Posted in Emotions, Faith, Freedom, God, Holiday, Hope, Sabbath, Sacred, Word of the Year

How’s My WOTY? (And Yours? Even Your WOTQ?)

A Word of the Year is “intended to be a kind guide that walks along side of you during the year, not a harsh master that dictates a set of “to-do’s” (God knows we don’t need any more of those voices in our heads).  It’s a friend that accompanies you during your journey.”  (The Dolly Mama)

Three months have gone by.  Winter is moving out like a sloth, but 2018 is barreling down the tracks like a freight-train.  My Word of the Year (referred to lovingly as WOTY from here on out), “TEND,” silently shouts from my computer screen each time I sit down to send an email, check Facebook or do paperwork (the picture above is my background).  There are some days when I stop and listen and others where I just glance and shut it out of my mind and move on with my day.

Because I am an avid to-do list follower (okay sometimes I am a slave to it), “WRITE UPDATE POST ABOUT WOTY” appeared on my iPhone reminders about a week ago.  Inside, I sighed a little and thought, “Nah.  Not happening.  After all, what would I even talk about?  It’s not like this “gentle friend” has been happily guiding me and I have this awesome relationship with said friend.

But here it is, my Sabbath, the day I make “room” on my plate to ponder things like this and allow restoration and creativity to enter my soul.   And today, I am spending on this word “TEND” once again.  Come with me on this journey over the next few hours.  Take a peak into my probably not-going-to-be-perfect day.

IMG_9029

9:56 am  Check out my piece of paper that I scribbled all over on January 1, 2018 in order to find my WOTY.  First question at the top.  WHAT DO I NEED?  Get out another piece of paper.  Write “WOTY Update April 2018” at the top.  Ask myself the same question.  Scribble some things down.

Peace.  Wisdom.  A house that’s in order.  More connection with Allen.  Clear direction on next steps with this whole blog/writing/communicating thing.  Support from others.  The sun.  My kids to be okay.  To “TEND” to the right things – to find the balance between others and self. Compare notes.  Many are the same.  Some are different already.   I wonder why.

(Take a break and make first cup of tea with cream and sugar in 46 days.  (It’d better be all I dreamed it would be.)  Be back at around 11.  Need to go sit and stare and drink for a while.)

(Tea is okay and I am distracted by phone call from insurance company and FaceTime with Sarah and Broden.  Flip on TV and watch CSI for 15 minutes.  Tell myself this isn’t what I want to be doing right now.  Turn off TV and come back to paper.  After all, I am going to write this down and share with world.)

10:43 am  See next question.  WHO DO I WANT TO BECOME?  Add this:  WHAT DO I WANT TO BECOME?

WHAT?  Wise, gentle, tender-hearted, less judgmental and more gracious.  Integrated.  Free.

WHO?  A better wife.  An influential communicator.

(Rachel walks in the door after breakfast with Allen.  Have a sweet heart-to-heart for a few minutes.  Insurance company calls back.  Sabbath is hard to come by.)

Compare notes again.  Notice that tender-hearted, wife and communicator are on both lists.  They must be important this year.  How does “TEND” fit in to them?  Hmmm.  Let me think on that.  No rushing.

(Pee and send a “happy birthday” message to my sweet friend Annie!  Make myself a smoothie.  Watch more CSI while I drink my smoothie.)

(Didn’t work out so great watching CSI.  Sarah needed me for a few minutes. #babiesarehard)

12:26 pm  Look at definition of “TEND” again.  “To apply oneself to the care of, watch over, cultivate.  To stand by something.  To take charge of as a caretaker, overseer.”  Those three words:  tenderhearted.  wife.  communicator.  Am I to tend to these God?  Oversee them?  Take charge of them?

The phrase, “GO DEEPER BEFORE YOU GO WIDER” keeps coming into my mind and heart.  I can’t seem to shake it.  How does that play in?  Half-thought:  Roots of plants need to go deep into the rich and nourishing soil (see pic above) before they go wide and bear fruit.  I want so desperately to bear fruit, but I probably need to “tend” to receiving the rich nourishment from God Himself in the deep places of my soul first.  Sarah had that whole phrase in college from Colossians 2:7 about this very thing.  “BE ROOTED (in Christ).”  More hmmm.

