Listen Carefully and Write…More.

I have had little snatches of thoughts for this New Year.

2013.

There are things I know I want to be different about this year compared to years that have completed.  Read more. That is always at the top of the list. Listen more. That requires talking less.  Listen more carefully…that is closer to what is trying to form.

A few years ago I was going to shut down all internet activity for a year.  I lasted not very long, in fact I’m not sure I lasted a whole week. Prayer requests and life updates kept drawing me back, along with dialogs and blogs. Life today does seem to rely heavily on the internet for information and for community.  I’m still not positive I can completely withdraw, although listening more carefully is what is needed.

I can waste an enormous amount of time online. The end of the day reveals that most of the time has been spent in ways that do not feed my soul, and therefore do not feed the soul of my family.

So, 2013….let’s make a pact.  Listen more carefully.

Listen to voices that nourish and inform and spur thoughts and creativity and delight. Thoughts that challenge and bring wisdom and stretch thinking. Voices that encourage depth and strength and simplicity and worship.
Voices that draw me closer to God.

2013…let’s make another pact.  Write more often, and with more intention.

Yep. Listening to the voices that bring creativity and wonder and strength and thought leads to writing for me. Processing things tends to happen with words for me, and this spot on the internet is part of that. 2013…this will be the year that I focus more on my thinking than the last few years.  Writing, processing…chasing rabbit trails and finding where they lead.

2013.

I’m eager to see what this next year holds. I am eager to stretch a little more this year and live a little more intentionally. I’m not shutting down FaceBook or internet…but I am pulling the leash in a little more tightly.

Listening more carefully and write more.
Two resolutions I think I can keep.

Advertisements

Enlarge That Imagination!!!!

I did not know that the sugar cookie recipe called for orange zest, so I had to run back to the store. Yep, that sugar cookie recipe that I mentioned the other day…we’re making Grandma’s sugar cookies tonight and the kids are decorating so they can take them in the morning the Children’s church workers. They are, well, children-decorated. You can tell the kiddos did the work. We’ll do some more that are a little more, well, less “sprinkly”

Back to the story, though. I didn’t know it called for orange zest, so I had to run quickly to the store. The show ‘This American Life’ was on NPR, telling stories of how people celebrate Christmas across our country. The story I caught made me stay in the car in the parking lot at the store…it was a story about parents who made Christmas amazingly magical. The children, now around 30, were telling the story. Telling of the elf that lived in the attic before Christmas: they could hear him working wood up there, hammering and sawing. They would go up and find wood chips after Christmas. Their uncles and Dad would tell of how this elf could do great mischief, sharing stories of the past.

Then, they told of Christmas morning when the rather bedraggled looking Kris Kringle showed up. One of the boys said it felt a bit like they were helping him out; that he had had a tough night and they were giving him a little bit of rest before he went on his way. Then, one year they were walking near the golf course by their house and they saw someone ahead of them hiding behind the trees. Their father encouraged them to go and catch him. They did, and found another of the Santas, this one Klaus. His clothes were a little worn and he had a bag of toys. Well, sort of. He pulled out vegetables and finally bones. Telling the children that the bones were from Rudolph and it was what he used to call the reindeer.

Then the children, who had been 2, 4 and I think 8, told how this Santa, Klaus, asked them if they wanted to go on a sleigh ride to the North Pole. Only, it could only be the kids…no adults. And all three kids told how they were scared to death, even though a part of them wanted to go. Only, that part didn’t happen. Turns out the “Santa” never invited them on a sleigh ride…it was a suggestion of their dad when they were talking late that night.

The story goes on, talking about when they finally found out that all of this was an elaborate…very elaborate…ruse that their parents had developed. It was part of the story of their childhood and led to many discussions and a myth that their childhood chased after.

