Misc. Wednesday: Embrace, Part 2

0102172301.jpgOk, so my feeble attempt at embracing blogging in 2017 has completely failed. Go me.

However, if there is one thing I have learned (and there are many) since beginning my One Little Word project is that you don’t always have to be “on” or perfect or whatever. Creativity comes in shifts. So does time. And sometimes one simply needs to embrace not accomplishing something for the sake of self-care or whatever.

In fact, this lesson is exactly what I needed to hear and embrace, though it’s only the first lesson learned. And we’re only 18 days in to the new year.

Who needs therapy when you’ve got OLW?

But back up and refresh…

In my last post I talked about my One Little Word project for 2017. Since then I’ve done some preliminary work on my first entry into my book, though up until yesterday, nothing permanent. I’ve had my word stuck in the back of head. There have been times where I’ve been all, “This is totally a moment of embrace!” And there have been times of, “What the fork? Really? Embrace my butt.” I’m sad to say I’ve had more of those moments than the first one, especially lately with embracing for impact at losing a loved one.

Before I get any further: Quick vocab lesson: Embrace (the noun) means: “a close encircling with the arms and pressure to the chest, especially as a sign of affection (like a hug)” or “grip, encirclement” or “acceptance.” I chose the noun define, even though embrace is actually more of a verb. I like that’s so flexible in its definition.

Basically embrace means to enfold and enclose. It’s all touchy, feely and I don’t do touchy, feely. Plus, it means acceptance, such as embracing a new project.

You know, I feel as if God is trying to tell me something.

Part of this OLW journey is self-reflection, which goes with that touchy, feely stuff. I put off working on my OLW book, which I realized yesterday that it wasn’t because I didn’t know what I wanted to write or didn’t have the time. It was because I was afraid. I was afraid to put into words things I needed to hear, like embracing not being perfect or embracing the fear. All of which went into my reflections, permanently on my page in black and white finally.

So, lesson 2 learned – I need to accept and embrace that this isn’t going to be an easy scrapbook, journal project.

Part of this process is finding a quote to go with my word. I’ve searched many quotes via Pinterest and found ones that were deeply profound and philosophical. I’ve found ones that simple read, “Embrace the chaos.” Or my personal favorite, “Embrace the suck.”

Yet, the one I keep coming back to is one from author Elizabeth Gilbert:

“Embrace the glorious mess that you are.”

And because that’s not enough, God wanted to also get the message across to me another way: in worship at an African-American United Church of Christ church on the south side of Chicago, where the pastor reminded us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. God created us all in God’s image – black, white, gay, trans, straight, purple, whatever – we are fearfully made.

Ok, so there was more to the message because it was MLK Sunday but to hear my African American colleague belt out that I am in fact, fearfully made by God, well, damn.

I am fearfully made by God. You are fearfully made by God. In God’s image, whatever that image may be. It’s messy and complicated and fun and challenging. It’s meant to shake us and cause us to tremor. There’s fear and joy and this idea that sometimes all we can do is embrace who we are and find a sense of wholeness for what fits us best, knowing full well it’s not going to be perfect.

Embracing this idea of becoming my best self, whatever that may be, is difficult.

So, lesson 3 learned. Again, it’s only January 18!

I’m sure I’ll learn more over coming weeks. I’ll find more about embracing myself and those things I need to overcome, or perhaps hug tightly. But I love that my word has taken me to places I wouldn’t have thought of, places that have existed in plain sight but ones I missed.

Seriously, if God isn’t trying to tell me something, then there’s a problem.

If you chose a word to focus on this year, I hope it’s embracing you. I hope it’s shaking you and challenging you and making you see things in new ways. Though I hope that it is also occurring with a lot of grace and love, because let’s face it – we are our own worst critics. Take care knowing you’re not alone in the struggle. The path to wholeness and peace is often met on rocky ground. But those bumps do eventually lead to wholeness and peace, so there is a silver lining.

 

 

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Sabbath Monday: Embrace, Part 1

0102172301.jpgI’ve been reflecting back on the last few weeks, wondering if hope, peace, joy and love will actually continue and not get boxed up with all the Christmas decorations or put to the curb with all the wrapping paper garbage. I’ve witnessed moments that have brought me hope and joy, moments of peace and lots of love.

