Do Not Fear….Sing.

Years ago I was fearless.

I remember walking up to people on Central Avenue in Albuquerque and asking them if they knew Jesus.

I think I met an angel one night, but that is a story for conversation over a cup of coffee.

I had a deep joy, a delight in life, and a passion to tell people about Jesus. I had friends who were the same, and we would drink coffee from late night into morning hours at the Frontier restaurant. And Frontier rolls, we would eat lots of them. And tell people about Jesus.

After college I went and spent a little time in a commune in Chicago: Jesus People, USA. I walked streets that were far different than any I had seen, and I learned some wisdom from these folks who had been doing this a long time. I worked in their shelter, and lived in their building and felt lonely and at home at the same time.

But I did not feel afraid.

I returned to Albuquerque, then on to Nashville a couple years later. In Nashville I found a group who ministered in the inner city, and I remember outreaches that made me feel like I did when I witnessed on the streets of Albuquerque.

Then I went to Hungary and Amsterdam and I saw Jesus work on the streets of those towns. I street preached in Amsterdam, not just witnessing…I had a microphone and everything, with a group from YWAM. I also worked in the coffee shop, with the outreach to the homeless. We sang, kinda badly, and walked the streets of Amsterdam and told people about Jesus.

Amsterdam was one of the first places I felt a physical presence of evil…I felt it like a wall. I’ve seen what I can only describe as a demon before, but that was in Nashville and Santa Barbara. Another cup of coffee conversation there. This was different. We came to the walking streets, to the square, to tell people about Jesus, and as we came around a corner there was a cold and a heaviness that hit all of us. There was spiritual battle here, and it was real.

But I was not afraid.

Then I returned to Nashville and outreaches and meeting a man who I knew would be my husband. And I flew home to Albuquerque for a visit. I had coffee with a friend from radio and we talked until the coffee shop closed. Knob Hill, still off that Central Avenue.

We walked out to our cars, with a space between us. A car swept in between us and evil emerged. I remember one of the men looking me in the eye. Holding my gaze for a fraction of a second, and then turning and going to my friend’s car.

I thought he had made it into his car as I had. I pulled out quickly and looked back. Five of them? Swarming around his car? I called the police and drove quickly around the block to return to him…and in those seconds they scarred him. He was a bit tougher than they expected, though. And as I pulled around I found him in his car and the swarm gone. In seconds.

And as I pulled around and found him there, with blood on his face….I was afraid.

It changed everything.

I was afraid of the shadows. Afraid of those who held my gaze longer than a fraction of a second.

It eased in time, but a seed was planted, and now there is a fear I have to counter.

Today I fly to Montreal with the middle boy. The one of adventures to China. He talked us into a quick trip for him to see a favorite French singing artist perform. And I am along for the ride.

And he knows no fear. He wanted to come alone at first. 16. Alone to a foreign (even if it is Canada) city.

He knows no fear.

Even though he broke his bones in China. He knows no fear.

And that is something to delight in, and something to hold dear. Because, it will not last.

Is that harsh?

There will be the moment when evil swarms out and shows its face, and fear will appear. Courage, hopefully, will appear in the same moment.

My trips are tainted now, just a bit. I can feel that fear sneak in in the most unusual places…gripping fear that I have forgotten something, or that there is something I am not equipped to encounter. Fear that steals the joy of a trip. Just for a moment, but it is there.

Our pastor tells us often, because we need to hear it, that the two most repeated commands in the Bible are “Fear Not” and “Sing.

A pastor from many years ago, when some of us in college were confused and experiencing spiritual challenges, gave us similar advice: “worship”

Take your eyes off the evil, take your eyes off yourself and remember who God is.

He is the God who breaks the rules. He entered our world in a completely unexpected and unconventional way. He surprised us…and He has come into our world filled with fear and uncertainty and told us to Fear Not.

And to Sing.

So, this Advent….are you fearful? Have you had that moment that changed things, that exposed evil to you and surprised you? Do you have that awareness of your insufficiency, even in small things (like remember airline tickets…), that fear that can creep in and make you suddenly feel like a small child ill prepared to face this world of evil?

Fear Not.

For lo…unto you this day,in Bethlehem town is born.

A Savior.

Sing. Do battle with that fear, and with the evil that would nag you and distract you…do battle with your song. These Christmas carols we sing, the Christmas carols we hear all around us…they are the words of warfare. Listen to them.

