Already and Not Yet (Thoughts on Advent, Hope, and Current Events)

Advent is a season of recognizing the already but not yet. It’s a season of tension, when we remember the significance of Jesus’ first coming, and we await His second coming when He will make all things new.

Randy Sly describes it like this, “Advent basically reminds us of the interval in which we are now living. We have the merits and graces of his first coming poured out among us, yet even now, we can think about his future coming; what it will be like when he comes again in the culmination of salvation history.”

This week, as I read scripture, prayed, and reflected, I thought about the hope I have as a follower of Jesus and the hope for our world because of Jesus. The hope Jesus brings has individual and societal implications.

I read scriptures this week in the Old Testament about a people who were oppressed, who experienced injustice, and who were longing for deliverance. I watched the news this week and saw a people who are oppressed, who have experienced injustice, and who are longing for deliverance.

And I sat in the tension of the already but not yet.

I read these words in Isaiah 9 and hope for these promises that have been fulfilled and are yet to be fulfilled.

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.

And I lit a candle each night and I prayed to the Prince of Peace.

And I got mad and I prayed to the Mighty God.

And I grieved and I prayed to the Wonderful Counselor.

And I’m still praying to the Everlasting Father.

I’m praying for the families of Trevyon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and the many other African American families whose personal tragedies didn’t make headlines. I’m praying for comfort that births hope.

I’m praying for the black boys in my nation, in my community, in the schools that I work who are fearful of authority, who have to fight to feel valued. I’m praying for the boys who get suspended and expelled far more frequently than their peers, who get lower grades, who are more likely to be arrested and jailed, who are part of systems that are set up to fail them. I’m praying for a hope and a future.

I’m praying for my friends who are raising black children who have to navigate the tricky waters of friendships, schools, and everyday interactions. I pray wisdom as they narrate society and life for their children. I’m praying for hope in the form of wisdom and grace.

I’m praying for those in positions of authority in America from our police to our judges to our teachers to our pastors. I’m praying for justice to roll down like water, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. I’m praying that racism would be rooted out, stereotypes smashed, and equality would expand. I’m praying for systemic and personal change. I’m praying for hope that changes things.

And I’m praying for the Church; for my brothers and sisters in Christ. I’m praying that we would be peacemakers; that we would join in the work of reconciliation; that we would seek to be one body united by hope. I pray that we, the Church, would see the Imago Dei, the image of God in one another.  I’m praying that we would fight for our fellow humans and not for our political agendas. I’m praying that we would mourn with those who mourn and weep with those who weep rather than fight with those who mourn and argue with those who weep. I’m praying that the Church would fulfill her mission and become an agent of hope.

I’m still searching for and sorting out words, concrete thoughts, and helpful actions. There’s work to be done on our knees, and there’s work to be done with our feet.

But while I sort that out, I’m sitting in the tension of hope that has come and hope that has yet to come and I’m humming this line on repeat from O Holy Night:

Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name

jesus-peace

Advertisements

The Waiting

photo copy 2

Advent is a season marked by waiting, expectation, and anticipation. It’s a season of hoping for light in the darkness, a season of longing for a day when the wrongs in this world will be made right, and a season dedicated to preparing for Jesus to come.

I couldn’t be more grateful that our cancer journey has crashed into advent because I need reminders now more than ever of the hope, joy, peace, and love that Jesus’ coming brings.

What beautiful timing that we get to focus our attention on a Savior that comes to rescue. What a lovely coincidence that we get to be reminded daily that Jesus became flesh and moved into our neighborhood, into our lives; bringing restoration and renewal.

This year, we’ve crafted an advent wreath and have decided to do daily readings from the lectionary to prepare us for Christmas. Each night, we’ll light a new candle as we read, pray, and listen.  Last night, we were reminded that “light dawns in darkness” (Ps 112:4) -that hope wins. What beautiful truth!

Today, I’ve been humming this verse from O Come O Come Emmanuel as I pray and hope:

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.”

What are you doing this advent season? How are you preparing for Christmas?

