earning pennies.

Humbling those of us who could never understand.

Grateful for their food.

Happy they are not begging.

They are rich.

IMG_3607

Images of God’s heart.

Crying tears.

Pouring out love, and blood for them all.

Hoping for understanding and getting accusations instead.

Knowing we don’t get it.  Yet.

Longing for peace and family and unity to come quickly.

Depending on us to bring it.

He is patient.                                      In the silence.

heart of God.jpg

 

 

 

 

I saw God at the Dump

 

I have heard Isaiah 61 preached. I have seen it proclaimed from the stage in drama.  I have sung it, but I have never heard it like I did at the dump in Nicaragua.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me…

because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
   and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.

IMG_3569

 Plastic bags of all colors created a patchwork on the parched brown earth, as our bus bumped down the road.  The ditches on both sides were full of the discarded plastic, and the bags waved like flags on the trees and shrubs.  The closer we got the more of them covered the ground.  The closer we got, the worse the smell.  The closer we got, the hotter it became. Our destination was the dump.  Our mission was to feed the dump workers lunch. The pastor and his wife we were working with, prepare food like this several times a week, every week.  They serve out of the back of a pickup truck to the dump workers who are forgotten by most people.

IMG_3573

Coming around a curve in the road, we saw the smoke first. They were burning a mountain of garbage.  When our bus arrived, people began their descent from Trash Mountain.  Dressed in long pants, long sleeve shirts, hoods and some with cloths over their faces, they gathered around. The smoke and heat were suffocating to those of us who were uninitiated.  Running back to the bus wasn’t an option for us, as much as we would have liked to do it.  Instead, we gathered around for the devotion which happens before the meal.

IMG_3596

One of the moms in our group read Isaiah 61 with the help of an interpreter.  As many times as I have heard, quoted, or sung that chapter, I have never heard it like I did that day.  It was as if heaven came down and touched the Earth.  Suddenly, the dump was the Holy of Holies where God dwells.  It was as if the words carried the living Christ with them.  His heart so beautifully expressed, as he did in the temple as a child, and still does even now.  The words hit my heart, which was beating like a sledge hammer.  Bind up the brokenhearted…who were standing right in front of us.  Proclaim freedom for the captives…who were waiting in line for nourishment.  A crown of beauty instead of ashes…to those who were covered in ash.  The oil of joy instead of mourning…for those who walk in heaviness. A garment of praise…to those cloaked in despair.

IMG_3601

Suddenly, I was humbled to stand in the presence of such precious people. Suddenly, I knew the high value which they had in God’s eyes.  Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.  A hushed reverence flooded my soul. These are the ones he was speaking of.  When you look into their faces you see his.  To serve them lunch was an honor.  To pray with them afterwards was an act of service.  As I prayed for a woman who longs for unity in her family, tears flowed…hers and mine. I asked if I could hug her, and though she seemed surprised at the request, she agreed. I whispered blessings in her ear and we held on to each other tightly for some time. I released her to go back to the heap, and I headed back to the bus which would carry me away from this place.

IMG_3607

My heart was breaking into a thousand pieces, as we were leaving behind a granddaughter, a daughter, and a grandmother…generations of poverty, digging through the trash. Workers who make $20 a month to find plastic and metal…a needle in a haystack…of garbage.  No gloves, no masks, no protective gear.  A blind man gathering soles of shoes to sell the rubber. A girl in her teens, in shorts pulling nasty stuff off of what turned out not to be plastic.  A little girl of four, doing her part to dig for her family.  Men with bags on their backs with which to collect their finds.  A boy, excited to find what appeared to be a radio, in hopes that with some work, it might turn on.  All of them thanking us for coming, for not forgetting them.  All of us, thanking them for opening our eyes.  I saw God at the dump, and he didn’t look like me.