Advent is waiting in the dark and knowing that someone is coming to change everything.

Once we have experienced a deep, shattering fear, like I did that day behind a coffee shop with a friend, I think we are never quite the same. Fear, and evil, are real and are not to be forgotten. But, equally, we know that there is a God who is stronger, and who came. So we wait in these Advent days, and we are aware of our need. And on Christmas Day we should be singing with deep joy and gratitude that our fear will not last.

Sing today. Something…and do it with gusto and with faith.

I’m going to follow my boy around and see the delight and joy he has, that has not yet been tempered with fear. I’m going to remember what it felt like to street preach, to street witness and to no no fear. And I’m going to sing (maybe in my head on the streets so I don’t embarrass him), and I will not fear.

How about you/

Impossible God

The coffee shop is full of chatty people this morning. There is a rather loud din all around me; I was lucky to find a seat! I am ridiculously thankful for my time here on Mondays and Fridays. The shop is aptly named “The Good Cup”. The coffee is good, but the blessing of goodness extends to the friendliness of the patrons and the lack of a need for hipness. I feel at ease and not old, and well, all the things I mentioned the other day.

I am continuing my reading of Madeleine L’Engle.

I was surprised, and yet not completely, by how many friends related to my last post. This feeling of being behind, this feeling of being a bit overwhelmed, and just weighed down with life and all it entails.

Today, reading L’Engle, something has broken a bit for me. This is my Advent reading. It is not the assigned reading by my app on my phone, it is not in place with what we are studying at Church. This does not fall in line with the devotional I have at home that I love but haven’t looked at this season.

I’m reading L’Engle and a bit of Malcom Guite for my Advent reading…and it is working.

Because she is an old friend – I have been reading her for 25 years, and she still speaks to me and enlivens my imagination as she did the first time I picked up one of her books. Now, because the stories she tells and the wisdom she gives is familiar, the enlivening is matched with a familiarity. There is something grand about that joining.

The story is old and amazing, and yet comforting and familiar.

That means, sometimes I can scan the pages because I already know what is coming, and miss something. Or….and this is a big OR…I can soak in the words more deeply because they do not surprise me, but the inform and confirm truths to which I already cling. Her words reaffirm my reality. And it is an amazing reality.

A baby born in a manger changes the world, changes reality, changes everything.

So Sunday morning, or this afternoon, or a 100 times between now and December 25th, when you are reminded of Jesus’ birth…don’t just scan and skip along. Wait. Hear. Really let it affirm to you the reality of a Creator stepping in to His Creation to change everything.

Listen…

“But we rebel against the impossible. I sense a wish in some professional religion-mongers to make God possible, to make him comprehensible to the naked intellect, domesticate him so that he’s easy to believe in. Every venture the Church makes a fresh attempt to make Christianity acceptable. But an acceptable Christianity is not Christian; a comprehensible God is no more than an idol.”

I told you she was good.

Embrace the Impossible!!! In our weariness, in our burdens, in our to-do lists and overwhelming schedules…embrace the Impossible.

Is it any wonder that Christmas music is so grand?! What a story, friends, what a truth. God has broken in to our reality and set us free. And has done so in such an unpredictable, impossible way.

I am listening to this album while reading and writing this morning, and it makes my heart swell. The songs make my mind work more quickly and my blood pump.

THIS IS ADVENT.

Find yours. What is it that draws you in? What is it that reminds you of the impossible grandness of this familiar story? What is it that makes your blood pump and joy radiate within you?

It is not too late. We still have time, those of us who cannot find our Advent calendars and our elves. There is still time. Today. Find something that draws your attention to the babe in a manger…find something that stirs you. And wait on it. Dwell there for a few minutes. Don’t just scan the moment…don’t just move along.

Listen…

“This is the irrational season

When love blooms bright and wild,

Had Mary been filled with reason

There’d have been no room for the child.”

Let’s embrace a bit of the impossible and irrational, and let’s let our kids see us be swept up in the reality. Let’s draw them in, not to the sparkle of Santa (he’s ok), but to the impossibility of a God in a manger chasing us and changing everything.

Again, L’Engle:

As I grow older

I get surer

Man’s heart is colder,

His life no purer.

As I grow steadily

More austere

I come less readily

To Christmas each year.

I can’t keep taking

Without a thought

Forced merrymaking

And presents bought

In crowds and jostling.