 

Why Does Adam Have Cancer?

I’ve been reading a lot lately; mostly novels. It’s nice to have some fluff in my life. I started re-reading the Chronicles of Narnia a few months ago, and had taken a break, but now seemed a good season to dig back in. So I picked up the Horse and His Boy and trudged through. Some books suck me right in but this one felt like a chore until the end, and then it got real good (and much less fluffy).

At the very end of the book (spoiler alert), Shasta (the main character), encounters Aslan on a rocky, foggy trek (he doesn’t yet know it’s Aslan). And in that encounter, Aslan reveals that He has been the one who caused some of the hardest, most confusing, and seemingly unfair moments of Shasta’s life, and that He has also been the one who caused some of the most redeeming and beautiful moments of Shasta’s life. And Aslan reveals that both the hard and the good had a greater purpose.

And in the middle of Aslan revealing the purposes for both the hard and the redeeming moments, Shasta asks about some painful moments that his friend has experienced.

And Aslan stops Shasta and says, “Child, I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one his story but his own.”

And then Shasta asks, “Who are you?”

And Aslan responds:

“Myself,” said the Voice, very deep and low so that the earth shook: and again, “Myself,” loud and clear and gay: and then the third time, “Myself,” whispered so softly you could hardly hear it, and yet it seemed to come from all around you as if the leaves rustled with it.

And after I re-read the page several times, I put the book down and did some good thinking.

We’ve had a lot of friends tell us they’ve been wrestling with why Adam has cancer. It seems as though some of our dear ones are struggling with ‘why bad things happen to good people?’ and others are struggling with ‘why Adam and not someone else?’, and still others wondering ‘who or what is the cause of this?’ They’ve told us they’re wondering, ‘Did Satan cause this to happen?’ or ‘Did God allow this to happen?’

We don’t know why Adam has cancer, but we also aren’t really asking that question. I’m not saying that at some point on or after this journey we won’t wrestle with this question, but to be honest, neither of us are asking God why Adam has cancer. Instead, we are clinging to the knowledge that God has already written our story, that he will reveal that story to us in time, and that God is good.

It doesn’t help to ask why our path has seemed steep, narrow, rocky, and unrelenting in seasons, while others seem to have a wide, flat road to travel. Comparison doesn’t help navigate our path. We trust that God has caused good and bad in our lives for His purposes.

We have lived through hard seasons before. Not this kind of hard, but hard nonetheless, and here’s what we have learned each time:

*  God is faithful

*  God redeems

* God can make all things new

* God is good

I’ve been reading some less fluffy books, too, and the same week that I finished The Horse and His Boy, I read this bit from Hearing Jesus Speak Into Your Sorrow: “God doesn’t sit back as a passive observer and allow circumstances of Satan to hurt us, only to step in afterward and say optimistically, “I can make this into something good.” He has a purpose and design in what is happening to us from the beginning, and even thought what is happening to us might not be good, God intends it all for ultimate good.”

We don’t know why Adam has cancer, and I suspect we will never know. And that’s ok. Instead of pondering questions we’ll never know the answer to, we’re resting in the knowledge that God has a purpose in the story of our lives.

“And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” – Romans 8:28.

I Don’t Have Words

blog picI’ve always had a lot of words.  As a baby, I found my words early.  As an elementary school student, I got frequent notes from teachers telling my parents that I needed to be less chatty.  As a social work student doing lots of introspection, I learned that I was a verbal processor with a side of extrovert.

But lately, I’ve struggled to find words.  Many days, I simply don’t have words to text, to email, to talk on the phone, or even to pray.

There are no words to describe the depths of sadness I feel about Adam’s diagnosis. There are no words to describe the heights of fear I feel about cancer. There are no words to describe the weight of exhaustion I feel to my bones.

Lately, I find myself being silent and craving silence.  I’ve been commuting to work with no music and sitting on the back porch listening to only the wind.  There’s been something so calming and peaceful about silence in the midst of the swirling diagnosis that’s been screaming for so much of my energy.

