Sunday, December 16, 2012

3rd Sunday: Joy

A confession, I don't really feel like writing tonight, and I don't think I have much to say.  But I'm feeling an impending guilt from within to keep my word about least through one more week of Advent. So, here goes....

The 3rd Sunday of Advent is Joy.  All of today's Lectionary speaks of joy and praise, including,
      "Rejoice in the Lord always..." Philippians 4:4

Those are tough words, perhaps insulting words, barely 48 hours after the horrific tragedy in Connecticut.  I would never consider saying anything like this to someone who is suffering.  Events like this challenge me to exam my beliefs about almost anything.  On this Gaudete Sunday, it challenges me to exam what I believe joy is....a deep well of mystery that abides deep in my soul and untouched by pain, tragedy or suffering.  I've spent much time over the last year thinking about this very thing: joy.  "How do I experience joy in my life?" "Can joy truly exist in the midst of pain?"  I say that joy is different from happiness; that happiness is an emotion that is fleeting depending on how my life is going.  Perhaps an easy thing to say as a simple statement.  I want to believe that God=Joy.  I want to believe that there is always joy regardless.  The mass murder of kindergarteners challenges me to ask myself again, "What do I believe about God? What do I know that I know?" 

 The fine young man in the picture is my son, TJ.  He graduated from Texas Southern University yesterday.  TJ has been in my life for the last 12 years.  I've celebrated many wonderful memories with him, but all pale in comparison to the pride I felt yesterday watching him accept his college diploma.  I have feelings overwhelming pride and indescribable joy.  And today, this pride and joy is seeking to coexist among hardship and uncertainty.

I know that I know: God is real and God is Love.  Despite whatever pain or tragedy, this is an absolute for me.  It may be the only absolute truth for me.  It is to this God I pray,

   "May the truth of Your love make a difference in our lives.  May joy rise mysteriously, like the Phoenix, from the ashes of our broken dreams, tears and sadness. Until then, let us feel that You as close to us as our own breath."

Monday, December 10, 2012

2nd Sunday: You can't go wrong with Yoda

I have an intention for Advent season which is "to notice."  Notice: ways to slow down; pay more attention to the strangers I encounter every day; the smallest of things to be grateful for; just noticing the Divine during my ordinary day.  Some days I remember my intention; other days....ehh, not so much.  Today, I was reminded of Advent when I read the words "light saber!"  (Score 1 for "noticing" today!)  I'm reading Just Courage, written by Gary A. Haugen.  Gary is the President of International Justice Mission. (Please click on that link right now and read about their important work in the world). Gary writes:
    "...When we read that Jesus calls us "the light of the world, " we picture ourselves more as a nice nightlight that will comfort the kids and keep us from stubbing our toe, than as a brilliant light saber that is heroically contending with the great evil of the world and driving out swathes of darkness." 

I love his thoughts about all of us as the light of God in the world.  And I think there is room for both: being the light for those who are hurting and simply need the comfort of knowing someone is there, and being the light the boldly pierces the darkest, as Gary said, evils of the world.

And how does that stellar picture of Yoda fit in?  Well, I'm a huge Star Wars fan and immediately thought of Yoda when I reading.  Yoda is a bad ass without a light saber, but with one?  He's the ultimate bad ass.  Perhaps he is the perfect leader for showing us how to bring our light into the world.  Or maybe....I just wanted to work in a picture of Yoda to my blog.

    "In Him was life, and that life was the light of all all the world.  The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it." John 1:4-5

Friday, December 7, 2012

Today's prayer

“I yearn for the stillness and silence of Advent.  I’m desperate to not sleepwalk through the darkest days of this season. I long to do nothing now, but just be. To just be in the mystery and blackness of the womb of your Spirit that nurtures new life. “  
 And quoting from The Celtic Wheel of the Year:
   “ Before the first snowflake, before the first glimpse of green, before the sun pulls back further the dark drapes of day; here, in this day, give the sign of your blessing that I may trust the new thing happening little by little this day.”

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Advent 2012

It's the first Sunday of Advent.  I have come to anticipate this day as much as Christmas; perhaps more.  Advent is my favorite season of the year.  Though not a tradition I grew up in, today I can't imagine December without it.