(Call insurance company back.  Check in on Sarah again.  All is well there.  Lay down and finish this one dang episode of CSI.)

(A friend texts.  Ask her if she can wait a little while before I call her back.  Head back to process.)

1:41 pm  Review my final notes in the process of choosing my WOTY.  Rewrite all the “tend” things that I don’t want:

preTEND – ingenuine
conTEND – try harder 
(doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know this just does not work)
disTEND – enlarge from internal pressure (this goes along with try harder…ugh!)
hyperexTEND – expand beyond a safe point (this is the hardest for me)

Also, rewrite the things I do want:

atTEND – be present
exTEND – make wider 
(Be careful on this one.  Deeper before wider.)
inTEND – direct mind on

I think I am done for this quarterly check-in.  My heart is directed to these three:  tenderhearted (oh my goodness, that even has the word TEND inside it), wife (be present, go deeper and direct mind on this one), and communicator (write to “express not to impress”).  I believe I might just be friends again with my WOTY.  I need to take a nap now (but first, that phone call with a friend who needs some tending…I know it’s my Sabbath, but I’m not the most perfect at keeping it as you’ve all just witnessed).  Then a much-needed nap.

IMG_9467.JPG

UPDATE SAT 7:38 am

I am glad that my iPhone reminder app did its job this week.  I needed the little kick in the pants to stop avoiding my WOTY and check in (as scattered as it was).  I want this to be your kick in the pants (I mean tender push) to do the same.   Some of you are thinking, “I never chose one.”  It’s not too late for this kind of friendship.  With winter slowly fading into the background (please God, let it be so), there’s never a better time than spring for new thoughts and renewed hope!  You could do a WOTM (word of the month) or even a WOTQ (word of the quarter).  Just follow the steps I outlined for myself in January by clicking HERE.  And if you are renewing your relationship with the one you’ve already chosen, I hope this post is your gentle guide as to a super realistic and very “not-so-perfect” way to approach it.  I would love to hear from you what happens, from your heart to mine!

Do me a huge favor and go back and “Like” my post if you came from social media!  It’s one of the ways I can get more views (I guess only do that if you actually like it…LOL)!

 

 

Posted in Beautiful Mess, Celebration, Emotions, Faith, Freedom, God, Holiday, Hope, Joy, Love, Marriage, Missionary, Sacred

Best Friday!

“Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land.” (Song of Songs 2:12)

For months now, the anticipation has been building!  The final countdown came about 10 days ago.  Last night, it came to fruition.  Yes, I know it was Good Friday, the day we Christians reflect on the unconditional love of God as found in the death of Jesus Christ.  But this Good Friday had been named “BEST FRIDAY” by my friend Jody several months ago when she planned her future wedding date.  “Come to my wedding on Best Friday,” was her invitation to her family and friends, Allen and I being among them.  “Can’t wait, Jody!” was my reply and I sent emojis and texts over the past few weeks reminding us both of the imminent celebration!

Jody is one of the members of my women’s group, the Beautiful Mess, that meets every Thursday morning.  She has been with us from the very first day over 11 years ago.  On that day, we found out that her dad and my mom were raised by missionary parents in the same small African country, working for the same small organization and actually had grown up together.  Immediately, we had a connection and an unbreakable bond.  I loved her from the start.  As I spent time with her, I found her bright, sunny smile, gracious heart, and super upbeat, yet laid-back disposition intriguing and delightful.  Her relationship with her four boys wins her the “best mom award” (as I playfully reminded them last night and heard no argument…in fact, they were all very quick to agree).   I am pretty fierce in my love for and desire to protect her.

Thanks to Jody, this phrase “Best Friday” has been reverberating in my head and heart for quite some time.  The excitement of the anticipation of something long-waited for has brought me sheer enjoyment.  Coupled with the fact that this “Best Friday” celebration marked the end of my 40-day fast, Jody would receive “her happily ever after.”  This put a huge smile right on my heart (and my face, I will admit). The fast had started the day after my birthday, one celebration, and was ending it with another.  I couldn’t have asked for better book ends.  And celebrate we did.  Dancing.  Food.  Friends.  Love.

