Monthly Archives: December 2013

riches stored in secret places

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I just opened my mom ‘s Christmas card and letter. In it she includes one of my all-time favorite lines from Tolkein, taken from The Fellowship of the Ring. In fact, it appears in one of the chapters of my new book. Funny how she and I are both drawn to these words . . . Tolkein writes:

“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.”

The great mystery of Christ and Christmas is that the entire story, the entire Kingdom of God, shatters our conventions and our assumptions and invites us to consider how truth and beauty and hope and meaning might be found in the least expected places, ushered in by the least expected people.

On the surface, this is difficult for those of us who would prefer a bit more control over, for example, everything.

But I do want to create space for Christ to come to me this Christmas. To surprise me. To transcend my conventions and assumptions and control. To help me see past the glitter to the gold. Even if that requires me to rethink how I’m going about things.

I want to race around, trying to secure my own meaning and contentment. Christ invites me to LET GO. I don’t need to fix. I don’t need to fixate. I don’t need to add one more thing to my day or week that I believe will help me secure some kind of deeper Christmas experience. Instead, LET GO. So that I have room in my hands and my heart for his “other” way — the way to peace that I could never carve out for myself.

No matter where today finds you — physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially, mentally, relationally — I can assure you that Christ wants to come to you this Christmas. I can assure you that he wants to surprise you with his love and grace. I can assure you that he wants to settle your heart and soul in unexpected ways.

God, in this next week, please help us breathe. Help us LET GO of managing other people, trying to control, trying to make things perfect, trying, trying, trying. We want to exhale the glitter and inhale the gold. Amen.

“I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.” Isaiah 45:3

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I heard the bells

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Yesterday, I attended a “Christmas Collective” hosted by my church at the San Diego Convention Center. The event included a marketplace for the common good and an extraordinary concert that has left me so moved, I’m still thinking about it this morning. 24 hours later.

For me, a very personal part of this experience was seeing two women who I am very close to up on the stage. One singing. One dancing. These two women are in My Group, and we have been a part of each other’s stories, leaning into our creative callings, leaning into the artist within, for years.

Last week I watched the most recent Project Runway Allstars episode and when Jeffrey was eliminated, he said something simple and profound. “Here’s my advice to all artists: work on finding who you are.”

These two beautiful women have been in the trenches of finding who they are and have inspired me on that same path. I know what it took for each of them to be up on that stage yesterday—five very small children between them, two of whom are still nursing, just months old. I know the insane amount of logistics they had to juggle in order to get out the door and get to rehearsals and be there yesterday in great glory.

And here’s the thing: they were spectacular. In a transcendent, holy way. They brought Christmas—which can remain a date, an occasion, an event—to our souls. The message became inescapable.

Wanida played the piano and sang “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” which was originally a poem by Longfellow. He wrote it after losing his beloved wife in a fire and hearing the news of his son’s injury in the Civil War. He wrote because he could finally hear hope ringing through the air, even after all that he had lost. Even after.

Wanida sang,

I heard the bells on Christmas Day

Their old familiar carols play

and wild and sweet

The words repeat

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;

“There is no peace on earth,” I said;

“For hate is strong,

And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Erica danced these words into our eyes and onto our hearts. She brought them alive with longing—the intersection of hope and heartache. She made us feel our own “even afters.” Wanida, continued, building:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The Wrong shall fail,

The Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men.

In the 1800s, when Longfellow and the other “Fireside Poets” were writing, the world was on its ear with disease and war. My mom sent me the beautiful poem by Longfellow’s contemporary, Lowell, “The First Snowfall” telling the story of the first snow after a father had buried his daughter, the “noiseless work of the sky” covering her grave so they could no longer see it. Loss shrouded in beauty.

These were the times.

Not unlike the world 2000 years ago. Not unlike the world today.

Needing something to come to us and change the story, to show us how beauty could possibly come from ashes, to show us who we really are.

I was reminded—through gorgeous movements of artistry—that we still sing today, as all hearts and souls have sung since time began: “O come, O come, Emanuel.” We need you in this very moment today as every heart has always needed you. We need your exquisite beauty.

I am struck, even in this moment, by the power of art and beauty to heal us. How words and melodies and movements can awaken a deeper part of us. Longfellow and Lowell, Wanida and Erica. You and me, too. Allowing ourselves to step out of our heads and into our hearts.  Allowing whatever we’re carrying to be met with the transcendent, “deep calling to deep,” and believing that God’s story is THE story of unending redemption.

Let’s let the beauty in. Even just a tiny bit. And then a bit more. Letting Christ come to us. Allowing our ears and eyes to be awakened, so that we might hear the bells.