It's a time focused on waiting; expecting; anticipating.  There was a time when a people awaited the birth of Christ; a Deliver from God.  Today, Advent offers to me the space to remember that birth, but perhaps more so to dwell in the in- between space of anticipation and fruition.  Advent invites me to reflect on miracles I've experienced in my life and those miracles yet to come.  Advent invites me to wait, with joy; with hope, for what God will birth in my life next.  Ironically, Advent begins during the darkest days of our seasons including the longest and darkest night of the year.  Advent will end as the world (at least in our hemisphere!) begins a slow journey back toward the light. This metaphor is not lost on the journey of my own life today.

Reverend Shelby offered us two thoughts this morning for the first Sunday of Advent.  One, that Advent reminds us of Immanuel,  "God with us."  I think of "the Alpha and Omega" names for God.  God has been and will always be with us.  And, Advent creates a hope and longing for God to show up in our lives now in ways we haven't known before.  Reverend Shelby also offered the beautiful reminder that God also finds favor with us.  I felt particular connection to this truth.  Gabriel told Mary that  she had found favor with God.  As special as the mother of Jesus was, she is not the only one among us who is highly favored.  We are all the favored of God; simply because we are God's Beloved.

I'll close with Mary's song from Luke, chapter one.  My words would be different than hers, but the song is the same: one of joy and gratitude in the midst of the unknown and fear.

46 And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49     for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.”

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The children were nestled all snug in their beds...

...had just settled down for a long winter's nap. And that's exactly what I did.

The weeks from Thanksgiving till Christmas was a whirlwind. It seems to be the norm for this time of year. But this year seemed busier than normal. One thing and then another everyday for 4 weeks. Our Christmas this year consisted of almost 800 miles of driving in 4 days, 4 different gift exchanges, 3 different "beds" (ie...sofas and blow-up mattresses) and way too much food. We finally got home about 10:00pm on the 26th. That night I slept almost 10 hours! I didn't leave the house for the next 4 days. I never really wore anything but my pajamas, but I did brush my teeth everyday. It was blissful. I watched TV and movies, started a new book, napped and...I don't know what else. Not much.

I work in real estate, and therefore on commission. If I'm not working, I'm not making money. So, it's always hard for me to really stay away from work. Even apart from my job, "doing nothing" makes me feel terribly guilty. There is always house work to do, or Ordination homework, or something productive. Somehow last week, my body and mind's need for rest finally trumped my guilt. I loved every minute. Oddly, by Friday I felt incredibly energetic. My mind seems clear. I'm ready to go back to work. Just in time, too, my house needs it!

At forty-somethng I'm finally beginning to really appreciate the value of rest. Not just physically, but mentally; emotionally. Stop. Be still. Breathe deep.

All is well.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Remembering David

One year later, here we are. I've had some pretty vivid flashbacks to this time a year ago. It seemed surreal then and seems surreal now.
David has three amazing daughters who are all grown and living other places than Austin. After the news of his accident, it was important, and of course, necessary that we contact his girls and get them to Austin right away. That plan worked well for two of them, but David's middle daughter was in Europe finishing a study abroad program. We found it difficult to contact her, and difficult to find a flight out as soon as possible. Once she did get on a plane, there were delays and missed flights; not knowing where she was; stress. She did finally make it to Austin around midnight of the 18th. All that to say, there were a few of us that were holding the space in the hospitial waiting room those four days. We just sat with the other two daughters for support and love. We shared stories. Saw old friends; even laughed. We pretty much took over the waiting room. I walked in on Wednesday morning (after we had just been there for one day), and it was clear that we had made this place our own. Oragami creations were hanging from the walls, games were all over the floor, and ads from the newspaper were also displayed on the walls. (Perhaps these ads had somewhat questionable content, but it fit our little group). We helped where we could. Most of this help was devoted to protecting the daughters from the masses of people who wanted to visit. It would have been overwhelming for the them to receive visits from the literally hundereds of people who would have come. The nurses were already asking our pastor to pass the word to our congregation for people to stop calling the nurses station. At one point, there were so many calls coming in that they felt like they couldn't do their job. To say that David was well-loved is an enormous understatement. Everyone who knew him would undoubtedly say he was one of their very best friends. And that they were very special to him. And we were. I'm not sure how one creates such a sense of love and incluson to everyone, but he did. For me, this was his greatest gift. I saw it for years in his youth ministry. I saw it with people who had special needs, or didn't seem to have many friends. I saw it with people who were homeless. His welcoming to everyone; his genuine care seemed so effortless. (Although, I did hear stories about people that made him shake his head!)

