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Already-Not-Yet Presence

I didn’t grow up with what we call “high church tradition” — no lectionaries, no confirmation… communion happens just once quarterly and we stopped having acolytes lighting the tall candles sometime in the late 80s.

Sometimes the color of the pulpit cloth and table runner (because we certainly never called such things by their proper names) would change from purple to green or red or white.

But I never knew why.
I don’t recall it ever being pointed out back then.

But several times throughout my growing up years we celebrated Advent as a church.

Oh, there’s been a wreath with candles on that beautiful matching pillar pedestal for as long as I remember…

But we didn’t always acknowledge the weekly lighting or do special readings or scriptures for each week.

Still, by the time I was in high school I knew that Advent came before Christmas and was a time of preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus.

Yet as my exploration of scripture and the church and traditions grew heading into the college years and then my seminary years and as I realized my wiring naturally leans towards the beauty, symbol and rhythms found in more ancient and worn paths of prayer and church seasons, I began to awaken to a new understanding of Advent.

A time of longing and hope and expectation.

Connecting to the yearning of Israel as they awaited the Messiah.
And recognizing our present yearning for His second coming.

I’ve written on it frequently these past few years.

And in that time I’ve also come to better understand that Christmas is not just one day when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, but that the Christmastide is the twelve days beginning Christmas day and leading up to Epiphany (a beauty in its own right).

And as such, the Christmastide is a celebration of the presence of Christ.

Emmanuel.
God with us.
Word become flesh.
Dwelling among us… and now in us.

And my Advent devotions extend through the Christmastide.

From hope.
And peace.
And joy.
And love.
To presence.

Yet as I read Isaiah 60:18-19 again on this ninth day of Christmas,
reading the hope,
perceiving the longing,
recalling the prophet’s echoes in the revelations of John…

A new thought occurs to me:

If Advent is a recognition of the longing of the first advent of Christ as well as our current longing for His second advent,

—an already-not-yet scenario—

then isn’t the Christmastide a recognition of the celebration of the presence of Christ among us as well as a looking forward to the final fulfillment of all prophecies and the time when we “will have the Lord for an everlasting light, And the days of [our] mourning will be over” and “the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away”?

Christmastide as an already-not-yet of His presence.

How shall I walk through the Christmastide with this understanding?

Seeking to recognize
to acknowledge
to experience
to walk in
His presence
daily
more and more
grasping the joy of the already
and the hope of the not yet.

I’ve seen Advent as two-fold for many years…
now I am seeing the Christmastide is two-fold as well.
_____

(Interestingly enough, last January 2nd I also wrote of the “already-not-yet”, but it was almost exclusively in relation to the prophecy, not the season as a whole.)

 

Righteousness On Display

The scripture I read this morning had me reflecting again on a new thought discovery I made this Christmastide while listening to carols and thinking on the story…

“And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly.” (Matt 1:19)

Joseph’s righteousness propelled him to not ignore the (apparent) sin of his betrothed. Yet his righteousness did not demand a harsh, hate-filled and public stand against this sin. Instead, it would seem, love and mercy along with his righteousness led him to handle the matter in a more private way.

And I don’t meant to imply he was embarrassed and trying to hide it. The scripture doesn’t give that sense about him at all. And it’s likely their immediate families were involved…. just not the whole town and nation…

I think that today we view righteousness as something which must be loudly, starkly and very publicly put on display at all times. Sin and wrong-doing must always be harshly rebuked in front of everyone. And with social media this often means the world…

We speak of declaring truth and making a stand.
We want everyone to know what is wrong
… and who is doing that wrong.
We can’t allow even the appearance of sin.

(I wonder if subconsciously we think that by taking a bold stand against the sin of others that we will appear more righteous and folks won’t notice our own shortcomings.)

And the thing is that even as I write this a little voice inside is saying, “yes, but…”

Yes, but doesn’t scripture mention something about not allowing the appearance of sin?
Yes, but doesn’t sin need to be called out as sin?
Yes, but aren’t we to shine a light in the darkness so sin can’t hide?
Yes, but shouldn’t we be pointing out sin so that repentance can happen?

Yes, but…

Yet the character and choices of Joseph lead me deeper.