I am so thankful for the fast.  I removed the external, physical pleasure for the sole purpose of internal, soul-level healing.  It brought me better health, both physically and spiritually.  It reminded me that I am much more than JUST the physical.  It’s a mystery to me how it works (even though I am confident that it definitely does) and I’m okay with that.

Richard Foster, in his book, Celebration of Discipline, speaks of all the “serious-side of spiritual growth” practices like prayer, meditation, solitude, fasting, etc.  They are valuable.  They matter.  But one of my favorite chapters is titled the “Discipline of Celebration.”  Wait?  What?  Celebration is a discipline in and of itself?  Why?

After last night, I am again reminded of why.  Why do we dance and cheer and weep for joy along with our friend who finds the love of her life?  Why do we buy balloons and ice cream cakes (which I am doing again today for our son Josh) to celebrate the birth of someone?  Why do we get dressed up, go to church, have egg hunts and gather with family on Easter Sunday?

Celebration says to others, “you are valuable, I choose you today,” not out of convenience, but actually with fierce intentionality.  It says, “I really know you and love you.  You matter.” 

Yes!  There are times for fasting!  The practice is invaluable.  In fact, I want to incorporate it into my week and not just go back to “business as usual.”  I want be reminded often of HOSANNA (God, Come Save Us!).

But yes!  Last night, on Best Friday, the time for fasting was over.  It marked the time for feasting and celebration!  At least for the three days this weekend!  Here goes!

Jody, you are valuable.  I love you.  What matters to you matters to me!  I celebrate with you!  As John said to me last night, “Jody is the best person I have ever met!  I promise you I will take care of her!”  How could I not do a little internal leap for joy  (and some external leaps as well for those of you who saw me dancing the night away) as I know you are fully-known and fully-loved by this man!  Yippee!

Josh, you are valuable!  I love you.  Your birth marks one of the best days in my life!  I hope that you find that we, as a family, celebrate all the facets of who you are.  You are truly one of a kind!  You are loyal, bold, curious, and determined, along with being super quirky!  You one of my favorite people in the whole word!  How could I not have tears welling up in the corner of my eyes as I write this!  Yippee!

Jesus, you are valuable!  I love you.  You matter!  Your fierce pursuit of me by your coming to earth, living among us humans, dying on that cruel cross and then overcoming the worst that humanity could do to you by rising from that death is the reason I have hope for the healing of my heart (and you readers out there by the way)!  I can’t wait to join my family to celebrate you on Easter Sunday!  I choose you!  Yippee!

Happy Easter to each of you!  Let’s celebrate together! (Even if it’s just on our screens!)

 

 

 

 

Posted in Celebration, Holiday, Hope, Word of the Year

Choose One Word for 2018 (simple reasons, reminders and steps)…and Find Out Mine

“One word you can focus on every day, all year long… One word that sums up who you want to be or how you want to live.”  (oneword365.com)

When I was a young girl, I had the New Year’s resolution every year of reading through the Bible.  On January 1, I would read 40 chapters of the book of Genesis and then by January 8, I would be on Genesis chapter 43.  I’ve made that same resolution about 20 more times at points in my life and guess what, I have never read through the whole Bible no matter what I’ve tried.  It’s been the same for me with exercise plans, diets, organizational goals, etc.  You know what I mean.  You feel the same pain.  Bottom line.  Resolutions don’t work.

On the flip side, I’m all about HOPE.  I love a fresh start.  A new day.  A new week.  A new month.  And especially a NEW YEAR.  Hope is what “rocks my socks.”  And God knows this about us.  That’s why we have fresh starts every morning, even every moment.  I don’t know what I would do without the place where I can begin again, take a first step toward change, growth and healing, and then come to that same redemptive position again and again.  HOPE.