Alas, there’s naught

In empty wassailing

Where oblivion’s sought.

Oh, I’d be waiting

With quiet fasting

Anticipating

A joy more lasting.

And so I rhyme

With no apology

During this time

Of eschatology:

Judgment and warning

Come like thunder.

But now is the hour

When I remember

An infant’s power

On a cold December.

Midnight is dawning

And the birth of wonder.

Yes. She’s good.

Now…go find what is going to make this Advent your Advent. And inspire someone around you…draw them in to your joy.

Advent? Really? I’m stopping.

There was a time I marked Advent daily with poems and reflections here on the blog.

There was a time I read poems and reflections daily about Advent. I prayed daily welcoming the coming of the Christ. I had the Advent calendar ready, and even the Elves to dance around the house and entertain.

This has not been that year.

I honestly have no idea where the Elves are. Maybe they will surprise us all and appear on their own. Maybe they can bring the Advent calendar with them, that would be nice.

This year has been one of getting through the day and thinking next week will be better. It has not been a year of depression, but it has been a year of frustration with my mind and my body. Hormones, age, headaches and lack of sleep have all conspired to wipe away enthusiasm and motivation and delight. Not completely…but they sure have made a good go of it.

Life is still grand. And I have still laughed. A lot. And my family has brought much delight. So, this is not a statement of great woe…but it is an acknowledgment that today is the 6th of December and I find myself completely unprepared for Advent.

How about you?

Some of my friends have all their gifts already wrapped and ready to go. Some have had their homes decorated for a couple weeks and the cookies all made and ready to give to others. Some have already planned their Christmas dinners. They are awesome, and it is a delight to see their joy in doing these things. They have read the liturgy for welcoming Christmas, and Christmas trees (go see this book if you are not sure what that is). That is awesome.

Other friends, though, are dealing with heavy things that have distracted from the delight of orchestrating elves and planning dinners. They may not even decorate at all, in fact. They feel the ache of need for a savior and for the light to come…they feel the darkness now a bit more than the delight of hope. And that is awesome in a different way…it is awesome in its heaviness, and I pray that it is awesome in bringing them closer to the presence of Jesus in a completely new way.

Other friends, and myself included, are just getting by. We are not completely overwhelmed, and we are not quite to the delighting stage either. We are looking at the requirements of the day and feeling a bit daunted. We are praying for our children and feeling the burden of raising them in a very dark world…hoping that they will be Image Bearers who bring hope and delight. And we are aware that we are being watched by those children, and we hope we can live up to the responsibility.

We are getting through the day and thinking next week will be better. But next week will be pretty much like this week, and in three weeks Christmas will be over and we will wonder what happened. And it is more difficult to find this awesome. We feel more just muddled and distracted. How do we find awe in that situation?

Are you in that camp?

I think I realized how to find the awe.

I decided to just stop today. To turn to an old friend for inspiration and to engage. To not look at the rest of the responsibilities for today, or even for next week, but just to stop and soak this moment in a bit.

I realized that today I needed to have grace for myself. Grace for the fact that it was a miserable night of sleep, and I am nearing a birthday which makes me feel the reality of hair loss and weight gain and slowing down…and how I want to change all of that. Grace that today, in this moment, I don’t have to focus on that.

Today I can pull out a well-worn book and be inspired again.

Madeleine L’Engle. The Irrational Season.

To the rescue.

I am re-centered. I am listening. I’m even delighting a bit.

Here…it’s my life rope for you today. Take a moment and read and just soak it in. And know that there are a whole bunch of us in all kinds of levels of engagement who relate. We know the frustration and the delight together of being moms in this season. We know the weight of trying to do it right, and feeling like we are missing Jesus in the rush and bluster.

L’Engle:

Let us view with joy and mirth

All the clocks upon the earth

Holding time with busy rocking

Ticking booming clanging clocking

Anxiously unraveling

Time’s traveling

Through the stars and winds and tides.

Who can tell where time abides?

 

Foolish clocks, all time was broken

When that first great Word was spoken.

Cease we now this silly fleeing

From earth’s time, for time’s a being

And adoring

Bows before him

Who upon the throne is seated.

Time, defeated, wins, is greeted.

 

Clocks know not time’s loving wonder

Day above as night swings under,

Turning always to the son,

Time’s begun, is done, does run

Singing warning

Of the morning

Time, mass, space, a mystery

Of eternal trinity.