Now usually this is the time of year to reflect back. I had all these intentions of finally writing down my thoughts on love and Christmas and New Year and spending time with family and yada, yada, yada. And yet, I wonder if all the busyness of the season, plus my coughing fits, were an act of fate, that instead of focusing on the past I’m meant to focus on embracing the new.

And so, I’m holding onto my reflections of the last few weeks, the things I meant to blog about during my week vacation. In its place, I’m embracing a new project head on…

I love to scrapbook and put memories from trips and events in order. It’s no surprise that a friend got me tuned into Ali Edwards. She’s a photographer, memory keeper, scrapbooker and blogger. Ali also holds online classes and does various projects, all geared towards capturing the moments in our lives. I instantly fell in love with her style, photos and the way she approaches being creative. (FYI, you can find Ali’s blog and such here: http://aliedwards.com/ or find her on Facebook and social media.)

Beginning in January every year, Ali does a project called One Little Word or OLW for short (not to be confused with OWL). Basically OLW works like this:

  • You pick a word to focus on throughout the year.
  • You purchase the materials you think you might need (if you want).
  • Sign up for Ali’s online class where she provides pointers and tips, access to a bunch of materials and more.
  • Take photos and begin to journal, capturing where you’ve seen your word in your life.
  • Finally, assemble your One Little Word each month with assistance from Ali’s prompts.

I’m signed up and ready to go. Materials are here and I have my first assignment: Pick a word.

Do you have any idea how difficult picking a word to focus on for an entire year actually is? I started a list: peace, joy, happiness, love, thrive, focus, breathe, encounter, explore, and the list goes on.

Finally, it hit me – Embrace. That’s my word.

I sat up late at night when I should have been sleeping and wrote out one of those diagrams – Embrace in the middle with lines protruding from the word circle. Then more words surrounding it: Embrace – family, love, joy, contentment, God, peace, and I kept going. I think I have close to 20 or more sub-words. Now I’m even more excited to begin my One Little Word project in 2017.

Since I started thinking about Ali’s January prompt and spent way to much time on Pinterest searching my word, I’ve found that embrace is changing focus. And I love it. I’m working on reflecting and it’s taking me to other places. Don’t worry, Readers, you’ll be hearing more.

This new year, I encourage you to take a word and make it your own, even if you’re not a scrapbooker or into journaling or photographer. Simply take a word and focus on it for the entire year. What word might you focus on and embrace, allowing yourself to find the unexpected in your life?

If you do choose word, make it known. Put it on a post-it note and tape it to a mirror, allowing you to look at it every day. Or perhaps as a family, you come up with one word together and create a poster for the refrigerator, every night discussing where the word popped up that day. Or you simply keep the word in your heart. Or maybe you do something creative with it. It doesn’t matter because it’s your word.

Whatever new year practice you decide on, I hope it rocks and allows you experience something you’ve never experienced before.

 

Sabbath Monday: Part 2 – Love

cropped-alternate-sidebar1.jpgSometimes my Associate Pastor articles for the monthly church newsletter are really good, sometimes. This one from January 2016 is one of them.

As we make our final approach to Christmas and reflect on the ways God loves us and in return we love God and each other, I bring you thoughts I had last year as we headed into a new year. The sentiments of loving someone who might be different hasn’t changed, though I feel our society needs to be reminded of that more now than ever. Plus, thoughts on God’s love for us – no matter who we are or how we look – doesn’t change…EVER. Remember that – God loves you for being wonderful you. 

From the January 2016 church newsletter (with some edits):

My sister often recommends books to me by simply handing it to me and saying, “Here, read. You’ll like this.” And so she handed me a book in November and said the same thing and added, “You’ll cry cuz I cried in the last half of the book.” Thanks Sis.

The book she handed me is entitled Wonder by RJ Palacio. It is a young adult book about a ten year old boy who is facially impaired, as I think his sister put it. Auggie wasn’t born with a “normal” face and after years of being home-schooled, he is finally going to middle school.

The book is told from various perspectives – his sister, friends, and Auggie himself.  I’ve cried a lot while reading it. It’s a heartwarming story about being different, how people perceive and judge others, bullying, love, empathy, sympathy, friendship, family, and so much more.

I think in a time when there seems to be so much judgment going around in our world, a book like Wonder speaks volumes, so much so I feel adults need to read it more than youth. Youth and children understand things so much differently and can often look past the otherness of someone. Sadly, youth and children don’t rule our world, not yet anyway.

