It’s coming….are you ready?

“So, are you Catholic?”

Okay, I have to back up and tell a little of what happened before that question, but you have to hear that the question came with just the slightest inclination of a sneer. Just that hint, well, maybe more than a hint, of judgment.

Seriously, I mean, are you?

Here’s the story. The boys go to tutorial on Tuesdays (maybe I should begin referring to the boys as “the Trio”, that would work well with the Tuesday Tutorial…) so Miss Maddie and I stopped off at a small local coffee shop. This place is one of my favorites. The owner actually built the shop around the cabin has been in his family for ages and the wood floors date back to the 1800’s, I believe. The wood panelling in the main room is from the 70’s and his dad put it there, so it stays.

This is not Starbuck’s. This is a local spot, with local folks who stay for hours and are regulars. Maddie was playing a few toys that were there and I was talking with two men who asking about her. The questions turned eventually to if she was caught up in the “tech toys”.  I think they were pleased to see that she wasn’t playing on the iPad or other instrument at the moment and was having fun exploring.

I told her she knew her way around the computer and most of the other toys, and that like most families we were pretty tied to our technology. I just in passing mentioned that we had been thinking about taking a break from technology for Advent.

Advent.

That did it.  They didn’t hear what I said about technology any more, but they heard that one word and it labelled me in their minds.

“So, are you Catholic?

Honestly, it took me a second to figure out why on earth they were asking me about my denominational background. Then he clarified, “Advent. You do that stuff?”  When I told him I was not Catholic, but we that as a family we try to respect the season of Advent and let it stand apart, he asked why.

While I was trying to formulate a response…and still engaging Maddie…something else happened that surprised me.

“Our church is celebrating Advent.” This man is a pastor who studies at the coffee shop. I see him there often, although I’ve only talked to him a little because he is usually fairly focused on his studying. “We’re Baptist, but we observe elements of the Church Calendar. Advent. Reformation Sunday. You don’t have to be Catholic.”

That was that. We both simply said that the celebration of “Advent” meant to focus for an extended time on Christ through the Christmas season. Then we left it at that. It is not that the other men were mean, they just had always associated Advent with a part of the Church they disregard.

That’s dangerous…we miss out sometimes when we do that.

I’m thankful that the understanding of Advent seems to have spread beyond just liturgical churches. We need the rhythm of the Church Calendar. We need the help in the hectic pace of our lives to focus.

With Thanksgiving coming late this year, Advent starts immediately after, and that is coming quickly. Steve and I are praying about shutting down the technology for the season of Advent. Shutting out some of the noise, and some of the frustration of having to tell the kids to get off for the ninth time.

Shutting down some of the input so that our focus can turn to the truth of the Season.  I don’t know about you, but we need help sometimes. Sometimes it takes more than a few hours to draw our focus to Christ during Christmas, or even a few days when school is done and Christmas Day is near. Sometimes a few weeks is what is needed.

So, no, I’m not Catholic. There are some things we can learn from each other in the church, though. We can learn a bit about slowing down and focusing during this season.

It’s almost here. Are you ready? Are you making ready?

The decorations may up and the presents bought…but how are we preparing ourselves spiritually to focus during the onslaught of advertising and “want” during this season? Google Advent 2013 and there are numerous resources. We are going to use the one from  Matt Chandler’s church, The Village Church. 

I’ll write more about what this actually looks like in the coming days. Although I won’t be writing during the Advent Season, since, you know, I won’t be on the computer. We have to work out the details of how we make this work in a way that it doesn’t feel like punishment to the kids. That would be the worst…to have the idea of Advent tied to misery. Nope. That is not what it is about. It’s all about anticipation and hope and focus.

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The Light Still Shines…in our brokenness.

I wrote last time about how sometimes we get overwhelmed, and sometimes it seems like we are the ones with the dirty dishes while everyone else is posting shiny wonderful things on Instagram and FaceBook…and I received more shares on that post than any other I have written. Friends…so many of us are feeling overwhelmed and a little bit scared and a little bit frustrated and a little bit angry. We relate, and yet we don’t always want to say that we are on edge or that we are overwhelmed.

We are living in a broken world and that takes a toll on us. We are faced with those we love who are in bodies that are broken and hurt, we are faced with a world where there are people who are overcome by evil and seek to destroy. We are faced with pain and sometimes that is scary and frustrating and overwhelming, and it spills out into our everyday life. Sometimes  it spills out in us yelling at our kids, sometimes it spills out us being stressed, sometimes it spills out in us acting out in ways we would never imagine we could. Sometimes it spills out in us running to God. 

We need to not be shy anymore, because when we try to push that down, it just grows. We need each other.

In the past at our church I have served on our hospitality team. We provide meals when people have babies, or when they are sick, or just when they need that extra boost. I have loved doing it, and when I can I still help. Life has been a little more crazy with the homeschool adventure, so I haven’t been able to pitch in as often, but I know our hospitality team still thrives and provides, literally, hundreds of meals a year.

When I had Madeleine I ended up with quite a bump medically afterward, and the meals that came in were a great help. Just not having to worry about what to get on the table for the other three kiddos and Steve was a blessing. More than that though, it was an awareness that others were paying attention that I was in need. Of course, having a baby is a celebratory need, and often on the hospitality team we are providing meals for people who are dealing with battling cancer or with other illnesses. They are sick and they need that encouragement and help of being cared for by the community. Providing food is one of the most elemental and nurturing things we can do as a community…there is something so intimate about cooking a meal and delivering it. Time is taken and there is an awareness to the person who is receiving the food that they are truly cared for.

Sometimes, though, there are things in life that wear us down and are awkward, or more than awkward, and people are not sure how to help. Sometimes the brokenness comes through in ways that makes us want to look away because it makes us uncomfortable. I read an article on Slate that powerfully brought this point across.
Cancer. Babies. We know these things…

Depression. Anorexia. Mental Illness. Addiction.  We are not sure what to do.

Here’s the thing, though. What if we noticed that more. What if we noticed that the brokenness of our friends around us was more than they could handle at the moment. What if the brokenness of their children was an uncomfortable brokenness…

What if instead of looking away, or smiling politely and trying our best to avoid the topic, we brought meals and asked specifically how they were? Not just when they are on the list at church for the hospitality team,  but just when they look frazzled at the store? What if we brought over a latte to that friend whose son has falling into addiction and she simply doesn’t know what to do? What if we sat with her even if we don’t have the words? What if we went and sat with the friend who is feeling overwhelmed with keeping up house and has the parent who is ill and feels overwhelmed with the thought of caring for aging parents?

Because, I have a hunch that part of why we don’t want to look at brokenness that is uncomfortable is because we know that it is the same brokenness that is part of us.  And that terrifies us.

It is much easier to put pretty bandaids on and pretend that we are whole, than to look at the brokenness and realize that we need a savior.

Oh, but friends….the thing is, the flip side is that the hope for the broken-hearted is the same as well.

We have to believe that.

We have to speak that hope outloud and not turn away from our friends who are caught in loneliness and fear and anger and, sin.

You, right now, are loved of God. You are precious in His sight and you are loved. You are not forgotten, no matter how badly broken life seems, and He is your hope.

Even if you have been so overwhelmed, so confused by the way life has played out that you have made choices that now you are not sure about…even then…God still is your hope.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.