Advent Love

Last night, the only conversation was about the storm.  The number of inches of snow, the treacherous driving, the interruptions being made to our “very important schedules” and the inconvenience that the storm we had been hearing about for days was making in each of our lives.

Since it takes me about three minutes to get home, I stayed with the children whose parent’s lives were being ravaged by the traffic that kept them stuck where they didn’t want to be.  Three of us sat together and peered out the big glass windows and began to weave the tale from inside the  snow globe we imagined we were in as we watched the snow pelt down and we all wondered if a “SNOW DAY” was ahead of us.

Today, in the piercing sun of an exceptional crisp winter Michigan day — the kind where the snow and the blue light of sky seem to meld into a Norman Rockwell view of the definition of December.  With twinkling lights behind me and expansive rolling hills of snow out the same window where we created the snow globe story, I watched four deer frolic in the snow as though nothing could be closer to heaven than snow to adorn your antlers.

From problem to grace.  Beneath the frozen ground, I know what is happening.  My father described it every year as he dug up the “children” of his retirement — the hybrid roses –whose tender spring grafts would be nourished into wholeness by the frozen ground.  He dug each one up as if it was his own creation while reminding me that he was just the gardener who tended to the vulnerable that it might grow strong with thorns and whole with color.  Then, a same-sized plot was dug as he buried each in a vault of leaves that had been chosen for the occasion, like a shroud expecting resurrection.

“The rose,” he would pronounce with authority, “depends on the frozen ground above it to protect it so that the vulnerable wound becomes the rose.”  At the moment, I was more focused on the number of rose ditches that I needed to dig, rather than the teaching that awakens Advent in me.

Grace springs from the vulnerable and strengthens it into fierce beauty.  Not the beauty of spring seedlings, but the beauty seasoned by waiting for the long winter to nourish and to reveal the change — not the repeat of what has been, but the revelation of what is in process.  Advent is the time of celebrating from problem to grace.  The journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem amidst the fallow time of problems, pain and discomfort — where even though more pain is possible…there is a new rose that arises from the grafted stem.

It is Advent love; where mistletoe unites and music softens the heart

It is Advent love; where for a moment television commercials speak of kindness rather than campaign resolutions never to be fulfilled

It is Advent love; where ornaments on trees that have no purpose make us feel a homecoming to our own being that makes it feel like all might be right with the world

It is Advent love; where we dare to think of others first and realize that nothing else really matters

It is Advent love; where we choose to follow the light through the darkness because we know that inside of each of us is a manger awaiting new life

It is Advent love; where we decide — just for today — to be real and turn off the device and bake cookies that take time and forget to answer the text

It is Advent love; where we just do today — take the next step on the road to Bethlehem because the star is there, and everything else will follow.

It is Advent love.

Awakening: 2nd Week of Advent

 

There are things in our lives that awaken us.  Time stops.  The world stands still as if every fiber of our neurotransmitters are wide open and for a moment the whole world is in a single moment.

In my life, those are moments around which I measure time:  September 11, 2001 — death, dying and grieving — the October, 2008 automotive crash — 2012 selling our family home in Omaha — being called into something unknown with both joy and sorrow — now…learning news that will change the future for myself and others.  And, standing in the depth of knowing what it means to be called — which doesn’t gloss over the hard parts, but gives meaning.  Suffering becomes redemptive when it finds meaning — when it connects me to all those who love, grieve and give joy simultaneously.  Two contrary emotions can exist at the same time.  Equally, I have learned from others as they have journeyed through divorce, healing from violence, the loss of a child, birth, and receiving the diagnosis that leaves chronic illness as a life-teacher.

I often find myself anesthetized due to long-term information overwhelm.  It takes more to stop me and cause me to suddenly “wake up” and I quake in the reality that I seem to have gotten numb to the drone of endless cable news reports.  I read the story of John the Baptist and the birth of Jesus through my 2017 lens of drifting into the unfinished list of essential items for the perfect holiday.  Always wanting my life to feel like the Hallmark Channel looks, I seem to become complacent about the real Christmas story –the irreversible immediacy of ‘everything-in-your-life-just-changed-and-there-is-no-going-back.’  Such is the week we enter in this Second Week of Advent.