Hope, my first Word of the Year (hereafter known as WOTY) in 2015, is the main reason why I opted to throw away all New Year’s resolutions and choose a WOTY.  I need hope.  Hope is an inner, gracious guide that allows room for us to change and grow.  Resolutions are harsh external masters that heap shame on us when we “fail” to keep them.  Here’s why:

  • A resolution concentrates on “DOING.”  A WOTY values “BEING.”
  • A resolution instructs.  A WOTY inspires.
  • A resolution is mandatory (“work out three days a week”).  A WOTY allows for room to go at your own pace (taking the next baby step).
  • A resolution is limited in possibility (“lose 10 lbs”).  A WOTY is expansive and limitless.
  • A resolution can be “broken.”  A WOTY cannot (it is a gentle friend).

I am so thankful that my husband stumbled upon the idea.  It has been life-changing as we approach the end of an old year and the beginning of a new one.  (One major caveat here.  We spoke yesterday and realized that 2017 has been a tough one on this exact note.  We don’t even remember our words for the year.  But there is hope for a fresh start again in 2018…YAY for hope.)

If you’ve never done this, it’s a lot of fun.  Today, New Year’s Eve, might be a good day to spend the time.  Or any time in the next couple of weeks.  I know people who spend an hour (me) and some who spend a weekend (Allen).  (Click on my second post to understand why that’s the case.)  It’s not a race.  I woke up today at 3:30 am (not planned BTW) and decided to write this post and spend some time in the wee hours of this morning before the hustle and bustle of the day to come up with my WOTY.   All that to say, it doesn’t matter when.  But it might matter if.  It might seem overwhelming.  It’s not.  It’s just fun.   Give yourself the treat.

Helpful reminders:

  • Concentrate on who you want to BE(come) this year, not what you want to DO.
  • Be true to yourself.  You want your  word to represent your unique needs and desires.
  • Remind yourself that it doesn’t have to be perfect. This isn’t traditional goal-setting.  This is grace-filled friendship-making. There is plenty of room to change your mind.
  • It’s intended to be a kind guide that walks along side of you during the year, not a harsh master that dictates a set of “to-do’s” (God knows we don’t need any more of those voices in our heads).  It’s a friend that accompanies you during your journey.

Simple steps:

  1.  Ask yourself a simple question:  What do you need?  Many times, we concentrate on improving ourselves instead of being kind to ourselves.  This is a huge starting place.  Don’t skip this step.  Write down all the random things that come to your mind.
  2. The next question can be (after you haven’t skipped the first one) who do you want to be(come)?  Write down a few of the most important things that jump into your head.
  3. Make a list of words that come to mind.  Write as many as you want.  It can be a noun, verb or adjective.  If you need help, click here for some ideas.
  4. Cross out the words that don’t work for you.  Narrow it down to at the most 10.
  5. Check out the definition of each of the words, it’s origin, synonyms and antonyms.  You might just be surprised at what you find out!
  6. Give yourself some time to process the list.  Allow yourself to “try each one on for size.”
  7. Take a deep breath and choose your word.  Take a few minutes to write your thoughts about how you hope it might play out in different areas of your life and relationships.
  8. Write your word down on something and post it on your mirror, your car, your computer, wherever you will see it every day.  You can even by a customizable bracelet by clicking here (I don’t get anything from this.  Just thought it was a cool idea.)  Look at it each morning and remind yourself about this friend who is with you today.
  9. Give yourself permission to change your mind.  If you want to, take the time to reflect and re-evaluate your word at any point in the year.

Drum roll please!!!  My word for the year in 2018 is TEND and here’s why (but a cool pic first of my process…by the way, that alphabetical list was helpful to me):

IMG_9029

Tend means to “apply oneself to the care of, watch over, cultivate.”  I want to:

  • TEND to myself and others in their bodies, minds, souls and spirits.
  • become a TENDer of  my relationships, health, home, and work.
  • atTEND to peoples’ hearts and my own.
  • exTEND myself to other people, my own dreams and what new things life brings this year
  • inTEND or direct my mind on what really matters (which is the above)

I don’t want to:

  • conTEND (strive)
  • disTEND (enlarge because of pressure)
  • overexTEND (to expand beyond a safe point)
  • preTEND (not be genuine)

My mantra is “hope for healing and wholeness (with a little humor along the way).”  I pray that your Word of the Year would provide just that!  It’s fun to be on this journey together!  Let’s have some extra today!

