(Mom utters with eyes rolling while corralling child hyped up on the latest candy cane-induced sugar high) “Tis the Season.”
(Dad pronounces with pride brimming watching high schooler dance in holiday pageant) “Tis the Season.”
(Parents cry waiting for any hopeful news of their adult child living on the streets with addiction) “Tis the Season” is right! A season filled with wonder, joy, hope and generosity. A season also filled with waiting, anticipating, yearning, the pleading question “is it all going to be okay?” This is the howl of Advent.
Christmas Morning is the answer to that question. The entire journey of parenting feels a lot like Advent. In fact, it starts with the womb, nine months of waiting, anticipating, yearning, the Question, “WILL THEY BE OKAY?” Our precious baby is born and for a moment when the doctor says, “All is well,” we burst with joy and wonder, waves of relief flooding our hearts as the question is answered. “Yes, they are going to be okay.” Advent quiets. Christmas Morning arrives. Until… We arrive home, alone with this human we are responsible to feed and care for, keep alive and healthy. We wake in the dark, tiptoe over to the bassinet and put our hands on their backs or our fingers under their teeny noses to see if they are breathing. The Question arises again, “are they going to be okay?”
Advent returns. This constant returning to Advent, to the Question, permeates parenthood. WILL THEY BE OKAY??? Will they choke on that bagel?
Will they make friends in their class?
Will they learn to read?
Will they score a goal?
Will they have a seat in the lunchroom?
Will they tell us the truth about that party?
Will they drink and drive?
Will they get into a good college?
Will they struggle with loneliness?
Will they meet someone who loves them?
Will they make enough money?
Will they be a good mom or dad?
Will they have a happy marriage? WILL THEY BE OKAY??? Advent grieves broken places that are yet to be healed, questions that have no answer today and yearning that is unfulfilled. BUT (and it’s a big BUT), Advent also speaks the hope of an answer at the end of a long season of waiting, a Christmas Morning to come. But as parents (whether our child is 2, 22 or 42), we wait, always returning to the Question. Wondering if there is an answer to the burning doubt inside. WILL THEY BE OKAY? Really OKAY? Is there a Christmas Morning for us, for our children who we love so tenderly and so dearly? Not too long ago, I was in the middle of a long period of Advent with one of my kids, asking and asking the Question. It was nearly impossible to see any glimmer of hope on the horizon, near or distant. The waiting was long. I fell into a bleak and dreary place. The Question engulfed me until I asked an ever scarier one: WHAT IF THEY ARE NOT OKAY? What then? Just when I needed it (or more likely, when I was able to hear it), a gentle Voice spoke into my heart, clear as the air on a crisp Spring day. “Even if the unspeakable happens, even if their treasured life comes to an end, they will be with Me, enveloped in My unfathomable love. They will be perfectly safe.” Further words came after that I had so longed for: “THEY WILL BE OKAY! REALLY OKAY!” And then, when I thought it was over, the same kind Voice gave the answer to an even deeper question I had not even asked: “AND SO WILL YOU, MAMA.” The sigh of my soul was almost audible, as I collapsed into the knowing place that no matter what, even if all questions are answered with a NO, the Question is answered always with a YES. Advent always ends with Christmas Morning.
**If you want the whole devotional (and the next three Advent Sundays) including spiritual exercises and reflection questions, sign up BY CLICKING HERE**
My LEAST favorite phrase that graces the mouths of my kids.
It usually comes when I am in a tizzy, overcome with fear about something that’s out of my control.
“Mom, can I go to this party (far away with people you don’t know)?”
“Mom, I just rear-ended someone.”
“Mom, I have this weird rash.”
In the middle of all the fret and freak out, it’s the last thing I want to hear.
Instead, I totally want to hang on to my anxiety and use it to gain control over whatever is in front of me.
[Secret reveal: it doesn’t work. The more control I try to take, the greater my fear and panic. I can’t just “relax.”]
I’m not a big “throw a Bible verse out there and hope it sticks somewhere somehow.”
But there’s this one that turned this whole “relax” nonsense on its lovely head.
It’s simple and not simple at the same time.
“Cast all your anxieties on Him…”
[I looked it up, being the nerd I am.]
“Cast” means to “fling something with great force” and it indicates “onto the back of some beast of burden.”
My precious body is not designed to carry the weight of fret and freak out.
My aching back and my clenched jaw are proof.
