Elves and Advent

Christmas Confession: I completely dropped the ball on our Advent Calendar/House and IMG_0112Elf On the Shelf.  Yesterday, it dawned on me that there were only two weeks (eek!) until Christmas.  In that moment, I knew there was no clever way out of this tardiness.  Of course, my children would eagerly accept candy anytime – Advent House or not.  But, some of the magic had been lost by not starting on December 1st.  And so, the Advent House sits empty and our elves remain in the cabinet where I hide them each year (the drawer with tax filings and mortgage docs).

Death and Taxes

There’s a saying, that the two things you can be sure of in life are DEATH and TAXES.  As, I stood, looking at those two elves shoved between our tax folders, God nudged my heart.  Now, you need to know that I’m not one of those people IMG_0108 2who thinks Santa is bad, elves are evil and my children need to grow-up in an evangelical bubble (quite the contrary, actually).  I love all of the stories and traditions of this season.  But, this year….as much as I wanted to play the perfect mom with Pinterest inspired Advent treats and Instagram worthy pics of our elves….my heart just wasn’t in it.  It’s as if God was telling me to let this tradition die in the tax files, believing He had something better.

So, I closed the drawer and walked out to the kitchen.  Rather than surrender any more time to shame or worry, I went over to the table where my kids were eating their breakfast cereal and spit it all out.  I told them that if they hadn’t noticed, the elves hadn’t yet come this year and that was probably because:

a) the elves didn’t get any help this year from mommy or daddy and

b) the reason they need help is because they’re not real.

I waited for the sky to fall or tears to well….  Instead, they calmly said, “Yeah, we know…the elves aren’t real.”  Another added, “I’ve seen them on Amazon!  You just order them!”  As I breathed a sigh of relief, I remembered an idea that a friend had shared.  I pushed aside the twinge of guilt that I was again two weeks late and made my pitch for a new Christmas tradition:

Hey, so my friend does this thing where every time someone in the family receives or witnesses an act of kindness, they write it down on a little piece of paper and put it into a box under the tree marked for Jesus.  Then, on Christmas morning, before we open any of our presents, we open the box for Jesus and read all of the notes, remembering that the greatest gift is that of love….remembering what Jesus gave us and our call to love one another.

IMG_0115I waited.  They weren’t gonna like it.  I just knew it.  But, I was wrong.  All three kids nodded and said, “that sounds like a good idea.”  My daughter even volunteered to make the box after she got home from school.  And, she did.  We are only one day in, but already the kids are filling the box with notes.  This feels like Advent.

Merry Christmas

For the second year in a row, my heart is all out of whack this holiday season.  The evidence goes beyond discarded elves and empty houses.  Yet another example is this year’s family Christmas card.  As I scrolled through Shutterfly designs, everything felt wrong.

IMG_0117

Joy.  

Merry Everything.  

Jingle All the Way.  

Oh What Fun.

I couldn’t do it.

 

It’s not that my life was void of joy, but everything was NOT merry.  I could not plaster over the pain and frustration of the last twelve months (Exhibit A: Roy Moore could well be elected to the US Senate today…don’t get me started!).   I couldn’t even bring myself to pick a simple, ‘Merry Christmas’ greeting, as that simple phrase has been hijacked for political gains.

In the end, I went with LOVE.  

It is the reason He came.  It is the reason we celebrate.  It is the real reason for the season.  I truly believe that God sent His son, born in a manger and crucified on a cross – not so that we could see ‘Merry Christmas’ on our Starbucks cups or a cheap nativity set outside city hall but so that we could offer a cup of hot coffee to the homeless or shelter to the refugee or educational equity to low-income and at risk kids.

A Weary World

IMG_0119Today, I had the privilege of speaking to the Mothers Together group at Menlo Church.  I shared the journey of the last year plus to make my faith real…. to not just say the right words but to do the work of loving one another, especially ‘the least’, which Matthew 25 defines as those that are hungry, naked, imprisoned or vulnerable.  At the end of my talk, I read them this recent Jen Hatmaker post on Facebook.

Advent also reminds us that most people missed Jesus because they were looking for him in the bright, shiny lights of power, politics, and revolution. But Jesus came as the Light of the World, and light was made for darkness, but nobody was looking there – no one was looking for a manger; they were looking for a throne.

Don’t miss this: it’s not that most of Israel wasn’t looking for him…they ALL were…it is that they didn’t recognize the way he came. It is in your dark night of the soul the Light of the World can be seen most clearly. Seek him. Look for him. Ask for eyes to see. Let your soul direct its attention to the manger of your story…not the palace.

He might not be found in the bright shiny light of expectations but in the humble, gritty places we didn’t bargain for.

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Jesus is literally everything.

Indeed, He is.  I am still processing what that means and how it fits into my Micah 6:8 journey….to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly.  It feels particularly relevant this Christmas, as I let old traditions die so that new ones can emerge.  And, that’s usually how these things work….you have to make room.  And, similarly, we will find Him this Advent season, if we look for him in the mangers and  margins.

It’s where He ALWAYS is.  

 

Today, I stayed home….

Today, I stayed home….

img_0894This blog has been about coffee and wine.  It is about the things I love.  It is about the things that break my heart.  It is about figuring out when I’m meant to grab that extra cup of coffee and get out into the world, trying to live out my mission to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly.  Other times, living out that mantra means being still, resting in Him.  Today, I stayed home.