It is hard to imagine what it meant for the Prophet John to see what others could not imagine.  He saw something — knew something– about his cousin, Jesus, that couldn’t be ignored.  There was an inner conviction that needed voice — a sure knowledge that required truth and a willingness to let go of his own expectations of life — because he was awakened to something that demanded attention.  It’s hard for us in our world of Amazon and Apple to imagine having such singular knowing and then to act upon it. Self-gift for the sake of mission.  Awakened to what was required without knowing the outcome.

Such is the call of Advent this year, for me — to rest in the grace of what is unknown and to entrust the gifts of heart that God has so generously shared with me — God who can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine — if only we believe.

But, there is no arrival at the manger — for the birth of God in our midst — if we do not take the first step on the journey and with hearts full of knowing what it means to love and still say “yes” which includes letting go.

This, my friends…is what it means to have FAITH, NOT FEAR.

One step at a time.

 

First Saturday of Advent

In our readings today, the Prophet Isaiah says”  No longer will your Teacher be hidden, but with your own eyes you shall see your Teacher, While from behind, a voice shall sound in your ears:  “This is the way;walk in it” when you would turn to the right or to the left.”

Tomorrow, the Second Sunday of Advent, we hear the great proclamation of John the Baptist — not only by his words, but by his very life.  John, cousin of Jesus, was the one who announced him.

I spend a great deal of time with children — well, actually, not as much time as my heart would like, but still they are the major focus of my life.  But, in Advent drifting of thought,  I think back to my first year as a first grade teacher at St. Joseph School in Manchester, MO.  Certain that the world had been waiting for me to get my teaching certificate — on fire with the possibilities of justice and the new world that is created when real social action becomes liberation theology in the work of educating a mind…I was on fire.

While I was very well prepared for the work of an educator, the reality of 40 six year-olds in one classroom and one teacher (me) had it’s days of being rather daunting.  Catholic School salaries being what they were, I supplemented my income with as many hours as Assistant Manager at K-Mart as I had in the classroom.  It was what it took to be able to educate — the passion that I knew was the deepest calling of my life.

In the first Advent, one of the children who would become a life-long correspondent of mine, brought me from my lofty philosophical tower to the real stuff of God.  As would be the first of hundreds of moments that the prophet is disguised as a student, I have carried this question across the miles of decades.  After what I considered to be a delightful experiential teaching on the prophecy of Isaiah, John the Baptist and Jesus, Michael tugged on my skirt and said, “Can I ask you one important question?”

“Of course” I replied, “What are you wondering about?”

And so began my young teacher of wisdom, “Well, if Mary was about to have the baby…I am wondering how she got on that donkey and rode all the way to Bethlehem.  My Mom is going to have our baby and she can’t get in the car.”

I swallowed the peals of my interior laughter and looked at the faces of those other 39, who seemed to think it was a perfectly logical question and I knew that they were waiting for something I didn’t have.  I skirted the question with “I really have no idea, but it’s a great question. I guess it’s really true that Nothing is impossible with God.”

For more than 30 years, Michael’s question keeps this season real — and leads me to sit in the wonder of pondering what it was like to be the cousin of Jesus.  For children, I am certain, know things that adults have masked over with the urgencies of text messages that demand attention and email in-boxes that refuse to be emptied.  They know the reality of what it takes to be the one who has heard the Prophet Isaiah and to accept the challenge of being the one who announces the difference Jesus will make in the world.  Of course John understood before the leaders of faith could entertain the significance — children know what it takes to be who we are called to be — whether that is the challenge of riding a donkey or getting into a car.  It’s not about ease — it’s about call.

The First Saturday of Advent is time to take stock of where we are on the journey — our willingness to believe that we are led and that the voice is in our ears, if we can log off long enough to listen.  It is there, if we are only able to hear the one in our midst — too often, it’s just simpler if we just “get through” the next week, the next event and the next thing on the “to do” list — until a diagnosis, or change, or death, or natural disaster — stop us in our tracks and reverse our attachment to the list, that we might listen.  The message — the voice in our ears — hasn’t just arrived, but something from the outside leads us to the inside.