Would love to know your Word of the Year once you’ve chosen it.  Write it in the comments section (if you remember to come back here after you’ve done the process) or even more fun, a comment on Facebook or Instagram!  I like those more!

 

 

Posted in Celebration, Freedom, God, Holiday, Hope, Joy, Love, Sacred

We are the Gift

Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.  (Hamilton Wright Mabie)

As I sit here listening to needles fall from my Spruce, I am not sure if our tree will survive until tomorrow.  It’s one of those minor stressors that come about because we bring something that’s alive from the outdoors into an environment where it is not designed to thrive.  The tradition seems silly at times, but it’s one of my favorite parts of Christmas.

Tonight and tomorrow, many of us head into environments where, like my tree, we are in survival mode.  There are so many reasons why it might be the case.  Thriving is not even on the agenda.  We are just going to “make it through.”

From the thousands of Christmas movies, books, and shows, we know in our heads that “Christmas cannot be bought from a store.  Christmas is just a little bit more.” (The Grinch)  But our actions speak otherwise.  We rush around buying gifts and would never be caught dead without one in hand for those on our list.  Part of the survival of Christmas.  Get a gift.  Bring a gift.

I don’t really want to just survive until Tuesday.  My thoughts swirl as I think about how to “make that happen, keep my needles from falling off.”  And then my heart is quieted.  It’s not the outer world:  other people, the food, the dying Spruce, the gifts, and even the Steelers game that are going to do it for me.  It’s a gentle reminder from my friend Annie that she has hammered into my head for the past ten years (obviously I am a slow learner):  We don’t just HAVE gifts to offer.  We ARE the gifts.

As you go into today, tonight and tomorrow, be encouraged.  You ARE the gift for those who spend any moments of precious time with you.  Open yourself up.  Unwrap yourself.  Let others in.  Help them to know you.  At the same time, view others as the gifts that they ARE.  Seek to unwrap their hearts.  Get to know them.  It’s scary and vulnerable and you might just be hurt and rejected, but you will be giving the best gift of all:  YOU.

I long for one thing in this life and just perhaps you do too (whether you know it or not):  being fully-known and fully-loved.  I am so thankful that Jesus paved the way for us and showed us how this works.  He opened His heart fully for us, taking a huge chance on being vulnerable and rejected, giving Himself without pause.  He knew beyond a doubt that He IS the best gift for us and that you and I ARE the greatest presents He could ever receive.  All of the scary rejection paled in comparison to the JOY that this union of hearts would bring.  We were worth the risk.

I don’t know what’s going to happen today, tonight, or tomorrow when you risk your hearts for the chance of knowing and being known, loving and being loved.  I can’t promise you that it might not end up painful.  I can’t promise you that you might not be rejected.  But I can promise that your heart will be more open, and in turn, more healed. And you might just be a little closer to getting what you really want this Christmas!

(Check out this fun video – What If We Saw Everything as a Gift?)

 

 

 

Posted in Childhood, Ethiopia, Freedom, God, Holiday, Hope, Love, Missionary, Third Culture Kid

The “You Better Watch Out”…God

“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”
“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.
“Not because you are?”
“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”
(Prince Caspian, Chapter 10)

I lay on my bunk bed at boarding school in Ethiopia.  My bunkmate stirs below me.  I wind my musical Raggedy Ann doll over and over, hoping to get some sleep.  Sleep does not come.  I rehash the day.  Thoughts swirl:  “I did a bunch of wrong things.  Maybe that’s why I can’t sleep.  I should confess my sins.  Hey God, I’m sorry for all the bad things I did today.  Please forgive me.”  Still no rest for my eyes and tired body.   I go into a bit of a panic.  “Maybe I didn’t mean it for real when I prayed the magic prayer asking God into my heart.  If I did mean it, I would not be so naughty.”  I whisper the same thing for the umpteenth time, “Please come into my heart.  I really mean it this time. I will be better tomorrow.”  Still nothing.  I lay there wide-awake.  My mind happily drifts to earlier in the evening, when my dorm mother read us another chapter in the story of Narnia and especially Aslan, a loving lion who makes everything good and right in a strange land, and seems to adore children and even play with them.  “I love Aslan.  I wish God was like Aslan.  Why can’t He be?”  As I finally drift off to sleep, resting in the comfort of the lion who loves children, I have a flicker of hope:  “Maybe He is.”

