Saturday, December 22, 2007

My Christmas Present

Hark the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled.

I enjoy Christmas.

At night I sit in the dimly lit living room and watch the lights flicker and dance on the tree. I look at my favorite ornaments and think about the story that goes with each. Christmas has been very quiet for me this year.

Many people are rushed, frustrated and angry during this season. Lists are too long, and calendars too full. Minds are too crowded with the many obligations and duties that loom.

Lines out of shopping plazas and malls are like cattle shoots. We hear phrases like “skipping Christmas” and there are many who are truly trying to avoid the entrapment of the season.

Because of a couple of fluke accidents, Christmas has been very different for me this year. But I received one of the best Christmas presents of my life last night.

It couldn’t be wrapped.

My Dad came to my house for Christmas. He sat in my living room on the couch beside me, and I felt like a little girl.

My father and I haven’t talked in the past four years. Who knows why exactly? Miscommunication. No communication. Stubbornness. Pride.

One Sunday morning back in early November I chucked pride and stubbornness into the trash and called him. That was the best phone call I have ever made in my life.

Suddenly Christmas has become something more. More than just a time for gifts and festivities. More than obligation. More than the traditions that I hold close. This Christmas has become a time of reconciliation.

I have a cast on my right leg. And every one who comes to visit me signs it. My daughters handed the marker to their Papa. He began to write on my bright red cast. I held my breath. My father’s name is Tony. That’s what I expected to see when he moved his hand away. Instead in big, fat, clear letters he had written: Dad.

The thrill that pierced my heart was immediate and so tangible that I swallowed a gasp.

When he reluctantly left, I rubbed my finger over the black letters and cried.

My daughters asked if they were good tears and all I could do was nod.

Reconciliation.

This is the real message and meaning of Christmas.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Just Breathe

Heavenly Father,

You have me very still—you almost have me immobilized, yet still I struggle like an infant who fights sleep. I wrestle with the tangled workings of my mind. I long to be a baby pressed securely to her mother’s bosom. I need to be swaddled.

I asked that you would get me still enough to hear your breathing. I asked that you synchronize my inhalations and exhalations with yours. I asked and You answered.

And yet inwardly I know there is still a tension of resistance. There is still this attitude of striving. I still battle this ever-present grasp of self-induced perfection.

Oh God! Enable me to listen. You are trying to talk to me, to instruct me, to console me. You are whispering and rubbing my cheek to induce much needed sleep, but I have this endless, inward prattle that both interrupts and interferes. My inner dialogue is furied and incessant. I am having trouble hearing you above it.

I have been asking you for years to help me to just breathe. I don’t know how. Every time I take a breath I fill it with so many other things. Things that I think others want or expect. Things that I want or expect—and they become this monotonous litany of disappointments and half failures.

I want to breathe. Just breathe.

I have been asking this silent prayer for years. Years.

Even today please help me to slow the prattle.

Oh God, help me to exhale so that I might inhale. I have been holding my breath too long. This air is stale.

Amen

.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Advent--3rd week

(Light the Green candle—symbol of Examination and Giving More)

Random acts of kindness have become vogue. During this season we will hear a lot of conversation about: buying groceries, making baskets, giving coats, donating money, supporting a needy child or family, and visiting the elderly. These are all wonderful opportunities to give to others. These acts are needed and good, but rarely do they require us to truly invest ourselves.

How can we give more? Gifts bought or given out of duty and unrealistic expectations create stress. Often it is easier to give the material gift. Relational gifts are given out of who we are not just what we have. These gifts require more than time and money. They require an investment we may not be willing to give. But intentional, relational gifts encourage connection and community.

God’s greatest gift to us was not a random act of kindness. Jesus’ entry into our history was an act of kindness, but it was not random. God was intentional in his giving, and he invested in us. God went beyond a one time effort and gave a gift which would encourage a relationship with him. Through his son, Jesus, God opened doors for dialogue, connection, and community with us.

