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I Wonder as I Wander– Week 1 Advent Devotional

Why is Christmas so celebrated? It is cherished by so many, myself included. What I have found though is that the reason can be found in what it isn’t. It isn’t the beautiful albeit inaccurate songs, it isn’t the gift giving, it isn’t the decorations, it isn’t the huge meals, it isn’t the people bickering over whether to say ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘Happy Holidays,’ it isn’t the loneliness we all try to avoid, it isn’t the loss of loved ones we remember, it isn’t even the inevitable family arguments.

All of those things are integral to some and unavoidable to others, some are pleasant while others are certainly not. But it is so very important to acknowledge that all of those things are present in this season. So how does that help me define my reasons? Well because it is none of those things and all of them. There is a shift… a turning that occurs in me every season and having identified this ‘turning’ has put so much into perspective.

It started in the shower actually. I was trying to figure out what we could do for a program at church when the best Christmas hymn ever written began to play on my streaming service. It was written by Noel Stookey (Peter, Paul and Mary), Christmas Dinner. Even if you know the song, please, I urge you to go listen to it again. I grew up loving this song and the artist that sings in, but this time it was brand new. Did you catch what I missed?

There is a turning! Actually, there are several! This child turned to windows that were glowing with the traditional Christmas scenes, but then this child turned to a window that was only lit with a bare candle. Not a candle set on a windowsill, but a candle on table that lit the tears of a grandmother there. Then the old woman turned to the boy.

The remainder of the song is spent examining their shared celebration and is absolutely lovely. They share out of their lack and together have in full. And that, that right there, in a nutshell is what draws me to the Advent season. When people are willing to turn towards one another then take it one step further to come close, there is the spark of the sacred in that space that is shared.

I think we really are just imitating Christ, because whenever and for whatever reason God turned and looked at us, they also took the step to come closer. Brene Brown, in her uncomfortably poignant understanding wrote, in Atlas of the Heart, “When we are reckless with other people’s stories, we diminish our own humanity.” When Christ came, he wasn’t reckless with our stories, Scripture proves that to us over and over again. No, Christ valued our stories, he was reckless with his own.

We have become so accustomed to sarcasm and the misperception of perfection that sincerity has become rare and vulnerability just as untrustworthy. But we want to see and we want to be seen, why else would social media platforms be so relevant?? I wonder if we have forgotten what it feels like to actually be seen and how it changes us to see others. While riding in the car with my sons, we were listening to The BFG, by Roald Dahl, and a scene that illustrates this was given.

“Somone is bound to see us,” Sophie said.
‘Never is they seeing me,’ the BFG said confidently. ‘You is forgetting that I is doing this sort of thing for years and years and years. No human bean is ever catching even the smallest wink of me.’
‘I did,’ Sophie whispered.
‘Ah,’ he said. ‘Yes. But you was the very first.’

The BFG by Roald Dahl

Our world is divided by politics… by lines on a map… by differences of opinions… by lack of patience… by the unwillingness to listen and believe other people’s stories. These diversions cause us to move away from one another, to discredit them, to a certain degree ‘cancel’ them. So what we are left with are growing schisms and chasms between us. Do we really want to live this way?

Now, I am not asking you switch football teams or political parties or religions, although goodness knows maybe that is the answer. (From what I understand, the Packers could use some help these days.) I am not even asking you to believe anything new. I am simply hoping you will take a moment or two each day and turn to the person next to you and see them. Think of that small distance between the two of you as the place where the Holy resides. May we lean into that place so that we can find healing for ourselves and, when able, for them too. When you are checking out at the grocery store. Tucking your kiddo into bed. Taking your furry child for a walk. Giving a gift. Receiving a gift. Waving to a neighbor. Passing a person with a different political bumper sticker on their vehicle. Sharing a hug. The opportunities are readily available.

This Advent season, may you receive the peace of Christ and may you turn to those around you to extend that same sacrament.

How Can Hope be Sewn so Late

This poem could be about mending clothes or it could be about our divided country, or our broken environment…so like fabric that has been torn.  I have a lot of concerns about the upcoming election and our environment.  I don’t feel as though I have the wisdom to “do” anything or much, and I wonder if we can afford to “go to bed”, or to let only the politicians find a solution?  What would happen if we each looked into our own “basket” and did a little mending?