For decades, Santa has flooded the Christmas season.  A jolly man with a jolly heart.  A man who rewards good behavior with toys and naughty behavior with “a lump of coal.”  We all know of him.  Believe it or not, I had a friend who “prayed to Santa” all year and confessed her sins, much like I did with God as a young girl.  After all, how different are they?  “He (Santa) sees you when you’re sleeping.  He knows when you’re awake.  He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.  YOU BETTER WATCH OUT…Santa Claus is coming to town.”  It is eerily similar to the Sunday School song from my childhood:  “Be careful little eyes what you see, for the Father up above is looking down below, so be careful little eyes what you see.”  Both of them are watching.  You better watch out.

More recently, Santa’s Elf (on the Shelf) has taken off as a new family tradition.  If you’re not familiar, this Elf (which comes in different sizes and even sexes in the form of a cheaply made elf doll that will set you back 30 bucks), is dispatched from the North Pole at the start of Advent.  He or she enters homes to keep a watchful eye on the children, ensuring good behavior during the rough parenting patch when kids are over-sugared and over-excited for Christmas.  His or her “job” is to make sure they belong on Santa’s “nice” list.   You better watch out!

I loved celebrating Santa with my children (we just dug out Rachel’s letter from the North Pole) and might currently have an Elf on the Shelf  if I still had littles.  But as you read above, and this is the point:  I believed in a “you better watch out” God very early and sadly, it continued well into adulthood.  God was no different than Santa or Elf on the Shelf.  He was up there watching my every good and bad behavior, ready to reward or “smite” me for each one, his main goal to get me to behave.  It’s not hard to figure out what my relationship with Him was like because of this.   I was filled with and acted out of fear and guilt.  I hid from Him, or at least (fruitlessly) tried to…who wouldn’t? I struggled to feel close, spending much energy and time on my external, visible behavior, hoping that it would be enough, trying to avoid that proverbial “lump of coal,” God’s disapproval of me.  My internal craving for love and belonging was completely sacrificed on the external “behavior management” altar.

Enter the stories of Narnia and a reunion with Aslan as the mom of four kids.  I found three-hour radio theater dramatic renditions absolutely a must-buy if you have kids) of these stories that I loved as a child.  I could kill two birds with one stone:  share this amazing lion with my own children and at the same time, keep them quiet on long car rides (keeping it real people).  As I came to reconnect with Aslan, I found even more so that he is wise, playful, generous, kind, mysterious, terrifying, magnificent, beautiful and unconditionally loving all at once.  He is the one who I longed for my whole life.  He is too good not to be true.

I had finally found the answer to that hopeful thought I had as a child.  God is not like Santa.  God is not like the Elf on the Shelf.  God is not ultimately concerned with “behavior management.”  God is like Aslan.  God is wise.  God is playful.  God is generous.  God is kind.  God is mysterious.  God is terrifying.  God is magnificent.  God is beautiful.  God unconditionally loves and He unconditionally loves me.  Period.  His agenda is a loving, intimate, close relationship with me.  He loves me because of who He is, not how I behave.  He actually can’t help Himself.  True, lasting change will come, but it will be born FROM of a place of love and acceptance, the inside out, not FOR love and acceptance, the outside in.

What relief!  What freedom!  Even as I write this, “you better watch out” is quieted again and my heart settles down with a big inner sigh.  A long deep breath of safety and belonging.  Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  This is what I long for.  This is a line I can get in, a lap I can climb up onto and take pictures of every day for a lifetime!  My flicker of hope so long ago, “Maybe He is,” is a burning light of hope that shouts, “YES.  YES HE IS.”