The 18th was a long day. I had a sense first thing that morning (early and with very little sleep) that our long week of waiting would soon be coming to an end. Later that night, his daughters acted bravely and powerfully and let him go. Even now, I feel in my body the moment when our pastor announced to us that "David was in heaven now." Although we knew this moment was coming, it just doesn't prepare you for the jolt to your soul.

This day falls in the middle of Advent. The season of waiting; expectation.; the revealing of God with us. A couple of weeks ago I helped a group of people lead worship at church. Our theme was the "Unexpected God." We shared our stories of how we experiencec God in the unexpected moments. Then, somehow, the mystery; the miracle that this unexpected encounter transforms our life. My relationship and experiences with David over many years changed my life. For me, there is great irony in the timing of his death and Advent. His death was certainly unexpected. And I don't yet see God in this. I don't see or feel the transforming miracle. I've felt fairly cynical over this last year. Not to mention angry. Feeling like this is an act of gross injustice, especially to his daughters. So, I'm just going to voice those feelings and let them be. I have no desire to tidy them up or put a nice "churchy" bow on them. And yet, I can't escape feeling immensley grateful. I'm grateful for the time in my life that I did share with him. I'm a better person for having him in my life. I wouldn't trade a single moment, even to avoid this pain.

A beautiful candle is burning in my home today. I'm wearing a Baylor shirt and my Baylor cap. I'll be making gumbo to prepare for a gathering tomorrow with dear friends. We'll remember him together with a Cajun potluck. Nothing could be more perfect.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The phone call

The kind of phone call you get in the middle of the night when you know the news on the other end can't be good. Except this call came at high noon. I'm told that one of my dearest friends of the last 16 years had an accident. A bad accident. A random, freak accident. He's in ICU. He's not going to recover. Even now, one year to the day, those words seem incomprehensible. My body was paralyzed; my mind struggled for anything to say.

David was a life-long pastor who focused most of his career in youth ministry. I think in hearing this news, there was something inside of me; an expectation that somehow this really wasn't going to end badly. Maybe because he was a pastor; devoted his life to serving God and loving others; because everyone thought he was their best friend; because hundreds of young people would testify that he saved their life; because something this terrible couldn't possibly happen to him; because he has 3 daughters; because, because , because. But bad things really do happen to good people. This time to one of the best people on this earth. Four days later, my friend died.

It's been a hard year living with the void that his passing has left in my life. And yet, I feel like that only now I'm really beginning to let myself feel the depth of my sadness. I miss his presence...

every Sunday mornng

most Monday mornings when I would drop by his office to visit

almost daily phone calls

every youth event

talking Baylor sports- especially with the incredible basketball and football seasons this year!

braggin about TJ

any and every time I need to talk about something in my life that I was struggling with

when I wanted to tell someone about something cool that happened

I miss his smile. I miss how happy he always looked to see me. I miss hearing him tell stories. I miss seeing him cry (which he did easily and often).

I've taken some opportunities to acknowledge my sadness and move through the grief. Even still, I've been very conscious of not letting myself feel too sad. Or at least for very long. The pain has felt too deep and too big. This barrier of defense around my heart has been slowly crumbling over the last few weeks. I feel as sad today, and maybe more, than I did 12 months ago. Ultimately, I know this is a good thing. And I think it would be a grave dishonor to his memory to run from this. I feel more willing than I have, up to this point, to be present and conscious in this process. Writing of my dear friend, working through this grief is the main reason I've returned to writing. Funny, it's the main reason I stopped writing several months ago. Though writing about all this here, as opposed to my private journal, feels woefully vunerable. My thoughts are not very coherent; I find it hard to articulate what I want to say; my feellings are raw and all over the map. It's not neat and tidy for public consumption. I need to do this anyway. I'm trusting that God and my heart have led me here and it shall be a sacred place.