IMG_3605

IMG_3585

IMG_3615

Dear MSDHS

Dear Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School,

You have made the list every school hopes to avoid…the school shooting list…the mass casualty list.  The lock-down training you had, didn’t take into account a false fire alarm.  The hide-and-go-seek plan didn’t work as well as you believed it would, because training cannot cover every possible scenario a sick mind can conceive.  As teachers, you are aware of this fact, but you go to work anyway. And students come to school.  Everyday.

Except today.  The day after.  The day after the unimaginable happened.  The day after everything was turned upside down. The facts are still being pieced together, the investigation is ongoing. Rumors fly like the wind on cellphones and social media.  Talking heads speculate.  Politicians capitalize on tragedy to push agendas of one side or another.  The noise is chatter and supposition, but no one knows the horror.  No one gets what is was like to be inside that building hearing shots, seeing the losses.  No one but you. So, hold onto one another.

Know that those of us who have trained to sit defenseless with our frightened students huddled in darkness are with you in thoughts and in prayers. You are living our nightmare.  Today, we go through our minds and we take another look at our classrooms.  We lock the doors and pull the blinds.  We look for possible escape routes if we ever become you.  We think, ‘Where would we go, if we were here?’ as we walk down each hallway.  We wonder what would happen if we were in the cafeteria. We bring bats to school for “recess” and we leave them beside our doors.  Hornet spray that shoots from long distances is in the cabinet in case we have “hornets” in our building.  We carry our door keys around our necks, and teach children how to lock themselves in bathrooms and stand on toilets to avoid being seen.  It is what fear demands of us, to be diligent, so we do not become you.

Yet, we all know it is possible, on any given day, a seemingly random event will reveal the truth, that our best laid plans evaporate when confronted with reality.  Some lives are saved because of the training, but others are lost.  And in the middle of it all, you are there grappling with the pain, shock, and the grief.  Students ache for their friends.  Parents cry in horror as they face empty bedrooms and tables. Administration is fending off the press, and trying to create a space for healing to begin, in the midst of all the fingers pointing in a million directions.

Bless you Stoneman.  Bless you all.  Please allow us to hold space for you.  To lift our prayers, while you try to get your heads around the events of the day.  Let us stand when you cannot, and hold you with virtual hugs that need no words.  Give us the gift of carrying some of your grief so that we lighten your load. Let our tears be liquid prayers that mix with yours.  Know you are not alone, and though we cannot possibly grasp what you are going through, we are with you just the same. As teachers, as parents, as students…as humans…we reach out to say you are cared for.  You are loved, and your grief is felt in ripples across our hearts.

God,

Please be with everyone involved in this horrible event.  Hold up those who feel the losses, with your compassionate hand.  Give them comfort.  Surround them with your peace and grace.  Bring them people who can walk with them, through the processing of the grief.  Take their fears Lord.  Give them sweet sleep that is nightmare/flashback free.  I ask for the students to come together for one another during this time.  To hold one another up, and to not allow this to separate or isolate them.  I pray for unity among the student body.  Give them healthy ways to express their grief.  I pray for the parents who wake up today, without their children.  God, please, please, comfort them.  Give them the strength to get through the coming days, but also the years of empty places that are ahead.  Send your people to uphold and surround them.  Gather their tears.  Be with the teachers, as they continue to do their jobs.  Give them a voice. Open ears around them to listen to their fears.  Help them to be strong for the students and parents, but not to forget to nurture themselves and find healthy ways to express their own feelings.  Be with the administration of the school system.  Help them to navigate all that is happening.  Give them outlets to release their own grief, while still working through all that is involved with this type of event.  Be with the investigators, the first responders, the medical teams, the injured victims and their families, and the family of the shooter.  Many lives were scarred yesterday, Lord begin the healing process of the open wounds of the heart. Pour out your balm and begin to put the pieces of shattered lives back together.  In Jesus name, Amen.