That’s the story of this Advent, for me — becoming aware of the still small voice that hasn’t just arrived, but has gone from the drone in the background to the forefront.  So tonight, as I stand at my annual ritual of welcoming Upper School students to our Christmas Dance, and chaperoning their young desire to put on the clothes, the behaviors and the attitudes that the adults around them have shown them is the way to autonomy, I am going to look for the next John/Joan the Baptist.  I sure she or he will be there.

For, it is the promise of God, that the prophetic voice will continue to be proclaimed, if only we have the ears to hear, the eyes to see, the heart to understand — and if we are not thrown off by the long hair, life in the desert and the diet of locusts and honey.  Imagine how our lives would have been changed if the people of faith had judged John for what he wore on the outside and missed the message from the inside.

Happy First Saturday of Advent — May you discover the prophet in your life to lead you to “Be Our Light’

Wonder Woman

She solves problem with the magic only available to a superhero; with the speed of lightning and superhuman insight, strength and power, she brings good to the earth, rids the world of crime and eliminates the power of those gone wrong.  She looks like a human, loves like a human, but in a single moment she becomes something else.  Problems vanish as she escapes whatever dangers and challenges life brings.

For the Wonder Woman we celebrate today…It’s not that easy — looking backwards from the ending, the beginning seems serene and clear, but the reality is different.  Listening from the inside out means letting go of what has been and trusting that whatever you need will arrive — at exactly the moment you need it.  It means to let go of the plans and the dreams and the imaginations of the life you expected and live from the inside out.  It means being willing to disappoint those who expected the usual and to live from the whisper of giving your life for the matters of the heart — for the matters of love — for matters of the unseen.

Who is Wonder Woman?  Not someone who lives from the fantasy of a cartoon come to life, but a woman of wonder —

The real Wonder Woman is not the one whose magical powers allow her to escape, but the woman who looks through the darkness into the light — not escaping the danger but facing it.  With head held high in the midst of scorn, she listens to the voice of invitation and agrees to face the challenges she cannot imagine.

With no GPS and no one who really understands, she embarks on a path that she knows that she has both chosen and is the one chosen for her.  It’s about both freedom and fidelity — clarity and ambiguity — certainty and questions.  She knows that there will be those who will never accept the path that she has chosen — living from the inside out — and yet she chooses to take what is deeply personal and make it public.  To live the choices she has made that her self-gift may be redemptive.

But, it’s not pretty and no angels are playing silent night in the background.  It’s hot and dusty and she has never given birth.  The days are long and the road is rocky and she feels every pothole and obstacle and wonders if what she thought was true — really is true.  But, it’s too late now — the “yes” has happened and now she lives into the next step.  And, as the next step unfolds, she discovers just enough courage for the one ahead.

Wonder Woman — the real one — who made a choice to listen to the whisper of love and give her life for the sake of the message writes a Gospel with her life.  Leaving us two words for the days ahead.  Reminding us that it takes both of them — not one or the other…but both


Wonder Woman doesn’t wave a wand to eliminate fear — she lives the questions and faces the loneliness of being alone with what she knows.  She doesn’t kill off the enemy, but finds the grace to love.  She doesn’t escape the challenge of suffering and loss of what she has called home — she is called from there to a new place — and with grit and tenacity she lets the pain give way to the birth of something new.  She doesn’t try to send a greeting card to us with pastel hues of ease, but promises that when we have the courage to believe…there we find the light.

How lucky we are, to know this real Wonder Woman of Grace.  Of Grit.  Of Love.

Happy Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Wonder Woman

 

Star-light

I sat perched between them on their bed — on top of pillows.  It was Saturday and I had waited all week for him to get home.  The rule was that I couldn’t wake my Dad until it was light outside.  So, I was sitting there…still as a rock (by my accounts) but curiosity started plaguing me. Every so gently and without really moving a muscle, I gently lifted his eyelid up.

“Brightness, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” he asked definitively which did not daunt me even slightly.

“I am just checking to see what your eyeball looks like when you are asleep” I explained.

He responded without missing a moment, “You have a very serious problem because I am not asleep.”

I protested, “Don’t wake up yet, the light’s not there yet, Light”  I quickly corrected him — I had always been Brightness and he had always been Light.  — and so I often waited through the darkness, for the light.