I was supposed to go help at the Life Moves Opportunity Services Center in Palo Alto today.  These last couple months, few experiences have shaped my mindset around compassion and serving as much as the handful of meals I’ve served there.  But, today I needed to stay home.

My mom has cancer.  She’s been waging her courageous battle for over a year now.  Her strength in the face of this horrible disease, and yet simultaneous trust in God, has been an up close and personal masterclass in true faith.  Lucky for me, I’ve had a front row seat my entire life.  We got to spend some time with her over the Thanksgiving holiday.  The day after she returned, she was being rushed to the hospital (I swear, we didn’t undercook the turkey!).  The last 72 hours have been tough.  It’s not easy to watch from afar, completely powerless.

img_0895I was reflecting today, on a story that Kevin Kim told earlier this week.  Kevin and Bea Takasugi from NU2U came to speak to our Mothers Together group for Missions Tuesday.  In fact, I had just gotten the news that my mom was being rushed to the Emergency Room, as we were kicking off our morning at Menlo Church.  Being there was exactly where God wanted me; their testimonies were both a salve for my battered soul.  Kevin shared a bit of his personal story, how he saw the hardships his mother endured as a single mom, running a small hotel.  At just 5 years old, he vowed to one day be rich, so he could take care of his mom.  He succeeded in getting himself into med school, but then started to feel God calling him into ministry.  But, if he wasn’t a doctor, how could he fulfill that childhood promise to take care of his mom?  You could have cut the air with a knife when Kevin shared with us the message God had given Him: I’ve taken care of your mom her whole life.  Don’t you think you can trust me to keep taking care of her?

I am convinced that this is a moment when we need to actually go BE the church OUT there.  We need to get out of the pews and make our faith tangible to a hurting world.  We need to drink more cups of coffee and leave nothing on the table.  But, even in the midst of the doing, there must be surrender….there must be trust.  Do we actually look for God in the midst of it all?

Sometimes, He doesn’t move the mountains or part the waters.  Sometimes, He doesn’t say, peace, be still.  Sometimes, instead of calming the seas, He comforts His child.

Last Sunday, we celebrated the 1st week of Advent, as we prepare our hearts for the Christmas season.  I am reminded of the name the angels gave Jesus, calling him, Emmanuel.  Maybe, this Advent, God’s calling me to rediscover not just the sufficiency but the beauty of God With Us.  Because, let’s be honest….most of us, no matter how many times we paste the calligraphy version of Emmanuel on our walls and Christmas cards, will actually be content with that promise.  We want the omnipotent god to change things.  We want the omniscient god to reveal things.

img_0892Right now, the control freak in me yearns for the God that can heal my mother or end poverty or stop racism.  This afternoon, I had planned to go serve the homeless.  As I admitted to my husband, going there would be a useful distraction from my worry.  And, sometimes, useful distractions are good and productive.  But, as the time neared for me to leave home this afternoon, I knew that my place was by my computer and next to my phone, where I could stay on top of things in Chicago.  I initially stayed home because I felt like I couldn’t entertain any distractions that would delay my replies to the folks on the front lines of my mother’s care.  But, I think the real reason God wanted me home was to sit me down at the foot of the cross…..to remind me through the stillness of this moment, through the beauty of sunlight filtering thru the autumn leaves in the backyard, that no matter what happens, He is Emmanuel.  And, today, that’s more than enough.

40084029-4fa6-41ad-a16d-b264a5542025-18407-00001a67a15dcfa1_tmpOn Tuesday, Bea introduced us to a story first told on the How I Built This podcast.  This episode features Jim Koch, the first Samuel Adams employee.  He talks about the difference between scary and dangerous, saying, “There are plenty of things that are scary but aren’t dangerous and there are plenty of things that are dangerous but not scary, and those are the things that can get you.”  He then goes on to give the examples of rappelling (scary but not so dangerous) vs walking on a snowy mountainside on a sunny spring day (dangerous…avalanche!).  One feels scary, but poses little real risk – the other feels delightful, but could be life-threatening.  Bea connected the dots for us, relating Jim’s story to her own testimony.  Only after she left her old life, did she realize how much she’d actually put on the line by playing it safe.  Confession: I think most of us, myself included, waltz into the dangerous as we side-step the scary.

It can be scary to trust in Emmanuel…to say, it is enough to know that He is God.  Period.  But, surrender is truly the least dangerous, most prudent path.  The question is whether I can embrace it at such.  Sometimes, walking humbly has as much to do with my posture towards God, as it does my posture towards people.  Sometimes, God’s mercy is greater in the valleys than the mountaintops.  Sometimes, justice by heaven’s scales looks completely different than what a democratic system or American culture could ever deliver.

These last few weeks, it has felt that the pillars holding up my life are shaking; my faith in my country, my religion and even the assurance of health and well-being, have all been tested.  After the election, I was completely despondent.  Perhaps, it is typical for anyone going through the stages of grief.  My tears are fewer these days, as my resolve grows stronger.  Now, more than ever before, we must stand up.  We must make our faith real.  We have to get out of the pews.  But, today, I am reminded that serving the world OUT there can never replace or usurp the moments I spend alone with God.  Today, I am practicing being still…at home, knowing that I can trust God to take care of my mom….to take care of me.   There’s that old hymn that says, my faith built on NOTHING LESS, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness….On Christ, the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.  Maybe, tomorrow, He’ll call me back out to the world….to do something more tangible.  But, not today.  Today, I stayed home.