Of course I don’t want to hide or ignore or rationalize or pander to sin, sweeping wrong-doing under the rug. I’m just thinking that perhaps we tend to go about it in poor manner…

Righteousness calls for action to be taken.
But love and mercy call for wisdom and grace in how those actions are taken.

If a person sins against his or her spouse, then it should be dealt with among the couple and God (and sometimes the immediate family)…

If a person sins against a group of people, then it should be dealt with before that group.

If a person sins publicly then…

Well, you get the picture.

I think to several chapters later in Matthew 18 when Jesus is talking about confronting a brother or sister who has sinned.

If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

It doesn’t begin with a loud, harsh, public outcry.
It begins privately.

Perhaps Jesus learned that from both his fathers!

the beauty of the call

And as He stands in victory,
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me;
For I am His and He is mine—
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death—
This is the pow’r of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.

The fascinating truth about repeating the same prayers and songs on a daily basis is that they have this tendency to either become stale and trite or be consistently revealing and connecting. Unfortunately, we more often fall into the trap of the former, allowing ourselves to think that rote and memory are only equated with lifelessness and meaninglessness. But over the past few years I’ve been slowly training myself to have the mindset of the latter, seeing and reveling in the beauty of new connections.

Fairly recently, I’ve added to the prayers and songs of my morning routine the 21st century hymn penned by Keith Getty & Stuart Townend – In Christ Alone.

I find it beautiful; its truths profound, gripping and revealing. It is also easy to learn and is quite hum-able while blowing one’s hair dry, doing a sinus rinse or brushing one’s teeth in the morning.

I find that humming the tunes allows me to mentally focus and reflect on the words.

This morning one line in particular struck a chord deep within me.

Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me.

Instead of simply singing it with joy and victory and simple acknowledgment of its glorious truth like usual, I suddenly found myself asking,

“what does it mean that sin’s curse has lots its grip on me?”
“what does it mean to lose grip?”

Then in my mind an image appeared: a daughter. broken shackles. yet still in the cell.

And somewhere I heard the echoes of Jesus’ call: “Follow me!”

And suddenly they connected.
And I saw the beauty of the call in the movement it creates.

The scene continued to play out in my mind’s eye… how we are there in our brokenness, sitting in our own filth, and even though the lock on the shackles has been sprung, still we allow them to remain on us. Were we to move away from our spots, we would realize that they can no longer hold, they have lost their grip!

But we have grown up in these chains and have become accustomed to this limited way of moving about. In so many ways this is our norm. The chains have some length to them so that we thought we had freedom to walk and play about, not realizing how restricted our movements really were. We didn’t notice how the chains hindered our movements, weakened our muscles and constricted us into warped, awkward, stiff and often painful modes of moving. This mode of being was what we knew… how we perceived… what we thought was normal.

So when the crucified Jesus – who took our brokenness, our filth and our chains upon himself – resurrected from the dead, the locks were sprung. His sacrifice carried all our sins and meant forgiveness for us from those sins. Sin’s curse has lost its grip.

But so often we miss it. And that is where the grace and beauty of the call comes in.

For when we respond to Jesus’ call of “follow me”, we begin to move again. We begin to walk. And as we follow where He leads we see that the shackles do not grip us any longer and we are no longer bound by those chains. We experience a new freedom and a new world and a new life past the chains, past the cell. We begin to see that what we thought was normal was so limited, restricted, dark and harmful.

And because our muscles have atrophied and we have learned warped and awkward ways of moving about, sometimes we stumble. Especially at first. It is hard to break old habits. It takes a while to rebuild muscle. And though simply standing and beginning to walk away from sitting in mud and muck will cause much of it to fall off, all brokenness and filth that we lived in for so long doesn’t just roll off immediately.

But that’s where the grace and beauty of the call continue. For again and always Jesus calls, “follow me” and the continual movement and the obedience of following as he leads keeps us going. And he will teach us new ways to walk and run and dance and think and move. He will call us to water and nourishment and places to get scrubbed clean and give us new clothes. The restoration happens as we follow Jesus.

The New Testament speaks often of the loss of the power and grip of sin and the “old life” and of walking with Jesus and discovering and living in freedom, in the light and a “new life”. But when I sat down to open the pages of scripture after the new connections during my morning getting-ready routine, it was Colossians 2 to which I turned. Probably because I had just inched my way through that book this past spring and its words and imagery were still fresh in my mind.