Heavenly Father, it is easy to simply give more—instead show us how to give with intention. Compel us to invest in others. Empower us to take a random act of kindness and touch someone’s soul. In the process our own soul will be moved. Help us give in ways that will encourage your people to be a family—your family. Oh, that we might give as you do! Amen

* Sunday: Lamentations 3:40; Psalm 26:2
* Monday: Luke 6:38; II Corinthians 9:6-8
* Tuesday: Proverbs 18:16
* Wednesday: Proverbs 11:24-25; Matthew 10:42
* Thursday: I Timothy 6:17-19
* Friday: II Corinthians 8: 1-12
* Saturday: II Corinthians 9: 11-15

Thursday, December 13, 2007

ReThinking Christmas Trees

I have been reading a great deal about reminiscing this Christmas—especially about grandparents. Holidays contain many elements, and flashbacks are more prevalent during this season than almost any other.

Several events have happened this year that have caused me to ReThink Christmas. Not only because my church is asking me to do so, but because I need to do this. As usual one of my daughters has helped me in this endeavor.

My mother never wanted to be called any of the grandmother names. She simply wanted all of her granddaughters to call her by her given name. At first I wouldn’t allow it, but I wish I had listened.

Christmas at my childhood home was a strange time. My step-father owns a home town restaurant (in business for 37 years), and our Christmas holiday was always scheduled around the work there. My mother would decorate the Frosty Freeze. The front two windows would be small-town works of art. There would be a tree—a ceramic one with colored lights built in—sitting on top of one of the counters with fake snow underneath. Garland would hang around the facings of the doors. Every table would have a different holiday arrangement in the center. My best memories come from the festivities that happened there.

Home was a different story. We would have a tree sporadically. A themed one, of course, with all the same colored balls and white lights and icicles. One year everything on the tree was UK blue and white. This was in tribute to my family’s adoration of UK basketball. My mother had fun that year.

I remember the last tree being right in the middle of the formal living room. Yes, it was a room that you couldn’t sit in. Everything in the room was placed strategically—in many ways it was an artistic endeavor. That was the last tree I remember.

Over the years the decorations at the restaurant and at home became mangled and shoddy, so they were tossed and never replaced. And the sporadic tree trimming also fell away.

The Vaughan Christmas tree is a huge deal. There is a method, and it is the running joke with my daughters concerning me (another story). My two younger daughters and I put up the tree this year. We had fun and our evening had all the elements of tradition. We played Ray Charles and Charlie Brown’s Christmas. We held our breaths to see if the lights were right. My older daughters were not happy with us; they wanted to be a part of this event.

During the decorating I told my younger daughters about my mother’s Christmas trees and the fact that she no longer puts one up. This was so foreign to my daughters, but very little was said.

Later, we were making plans for the Christmas season—which part of the family we were going to see and when. We were planning on going to this set of grandparents’ on the 23rd. Some events occurred that changed these plans. My third daughter became visibly upset because we weren’t going on the day we had planned. I couldn’t discern why.

My home is a difficult and demanding place to visit. I thought she was dreading the trip. I thought she wanted to go on a day that we wouldn’t have to stay very long. I was wrong.

I was so wrong.

She had taken some of her own money and secretly (with the help of friends) bought my mother a small Christmas tree, ornaments, lights, and garland. She had even bought a huge Christmas Teddy bear to put under the tree because she didn’t want that space to be empty. She wanted to go on the 23rd and decorate the tree for my mother as a part of her gift. And that is why my daughter wanted to go before Christmas.

My daughter had rethought Christmas. She wanted to give my family a bright spot to look at this year. She wanted to take some of what she experiences and pass it along. She wanted them to have new memories. When she brought the tree and all the extras in and showed me, I really didn’t know what to say or do. She had gone so far beyond what I had contemplated.

She didn’t spend a lot of money (a lot for her small budget), but her heart was intertwined in everything she bought.

We will go to my hometown this year. And I will watch as she and her sisters give this gift to my mother. I know that my girls will engage their grandmother to participate. They will put a hanger on a brightly colored ball and ask her to hang it. My mother will protest and she will balk, but with her funny little smile she will tentatively place it on a limb. That will be all my mother will do, but it will be enough.

I have always loved Christmas trees, but my daughter just gave me a reason to love them more.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Week 2--Advent Devotional

(Light a Gold Candle—Symbol of Preparation and Spending Less)

Often Christmas is a season of “push and pull”. The religious community pulls us. It admonishes us to guard against the material society and its standards and to keep our priorities in order. The saturation of our consumer-oriented American culture causes the push. Every year the retail Christmas begins earlier and earlier. As a result we purchase gifts for our first cousins twice-removed. And we wonder why.