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

Amen.

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God is bigger than . . .

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Last Sunday, we arrived at church and Luke had no shoes. I am the mother who sends their kids to Sunday school with no shoes. And then, at one point in yesterday’s church service, I panicked because I thought I had forgotten to put on a bra. Reaching for my shoulder, I realized I had remembered after all. I am the lady in the fourth row who has gone mad. Holiday helter skelter. Too much on the brain.

I see a woman for spiritual direction every so often and the last time we met, I talked with her about my own internal posture as we head into the holidays. As we all do, I want to experience meaning, celebration, fun, joy. And, as we all do, I want to experience those things from a place of peace, not breathless frenzy, with a bra on preferably. I want to—as very much as possible—stay out of Christmas Crazytown.

She asks, “What helps you feel like you are at home within yourself?”

Yowz.

I’ve been turning that one over and over. Do I know how to find, nurture, and return to that home within? That space where I feel centered and full of breath? Do I know what I need in order to feel at home within myself?

Her point was, if I can inhabit that true place within myself, the activity will flow from a place of wholeness and belonging instead of a place of trying-to-fix-and-feel-better-through-frantic-activity.

I thought I’d share her question here, with you, because it seems so very essential to knowing what we need to let go of over these next few weeks and what we need to focus on, insist on, even.

If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, you know I am a lover of Maya Angelou. She is a true poet, an artist with words. I am, in a word, totally obsessed with her. My mother-in-law just sent me Angelou’s Christmas poem, which I had never read. I wanted to share it with you here as it so beautifully sets up the disorientation we can feel against the Peace that has come to walk among us and bring us home.

Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem

By Dr. Maya Angelou

Thunder rumbles in the mountain passes

And lightning rattles the eaves of our houses.

Flood waters await us in our avenues.

Snow falls upon snow, falls upon snow to avalanche

Over unprotected villages.

The sky slips low and grey and threatening.

We question ourselves.

What have we done to so affront nature?

We worry God.

Are you there? Are you there really?

Does the covenant you made with us still hold?

Into this climate of fear and apprehension, Christmas enters,

Streaming lights of joy, ringing bells of hope

And singing carols of forgiveness high up in the bright air.

The world is encouraged to come away from rancor,

Come the way of friendship.

It is the Glad Season.

Thunder ebbs to silence and lightning sleeps quietly in the corner.

Flood waters recede into memory.

Snow becomes a yielding cushion to aid us

As we make our way to higher ground.

Hope is born again in the faces of children

It rides on the shoulders of our aged as they walk into their sunsets.

Hope spreads around the earth. Brightening all things,

Even hate which crouches breeding in dark corridors.

In our joy, we think we hear a whisper.

At first it is too soft. Then only half heard.

We listen carefully as it gathers strength.

We hear a sweetness.

The word is Peace.

It is loud now. It is louder.

Louder than the explosion of bombs.

We tremble at the sound. We are thrilled by its presence.

It is what we have hungered for.

Not just the absence of war. But, true Peace.

A harmony of spirit, a comfort of courtesies.

Security for our beloveds and their beloveds.

We clap hands and welcome the Peace of Christmas.

We beckon this good season to wait a while with us.

We, Baptist and Buddhist, Methodist and Muslim, say come.

Peace.

Come and fill us and our world with your majesty.

We, the Jew and the Jainist, the Catholic and the Confucian,

Implore you, to stay a while with us.

So we may learn by you.

Yesterday, my church started a new advent series called, “It Would Take a Miracle.” Matt invited us to think about areas of our lives and our relationships that would require a miracle to reconcile, heal, reestablish. He asked us to put our finger on the place in our lives that feels broken, to acknowledge where we need a miracle.

This year, it’s my brain. With all the small children and convalescing husband and big plans, my brain is MIA, which allows just enough space for anxiety to take over. It will take a miracle for me to keep us all clothed and in our right minds.

Advent reminds us that we need a miracle. We are, in fact, waiting for the miracle. And, we will celebrate that the miracle did, indeed, come to us.

Last Sunday, my dear friend Wanida sang “God is bigger than . . .” from the stage at our church. I keep thinking about that phrase. God is bigger than . . . family drama, my own anxiety, Luke with no socks, my failing brain, Steve’s hip surgery, all my big plans, all your big plans. He’s bigger than all of it. He’s inviting us out to that bigger moment, that bigger story. He’s inviting us into that place of peace and home.

The Miracle, the Peace, the Baby-sent-to-save is bigger than absolutely anything you and I are up against. Avalanches. Bombs. Bralessness. Brainfreeze. Thunder. Disaster. Hate. Rancor. Division.

Let us make our way to higher ground.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

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