11

full moon over mountain

It is somehow appropriate that tonight is a full moon, here at the beginning of a new year, and on this day specifically; January 2nd.  Eleven years…cancer free.  At this time all those years ago, I was finishing up my final 8-hour treatment and heading home for a celebration dinner Louise had prepared. It was the last time my blood count would plummet, the last time my bones would ache, the last time I would be without the oxygen-carrying blood cells I needed to breathe.  There were still scans and blood work and constant appointments for months to come, but the chemo was complete.  I got the cancer free stamp, which every cancer patient covets.  Added time.  Extra years.  Time to re-prioritize and to learn to live fully.  Some folks don’t understand our family’s tradition of “celebrating disease and disaster.”  I don’t see it that way.  I celebrate resurrection.  Life coming from death.  The disease could have easily ended my life, but it didn’t.  It extended it, by teaching me how to practice self-care and how to embrace every moment.  Healing happened.  I am ever grateful for the gift I didn’t deserve, but joyously received. How could I not mark that day with an altar of thankfulness?

On this 11-year anniversary, I gaze at the moon. I have long had a love affair with the silver orb in the sky.  The way it reflects light fascinates me.  A rock…in the sky…glowing so brightly the night shadows disappear.  The magnificence never ceases to amaze me.  It is stunning. It causes me to want to brave the cold and step outside to see. I love to watch it rise, luminous and enormous along the horizon. Tonight, it is brilliant white.  Heaven’s spotlight.  Highlighting the silver frost resting on mountains and pastures. It continues its path with the trees reaching to take hold of it, but unable to stop its climb into the sky.  It shines in the frigid stillness bringing with it a peaceful calm.  All of it…a reflection of the sun.

I want my extended life to be like the moon.  I want it to reflect the light of God…my rock self, with all my craters and scars.  I want to glow, and to shine peaceful calm that changes the environment and chases the shadows away. It is something to aspire to, for however many years I end up with to live fully.

Good Riddance 2017

clock at midnight

Good riddance 2017.  Is that a bold enough statement for you?  There are some years when hard stuff comes along, and then there are the years where the hard stuff piles one on top of another until you are buried.  2017 was one of those for us.  We began the New Year in the hospital with Bill’s dad, and it went downhill from there.  Job loss, health and safety issues, moving Ray, business changes, relationship changes, and, and, and.  It was the year that just kept on pummeling us over and over again. We are bloodied, but we are still standing, which I think is quite an accomplishment!

I have not shared much of our struggle on my blog this year because, honestly, it is too complicated and some of it is a bit hard to believe. If I was writing this as a story for a book I would say, “All that cannot happen to one character. It is not believable for that much upheaval to occur all at once. Do a rewrite.”  However, in real life, we don’t get rewrites.  We go forward with as much strength as we can muster.  One foot in front of the other.  One breath at a time.  I share what I can, and I hold back the rest to avoid further pain. I pull back, get quiet, and hold on. I dig my roots deep and try to have faith.

I rejoice in the good, because even in the bad years, there are good things which are visible and deserve to be celebrated. In fact, the highlights are even brighter when the rug is out from under us.  The fact that two of my kids got degrees this year, under these circumstances is amazing.  Better yet, they got jobs! 🙂  One of the kids was home just in time to help us get Bill’s dad moved. Can you say, perfect timing? We couldn’t have survived the task without him here. Another is about to finish her Master’s degree.  Woohoo!!  And in the midst of life’s upheaval, I started working for Adventures in Missions, which has been a huge blessing to me, and Bill has recently started his piano tuning business back up. On January 2nd, I will be 11 years cancer free. Added time is never a bad thing, even in the hard years!  As you can see, the year is not without its happy moments.  One thing I know from doing life for 54 years is there is always a silver lining. Even if the storms are more violent than usual, and more persistently hovering over us, there is always some positive somewhere, if I look for it.  AND there are always others who have it much worse than we do, so self-pity doesn’t actually work. 😉

I know for sure, God is not surprised by anything that happens.  He is in the midst of difficult times with his encouragement and care.  He uses everything for good and I can honestly say, as hard as things are at the moment, they are all working for our good.  Ultimately, I will look back and be amazed at all he did through this time.  I will see his hand making changes and directing our lives into the new places he has for us.  But that doesn’t mean I have to enjoy the painful parts. 🙂   I can sit in the dark places and feel alone, but I can also know that I am not ever truly alone. I can have a tantrum, but I can also cry myself out and see that I am held in the midst. I can say good riddance to one year, and hope the next will be better. So, pardon the mess as my character is developed, yet again. I am thankful for those who do not abandon me, but sit in my mess without trying to fix it all.  Holding space for others is such a gift.