I was completely caught up in the story…laughing out loud in the parking lot. I was completely caught up in the lengths they went to in the attempt to create something magical and filled with wonder and imagination and surprise. The capers of the Santas, because they believed there were several different ones working together, became part of the lore of the family. To the point that the oldest boy defended Santa to his Junior High class and got in trouble, and even later blamed his parents for his inability to trust. He laughed about it as well, though.

So, here is what struck me. As I sat and listened to this really delight-filled story, I watched the people coming and going from the store. Heads down, furrowed brows, heavy hearts. There was not much wonder or joy or delight.

It seems to me that children grab hold of stories of delight and wonder and they cling to those stories. I have friends who do the Elf on a Shelf, and I know their kids look forward to the antics. It is part of their lore. Our oldest just really came to grips with Santa not being real…but now he is excited about being in the lore himself and helping to keep it alive for his siblings.

In a world where terror is very real and where fear is easy to imagine, I think it is important to give our children a framework of fantasy and wonder and imagination. These stories, whether it be Santa or the Hobbit or Star Wars or Cinderella, they enlarge our children’s imaginations. They open their eyes to something beyond what is before their eyes. The create a lore for their childhood. When they hear their parents talking about the stress of some fiscal cliff, or they hear of children slaughtered in their classroom, or they hear of 9/11…they may not understand, but even the innocent little ones in our midst get the glimpse that there is something bad out there. These stories…they tell the children that there is also great good, and that that good is strong and creative and surprising.

“Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” G.K. Chesterton.

I do not think that the story of the Gospel, or the story of Creation, or the story of Easter is diminished because we played around at the stories of Santa and the dragons and the hobbit. Rather, I think the mark of our Maker is a great creativity and imagination…and as we create a framework for wonder and surprise our children find that the greatest surprise and the greatest wonder is that the most amazing story….

Is true.

We play at Santa and we play at fairy tales, but the reason we keep coming back to them is we have this itch we cannot scratch…this desire for there to be someone, something, that puts it all right. Someone who rescues or who simply knows that we are lonely and we are desperate to know someone cares and will save us.

And the Incarnation, the Gospel….Jesus…tells us that that itch can be scratched. That ache we have to be known and to be saved…it can be fulfilled. The fantasies keep our attention and keep us coming back because they hint at the truth. Santa is fun to play at, but ultimately the truth of the Incarnation brings us to our knees.

So, I hope that I can have an inkling of the creativity of the family I listened to today. I hope that I can live in a way that inspires imagination and fun and wonder and creativity….but I also hope that as we laugh and giggle and tell stories the children catch when the hush comes over our voice and we proclaim…Unto us is born this day….in the City of David…A Savior…who is Christ the Lord.

The power of the Sugar Cookie

The box arrived yesterday, stacked with a few boxes from Amazon. This box was different, though, and it stood out. The address was hand-written, and the contents were able to evoke memories and emotions, a power the other boxes could not muster.

Even Chip the dog noticed. He kept walking over and sniffing the box, waiting for me to take it upstairs and open to see what was inside.

Little tiny stars that brought back so many memories. This year my dad, with the help of a long-time family friend who stays with mom during the day sometimes, sent out mom’s famous Christmas cookies. The recipe actually goes back to her mom, and possibly beyond that, although I’m not sure. Grandma was a great cook, and Christmas was filled with cookies and candies and fudge and divinity and, yes fruit cake. No, you are not allowed to make fruit cake jokes around me. Her fruitcake was made painstakingly…cutting each candied fruit to the same size and spending a full day in the kitchen working away. The result was a cake that even as a kid I enjoyed, but especially with a special warm lemon sauce poured over.

This year, though, it’s the cookies that bring back the memories. These do not quite compare to the cookies of my childhood, but they still carry in their little flour and sugar forms all the memories of Christmas. Christmas was not Christmas without the sugar cookies. We made hundreds. Literally. I mean, hundreds….500, 600, 700 cookies. We would watch them be made, help decorate with icing and red hots and sprinkles, then load them all up on plates with Saran Wrap and walk the neighborhood, delivering these cookies to all the neighbors. And the teachers. And the Sunday School teachers. And friends. And then we would munch on them happily for days.