Two short selections for you here (but read the whole chapter here) – Italics are mine for emphasis:

When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him. (vv. 13-15)

Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude (vv. 6-7)

As Jesus stands in victory, sin’s curse has truly lost its grip.
And Jesus does indeed command my destiny.

And still again and always the call is to follow Jesus.
And what grace and beauty in that call!

chaos and waiting

And still, the waiting is the hardest.

Over and over as a child, when I was working on beading or untangling Christmas lights or other such tedious tasks, my mother would remark incredulously, “you’ve got a lot of patience!”

But I still don’t have nearly enough. One of the quirks of my OCD tendencies is this revulsion of disorder, flux, chaos. And that is where I find myself as I await the final results of my Lyme test and next month’s allergy testing. So much depends on those results which will bring both answers to questions and change involving healing processes, solutions, more problem-solving and learning to adjust once again to my body’s quirks. And none of it instant.

Because of research, observation & connections and the words of various doctors, I am fairly certain of at least part of the outcome of my allergy testing. And being the type of person who would rather make environmental and lifestyle changes (especially that get at the root of the issue) than piling on more and more meds (especially when they mostly just cover up symptoms), I foresee a great many changes coming to my life and living space.

And though I know it makes sense to await the official results (because the anticipated change will take so much time, effort, energy and money), right now it is rather driving me batty.

I am in the midst of cleaning (yay for two weeks in a row!) and I have to restrain myself from diving into my anticipated purge while I clean. After all, it would take time I don’t have right now and I have no where yet to put stuff.

But even more so is the emotional toll. It was just this past winter that I finally got my small living space to a settled place after 2015’s purge and clean. And now I’m considering and even more drastic change and purge, the process of which will take a lot of letting go and a little bit of grieving. So there’s this part of me that simply wants to “get it over with” and get it to the next settled place with the few new things that are helping me deal with the loss of so many old ones…

I don’t like the chaos and the flux and the waiting.

Because it hurts.
And it’s hard.

But that’s okay.
Somehow in the grand scheme of things, hurt and difficulty have value.

They are not “for naught.”

So I will remind myself to slow down.
And wait.
And trust.
And be patient.

And you know what? Perhaps these weeks until the final results come in can be spent finishing up some of those other purge-like elephants I hadn’t gotten to yet that will help the anticipated new change in the long run?

And perhaps I can use the time to more fully appreciate the way things are here now.
Before learning to fully appreciate the way things will be later.

To be present in each moment.
Even in the chaos and the waiting.

Save, O Lord

Now I know that the Lord saves His anointed;
He will answer him from His holy heaven
With the saving strength of His right hand.
Some boast in chariots and some in horses,
But we will boast in the name of the Lord, our God.
They have bowed down and fallen,
But we have risen and stood upright.
Save, O Lord;
May the King answer us in the day we call.
                                           ~ Psalm 20:6-9

I remember that one of Your shepherds, one of the guys who spoke Your words to us in relatable ways once commented that the way to recognize what idols we have in our lives is to pinpoint what we fear most and then notice to what we turn in order to save us from that which we fear. Profound, I thought.

Some boast in chariots and some in horses,
But we will boast in the name of the Lord, our God.

Lord help me to recognize and relinquish my idols.

May they not hold sway over me.

I long for health and healing.
To be pain-free.
To sleep well.
To slay elephants.
To have energy to accomplish tasks.
To have a good attitude without constant struggle.
To be able to drink tea and enjoy a variety of foods without hurting my body.
To be able to mime and teach and write and encourage others with these and more.

May I not put undue weight,
inappropriate hope,
nor unsuitable importance upon false “saviors”.

May I not look to tea
or chocolate
or ice cream
or pain relievers
or doctors
or routines
or helpful advice articles
or bigger paychecks
or other people
to somehow save me and make me happy

—sinning by giving them ill-fitted and ill-fated responsibility they were never meant to bear.

For even the best of them—

and even those things which are good
and helpful
and healthy

—are not meant to be saviors.

May I not hold them as idols.

Help me to relinquish whatever gets in the way of You, Lord.

Even if it means letting go for a time of what is good in order to ensure that You are in your rightful place in my life.