BUT my days are still filled with hard stuff that is just too much for me (and my fragile central nervous system).
What am I, the fret-and-freak-out mom, to do?
I’m not good with “relax,” but I am really good with “fling” whatever whenever onto God’s “shoulders.”
Sounds perfect to me. Good riddance.
But why should I, the fret-and-freak-out mom, do this?
Plain and simple answer. One I can get on board with.
…BECAUSE He cares for you.” (I Peter 5:7)
[I looked this up too.]
This word “care” implies “deep affection” and “meticulous attention.”
God’s not only highly aware and taking notice, but has utter tenderness for me and the heavy loads I am carrying.
It’s a good thing God doesn’t say “relax” to me like my kids do.
That would probably just amp me up even more.
Instead, He’s so gently reminds me,
“Take whatever load you’ve got on your back and fling it with all your might onto mine. I will carry it for you. You know why? Because I care deeply for you.”
Maybe I can “relax” a little bit after all.
Fear is prime real estate in the “fun to do.”
The “shadows” come out to play.
Death is paraded for the world to embrace. I do not like thinking about death. Even on Halloween. I like cute pumpkins.
It’s where my anxiety heads on any given day. At times, I am able to “keep it in its rightful place,” and move along. [Get my work done.]
[Enjoy the beauty of life.]
[Have lots of hope.] But at others, I feel fragile, afraid, and my heart is off to the races [Text my family to see if they are okay.]
[Look on the internet for answers to my latest ailment.]
[Hunker down to protect myself.] I would love to get to a place where I don’t fear death at all.
I’m not sure if that’s even possible. But I’m pretty sure I don’t have to be a slave to this excruciating fear, wear it as a weighty chain around my neck, and allow it to lead me down the “not living anyway” path. As of late, I have felt a few links come off and I wonder if this might be (at least some of) the reason: I am leaning into it, instead of avoiding it. Spending time and energy with those who are grieving and not trying to fix their pain (and thus, my own). Asking questions about walking through it with a fiercely-loved one and being reminded again how God shows up in the middle of it all, and it’s one of those “thin places” where heaven touches earth, awful and beautiful, but mostly exquisitely sacred. It all seems to reveal, like nothing else can, that “LOVE is stronger than death.” In fact (as my hubby often reminds me)… I was born in LOVE. I’ve come from it. I am currently held in LOVE. I’m safe. And eventually, I will return to LOVE. Sigh. Death (as scary as it is) cannot destroy the REAL ME. I will live forever, doused in and surrounded by LOVE. It is much stronger (HE is much stronger) than Death. I’ll still have my moments and days and seasons of slavery to fear.
Of taking chain links on and off. I’m still in a “continuing to heal” place in this area. Maybe we all are.
This is a girl I love. Her picture hangs on our family photo wall. I want to fix it, make him okay. I am sad. I am angry.
I want to buy him a plane ticket to visit his sister. My own eyes well up and I offer him the only thing I can: my presence. This is how it is now. The older my kids get, what they need comforting for or help with are not things I can do much about, I can’t make people like them.
I can’t (and shouldn’t) fight on their behalf for a grade or a promotion at work.
I can’t force someone to want to spend the rest of their lives with them.
I can’t stop the world from hurting them. What am I to do? Offer my presence. In simple ways. Answer their text with a simple “I love you.”
Listen when and if they want to talk.
Take them to a movie, complete with popcorn and candy.
Write a “you’ve got this” note.
Make their favorite cookies.
I’m not fixing the dilemmas they find themselves in.
I’m not concocting ways to ensure they are not in pain (try as I might). I am being with them in the middle of the quagmire.
I am reminding them they are not left on their own.
I am here for them, worrying, trusting, cheering, praying and hoping. There’s no place I’d rather be.
I picked up some barbecue from a local restaurant this past week.
It’s a hole-in-the-wall that opens at 11 am and usually sells out by 2 pm. They make no bones about how they will close as soon as the meat is gone.
When I arrived at 10:50 am, there was already a short line. They are THAT GOOD!
At 10:59 am, they opened their doors. There were now several people behind me waiting for their goodies.
Because of this not-so-lovely continuing plague, each person entered one at a time, some with masks and others without.
That left most of us waiting outside, just fine as it was a gorgeous fall day, filled with sunny skies and warm temperatures.