I feel sad that 2016 is started out with so much hate and fear. The bullies that tormented Auggie in the book were poking fun out of fear for someone who was different from them, who might not chew his food a properly or whose eyes hang a bit too low. So too because a few people do something horrific, a whole group gets labeled and shunned out of fear and hate.

God created us to be different. God wanted us to be different and that includes those who worship differently than us, who have darker skin or who love someone of their own gender.

There’s a great quote from the movie Saved that goes, “So everything that doesn’t fit into some stupid idea of what you think God wants you just try to hide or fix or get rid of? It’s just all too much to live up to. No one fits in one hundred percent of the time. Why would God make us all so different if he wanted us to be the same?” Funny enough – the quote came from a pregnant Mary in the movie.

My prayer for this year (and every year) is that the Auggie’s of the world don’t feel left out, shunned, bullied or are told they are not welcome. That Jesus’ teaching of “Love thy neighbor” isn’t something that is preached from the pulpit and left hanging in the air after the congregation has left. My prayer is that our world gets out of this fear and hate mode and that love may once again be felt. My prayer is that the Auggie’s of the world have friends, family and strangers who will stick up for them and show them how special they are.

To All the Auggie’s and others of the this world: God loves you for who you are. So stand tall, do not fear, and know you are not alone.

Sabbath Monday: Part 1 – Reflections on Joy

img_0599Being a pastor comes with a lot of joy and grief. But this time of year things get busy and I’m left too tired to do much of anything beyond binge watch TV.

So…

Like I’ve been doing each week this Advent, last week I focused on finding Joy.

The People I Met: The concierge at the hospital was friendly and even high-fived me. I forget why. I was there to visit someone (also a joy). The check out woman at Target with whom I had a nice short conversation with. The woman who was calling out for help at the stop light for directions. I rolled down my window and I’m hoping I gave her the right path. There were lots of various people this last week that allowed joy to seep into my life.

Church Activities: Saturday I was at the zoo with the youth, who yes, ditched me. I mean, I wouldn’t want to hang with the pastor if I was a teenager. However, I got to experience the zoo differently. Usually I’m there with family, tugging my niece along to the next animal. This time, I looked around at the Christmas lights, said “hello” to the polar bears and baby gorilla. I took a few pictures too.

Sunday was a whirlwind. I was late-ish for church, had to do a few things before service, folks came late when I asked them to come early. Sigh…And the service was different as the choirs led a Christmas cantata. Out of my element of not sitting up in the chancel and doing a different order of service, I forgot a few things. Sigh…BUT the cantata was beautiful and it was a joy to see and hear music that morning.

And the children’s service is coming along. The children will rock it again this year!

Books: I finished a book challenge: 24 books in 12 months, with prompts like ‘read a book on feminism’ and ‘read a book published in the decade you were born’. I read some really interesting books this year, as well as some duds. And this doesn’t include my monthly book club and the many other books I read. I also got the list for the 2017 challenge and it’s much harder than last year’s, though I cannot wait to begin! Joy in some daily self-care time.

A Word: A friend got me interested in a scrapbooking project through Ali Edwards. Ali is a scrapbooker, blogger, and photographer. I love her stuff. Her 2017 One Little Word project is out there and my kit is on it’s way. I’m all signed up to scrapbook, journal and focus on one word – Embrace – this year. I’m super excited and I’m full of joy over it.

Friends & Family: I’ve been emailing back and forth with my sister and our friend, who’s coming in from L.A. this week. The friend and I will drive up to see my sister later this week but all last week plans were being made about lunch and dinner and more. I haven’t see my friend in over a year and I don’t remember the last time my sister saw her. Plus, it’s a day with my nephew and niece, which, I mean – how is that not joy?!?

There you have it…Joy from last week.

This week is Love.

 

 

 

Misc. Wednesday: Joy

img_0599Many of the Advent readings point to tales of angels appearing to ordinary people.

Proclamations from John the Baptist about the coming Messiah while he baptized and ate locusts. Angels proclaiming the good news to Mary and Elizabeth and in a dream to Joseph. Isaiah and other prophets foretold the good news about the anticipation of Emmanuel – God with us – coming.

It all seems so out there, like one of those dooms day preachers, standing on soap boxes and yelling, “The End is near!” The Bible points to outrageous stories of proclamations.

The Bible verses we read during Advent also provide a sense of comfort full of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love.

Sunday in church we lit the Joy candle.