My Father was not known for his long expansive patience, except when it came to me.  And, later he would tell me that those Saturday mornings with his child that he described as his ‘mid-life crisis’ could melt away the icebergs the corporate world had delivered through a week of traveling, dealing, negotiating, and trying for the win.

So…he sat up, pulled me with him and we headed downstairs to sit in his big black chair — with his Marlboro Reds not far away, a strong cup of coffee and my featured hot chocolate for the ritual of the Christmas Tree game.  He plugged in the tree with the large glowing bulbs and I didn’t mention that the tree was really crooked — it had caused a problem when it didn’t fit squarely into the stand.  When I cocked my head slightly, it looked straight, so I sat between his feet on the ottoman — and we took turns. 

We picked an ornament and gave clues until the secret selection was determined.  He loved to play games with me and I with him, but he never let me win — ever — said honest play built character and made me more ready for the world.  It at least made me hungry for the win and eager to know how he knew what I was thinking and which one I had picked before I even started.  Sometimes I still wonder.

This one particular morning, after I had discovered the look of an eyeball at rest, he was more quiet than usual …but one of the characteristics of our 54 year relationship was that we didn’t need to talk.  Sometimes, we would sit in total silence and it was there that I learned to listen to the still small voice within me that is the way God works with me to this day.  But, I could tell something was different, and so I said, “Should I guess your thinking?”

And in an unusual soft cadence he pointed to the star at the top of the tree and how it found it’s way to our tree in Leawood, Kansas. It was lots of Christmas’ ago that I first heard it, but it has stuck in my heart since and changed the way that I see the Star.

It was Advent in 1941 — he was at Creighton University and had just met my mother.  They both knew it was love and forever, even though the news-feed was full of the war in Europe, it felt far enough away to forget about while love bloomed. They were together in South Omaha with just enough for a single fountain drink with two straws until the radio blew a siren and they left the table to join everyone else as they listened in horror to the day that would change everything:  December 7, 1941 — Pearl Harbor and World War II in the South Pacific would be the response to the day.

He held her as they both lived the fear of what had happened that day, wondering if there would be a tomorrow. There wasn’t much to say, but before he walked her home and dropped her off with a single quick kiss before her father turned the light on the front porch, she handed him a gold star that she had cut out of foil and told him to let the stars show him the way.  He would serve in the Navy on an LST and back again and that foil star lived in his wallet for 66 years of marriage and a lifetime of both struggle and joy.

On the return home from the South Pacific, his last purchase was a small, clear star.  Not big.  Not showy.  But, it could have been made of diamonds for the value it held for her. Not shiny…but one that stood tall at the top of the tree and came with a single sentence, “the star showed me the way.” Funny, how we never really talked about how we got it, but always is forever…and always there would be the star to show the way.

And, that morning he said to me, “See that star at the top of the tree, Brightness, let the star show you the way.” And, that was that — we went to watch Secret Squirrel, eat Cheerios, and get on with the things that make fathers and daughters keep Saturdays sacred. The Star has always been leading me.

Look up to the heavens–and into your heart–and find the light that leads you to the manger.

Remember the days that have changed your life forever and the ones that you decide to change for yourself

Listen to the promise of the manger and the life of the shepherd and the prophecy of Isaiah and count on the star to show you the way

Sometimes, you are the one who gives the star, and sometimes you are the one who receives it

Wherever you are, there is a star waiting for you.

WAIT. Advent Week One

I don’t like to wait in a line at a store.
It causes me to begin restructuring corporate operations.
I was born without a dimmer switch
I operate at two speeds:  150 miles an hour and OFF.
Resentment is flourished when I sit in a construction zone
and I see no evidence of any work being done.
But, I spend a lot of time waiting.
I wait on other people’s responses
I wait for the right idea
I wait to see what will happen to a project
I wait to see if someone else will invest in what I care about.
I am trying, this Advent
To wait…
but I am impatient.
I am impatient
with insults that lead to injury
with pessimism that extinguishes optimism
with too many excuses and not enough responsibility
with not enough when we have plenty
I am trying, this Advent
To wait…
but I am impatient.
I am impatient
with slow process and short fuses
with my short attention span for gratitude
with too many things that don’t matter
and not enough time with what does
I am impatient
with innkeepers that don’t have room
and angels that didn’t just solve the problem
with the invitation to Mary and the challenge
of being free enough to say “yes” or “no
which makes the decision all the tougher
But…
it’s Advent
So…I am waiting
I was just very patient
with the person who had more than 15 items in the Express Check Out
or at least I didn’t say what I was thinking
I was just very patient
with the re-routed construction traffic that seems to have no purpose
except increasing my carbon footprint
I was just very patient
in the furry of ambiguity
the cloud of unknowing
the messiness of being unclear
the challenge of letting go of Nazareth without knowing where Bethlehem is
the leaning into letting God be God
and sitting in the prayer of
WAIT
Still, my soul
the list
the litany
the objectives
the expectations
the plan
Still, my soul
for it is Advent
And, I shall
light one candle
and WAIT
in love
BE OUR LIGHT