I look forward with hope, and while I know current circumstances will not magically disappear on this New Year’s Eve at the stroke of midnight, I am grateful for the feeling of a fresh start this night brings.  New beginnings always feel fresh, even if they are only illusions.  Tomorrow is just another day, but with it comes hope and to that I cling. Happy New Year everyone and may 2018 be a year of blessing for us all!

Silent Night, Holy Night

candle light.jpg

In the wee hours of the morning, I sit in the light of the Christmas tree.  There are no presents underneath.  My manger scene is undisturbed.  The stockings are empty.  I could have slept for hours more, yet somehow my body is programed that on this morning I should be up.  The dog’s snoring is the only noise on this silent night.  Holy night.

After time here celebrating early, my children are scattered again. Last week the noise was more what I am accustomed to on Christmas morning.  Wrapping paper tearing and laughter…all four of them under the same roof for a few days.  My best present ever.  But now, it is quiet again, and I sit, wondering how many others are sitting in undisturbed places.  Silent places.  Holy places.

The manger is symmetrical with its shepherds and kings.  Always placed just so, though they were never there at the same time.  It just looks better to have them all there together even if it is not accurate.  They surround the baby with Mary and Joseph looking on in wonder. Usually with the activity of Christmas morning, we have a few sheep knocked over or a king displaced.  After all, scene sits right in the middle of things on the coffee table, positioned there intentionally for years so my young ones could touch and feel the story.  There it remains, undisturbed in the silence, in the holiness of the morning.

For many, underneath the joyous holiday noise, there is silence.  The kind of quiet that is formed in a vacuum. There is a hole at the table…if there is even a table set at all. The grief of loss stings in the holiday season.  It can be overwhelming in its stillness. On the surface, everything is symmetrical and in order.  Below the surface the undisturbed manger is a reminder of the deafening quiet of grief…of life turned upside down for one reason or another. Pain is the only gift under the tree.  Hearts broken by the messiness of life, sit with tears falling as they pray to the baby on this silent night. Holy night.

Pain like this is sacred because when silence is shared, it becomes a place of worship. Tears are liquid prayers.  There are no words needed in the quiet places of the heart.  The undisturbed places remain so because to disrupt them is to remember and to feel the pain of loss and grief. Yet, when they break forth in tears, the silence transforms into peace…a deep abiding sense of communion with the baby who was born to suffer our pain. Silent night.  Holy night.

Outside my window, it is Christmas morning.  The sky is pink and the sun is quietly slipping over the mountains to start the day. After a long silence, this holy night is now the morning of our salvation.  The dawn of hope…and with it the realization that the silence of undisturbed, lonely, grievous and painful places are themselves holy. Silent nights lead to hope-filled mornings, and for that I am ever grateful to the baby who came to break the silence with his holy tears.  Merry Christmas.

Disruption and Interruption

christmas-ornament

To me, Christmas concerts, plays, and productions are a required part of the season. It just isn’t Christmas until I have been singing along and tapping my foot to Christmas tunes. When I was a kid, my aunt Betty took us to the Robert Shaw Christmas Symphony every year.  I can still remember the Morehouse Choir singing Betelemehu.  It was my favorite song of the whole concert because of the clapping and drums. There were also some years we went to the lighting of the Great Tree at the downtown Rich’s where I listened to each choir on the bridge sing. When the soloist in the last choir sang the big note in O, Holy Night, the tree came alive with lights. Whether I was standing on the street below or watching it on television, I got chills…every time. I think those early experiences are what set the tone and helped Christmas productions become a personal tradition for me.  I have expanded my musical listening from traditional songs of the season to more modern and everything in between, but I still love them all.  I am up for pretty much any Christmas show because it is my favorite time of the year.