This is the joy that’s full of hope and peace and, though the Advent candle isn’t there yet, love.

It’s the kind of joy Mary sang about when she proclaimed her happiness at carrying God’s son, about becoming a mother. It’s the kind of joy that is in our hearts and takes up space in our living rooms. It’s the sort of joy that came to Joseph when the angels came to him and told him to not leave Mary. It’s the joy the shepherds and magi witnessed when they followed the star.

Joy is a wonderful thing. It’s outrageous and off-putting. It’s fun and comforting. It’s completely out there, at least in terms of our Advent stories.

It’s sad to think that our world is lacking in joy. Fighting, violence, road rage, fear, check-out lane rage. Joy seems to be missed.

I’m trying hard to find the joy amidst the anniversary of Sandy Hook and the tragic events occurring in Aleppo. And yet…joy is there. It might not out in the open but perhaps when a child, full of ash and soot looks up and realizes he/she is alive, maybe that’s the joy. I don’t know…God doesn’t create hurt and violence. God weeps with us. God wants there to be joy. Sigh…

Back to Joy…

Justin Timberlake’s song, Can’t Stop the Feeling, has been all over the radio, even on satellite. The lyrics remind me of joy, with words such as: “I got this feeling inside my bones, It goes electric, wavey when I turn it on”

Shouldn’t joy be electric?

And later the verses:

“I got that sunshine in my pocket
Got that good soul in my feet
I feel that hot blood in my body when it drops, ooh
I can’t take my eyes up off it, moving so phenomenally
Room on lock the way we rock it, so don’t stop…

I can’t stop the feeling
So just dance, dance, dance”

Granted, it’s a pop song. It’s a song that reminds us to take the positive and “just dance, dance, dance.” Enjoy life, enjoy the good.

For me, that’s joy. Because…

Shouldn’t joy be sunshine and ‘good soul in our feet’ and a feeling that completely shakes us and makes us want to ‘dance, dance, dance’?

Joy should be earth shattering, just as Mary and Joseph experienced. Joy should make us dance. Joy should make us want to get up every morning and praise God. Joy should make us want to spread that feeling to others and dance like Fred Astaire on some side alley in the city.

Even when we’re in pain and hurting, joy is there. Hidden and locked up, but surrounding us all, particularly this time of year. It may be difficult to find and grasp but joy is there. You can’t tell me that Mary didn’t think, “What am I going to do? I can’t have a baby! Think of the scandal!” And Joseph almost left her! Scandal!

Ok, that’s nothing compared to the pain many of us feel. However, on the flip side both parents-to-be experienced Joy. Because that’s God’s promise to us. And isn’t that something to dance to?

May God’s joy surround you all, even through the lowest of lows and highest of highs and wherever you may be in life.

 

Saturday 5: Peace

Placeholder ImageThis week’s Advent word: Peace.

It’s the kind of Peace Isaiah spoke about in chapter 11:

“A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots…The wolf shall live with the lamb…and a little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11: 1-10, selected verses)

I’ve thought about the word Peace all week. Where have I witnessed God’s Peace in this crazy, chaotic, fearful world? Where have I experienced Gods’ Peace or Peace in general this week?

Trust me, it’s been difficult to find. But it’s there, perhaps not in ways I ever expected.

Number 1: Songs In The Car – I drive a lot. To and from my parents, to and from work, to the store. Though I’ve been listening to Christmas music at home, in my car I’m a satellite radio surfer. This week peace came in being alone, singing and head-banging in my car and using my steering wheel as a drum kit (like Father, like Daughter). I bounced along to ABBA, sang that Saturday night is alright for fighting with Sir Elton and head-banged to Metallica, as well as many other pop and rock tunes. Music gives me peace, and it’s a great stress reliever.

Number 2: Quiet – I baked cookies this week. I cleaned with Christmas carols on Pandora. I enjoyed the quiet as I read at night and even as I curled up almost falling asleep. With my tree and windows lit up, my apartment, even with a few songs on the stereo, is a place of peace. It’s one of my sacred spaces and it was wonderful to have some quiet.

Number 3: First Major Snowfall – Technically it was last weekend. And I drove in it. I went and saw Santa in it. I slipped and skidded in my car and on my own 2 feet. And I’m sure tomorrow when I step outside for my full day of church, I’m sure I’ll do the same all over again. I don’t like snow. However, it’s pretty. It’s tranquil and peaceful; it’s Mother Nature and God’s Creation. It’s fluffy and white and a pain but it’s peaceful and makes the dark night seem a bit brighter as the snow reflects.