First Sunday of ADVENT(ure)

Advent is not a spectator sport.
It’s not like watching the Detroit Lions game on the couch.
You don’t do it while you are doing something else.
Advent requires engagement.
 It requires something more than plastic greenery
with the four candles as condiment.
We have to get up and begin — be willing to do it differently
It is an illusion to think that Mary and Joseph
knew the ending before they began.
They didn’t.
Nor did Abraham and Sarah or Moses and Miriam.
To live an active faith is to be willing to ADVENT
To be open to the ADVENTure
Our lives of Advent aren’t found as they might have been in a generation passed.
We live it in the shadow of the Christmas tree while Silent Night has been playing since Halloween.
Once upon a time stories about Advent take us to a place of make believe
Advent — and the birth of Emmanuel (God with us) is not a fairy tale.
It happened because God gave real people
a message, an invitation, and the grace to see it through.
It took sacrifice, grit, fear, humor and friends.
And we think we need so much more.
It’s Advent-ure time — so we begin today
by remembering what the wreath is about
Round — without beginning or end — candles to mark the four weeks from darkness to light
And evergreen to refuse to give way to those forces that want us to despair
My mother told the story that she received from the homesteaders just two generations before her
As her grandmother told her the story of being alone with five children in Dakota territory after her husband had died of the “fever”
And she did as they did in her native Ireland in the weeks before the Solstice and the celebration of new life of Advent.
She took a wagon wheel and brought it into the house — cleaned it and adorned it with greenery and candles.
Advent is about being real.
My mother refused to have a microwave oven in her kitchen — said it wasn’t good for my father’s health
She didn’t like artificial sugar, artificial butter or processed bacon — the real things.
She was real — good and bad, it was as it was.
Advent was the same.  Real journey for real people — but people who are present
 I can hear her whistle now as she hands me the scissors and says,
“Get outside and cut something green for this wreath” — a palm leaf, a vine, an evergreen, some leftover ground cover —
 Advent calls for the real thing.
So today, make a wreath and cover it with REAL green and find those candles to pierce the darkness
Three purples and a pink are best, but the meaning overtakes the color.
For it is Advent — the time to begin the journey
From here to where we are going…in the same way those who have gone before us have pierced the night of doubt
and have embarked without knowing the destination
For here, in this House — we do Faith, Not Fear.
Advent Prayer is coming your way!
(Go, Lions!)

Happy New Year’s Eve

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
​It’s time to sing the “Auld Lang Syne” to the year that has gone by.
For tomorrow when we awake, it will be the NEW YEAR — the Advent (the arrival) of the New Year in our church year —
And we begin in “Auld Lang Syne”  — “for (the sake of) old times” — we Advent (and begin)
Welcome to my/our Advent journey
“Be OUR Light” 
The light we so need to find our way
The light that we cannot feel, but can trust
The light that needs to be ignited by another
The light that en flames when each one brings a candle
and the single light is multiplied in the community we create
The light that is within us that can become dimmed by disillusionment
we pay attention to lighting the wick of gratitude
and refusing the temptation of despair
The light that needs to be sheltered
The light that needs to burn away the auld lang syne and Advent
And so, let us sing one fiercely flamboyant round of Auld Lang Syne
And wish behind us the old times that are end
And welcome the Advent of our lives
Remembering – Believing – Rejoicing – Holding
Let go of the old so there is room for the new
Enjoy the New Year’s Eve party of the heart!