One woman fidgeted. She seemed overly nervous. She asked me how long I thought this would take as she had left someone waiting in the car.
A man complained that the website had not updated and they “better have brisket” today.
Three mid-twenties “guys,” looking like they just rolled out of bed, chatted about how much they loved working from home.
I was in a good mood and thrilled not to have to be cooking for the company we had invited over for dinner. My face was filled with smiles as I waited to order.
But my mind was churning.
What made this woman so nervous? Was the person in the car a child? A demanding, abusive spouse? Why was she in such a hurry? I felt sad for her.
What was the deal with the “Negative Ned” (the name I made up for him)? Why was he being such a jerk? This is a small business in a local town and he just “had to say something?” I felt pretty angry about him.
Where did these young fellas work, the ones in their sweats with bedhead? Did their bosses know that they were out-and-about? How fun for them to be getting lunch with their friends and working from home! Are they getting paid for this? I felt pretty confused about them.
As I drove away, the smell of pulled pork and brisket wafting through my car, I couldn’t stop thinking about this group of humans lined up outside on a small porch at 11 am, all waiting for the SAME thing.
Yet, we were all so DIFFERENT.
Coming from different places.
Feeling different things.
In different spaces.
Inside and out.
And it struck me.
No matter where we go or who we are with or what we are doing, we bring ourselves.
What’s going on in our life.
What’s happening inside our hearts.
Good or bad, happy or sad, annoyed or kind, fearful or at peace (yada yada yada).
Other people, even strangers standing in line and small business owners trying to serve up some finger-licking-good eats, reap the “rewards.”
I just happened to have had a good night of sleep, a full belly from my smoothie and an evening ahead with friends to look forward to.
I was rested, fed and loved.
Maybe that’s why I was all smiles and “in a good mood,” something the porch-waiters and shopkeepers benefitted from.
But the others?
I’m not sure.
Where were they coming from?
Were they rested, fed and loved?
I emptied my wares into the fridge, my husband helping me. I chatted away about the people in line.
He reminded me of a quote by Richard Rohr, “If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.”
Yes to that. YES. YES. YES.
That has happened both FROM me and TO me.
A few minutes later, I hunkered down in my office, thoughts continuing to swirl.
This time, something Jesus said came to me. “Out of the heart, the mouth speaks.”
Yes to that. YES. YES. YES.
What happens on the outside comes from the inside. Always.
I said a quick prayer on my futon, knowing I could have been any of those folks on any given day.
“God, grant me the goodness that I need on the inside. Help me to fight for it. Help me to receive it. Help me to give it to others on the outside.”
Even when standing on porches in small towns waiting with strangers.
The afternoon sun glistens through the trees.
The leaves are just beginning to be marked by yellows and oranges.
I steal a quiet moment to soak it all in.
Change and letting go beat their steady drums right in front of me.
They mirror what’s happening in my own life, my own heart.
So much change.
Much of it visible to the outside world.
My kids growing and flying.
My move to the woods (#acorns) and very-far-away grocery stores.
My new and strange love of flower gardening.
My public writing.
My decision to take a sabbatical from church and ministry.
My now simple and unhurried life.
So much change.
Especially in the hidden places of my heart.
My growing ability to hold space for grief and joy at the exact same time, not trying to diminish one for the other.
My okayness with not having everything right this minute at my beck-and-call. #thisishardforme
My settledness of soul when I’m digging in the dirt and hashing things out with my Creator.
My surprising bravery sharing my not-so-pretty parts with the world and being somewhat fine no matter what others might think.
My emerging desire to lean into questions instead of being certain of answers.
My permission to explore long-held beliefs, systems, and what drives me to cling to them.
My switch from frantic to slow, elaborate to simple, piety to peace.
So much letting go.
Of manicured lawns.
Of a sense of belonging.
Of life as I know it.
So much letting go.
An acorn falls with a large thump.
A brown leaf floats and lands to my right.
Many already scatter my driveway.
The trees are changing right before my eyes.
It’s beautifully sacred to see.
The trees will soon let go of all their leaves.
It’s the exact right thing for them to do.
The trees need rest.
The trees are not afraid of change or letting go.
They are not afraid of rest.
They tell me I don’t have to be either.
Want to know what I’ve been reading?
Want some reviews so you can figure it out for yourself?
Check out these books I’ve spent some time with (and keep doing so).