Number 4: Feeding Others – Friday night I was at Feed My Starving Children with the church youth for a holiday packing event. It was like 300 volunteers in the convention center in town and we packed almost 800 packets of food. Awesome, right? Sure. I enjoy doing those events and as my back breaks from leaning over the table, I’m reminded how fortunate to have food. However, I wasn’t looking forward to it at all, for various reasons. Yet, as I sang along to the jams they had playing, I found peace at knowing a child will be given a chance to live and to be nourished, not only by the food but also by God’s love.

Then this morning I stood in the cold to help the youth load cars of food for those in need of food this holiday. Another one of those, I don’t want to get up and stand in the cold. But oh so humbling and full of peace. There’s peace when helping others.

Number 5: Holiday Traditions – Which ranges from seeing Santa and seeing my niece tell him what she wants for Christmas, to pizza and a holiday movie while the snow falls outside. Can it get anymore peaceful than that?

I wish my moments of peace were more of the lion laying with the lamb, no more violence and all of us are happy and content. Sadly, that’s not the case. Even so, those moments of peace humbled me and allowed me to distress, even for 20 minutes.

It’s the little things in life, right?

I keep Isaiah’s words close because perhaps one day they will be more than words on a page and will actually be alive, in more than the sense of retelling the birth of Jesus story. Perhaps one day peace will be realized here and in heaven.

Where have you experienced Peace this week?

 

Misc. Wednesday: Waiting…

Placeholder ImageAdvent is the season of waiting. It’s the season of preparing and making way for the coming of the Lord. (I have Godspell‘s “Prepare Ye The Way of the Lord” running through my head, which is super annoying since I don’t like Godpsell.)

At home we do whatever it is to prepare for the holidays, and yes I mean holidays. Christmas isn’t the only holiday this time of year. So whether it’s Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or whatever, there is a lot of prepping and waiting.

In my case, it’s Christmas.

We bake cookies and string lights. We wrap presents and decorate trees. We put up nativity sets  and light candles. Worship is about telling the stories from prophets of old and John the Baptist eating locusts and Mary singing.

My Advent devotional book, All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas by Quinn Cadwell (a fellow UCC pastor), talks about this waiting. In my first week of readings, Cadwell encourages readers to look around and notice what we might be waiting on.

For me it was waiting at stop lights, for the dryer to get done, movie trailers to end and the feature film to begin. It was waiting on emails and cookies to bake. I realized I do a lot of waiting during any given day.

One waiting I’ve done for the last several weeks is wait for the youth to respond for a church youth events. Emails sent out, text reminders sent and yet – zero replies. Do you have any idea how frustrating it is to wait for the youth to respond to an event?

Plus, it’s been weeks – weeks! – of email reminders and talking and blah, blah, blah. Till finally it’s the ultimatum – reply or it’s canceled.

And then everyone replies. Which leaves me scrambling at last minute for drivers and food and sigh…

What bugs me about the whole situation isn’t so much about the waiting, it’s the unknown. Do I need to find drivers? Will I have enough food? It’s common courtesy really. That’s what RSVPs are for.

Let’s be honest – We’ve all done it. Not replied to an email evite or called the number on the invitation. I know I’ve done it. However, that doesn’t mean it’s right, right?

And yet…

The shepherds didn’t have an rsvp to the manger in Bethlehem. In fact, that had a moments notice with an angel and star. I mean, they’d been waiting. That’s what the prophet Isaiah teaches us. Their faith told them that some day Emmanuel – God with us – would come. That message simply came at a moments notice. Same with the wise men.

Oh, and Mary – Do you think this little teenager (because she was likely a teenager) wanted a baby, especially before getting married? Ah, probably not, even if it was God’s son. And Joseph – no notice that he was to be the stepfather to God’s kid. Then there’s the notice about the census and ending up in a dirty, stinky manger because there was no room at the inn. There was no hotels.com or hamptoninn.com to reserve a spot. No calling ahead to make arrangements.

The birth of Jesus is filled with no rsvps.

I’m trying to remind myself of that as I stew over the lack of (or last minute) responds from the youth for upcoming events. Drives me nuts. And yet Jesus’ birth didn’t have them either.

Sigh…

There you go again God, teaching me a lesson of faith.