It has been a lifetime, it seems, since we made those cookies. Dad has pictures somewhere, lots of pictures, of the kitchen filled with cookies.

Now, a little box came and let me know that it’s Christmas time.

christmascookie1

The cookies are not quite the same. They still taste great, but the decorations are simple when they used to be detailed. The activity was more of a distraction to keep a mind occupied that tends to be overwhelmed by how much it cannot figure out…constantly questioning and being frustrated. Still, there was a hesitation when I opened the box, a moment of not wanting to eat these cookies, because, well…what if they are the last ones?

I’m wired that way. I have books from favorite authors where I refuse to read the last chapter because I always want there to be something I have not read from them. I admit, though, it would be pretty silly to leave a sugar cookie uneaten, and I’m not sure I have that much discipline anyway.

Mom’s mind is a little more gone than it was last year. It is a little more difficult to keep her on the phone when I call and I feel the distance acutely this time of year. Mom used to always tell me that the house seemed to love Christmas time, that it came alive as we decorated and brought that wonder in that only belongs to this time of year. She made Christmas a magical time, a time of excitement and wonder and delicious tastes as well sounds and sights. All of these efforts were not wasted, and now at 42 a little sugar cookie can evoke a whole avalanche of memories and feelings and emotions.

So, as I get flustered trying to get it “all” done this season, this little box of cookies stopped me. I’ve got laundry that needs to be folded and dishes that need to be done, and floors that need to be mopped. I have a lot of ‘duties’ to do….but there will be sugar cookies made this weekend. A lot of them. Steve does a great job of getting the house decorated and pulling out all the stockings and candles and garlands and lights. The house twinkles with a special kind of wonder, and in the midst of a world that is so full of sorrow and fear and tragedy…I hope memories are being made for my kids.

More than that, though, I hope that a foundation of wonder is being formed. That is part of the heritage of my mom. There is an importance to the wonder and to the beauty. It is not merely decoration. It is a statement that these things matter and that it is important to feed our souls with beauty…with music and with images…and even with sugar cookies sometimes.

Thanks, Mom and Dad….

Grandmadriveway

Yes, but not quite yet.

I have to admit that the article I posted the other day might have been too soon. I still think that we have to learn how to grieve in a way that does not incapacitate us. We also have to learn to allow these communities that experience such horrors…may there never be another like this…to grieve in their own way in the intimacy of relationships with those who knew their children and teachers, while still somehow showing that we have all been impacted by their devastating loss.

I truly am not sure how we do that…how we give space and yet embrace. It is true even when those in our midst face grief that we cannot completely understand. Learning to mourn well with others…

Still, I think that we are caught by the story of Sandy Hook even more because, well, it is Christmas.

We should, and they should, be singing carols and icing cookies and laughing and dreaming and wishing….and not thinking of horrors.

 The shock of the events is amplified because it is set in the time of hope.

This article by Karen Spears Zachariashelped me understand my own emotions at the moment. I have been able to think through the events intellectually and to place them in a certain frame spiritually, but as we move through the events of Christmas, the loss of those in Newtown will not be ignored. Especially for those of us who have little 6 year olds in our families who are so filled with innocence and with hope and with joy….and not terror and fear.

There are, honestly, so many thoughts that are jumbled in my brain right now. I want to think about how I want next year to be different and what I have learned about home school from this first Fall. I want to think about my mom and my family as we continue on the journey of dementia…and I feel very far from them at Christmas time. I want to think through more of the lessons of learned in the things of been reading. I also want to think about those in Newtown with compassion that is void of spectatorship and also void of ambivalence. I want to think about where God was in those moments for those children, and think about Who God is and what I believe. I want to allow myself the space to be impacted by these events in the way that I should…as a human, as a mother and as a believer.