______________________

Who will sit in stillness
When all the lights are dimmed?
Though tired, who will pick the needle up
And lay the fabric right
To patch or darn or mend?
   Who will say, “Do it now”?

My grandmother sat late at night
Silence all around.
Pulling threads with calloused fingers,
Adding her strength to fabric,
So clothes could still be worn.
   Who will say, “I will help”?

Who will stitch the patches now,
Where fabric’s weak and torn by rough duress?
Or seams that parted by weakened thread?
Who will stitch because of love
for person or the craft?
   Who will see the “us” in “them”?
   Who will say, “I forgive”?

If only the stitch was made
When fabric first was torn.
But now the basket’s full
And first tear forgotten how.
   Who will say, “Reconcile”?

We must pick up the thread and needle,
Not for stitching quilt or embroidery
Whose stitch is made for beauty.
With thread so thick with color
But made of thinnest wool.
   Who will say, “Bring the light”?

How can this repair be done
On fabric that has hardened?
We each must bring a light and
Sit in stillness,
With thick thread,
whose color has no arrogance or ego.
Or how can hope be sewn so late?

Who will say, “Do it now”?
   Who will say, “I will help”?
      Who will see the “us” in “them”?

Who will say, “I forgive”?
   Who will say, “Reconcile”?
      Who will say, “Bring the light”?

Holy Hell

Today was a busy 5+ hours of garage sale-ing, rock climbing, swimming, friends, family. It was jam packed with laughter and in/out, go go go go go. For the adults, we were feeling the tired feelings and watching the kids begin to express them. The tired turned to exhaustion at about 8 pm when my eldest began to lose his shit over the small stuff. His focus factor had diminished to nil and I asked for his toy so he could put his remaining energy into his teeth. He threw the toy and my youngest fled the room in tears. After 20 minutes of working to understand the rapid decline in behavior mixed with careless words and sobs, we finally got to the root of the problem.

After the long hugs and apologies, on multiple sides, he said something really interesting. “I wish I was like Jesus because he could take all these frustrating feelings and blow them up.” This was such a beautiful moment to teach my kids that all of their emotions are holy and okay.

Jesus overturned tables. He made a whip. He cursed a tree. He showed us angry. Many could even argue that it is an angry God shown through much of Scripture. And if God can show angry, we can too.

What is hard about communication in general though, whether between humans, gods, or any mix therein, is that it involves more than one. With my son, in order to understand what he is feeling and trying to communicate, I have to learn a new language. He speaks 7 year old, I speak 36 years young. He doesn’t experience things through my lens, he experiences them through his. His experience is no less valuable than mine and his emotions are just as valid.

Children are people. They are important. They have inherent worth. And so do I. So do you.

Anger is hard and uncomfortable. But it is holy and, I think, it is because anger reveals what we truly value. My eldest valued his toy and autonomy, both were violated and anger was the tool used to communicate it. So I learn, grow, and adjust. I can change how I approach him and he in turn can change how he responds to me and vice versa.

When I experience anger, my first inclination, every single time, is to evaluate whether it is reasonable or compelling. What caused this situation? Did it feel intentional or more accidental? Why am I angry and reacting with such feeling? Usually, I lose myself in other points of view because anger is such an exhausting emotion; but also I figure that expressing my feelings probably isn’t beneficial to the situation. I got the wrong order at the restaurant that I was really looking forward to? “Maybe I just ordered the wrong thing or didn’t annunciate and the waiter does look really busy, I bet he has a lot to do. And it isn’t easy waiting on all these people. Maybe I can make life easier and just eat this. Food is food.” Now, super simplified. I know. But put it in a different context such as trying to understand my past. I reach out to a person, hoping for help in understanding, and they shut it down. “Maybe I asked incorrectly? Maybe I wasn’t clear in what I was hoping for? Maybe I reached out on a bad day? I can just work it out on my own. I could have asked how I could have helped them.”