Seeking You, Lord,
with my emotions and feelings
with my passions and treasures and what I hold dear
—holding You most dear—
with the very core and center of my being;

with my memories and experiences
with my personality and wiring
—seeking You, not excuses—
with my very lifeblood, my life breath
with every breath;

with my intelligence and imagination and will
with how I use my reasoning and creativity
with how I choose my attitude
—attitude is a choice—
with every choice and decision and thought
with my very focus;

with my skills and talents
—and the stewardship of them—
and the stewardship of my time and body
with my energy, even when lacking,
and my wherewithal…

Seeking, loving and obeying You
only and always.

May I not boast and trust in idols,
but in You, Lord.

Save, O Lord!

You’re going where you look

“Are you awake?” I asked Dad on the way to the chiropractor’s this morning as the car gently resumed its centering between the lines on the road.

“I was looking over there,” he said, indicating with a slight nod of the head. “When you’re driving sometimes you begin to drift where you’re looking.”

I smiled and nodded. I remembered him telling me the very same thing as a warning against distractions when I was just learning to drive. “You know,” I responded, “Steven Curtis Chapman sings a song with a line about how you better look where you’re going because you’re going where you look!”*

I’ve always loved that line. Perhaps because it reminded me of those teenage days when my daddy was patiently teaching me to drive. Or perhaps because the truth of it is deeper than I know…

For the first time, this morning during that conversation, that favored, oft-quoted line was seen in a new light.

Not just a driving truth.

Not just a life-direction metaphor.

A more pervasive, more encompassing truth.

Because suddenly I saw that line along with “Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus” and “Be Thou My Vision” and Peter and Jesus on the water in the storm and the waves and struggles in my own life…

Because I’m going where I look.

Am I looking to Jesus and headed towards Him or am I being inappropriately distracted by my struggles and so heading towards the dark depths of being consumed by the waves?

“You better look where you’re going because you’re going where you look!”


*The Steven Curtis Chapman song is “Rubber Meets the Road” from his 1996 release Signs of Life. And the lyric is one I slightly misheard. Web lyrics put it as, “Look where you wanna go, Are you going where you’ve looked?” but I think I prefer the version in my head. It has proven most wise in my life…

When will my life begin?

It’s a catchy tune.

And to be honest, I’ve always been a bit jealous of just how much she gets done before 7:15.

7 AM, the usual morning lineup:
Start on the chores and sweep ’til the floor’s all clean,
Polish and wax, do laundry, and mop and shine up
Sweep again,
And by then
It’s like 7:15.

Mandy Moore voices the young lady Rapunzel who sings this song when we first meet her in Disney’s 2010 movie Tangled. Through this song we are introduced to how Rapunzel spends her days and what is the deepest longing of her heart.

And so I’ll read a book or maybe two or three
I’ll add a few new paintings to my gallery
I’ll play guitar and knit, and cook and basically
Just wonder when will my life begin?

Then after lunch it’s puzzles and darts, and baking
Paper mache, a bit of ballet and chess
Pottery, ventriloquy, candle making
Then I’ll stretch, maybe sketch, take a climb, sew a dress!

And I’ll reread the books if I have time to spare
I’ll paint the walls some more, I’m sure there’s room somewhere.
And then I’ll brush and brush, and brush and brush my hair
Stuck in the same place I’ve always been.

And I’ll keep wonderin’ and wonderin’, and wonderin’, and wonderin’
When will my life begin?

The song came to mind yesterday as I was taking a brief get-up-out-of-this-chair-away-from-the-computer-screen-and-get-some-sun-and-fresh-air walk around the parking lot at work.

Because it came to mind that next year marks a decade since I graduated from seminary.

A decade.

And I’m not where I thought I would be. I moved back home after graduation. At the time it seemed to make sense. When I had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia after my freshman year of college, there was only “try and manage symptoms” and “do what you can while you can”… so I did. I got through college and headed to seminary to study theology and arts. And while there I found a new doctor with a protocol that was supposed to help me reverse (though not “cure”) symptoms so that my future could actually be better, healthier, more vibrant and active than my past. But I wasn’t progressing very quickly on the protocol. And while Southern California may have been a better location for doing the mime and arts theology that was my goal, I was floundering financially, having been unable to get a decent job my last year of seminary (after losing the one I had). My health was a major reason for this. So I thought it made sense to move back across the states and move in with my parents until I was able to get on my feet.