I have a tendency to push things to arm’s length, though. So, if my article the other day was too soon, it may be part of my own make up in being somewhat insular and holding deep grief off. Part of it is because I do not have the space to weep openly with four little ones watching me move through the day. They know that there is grief to be expressed at this moment, but they do not need to see their mother undone.

So, all these things, swirling in my mind along with all the things of Christmas. Trying to make happy memories, enjoying concerts and Christmas lights and Advent stories. Buying presents that will bring joy….all such conflicting emotions.

The article I linked to above Karen Spears Zacharias helped me bring things a little more into focus. The confusion, the chaos in my own thinking, is part of the brokenness, it is part of the waiting and it is amplified by Advent.  All of the suffering, all of the loss of innocence, all of the hatred….and there is so much more out there than just Newtown, overwhelming more…pokes us and prods us and reminds us and shouts at us and whsipers to us….

We need HOPE.

We need a hope that comes from one who can actually deliver, one who can actually save, one who can actually change the course of events.

God responded to the evil around us in the Cross. I have no idea why some of those children died and others did not, I have no idea why some die of cancer and others do not…when they are equally prayed for, I have no idea why some tragedies happen and some are averted. But I believe that God is, and I believe that He is good and I believe that He sent His Son to redeem us from the evil that eats away not just at culture, but at our very selves. The sin that captures our beings and will not let us go…He came to conquer that and to redeem us and to bring us a hope that we can rest in.

He came to make all things new.

He came. He came. He came. He came. He came.

There are no words, and yet our words spill out in multitudes because it is the only way we have to release the thoughts and emotions and grief…and maybe if we speak enough we will find the word that will bring healing for our souls and the souls in Newtown.

The word is Jesus.

God came. It was  messy and confusing and there were many who died in the journey. Little babes that Herod hated as the man in Newtown hated. That evil is great and on our own it is terrifying because we cannot conquer it in any way other than shooting it down and killing it…but it rises again in another.  Only One Who can make all things new can completely conquer that evil.

And He will. I say with shaking voice, and with hope that sometimes doubts and with wonder at what that will really look like.  He came, though. And the fact of Advent screams as loudly in the face of evil of Newtown….that evil will not win. God came, and He will make all things new. In the meantime, in this now-and-not-yet….we grieve, but with hope.

I can only bear so much sorrow….

I have had many discussions with my friend Michael trying to get a grasp on how much we are to bear as a people. The internet has opened the floodgates of information and given news media an even larger ability to stir our emotions as tragedies happen, it has opened the floodgates for information of people far from us to become an intimate part of our thinking and our hearts.  We now are in a time when the tragedies from far away impact us wherever we are.

 

I’m not sure that we are created to bear so much sorrow, to be called to pray for so many so intimately.

 

There was a time when the news came slowly, and I know that there would be challenges with that…the fact that you wouldn’t hear for a very long time about the death of a loved one, or a tragedy would be well over when the news reached the other part of the country, let alone the world. Each step of technology has brought news more quickly and made our world smaller. Radio, newsreels, television, internet. Now we are hit with news of all our friends near and wide on Facebook, and even those we do not know…the news of children suffering and of families facing great challenges. We are impacted emotionally and spiritually by all these stories, and I’m not sure our souls were made to carry so much.

 

Sometimes I think that we become incapable to reach out locally because we are overwhelmed by the needs of too many.

 

My heart has been broken along with the rest of the world as I have watched the events of Sandy Hook. I’ve avoided most of the news and filtered things so that I was not overwhelmed. I have, however, looked at each sweet face and I have prayed. I have been unable to look at my own 6 year old without thinking of shattered families. Today, though, I know that I have to release them back to their community. I do not have the right to grieve in the same way that those who knew these sweet souls and brave souls do. I grieve as a spectator. They grieve as a family, and I have to trust that they will care for one another well and they deserve to have their grief to themselves.