****************************************

P.S.  I have told people that, as a child, I loved Aslan more than I loved Jesus (see Ethiopia Tikdem post).  I found out that a concerned mother once wrote C. S. Lewis on behalf of her son, Laurence, who, having read The Chronicles of Narnia, became concerned that he loved Aslan more than Jesus. In his response, Lewis offered this relief:

“Laurence can’t really love Aslan more than Jesus, even if he feels that’s what he is doing. For the things he loves Aslan for doing or saying are simply the things Jesus really did and said. So that when Laurence thinks he is loving Aslan, he is really loving Jesus: and perhaps loving Him more than he ever did before.”

Posted in Beautiful Mess, Celebration, Emotions, God, Grief, Holiday, Hope, Sacred

Advent (The Howl of the Not-Yet)

O ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow…

The past few weeks have been marked by much suffering for those I love.  The pain seems overwhelming: substance abuse in adult children, the possibility of a very scary diagnosis, a seemingly unfair and senseless job loss, a sibling carted off to jail in the middle of the night, an impending divorce and the unnerving future of being alone, a debilitating disease that prevents normal life-function, and mental illness that doctors are having trouble treating.  You get it.  You are hearing that kind of news as well.  And like me, your thoughts might be shouting, “How long?  How much?  Why?  Why right now?”

I love the holiday season.  From November 1 to January 1, like many of yours, our house is filled with decorations, food (and way too much of it, as my waistline is currently showing), family, friends, celebration, and traditions.  Along with these external manifestations of the season, there are also the underlying inner emotional expectations of gratitude, wonder, joy, peace, love, hope and generosity, to name just a few.  A quick confession:  I like this paragraph more than the first one.  I want to live here.  I want all good things, happy thoughts.

The period leading up to Christmas morning is commonly known as Advent.  It’s Advent right now.  Shauna Niequist reminds us that “advent is about waiting, anticipating, yearning.  Advent is the question, the pleading and Christmas is the answer to that question, the response to the howl.  There are moments in this season when I don’t feel a lot like Christmas, but I do feel a lot like Advent.”

For many weeks now, as you read above, I agree with Shauna.  I feel a lot like Advent.  Advent is NOT Christmas morning.  Advent speaks about and grieves broken places that are yet to be healed, questions that have no answer today, and yearning that is unfulfilled.  Advent gives a glimpse of hope at the end of a long season of waiting.  Advent is “both and.”  Advent says there is suffering and it is real, palpable.  But advent also says there is hope, just as real and palpable.  Advent says “don’t skip over the suffering.  Don’t minimize the heartache.  Sit in it, acknowledge it, and feel it.”  This is not an easy place.  And if the truth is told, I struggle with Advent.  I do not sit with the grief, acknowledge and feel it.  I skip right to Christmas morning, the happy place, where the answer is here and salvation has come.

I am slowly learning that skipping right to Christmas doesn’t work.  It doesn’t take away the pain.  It doesn’t make bad things not happen.  It doesn’t bring true healing.  Advent brings healing.  It is the place of real truth that speaks both heartache and hope, both suffering and a savior.

Sometimes God does His best work during the seasons of advent in our lives, the waiting periods, the not-yet times.  And that hard work usually takes the form of those who “sit with us in the dark,” when we can’t see the light, those who go to the not-so-pretty places with us and remind us of who God is and His undying love for us, for as long as it takes until we can see “Christmas” on the horizon.

There are more than two weeks until Christmas.   Let’s not skip to that place.  Let’s live in the not-yet, the place of anticipation.  Let’s dive into the questions, the grief, the “howl,” the yearning of both ourselves and those we love.  Let’s be okay in the waiting.  Christmas will come soon enough.  A baby will be here.  A Savior will come.  What is empty will be filled.  Heartache will be healed.  Yearning will be fulfilled.  What is broken will be repaired.  What we’ve lost will be found.  But in the meantime, we will wait together, not forgetting the howl of our hearts.

Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
O rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing!

(It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, Fourth Verse)