What are you waiting on this holiday season?

 

 

 

Random Tuesday: Advent Candles

Placeholder ImageEach Advent candle represents something, well actually a word and an idea: Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. 3 blue candles and 1 pink, with a large white candle in the center representing Christ. (See why I get excited on Christmas Eve? I love lighting the Christ candle, reminding us all that Christ is in our world. I’m getting ahead of myself…)

This past week I’ve been on the look out for where I see HOPE.

So, here goes nothing…

Hope 1: The recent election has given permission to a lot of violence. I’m not going to rehash what I’ve seen on the news other than to say it’s uncalled for. However, I’ve read reports of counter attacks, attacks of love, which give me and our world a bit of hope.

Target stood up once again for its stance on LGBTQ issues, including the transgender bathroom debate. Love you Target. Amazon has a lovely commercial with a priest and a Muslim Imam. It’s hard to boycott your favorite website because they sell products of the president-elect. It’s even harder to boycott after an ad like that one. (The boycott was short lived.) Kelloggs stood up against hate by pulling ads from Brietbart, a right wing and racist online news site. Anyone up for some Rice Krispie squares? I’ve read stories about people standing up to bullies and abusers, of not taking shit and basically telling the world, “I will not be afraid.”

Though these are little things, it gives me hope that perhaps our world isn’t as doomed as I think it is.

Hope 2: Usually this time of year I’m so busy and so stressed and so tired that by the time Christmas comes around, I want my blanket, pjs and pillow. I usually don’t feel anything. I mean, I do but…It’s almost like I’m so caught up in the hustle and bustle, parties and youth events and wrapping presents and blah that I forget what the season is all about, which I know by heart since I am a pastor and a person of faith. It’s almost like Charlie Brown, who’s constantly trying to find meaning during the Christmas season, even though (I think) he knows.

This year I decided to focus on that meaning and read a daily devotional book that had me standing in line at Target (again) buying an Advent calendar for $2.50. And making a star to hang in my room and singing random carols at the top of my lungs. I’m finding the hope of finding meaning during this chaotic, stressful month.

Hope 3: Advent and Christmas means a new church season, traditional worship services and chaotic children’s plays. There’s hope around celebrating this season in the church, of new beginnings because that’s what Advent is for the church: a start to a new year.

Hope 4: I watched my 3 year old niece sit on Santa’s lap and tell him what she wanted for Christmas. I then watched my almost 10 month nephew do the same (and barely cry). This season is about Jesus’ birth but it’s also about the children. And is there anything more precious and hopeful than children?

Where have you seen and witnessed HOPE this past week?

Now the hunt begins for PEACE.

Misc. Wednesday: Light

20160525_182836.jpgOk, so it’s time to get back into the swing of blogging. That’s my Advent project. Not sure what I’ll be writing since I’ve hit a bit of writer’s block these last few weeks. But blogging is back on.

To kick off my new found determination to keep on blogging, I give you my Associate Pastor article from the upcoming (it has yet to be published) December 2016 church newsletter:

A few weeks ago many of my neighbors celebrated the Hindu festival of Diwali, the festival of lights. I saw many of my neighbors cleaning, I could smell the food, and twinkle lights of various colors adorned windows. One Saturday night I saw a family outside lighting sparklers, clearly enjoying the fun that comes with that holiday. As the evenings were growing darker, light was ever more vibrant.

I don’t know much about Diwali other than it’s the festival of lights that Hindus celebrate, though I like the idea of light in darkness. It reminded me of Advent, lighting candles and even turning on my own twinkle lights.

Once daylight savings hits the evenings come on faster. It’s dark when I head home and when I do shopping after work. When I pull up into my apartment campus, I see lights adorning windows from many who celebrated Diwali, or those preparing for Christmas, reminding all of us that light conquers darkness. I think that’s a message all of us need reminding of now more than ever.

With so much fear and anxiety our world seems to have lately, I think the world needs the reminder of hope, peace, love and joy. I think the world needs reminding of the light shining in the darkness and that darkness couldn’t contain the light. That’s what Advent is about, at least for me.

Yes, it’s the season of preparing and waiting for Jesus’ birth. Yes, it’s the reminder of God’s love to humanity. Yes, it’s lighting candles and hanging wreaths and reading Scripture and so on.