 

I was not made to bear the sorrows of all the country, or of all believers.

 

I was made to bear the sorrows, the joys and the trials and struggles with those within my grasp. My real, physical grasp. I can tell you the challenges that friends are facing around the country, but there are those within my grasp that I do not know their struggles. I have not reached out to them to weep and to walk alongside.

 

Sandy Hook shook us, and it should. We should spend time on our knees and we should grieve and we should hold our own children closer. But, we do not own their tragedy and it is theirs to walk through in intimacy that struggle brings…without spectators.

 

Somehow I need to translate the emotions that have been stirred by this horror to those around me who may not have as staggering a trial, but still are feeling hopeless and overwhelmed and grieving.

 

A few years ago I wanted to take a whole year with no internet. That didn’t pan out, and I realized that I have friends I rely on who I connect with through internet. It is not all bad. There are great things that the internet brings, and relationships are part of the blessing. Still….I think we have to learn to know our limitations in carrying suffering and sorrow.

 

There is only One who can carry the sorrows and the grieving and the struggles of the whole world.  I can weep and mourn because this was a tragedy and is not to be shrugged off as just part of a fallen world. Then I need to release them back to their community with a blessing that God may work in the intimacy of their relationships where they can physically care for one another and weep together without distraction of being watched by the world.

This Babe in a manger will stand between us and the roaring lion who would seek to destroy us….

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.  

These words from 1 Peter are familiar to most of us who have been in the church for any length of time. I think I’ve had them assigned as memory verses a few times. They are part of the make-up of my identity as a believer…part of the truth of His Word that are placed in my memory. They have been pushing ther way to the surface the last few days as I, along with all of us, try to process the events in Connecticut.  Trying to process the horror and the sorrow, and the politics of how we prevent these things, and the deep, visceral emotion that desires revenge or justice or some way to make things right.

They won’t be made right.

What has been pushing its way into my thinking is the fact that in this broken world there is evil. It is easy to ignore sometimes, depending on where my focus is for the day. It is there, though. The list of horrors in our world are long: Hitler, Stalin, Khmer Rouge. The horrors of Mexico or Rwanda or so many other places. Child molesters. Murderers. Rapists.

The events in Connecticut move us emotionally and violently because they are such an affront to our senses….completely unprovoked attack upon innocent children and teachers. In a place that should be safe. Maybe that is the key…maybe that is part of what enlarges this in our focus. I’m not trying to minimize, but trying to articulate that this horror is placed in the context of a multitude of horrors. Because there is evil.

Sometimes we make God’s love a vapid, hard-to-grasp thing by making it without any justice or truth. If God simply loves everyone with no qualifications…no call to holiness, to repentance, to belief…that love is rather meaningless. Well, sometimes I think we also make evil rather vapid and hard to grasp…we make it vague.

God has told us, though, that it is not vague. That there is evil that seeks us out to destroy us. There is an evil one and he is not compassionate or vague. He hates all that is good and he hates all that is innocent and he rejoices in the horrors that bring us to confusion and tears….but that same evil that would seek to destroy us does something else. It illuminates our deep need for help. That same evil that would destroy us drives us to the redemption of a savior.

I have to repeat the poem from Madeleine L’Engle I posted Friday night because it summarizes Christmas so well for me:

He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace
He came when the Heavens were unsteady
and prisoners cried out for release.

He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He died with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine. He did not wait

till hearts were pure. In joy he came
to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
He came, and his Light would not go out. 

He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

Christmas is not just about a babe born in a manger. It is part of the story. The story did not begin there, the story began when we chose to turn away from God and He began to redeem us. Christ coming to earth, the Word made flesh, the Maker of the stars born….was God dealing with evil. This babe in the manger, this tiny one, was an unimaginable response to the one who would try to destroy us. This babe in the manger, this God who would enter our pain, will restore and redeem and conquer.