I worried for a bit that I wasn’t praying enough.  I worried that God might not heal Adam if I weren’t asking for it often enough. Cancer tests all the differing theology you’ve been taught over the years.

But then I was reminded that Adam and I not alone in this.  We have hundreds of people praying around the world for Adam; praying the words we’ve lost. I was reminded that God doesn’t need my words to be who He is. I was reminded that the Holy Spirit is interceding for Adam. I was reminded that silence is sacred.

And so I sit in guiltless silence often now. And in that silence, I know God’s goodness and I feel His sweetness. And I gain strength.

My friend sent me this poem by one of my favorites, Amy Carmichael, and I wept.  This is what I wish I could write:

Wordless Prayer – by Amy Carmichael

O Lord, my heart is all a prayer, 

But it is silent unto Thee;

I am too tired to look for words,

I rest upon Thy sympathy

To understand when I am dumb;

And well I know Thou hearest me.

I know Thou hearest me because

A quiet peace comes down to me,

And fills the places where before

Weak thoughts were wandering wearily;

And deep within me it is calm,

Though waves are tossing outwardly.

When Bravery Looks Like Healing

I haven’t felt fully myself for several months now.  I’m still me, just a slightly off-key version of me.

This summer, I experienced some trauma.  The physical recovery was grueling, and is still ongoing, but it’s clear that the emotional recovery is the harder of the two recoveries.  Since July, I’ve struggled with periods of debilitating anxiety and moments of sheer panic.  What used to be routine outings have become special ops missions: I have to emotionally prepare to go to friends’ homes, I have to read my courage-meter when committing to any outdoor events, and I have to be on high alert when I go for hikes or walks.

There are days when I feel brave and grounded, and others when I feel absolutely weak-kneed and cowardly.  A certain noise, an instagram, or a scene in a movie can either leave me feeling confident I’m healing or completely panicked.  There doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or rhythm as to what can trigger the panic or lack of panic.

Maybe that’s what makes healing so hard.  It’s unpredictable.  And unrelenting.  And sometimes seemingly endless.

I’ve struggled to give myself permission to heal.  I’m typically more of a “suck it up” kind of girl, especially when it comes to personal standards. Some days I feel totally silly and weak and I want to tell myself to “just get over it”.  But thus far, that hasn’t been possible for me.

Over the last few months, I’ve found myself feeling more defeated than determined.  I’m quicker to give up or not even try things at all.  And that’s not me.  At least that’s not the old me.  And I hope it’s not the future me.

Over the last few months I’ve also felt more attuned to my own pain and issues than the greater pain and issues in my community and the world.  I’m not indifferent, I’m just tired from fighting my own battles that I don’t have as much energy for others’ battles. And that’s not me.  At least it’s not the old me.  And I hope it’s not the future me.

Because I haven’t felt completely myself lately, I haven’t had a lot of my own words to share, so I’ve been taking in others’ words.  Reading has been a nice reprieve from my inner dialogue.

I just finished the Divergent trilogy and one of the last paragraphs in the final book left me sobbing; not necessarily for the plot line, but for the truth that was contained in the words for me for this season:

“There are so many ways to be brave in this world. Sometimes bravery involves laying down your life for something bigger than yourself, or for someone else.  Sometimes it involves giving up everything you have ever known , or everyone you have ever loved for the sake of something greater.  But sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes it is nothing more than gritting your teeth through pain, and the work of every day, the slow walk toward a better life.”

Bravery looks different for me this year than it has in years past.  And I have hope that bravery will look different for me in future years than it does now.

For now, bravery looks like admitting weakness and fear.  For now, it looks like knowing when to face fears and when to take breaks from fear-facing.  For now, bravery looks like not worrying about what others’ will think about my courage or lack thereof.  For now, it looks like being ok with not being ok.

For now, bravery looks like healing .