Advent is also about a light in the darkness. That’s why candles are lit. In fact, the first Sunday of Advent’s Scripture from Isaiah that says, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined” (Isaiah 9: 2). It’s a reminder that God’s light came into the world but also that fear and darkness shall not overcome the light.

I’m reminded of my niece who wailed at the top of her lungs because I forgot to turn on her turtle nightlight after I tucked her in. I’ve felt like that for a few days now – scared, frightened, full of fear. And yet, like my niece, my anxiety goes away once I’m reminded of the light, when I look up at the lights in the windows or when I’m reminded of Advent candles and twinkle Christmas lights that have popped up everyone after Halloween.

Things may seem dark and scary at the moment. I pray that the symbol of light that surrounds Advent and Christmas remind us that God’s hope, peace, love and joy surround us. I pray that all of us are reminded that God’s light will not be overtaken by the dark and that we are called to be that light in our uncertain world.

May God’s light surround you all this Advent, Christmas and New year.

Tuesday Positives

Placeholder ImageOver the last few weeks I have been on a roller coaster ride of emotions. I’ve been trying to find the positives in life. Sadly, I’ve almost come up empty.

Last week my booty was kicked in more ways than one. And amidst my post-election depression and double duty pastoring, I’ve been trying to look out for the blessings that surround me. So…

Given that I’m on vacation, finally have a few positives to write down and reflect on, and finally have the time to write without pulling my hair out, I present to you The Positives of the last week or so.

Number 1: Presence is Everything – If there’s one thing I took away from my seminary education (aside from all that theology stuff) is that pastoral presence is everything. I learn this every time I visit the hospital or talk with someone going through something.

Two Fridays ago I got called to the hospital for a long old church member who was put on hospice that day. He and his family lean more to the Catholic side of things as of late but he grew up in my church. With the senior pastor away at the time, I was called in. I prayed with his family that he be guided by God’s love as he transitions to eternal life, that the family felt God’s love envelope them in this darkest of human moments. Then I sat with the family, this group of strangers I’d never met before.

Then last Monday (because you know, all of this happens when the senior pastor is away) I got called to the hospital by a church member’s daughter who was on life support and who was being taken off. Cancer sucks. I mean, no one should watch their loved one waste away, let along sit for hours on end as breathing slows and the mind heads elsewhere. I stayed with the mother and was simply there, allowing her to grieve and be angry and sad and concerned.

Needless to say, the man who’s bedside I was 2 weeks ago passed on a few days after I saw him and his service is today. The other, as far as I know, is slowly transitioning to eternal life. Presence is everything.

Number 2: Being An Aunt – Last Sunday I woke up early, preached, taught Confirmation then went home. Only to change clothes, grab clothes for the evening and drive up to my parent’s house an hour away. I totally dislike having my picture taken, but I did those family photos for Grandma and my mother. Plus, I got to play with my nieces and nephews, 2 of whom I see maybe once or twice a year. I helped my nieces put on their princess dresses when all was done. I held my nephew/Godson as he laughed and laughed. And I helped my other nephew add some more frosting and sprinkles to his plate and then proceeded to watch him eat it. I love being an aunt.

Then this past Saturday I spent all day with the niece and nephew I rarely see. I played Legos and watched my nephew carry around the car I made him. I heard him yelling, “Party time!” all evening after his sister declared that it was in fact party time. My niece and I played with Pez and all of us played with Grandpa’s Christmas train. Good times.

Number 3: Vacation – After a week of hospital visits, a difficult church meeting and week, I’m on vacation. Need I say more?

Number 4: Presents – Christmas shopping is almost complete! Wahoo! I have like 2 more gifts to get. Plus, I’ve started wrapping. So awesome to be ahead of the game as December is one of the busiest times for a pastor.

Number 5: The Youth – Time with the Confirmands. Normally the Confirmands and I actually do lessons after church. The last 2 Sundays our group has done an abbreviated lesson. Then we sat around and chatted for the rest of the hour. It’s so fun getting to know the youth.

Then this past Saturday I spent the morning with the youth as we helped with the Prairie Path and planting trees and such. The wind was howling, it was bitter cold and yet, somehow I had fun, despite not being able to feel my legs or feet. And then we went to breakfast, to which one of the children of the church came up to me the next day and said he saw me at the restaurant. Too funny. And good times.

There you have it…They don’t seem like a lot but these little things have made my day over the last week and half or so.

Thank you God for tiny blessings that make us smile and reflect.