This does not make the horror less easy to understand, it does not make the mourning softer….no it makes the mourning louder and the cry for justice stronger. We know that the evil is wrong. We know that it is beyond gun control laws, beyond marshals being placed around us to protect us….we know that there is one that hates us, but we know that there is one that loves us more. There is one that loves enough to suffer with us to redeem us and that is the only thing that can bring hope in the midst of a broken world. We are part of the brokenness, our sin is part of the pain and the horror. We have to not let the Santa cheer and elf-on-a-shelf cause the enormity of the Incarnation be softened.

God came to earth as a man to deal with the evil that would prowl around as a roaring lion seeking to destroy us, and with the sin that would choke us and destroy us without fanfare. Rejoice! Rejoice!

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” 1 Peter 1:3-5

We Cannot Wait Until The World Is Sane…

I have spent most of the day distracted, as I am sure most of you have as well.

Walking through Walmart, teaching the kids, doing laundry…even without the news on and without the computer, my thoughts have centered around the tragedy playing out in Connecticut today. I have wanted to sit down and write because, well, this is how I process…through words.

I haven’t been able to get on because I was teaching the kids, then I was making dinner, then we were talking and one child was on the computer, and then there was a baby girl who needed to be rocked and sung to…and all along I was aware that there were parents tonight with no child to read to, no child to rock. Empty bedrooms and gifts under the tree that have to be gut-wrenching reminders of the loss.

I cannot imagine. The grief I am aware of as I read the stories is a shadow of what they experience…and yet, we do experience it together somehow. There is this companionship in suffering that we get. We are all in this together and when tragedy strikes, we become aware again that we care and that there are others around us who need hope, just as we do.

And of course my thoughts turn to God. I know that for my friends who do not believe in God as I do, words of hope centered in a loving God sound hollow. Words of God having a plan, of God being sovereign….they would sound like fingernails on chalkboard to me if I did not believe and I faced overwhelming grief.

I do believe, though. I believe that there is a God…that there is something beyond us. I believe that we are created in an image, not that we are accidents. And in that image, I believe that there is a plan and there is hope and there is purpose. I believe that this God, this One Who creates also cares and loves and feels. I believe that He is present, even today. I believe that He is amazing love, and yet that He is also Just and True and that horrors like today will not simply be swallowed in some vapid love…but that there is evil and it will be dealt with. I believe that He can overcome evil, and that ultimately He will.
I have no idea why He waits so long, but I am thankful that He has. I am thankful that I have tasted and known that He is good even here, even in this broken world. Maybe because I have known His goodness in the midst of sorrow and brokenness that goodness has been all the sweeter. Maybe the fact that He does not refrain from giving His blessings even when we are wallowing in selfishness and greed and laziness and anger and hatred and evil….even in the midst of that He has stars that shoot across the sky and sunsets that dazzle and stir desires to worship. Maybe the question is not why does God allow such evil and pain…but why does God allow such good and wonder to be around for all to enjoy. Even for the evil ones? Even they get to see the Creation and know what it is to be human and created in the Image of One who would heal and restore…if they would only turn toward Him.

Hmm.

In the midst of prayers whispered today, in the midst of Christmas carols heard, in the midst of grief and wonder all mixed together I was reminded of a poem from Madeleine L’Engle…

He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace
He came when the Heavens were unsteady
and prisoners cried out for release.

He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He died with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine. He did not wait

till hearts were pure. In joy he came
to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
He came, and his Light would not go out. 

He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

He did not wait. We cannot wait.  There is hope. There is a God who came as man and changed everything. I don’t know exactly how that translates to those who bear the unbearable tonight and sleep in homes where silence rests when children’s laughter should be heard…but I know that it means there is more. To share our grief and to touch our pain He came. He understands and He knows…and may He have abounding, gracious, immeasurable mercy and grace and comfort for those whose world has been torn. May our Christmas have a measure of sobriety with the celebration as we share the grief of our fellow travelers in this journey.