Bittersweet, Shauna Niequist (4.5 stars)
I lived my life pursuing the “sweet” side and avoiding the “bitter.” Shauna helped me to embrace all of it and she did it by telling her own stories of heartache and hope. Very short chapters. Easy to read one at bedtime or in the morning. I used it as a devotional and in my women’s group. A wonderful gift for the women in your life (any age and stage).
Inspired, Rachel Held Evans (4.9 stars)
I worked through this book slowly with a women’s group recently. It is brilliant. Evans, one of my new favorite authors, examines some familiar Bible stories, retelling them in new ways and drawing out ideas that resonated with me. As Amazon says, “Undaunted by the Bible’s most difficult passages, Evans wrestles through the process of doubting, imagining, and debating Scripture’s mysteries. The Bible, she discovers, is not a static work but is a living, breathing, captivating, and confounding book that is able to equip us to join God’s loving and redemptive work in the world.” I couldn’t recommend this more.
Sooley, John Grisham (4.3 stars)
I am a huge fan of Grisham and have read almost every book he’s written. This book is in a league by itself. It takes you on a journey into war-torn South Sudan and a young man who gets the chance of a lifetime: “a trip to the United States with his South Sudanese teammates to play in a showcase basketball tournament. He has never been away from home, nor has he ever been on an airplane. The opportunity to be scouted by dozens of college coaches is a dream come true.” (so says Amazon) It is heart-breaking, riveting, hopeful, and a serious page-turner. Definitely worth the read and if you know anyone who loves Grisham, it would make a great gift.
Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Peter Scazzero (4.2 stars)
Looking to dive deep? This book explores how our emotional and spiritual well-being are very closely tied together. I went through this book with about 60 other people and it was fabulous. It explores the more contemplative side of faith as well as working through our own wounds from our pasts.
The Next Right Thing, Emily P. Freeman (5+ stars)
I am reading through this a second time. Slowly. And journaling. It’s that good. Emily’s wisdom and ability to communicate through story about how to make decisions (which we all do about 35,000 times a day) couldn’t be more effective. She is gentle and kind, strong and helpful. I’ve recommended this book to every single person I’ve come in contact with. Short, yet very packed-full-of-goodness chapters.
Reading brings me to “far away” places including my very own heart! I am changed by what I read. I hope you are too.
I am obsessed this week. To say the least.
It’s all I talk about.
To my friends.
At the dinner table.
Via text. Phone calls. Zoom groups.
I can’t stop listening and thinking and mulling over and over and over.
I’ve been obsessed with a podcast.
It’s about the glorious rise to fame of a church and its pastor and then their spiraling demise.
Being a fierce “justice warrior,” anger wells within me over the same old story of corrupt systems and those who enable the people at the top. Often in the well-disguised mantra of advancing the kingdom of God. I’ve seen and lived it over and over again in my lifetime.
It happens on large scales with huge followings.
It happens in microcosms like families.
It happens everywhere.
Questions loom large in my mind as I listen.
How does this happen?
Why does this keep happening?
Who is responsible?
Haven’t we learned?
How can we fix this?
Why am I so mad?
The last one haunts me.
Why am I so mad?
I know I’m mad at the pain it causes people whose desire to do good are being used as pawns in some weird game disguised as ministry.
I know I’m mad at the downright destruction left in the aftermath of shame, fear, manipulation and abuse of power.
I know I’m mad at the harm it brings to those who thought they found God and healing and life, but in the end, they realize it was all a fraud.
As I dig a little deeper, I’m kind of mad at myself. Not just kind of. Really mad.
Mad that I can get caught up in advancing these systems. I have and probably will again (no matter how hard I try not to).
Mad that the podcast could be about me. If my center-of attention, leadership-bent, late 20s, unhealed self had been put in a position that was “too big for my britches,” it certainly could be about me.
I’m okay with the mad. It’s a bit of a righteous anger. Because it’s all just not right.
This church I’m learning about.
The much bigger system we all live under.
I dig even a little bit deeper and chatter about all this with my family.
Why am I so mad?
Where can I start?
What do I need to learn?
How can I heal?
Bring healing to others?
The answer that comes catches me a little off-guard.
I’m still obsessed. How could I not be?
I’m still mad. I’m allowed to be.
But I’m still going to keep reaching for grace.
Or better yet, the Giver of it is going to keep reaching for me.
If you are curious, the name of the podcast is “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill.” Click HERE to listen to it.