 

Time needs make no poor apology

For bursting forth from man’s chronology

Laughs in glee as human hours

Dance before the heavenly powers.

Time’s undone

Because the Son

Swiftly calls the coming light

That will end the far-spent night.

 

 

 

Advent.

Waiting for the end. The eschaton.

The night is far spent.

 

 

 

I wrote this on the fly today, sitting in my favorite coffee shop, under the wire of time to go pick up the youngest. I did not check my grammar. I did not edit. I just stopped and realized that writing is something that brings me joy…and that today my brain is working with more diligence and effectiveness. Maybe tomorrow I will stop again and reflect more on Advent. Maybe I won’t worry too much about the laundry and the to-do’s and I will ask the Savior we celebrate to help me know how to celebrate in a way that brings hope and life and testimony.

 

Maybe tomorrow I will realize how loose time really is; I will have a looser hold on the ticking of the clock. It seems like that ticking is a constant reminder of things that need to be done. Instead, focusing on Eternity in this season. Finding a way to settle in to the rhythm and chronology of Advent time…that waiting and patience and anticipation. Even if the Elves stay hidden and we don’t open any Advent calendar boxes.

 

We’ll find the way to celebrate that is true to this year…and there is grace for it not looking like any other years.

 

How about you?

 

 

This boy…part two. Broken bones and immense pride

Okay, so I shared in part one of this story that our boy had an amazing opportunity to explore his delights of language and Asian culture. He had a fantastic time, and was scheduled to remain with this group through the end of August.

And then he fell. A simple accident, carrying something and hit a wet patch where stone met wood. We don’t know exactly how he hit, but he broke his humerus into four pieces.

We received the call at about 4am our time on a Sunday morning. They had actually tried twice already to get us…once when the bone broke, once at the hospital. Now they were back at the hotel and preparing to drive him to the airport, a three hour drive, to send him home.

We started scrambling to find a flight for me. A fourteen hour flight. We worked with our international insurance. He was feeling pretty good, but he looked a little wide eyed. He was still grinning, though.

Then our insurance team got a look at the x-ray. Hold everything, they told us. Put him on that plane and his arm will begin to swell. There are nerves and arteries involved. They would have to divert the plane and there would be a very real possibility of having to amputate that arm.

Well. That got our attention.

That’s one of those moments when you realize you have very little control over very real situations in your life. There was truly nothing we could do in that moment to help our boy. We could flutter around and talk to insurance. We could make plans. We could arrange things…but none of it was going to do anything to mend those bones that needed immediate attention.

What did we do? We relied on those who knew things better than we did. We relied on the international travel insurance. We relied on the hospital they directed us to, and we we so thankful for the amazing team there. They called for immediate surgery.

And we prayed. And we called all our friends to pray. And then we prayed some more.

And this was not a desperate act with no hope. This was not a wish thrown out to the cosmos.

We prayed to the God who created our boy to be immensely independent. We prayed to the God who stirred the desires for travel and for experiencing other cultures. We prayed to the God who knew our boy intimately better than we did.

We prayed to the God who orchestrated this whole trip, and who knew the entire time we were giggling and planning and oohing and ahhing over his sill grin…the whole time, that this was part of the agenda.

We prayed, and then we trusted.

We did debate bringing him home early, and we did debate my flying out to get him. Then he said he wanted to stay, and we trusted some more.

And the boy went through the whole thing with an amazing maturity and humility. We received nothing but words of compliment for how he carried himself. He was still grinning. He still got to see the country, even though he did not get to continue with the English language lessons.

He made memories. He saw amazing things. He met amazing people.

I prayed before he went that he would encounter Jesus in ways that could only happen on this trip. I prayed that he would know Jesus better, and would know the giftings Jesus had given him when he came out of this. I prayed that he would grow in confidence.

I hope that has all come true. I know that he is coming home after having walked through his first international trip, his first broken bone and his first surgery. He did it on his own. Kinda. He was surrounded by wonderful people, and he was lifted in prayer by an amazing network back home.

Steve and I learned a whole new level of praying. And we learned when really difficult things happen, and I know this is actually fairly minor compared to what some of our friends have navigated, God shows up. This is new territory for us…sending our kids away from us and watching them navigate life. This was a bit of baptism by fire. But we’re on the other side of it, and I’m back sitting here in Chicago waiting for the boy to come through customs.

I wonder what the next adventure will be.