While I still want to ease the burden of those I emotionally engage with, my emotions… my perspective… my experience is just as valid as those with whom I am trying to relate. I am now aware of how much I have put my experiences, my thoughts, my emotions on hold or dismissed altogether; now the struggle is helping/letting/encouraging the voice and experience of others WHILE making sure I also embrace my own as equal. I don’t want to be on the teeter totter– it isn’t about bouncing back and forth so that people are either yelling or silent. This is about me stepping off the ride because I am beginning to value my voice and my experiences as much as I do others.

Emotions are commonly compared to a roller coaster. We allow them to control us or we shove them away or we plant them to burgeon forth another day. Anger is an easy emotion to let control the moment, but there has to be something useful about it also. Maybe if it reveals to us what we really treasure, it also provides the motivation to bring change. Change in ourselves, in our environment.

It is hard to sit with out joy and not worry when the other shoe is going to drop. It is hard to sit with our anger and try to understand from where it came. But it can be/is also hard to sit with another’s joy… another’s anger…. Another’s pain.

In Atlas of the Heart, by Brené Brown, she writes, “When we are reckless with other peoples stories, we diminish our own humanity.” With my child, his story was different than mine, but no less true. I want him to learn that his story is valuable, but that it is also valuable to listen and believe the stories of those around him. I want others to know that my story is valuable, so that meant I too needed to realize that it is… even when I am angry.


It has now been over a month since I wrote this. It began as a therapeutic process for me to understand my pain and my anger as well as claim them as my own. Your story with all of its pain, anger, and joy is vital. Share it with those you trust, who will handle you with care. Because you are important.

Lockdown

I was surprised
by the red-tailed hawk that landed in our yard,
the poison ivy on my legs,
the worry and stress,
the civil unrest.
So…painting the house
and mowing the yard,
gathering only with one friend
who was ill
and watched her worsen,
on the chairs in our yard
made by our son.
Feeding peanuts to squirrels
and seeds to birds,
watching the hummingbirds,
and knitting and knitting and knitting.
My husband went to hospital
the pressure in his veins too high,
watched my brother’s marriage dissolve,
then one brother-in-law sick with the virus died.
And we could not gather.
Raking loads of leaves and
and then we caught the virus but did not die.
Then one brother-in-law’s heart stopped.
And we could not gather.
Then cancer claimed my friend.
And we could not gather.
And I could not write.
Our mothers lived through this,
each loosing a son.
Our children marched on
and I’m amazed by them all.
And it began when a red-tailed hawk
landed in our yard and sat in solitude
on a chair that our son made.

Mary, My Older Sister

Mary, my older sister,
you risked the sacred silence,
And found an angel facing you.
Your brave “yes”, 
became a womb,
(a hidden basket among the reeds)
Holding child and promise,
For love and freedom’s sake.

Your “yes”, is water turned to wine.
Becomes a key for those held hostage,
A message of hope for those who grieve,
A hand to the poor and ill,
And still, a friend to strangers.

Those things pondered in your heart,
Of a child whose values included you,
Whose love embraced the earth,
The skies and every living thing.
Sweet Mary, your example for us all.
If there is no time in heaven,
Pray for me now, pray for us now,
for the need is great.

Pray for us now, 
And help us give our grandest, yes,
to set aside our fear
and give us vision for what may be.
As the messenger greets us now,
I sing your praise, and ask you,
Help us with our, yes.
Help me with my yes and amen.

***********

This poem comes from a number of places, mainly from my heart being disturbed by recent political events, an exercise in the book, Birthing the Holy, by Christine Valters Paintner, p.6, and a centering prayer time around M. Basil Pennington:

“In the silence, whether we listen to the creation around us,
The words of revelation, or the deepest stirrings of our own hearts,
We begin to perceive another voice,
One that is too often lost in the static of life.
It is no use saying: ‘Speak, Lord, your servant wants to hear,’
If we never risk the silence to listen.”

Many of my more traditional friends will enjoy this poem, while many of my evangelical friends will probably shake their heads and be concerned. But, I would ask all to examine what is going on inside themselves and if they have ever asked others to pray for them, or if they have reverenced Paul, or Peter? Why not Mary? Her ‘Yes’, was as grand as any.