To those who have experienced great trauma and repeated trauma, this post by no means compares my experience to yours.  I am so very sorry that you have experienced horror, fear, and injustice.  I hate that there are triggers that re-traumatize you.  My struggles to cope with my own experience cause me greater compassion for those who have experienced greater trauma. I cannot imagine the bravery it takes for you to face each day. I applaud you.

2014: A Year Of…

Happy New Year, friends!

Hope your new year is off to a brilliant start!  I’m still sitting in my pajamas drinking a delicious mug of coffee so I’d say 2014 is looking up!

Do you have any New Year’s Resolutions?  If not, my husband has made some for all of us so feel free to read what he’s resolved for the masses.  I’m all for resolutions.  I know that’s not a popular opinion, but I hold to it.  Resolutions can be a good thing.

Last year, I decided to take a new approach to the New Year Resolution and jump on the One Word 365 train.  If you haven’t heard of this, it’s a movement to choose one word that will define your year.  This word guides growth, reading, learning, and thinking.  2013’s word for me was generosity, and it was an awesome year of growth in gratitude and sharing.

Throughout last year, I thought a lot about generosity.  I prayed a lot about the selfish areas of my life.  I was intentional about giving.  I read about generosity.  It was a focused year.

I liked this concept of picking one word so much, that I’m doing it again.  I’m picking one word that will shape and grow me throughout the year.

2014 will be a year of REST.

As I type this, I am fighting every urge to delete that word and fill it with something more awesome, more adventurous, or more productive.  I am an achiever and a do-er.  I am not a rester.  I love being busy.  And the longer I stare at my cursor dancing over that little 4-letter word, the more panicky I become.

I often fight rest.

Instead of rest, I pick checking off one more thing on my to-do list.  Instead of rest, I pack in one more coffee date with someone.  Instead of rest, I multi-task while watching movies.

For a long time, I have felt guilty about ignoring the Sabbath and making it rather unholy with all of the ways that I make it just another day to accomplish.  I know that I need rest, I just fight it.  I know I need Sabbath.  I get stressed out too much.  I get sick too much.  I crash too often.

So enough is enough.  This year, I want to learn how to create rhythms of rest that are lasting.  This year, I want to become a student of the Sabbath.  This year, I want to become healthier spiritually, emotionally, and physically because I am resting regularly.

So as I push publish, know that I am taking a huge gulp, because this means I’m letting you in on this… Which means you get to hold me accountable… Which means this is really happening.

What about you?  

Are you going to pick one word for the year?  

Do you have any resolutions?

Generosity in 2013

I love this thing that my friend, Alece started.  In place of New Year’s Resolutions, we pick one word that will define, grow, challenge, and inspire us for the new year.  Last year was my first year to pick my word, and I loved it.  Unlike resolutions of years passed, this word really was a prescription for growth, behavior, and learning for me.

My word for last year was generosity.

Let me tell you, it has been an amazing year!  I know, I know, I should have been blogging about this all year, sharing my journey of growth in generosity, but it’s tricky to blog about generosity.  How do you blog about sharing and sacrificing without bragging or over-sharing or taking the joy away from being generous in secret?  This year, I felt the tension of not letting my left hand know what my right hand was doing, so I didn’t talk a whole lot about this journey on the blog or outside the blog.  And I’m ok with that, I hope you are, too.

This year, I learned how to give with joy when I knew that there would be no reciprocity.

This year, I learned how to give when prompted by the Holy Spirit without doing budget calculations.

This year, I learned how to open up my home when it was dirty and messy and feel no shame.

This year, I saw God’s provision, that to be honest, was miraculous at times.  Apparently others were learning generosity this year, too, because we were the recipients of a whole lot of generosity.

This year, I became less entitled and more grateful through constant reminders that “my resources” aren’t really mine in the first place.

This year, I learned how to welcome generosity from others and feel grateful, not guilty.

Through generosity, I grew in openness, vulnerability, and joy.  I don’t think I can go back, either.  This year has been a beautiful journey. I’m excited to announce 2014’s word…  but not yet.  I’ll leave you hanging for a bit.  What about you, how was your year?  Have plans for your next year’s One Word?