For years, my family was on the stage, with me in the audience cheering for them.  I watched my kids grow up from young children to teenagers in the lights of Christmas productions.  From Narnia to Bethlehem, and every single band concert in which Sleigh Bells was performed, my kids were in the midst.  I even birthed a child just in time to be Baby Jesus one year. I held my breath as he played his role, praying he wouldn’t cry and spoil the scene.  Mary was equipped with his pacifier and some toys, just in case.  I wanted my son to be a “good” Baby Jesus.

manger scene

This year I have been to several Christmas concerts already.  I started the Saturday after Thanksgiving and I still have more to go. At one of the productions I went to, the Baby Jesus was not just crying, he was wailing.  A beautiful sitting Mary (not his real mom) passed him to Joseph, who was standing, so he could try bouncing him. Joseph passed him back to Mary when bouncing didn’t work.  She tried swaddling his blanket tighter and putting the pacifier in his mouth.  He was having none of it.  As the shepherds came, Mary and Joseph turned the baby around to face them in an effort to distract him, to no avail. That lasted about 1 second. The kings arrived, presenting their gifts to a screaming baby who could not have been less interested. The choir kept singing louder trying to drown out the ear-splitting shrieks. The audience chuckled with uncomfortable laughter.  Somewhere backstage, I imagine the ‘real’ mom was cringing and pacing, probably with a shirt which was soaked from where her milk let down at the sound of his cries.

I was struck at all the efforts made to pacify Jesus, to make him appear as something he wasn’t.  I think we all want him to be a ‘good’ baby who personifies what we believe. I know when my son had the role I was praying he would be perfect, like Jesus was perfect.  We want him to have a glowing halo with a smile and never a whimper, because he is God and is all knowing.  He was God…but he had skin on.  Flesh.  Flesh that had needs, and a spirit which was perfect.  We want the picture of what a God-child would look and act like.  He’d be nothing like a real baby who wails and has needs. He’d be nothing like a colicky child who doesn’t sleep and cries for no reason.  Mary would have it easy handling a baby who was God, right?

The show went on despite the screaming Jesus.  As soon as was possible, he was whisked from the stage so as not to disrupt the production.  But it left me wondering, how often to I try to pacify Jesus?  How often does he disrupt things and I whisk him away rather than seeking to find out what he wants?  How often do I wish he would just smile and be quiet rather than making a big deal out of something?

My opinion is he was born to disrupt things.  I think he still disrupts things today, and I bounce and pace and try to get him to be quiet. His words pierce hearts and change lives.  His actions confound human logic.  I mean, he came as a baby…not in a castle or hall of justice or a temple.  He was born to the poor and the poor in spirit, and they will always see him because they have need of him.

He interrupts lives going in one direction and changes them.  He interrupts mindsets and hardheaded stiff-necked ideas, and softens them with his pointed questions. He interrupts false gods with his truth.  He pretty much interrupts and disrupts everything that isn’t based in God’s love.  He is love personified.  My prayer this Christmas is to be interruptible and to interrupt. To be aware of when he is nudging me to speak to someone and interrupt their lives with a prayer or a kind word.  Or to be interrupted as I go through the days and weeks of the year, to get out of my own life to look around me and to truly see those around me in need.  The baby is crying to wake us up, to interrupt our views of him and to make us uncomfortable. I squirm when he cries, because I desire to stay in my comfortable chair with my comfortable view of him as a helpless little baby who smiles all the time.  He is not that baby.  He is one who is hungry for those who will seek the why to the disruptions he puts in our paths.  He desires those who will not whisk him away out of sight when he is crying, but who will instead enter in and find the heart behind the tears.  I don’t want to be one who pacifies him, but lets his disruptive voice be heard in my life to take me out of my comfort zone, so that his cries are not in vain.  Emanuel…God with us.