Our culture is stealthily pushing the Incarnation (Jesus’ coming to dwell in the flesh) to the outer fringes of the season. There is an effort to eradicate his presence and influence entirely. This attempt to remove Jesus is nothing new. Herod attempted to do the same, but his plan was thwarted.

As we prepare for this season let us evaluate whether we are being pushed or pulled to buy or do. We need to resist being conformed to the expectations created by the “traditions of men” and thwart any attempt to remove Jesus’ presence and influence.

Heavenly Father, during this holy season teach us to give weight to what is of eternal value. Prepare us to spend our time, energy, emotions, effort and money on what will expand your kingdom. Enable us to discern with deep clarity what we can change and what will change us. May your standard transform our desires. Please help us to understand how to spend less, so that we might truly spend more. Amen.

* Sunday: Romans 12:2; I John 2:15-17
* Monday: Daniel 1:1-21
* Wednesday: Daniel 3
* Thursday: Colossians 3:9-10; Ephesians 4:22-24
* Friday: Matthew 6:19-21; Luke 12:32-34
* Saturday: Proverbs 23: 4-5; Isaiah 55:1-2

Friday, December 7, 2007

Evening Prayer

Heavenly Father,

The day has been long, and the morning seems so far away. I can remember every detail, but the time and events seem far removed from where I am now.

I am tired. Not weary. Just tired. And I long to go to a still quiet place and let all thoughts, plans, stress, and concerns drain away. Enable me to close my eyes and keep the screen of my eyelids blank for a while.

Thank you for the day and all that it has held. Thank you for creativity and laughter and for friends and spontaneity.
Forgive me for the things I said and did that I should not have, and please forgive me for the things I should have said and done, but did not.

I know you are near. I feel you hovering just above the edge of my consciousness--whispering to me. I am asking that you help me get still enough to hear my own breathing. Then, please move me to a place where I can hear your breathing, no matter how faint. Synchronize my inhalations and exhalations with yours.

Mary wrapped your Son in swaddling clothes. She carefully pulled his tiny arms and legs near his little body to keep him warm and from erratic flailings. As Mary did this for Jesus will you please wrap me? Pull all of me in with the swaddling of your Spirit. Wrap and pull me tight to secure and calm my own infant flailings. Pull me towards your center.

And allow me to fall into a deep, contented sleep because you are the last thing on my mind.

Amen and amen.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Advent--1st week

Week 1—Devotional
(Light the Blue Candle—Symbol of royalty)

Mary expected and prepared for the arrival of her child. She did not know the day or the hour, but she knew he was coming. She trusted and believed what she had been told and assured by Gabriel.

Mary anticipated the arrival—the coming. But heaven witnessed the departure—the going. Sentinel angels guarded Jesus’ descent. Holding holy breaths, the citizens of heaven watched the Word part the veil. They fixed their eyes on the royal Son as he entered seamlessly through the curtain and became flesh —he slid into common and banal history. His presence manifested quietly. Unobtrusively. The angels who followed him carried the worship of heaven with them—spilling it over to the shepherds on the hills of Bethlehem.

All eyes in the gospel nativity accounts were on Jesus. Shepherds, Magi, Angels, Simeon, and Anna all fixed their eyes on this baby we call Jesus. These witnesses saw him for what he truly was and is—God’s remedy for the chaos, profanity, and ugliness of the world.

Heavenly Father, increase our expectation for your presence and cause it to swell within us. Let us be the new witnesses of Jesus’ perpetual arrival. Show us how to embrace and extend your remedy to our world. Let our worship be more than high hymns and spiritual songs and rote rituals—enable our worship to be a pedestal to lift Jesus up so others might see him. Amen.

* Sunday: Hebrews 12:2; Hebrews 3:1
* Monday: John 1:1-5; Colossians 1:15-20; 2:9
* Tuesday: Luke 1:39-56; Psalm 34:1-5
* Wednesday: Luke 2:8-20; Matthew 2:1-12
* Thursday: Luke 2:14; Hebrews 1:6
* Friday: Luke 2:21-38
* Saturday: Hebrews 1:1-3; Philippians 2:5-11