I mean, my small town here in south-central PA isn’t ideal for starting a mime team or making a living doing “creative arts consulting.” But I had some ministry contacts on the East Coast and figured that would give me a start and I could expand from there. And once I got on my feet (and/or got married), I’d probably move to some place more appropriate/central to what I was doing. This was supposed to be temporary.

But here I am.

Ten years later.

Now don’t get me wrong, the issue isn’t that I’m still living at home. (Although my tendency to care too much what others think makes me feel awkward about it at times… well, too often.) My parents and I have a great relationship. We operate as a family unit of three adults, loving and taking care of one another. The original plan was that I would get “room and board” in exchange for doing the meal planning, grocery shopping and cooking. Which worked well for all of us. And that’s still basically how it is… except when my health gets in the way…

The issue is the dissonance between where I expected to be and where I am.

After ten years.

I’m still at home, still single, still only working part-time and still struggling with my health…

And though I know I shouldn’t compare myself to others, the contrast is sometimes so stark that it is hard to ignore and thoughts come unbidden and unwelcome.

Watching others live “real” life. Folks who are my age (and sometimes the “kids” I worked with in youth groups and ministries) are celebrating a decade’s worth (or more) of anniversaries, have children who are teenagers, own homes, have proper full-time jobs or run their own businesses, are involved in their communities, churches and more. Things we associate with real life.

Even more, I see friends and acquaintances who are “living their dreams” – dreams which were the same or similar to mine. They are doing mime and drama and arts… they are reaching and encouraging others through ministries… they are teaching… they are doing tea events… they are writing and publishing books… In short, they are blooming.

And I don’t begrudge them this. I am happy to see them getting to do these things. It makes my heart happy when such dreams work out for them.

And yet there’s a part of me that wonders if I’ll ever get the same.

When will my life begin?

Because from my viewpoint, my life is shrinking, not expanding. My dreams are dying, not being fulfilled.

True, there has been a series of shifts in my dreams and at the time of each shift (and even now for the most part) I see those as being God-directed. From performing mime to teaching mime and arts theology to teaching the Bible and arts (and less mime) to the tea room dream… and all along this story that pursues me that I’d like to finish and publish as a book…

But I couldn’t tell you the last time I performed or taught or even practiced mime. Or taught arts theology…

And though for a time I deliberately stopped saying ‘yes’ to new involvements at church, I then slowly backed out of other commitments at church except for teaching for one class once a month… but even then I found that my unpredictable health kept causing me to have to find last-minute replacements and so I’ve turned even that small task over…

I haven’t hosted or planned a tea party in ages, I go to few teas now and I’m drinking tea even less because of its effect on my medication (not to mention the effects of the carb-heavy “tea foods” on my blood-sugar and health)…

And though I had a decent streak for a few weeks, most days my allotted “writing time” is spent in bed or struggling through symptoms rather than working on my book…

One by one these things are fading.

As for social life and relationships, I’m really only in regular contact with my parents, my co-workers (3 of them) and the folks at church -when I’m able to make it there. And whatever relationship I can manage with other friends on social media…

Okay.

So despite the fact that my eyes sting a bit with salty wet tears as I write all this out, I’m not saying it in order to throw a pity party for myself and invite readers along for the misery.

I’m saying it because yesterday when Mandy-Moore-as-Rapunzel’s voice went through my head, I had a thought.

When will my life begin?

Who says it hasn’t?

Why must life always be something more?

“Real life” doesn’t start with a full-time job. Or marriage. Or having children. Or owning a home. Or being healthy. Or attaining titles or being published or getting promoted… or having dreams fulfilled.

Ideal life, maybe, but not real life.

Real life is simply living, breathing and walking day to day in the reality in which you find yourself.

The thought that struck me as I walked yesterday was simply that my life is now.

I am alive.

The circumstances of my life may not be what I was expecting. Or what I wanted. Or what my culture promotes as normal, accepted or celebrated.

But my life is now.

This is real life.

And that is not a battle cry to “seize the day” or “follow my heart” or “chase my dreams”…
It is simply a call to realign my perspective.

(And maybe another day I’ll get around to processing through my struggles on how our culture defines “full life” and what Jesus meant when he said that he came to give “life, and have it abundantly.)

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