Why I have changed my tune on Halloween and become a BIG fan

Having recently spent time in my beloved Beijing (and thanks, by the way dear BJ for having horrible air most of the time I was there, but then deciding to clean up your act about the moment my plane took off. But I digress.). Where was I? Oh yes, having recentely spent time in Beijing, I am struck afresh by how much of life happens on the streets.

The Heart of Halloween

Breakfast stands pop up.

Fruit and veggies to be sold.

Poop (some might say a little too much life).

Dancing, badminton, car washes.

Life, life, life!

Without garages to pull into and the high value of private space, there is a level of engagement that is different than life in the West.

People, we have an opportunity this Friday night to get out there and mingle with our neighbors. One of my very first blog posts encourage people to “Take back the streets.” In part I said:

I have mixed feeling about the “Fall Festivals” that have become the norm at many churches and other places of gathering. Part of me applauds the church looking for ways to be a haven and being willing to open their doors instead of close them. But another part is kind of turned off by the withdrawal and segregation. It’s the ONE night a year in America where we are socially sanctioned to wander around our neighborhoods, knock on each other’s doors and greet one another. The ONE night. And what have we done, we have said safety is more important than engagement (I told you, you might not agree).

*****

The main push back I have gotten is over the origin of Halloween. I really never intended to take a massive stand on Halloween. The truth is I care about relationships and finding connecting points. I don’t know much about the origins of Halloween and, frankly, it doesn’t really interest me because I believe nothing, absolutely nothing is beyond the hope of redemption.

Do bad things happen on Halloween? Sure. Do bad things happen other night of the year and in the name of evil. Absolutely (and tragically so). Do I ABHOR the evil perpetrated against children or cats? Big fat yes.

But as one who bears the Image of God, I also bear the image of fun and creativity and playfulness. Of connection and joy and giggles. Of memory building and traditions. Do I delight that God made us in His image? Bigger, Fatter Y-E-S.

Now, can you just tun off your lights and not engage on Friday night and still be an Image Bearer? Of course. And that’s fine!

However, if you’re looking for some creative ideas for Friday, here are a few I’ve heard:

1. A group of teachers in China live in a building shared with graduate students. They hung up a sign explaining about Trick-or-Treating and asked students who would be willing for foreign children to Trick-or-Treat to hang up one of the provided pumpkins.

2. A family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania hands out hot dogs to those passing by their house. This year they wrote to a record label and and pitched the idea of Christmas Music CD’s being handed out with hot dogs. The record label LOVED the idea and sent 100 of David Crowder’s CD. My friends are not all that taken with Halloween, but they are taken with their neighbors and with Christmas. I only wish I lived closer because who doesn’t love a hot dog on a cold night?!

3. A church in Denver held their Fall Festival on Sunday night to free up their congregation on Halloween.

4. My sister and her family have started leaving a bowl of candy on their front porch so no one has to stay home. We get to wander their neighborhood as a family connecting with neighbors and fellow Trick-or-Treaters. (And this year for the first time ever Del, Elizabeth and I have a themed costume we’ll do together! Can’t wait!)

Engagement can come in many forms, be creative. Find one that works for you, your stage of life, your family and your personality.

I’d love to hear more ideas of ways you have found to engage and connect with folks. Anyone else planning a costume for this year?

P.S. My time in Beijing was profound on multiple levels. I’m sifting through and will share more.

Can Labor Day be a holy day?

Happy Labor Day for those of you in the U.S!

This weekend a conversation I had last May with a visiting scholar from China keeps coming to mind. I wished him a Happy Labor Day, telling him it wouldn’t be Labor Say in the U.S. until late August. He gave me a quizzical look and said, “But it’s International Labor Day!”

“Well, it’s International Socialist Labor Day, so you’re right, socialist countries all over the world are celebrating. Since the U.S. isn’t socialist, you can guess our labor day is another time. :).”

He was a bit surprised that he’d never heard a key adjective in the name and took him a moment to adjust to this new information.

labor day

What strikes me is not the difference, but the similarities. Two such different countries with vastly different histories and systems came up with a similar holiday to address a need in society.

This points to a universal truth that supersedes politics, history, or culture.

What are we humans good at? Extremes! A holiday like labor day is a small attempt as a society to say that though work is important and necessary, it is not everything. Labor with no rest is slavery. And rest with no work is laziness. Living with the tension of working AND resting is … messy. 

Though it is not billed as such in either country, I see Labor Day as a nod to God and the rhythms of feasting and fasting, planting and harvesting, working and resting. We tend to pick an extreme and plant a flag there (dare I say a modern day altar or idol?) and then fuss at our slavery. What’s one of the in words of our times?

Busy.

We glorify it and hate it.

Labor Day isn’t a high holy day. True. It is not a part of the church calendar and is celebrated at different times of the year in different countries. When Labor Day comes to your country, how about seeing it as a reminder to live in the messy middle, to resist the extremes the Tempter wants us to believe are our best choices. 

To labor well.

To rest well.

To be present with the people we are with — either in work, social or home settings — and to quit believing we can (or should) be in multiple places at once.

Amen? Amen.

May we be people who see God sprinkling reminders and invitations all around us.

(and I’d love to hear about Labor Days around the world!)

Photo credit Juan Torres via Flickr cc

Do blow torches and fireworks mix?

My parents have a few mantras. The one I most hear is: Where did you come from?  How did two Type Z personalities create a Type A person? 

(Double recessive genes is my standard answer!)

One that’s less philosophical is: There’s no place like Frisco, Colorado to watch fireworks. 

(Frisco IS great, but the Hong Kong Harbor … ah-may-zing!)

Fireworks

 

My dad loved fireworks.

When I was a kid, he loved loading the three of us girls into the car and going to the firework stand. Depending on what was legal that year, he’d stock up. When we returned home, another one of his mantras was “the girls will love this!” as my mom gave him quizzical looks as to the amount and veracity of the purchases.

Yeah, the girls will love them.

But when it finally got dark and Dad lit his blow torch, we knew who was having the most fun. It was only years later I learned not everyone’s Dad uses a blow torch because it’s an efficient way to light fireworks. To this day, that blue flame means good times are about ready to roll! And I can testify you can light those black pellet snakes, as we say in Chinese, mei wenti, no problem, with a blow torch.

It’s funny the things we miss about Dad. I didn’t realize fireworks were such a part of my story, but turns out they are. This year as we watch them, there will be the usual oohs and ahhs!, but also some tears.

May you enjoy loved ones this week whether is a holiday where you live or not. And if you want to light a blow torch in my dad’s honor, I know what he’d say … Go for it!

 

Photo credit: Sunsurfr via compfight

 

Want to know what happened with the Mother’s Day post this year? {Pretty cool!}

Our bleeding heart blossomed Saturday.

Bleeding heart

I love bleeding hearts. Isn’t it calming to look at?

And then the snow came on Sunday. I’ve put a trash can over it and hopefully it’ll survive the onslaught. But because Sunday was Mother’s Day in America, bleeding hearts and moms have mixed together in my mind.

It happened again — starting about Wednesday of last week, the Mother’s Day letter of two years ago struck a chord with the hearts of many (mostly positive, but not all). I love hearing back stories.

Two years ago when I hit “publish” on the post, my mind was on the lunch I was heading off to eat. Our favorite restaurant was being destroyed in my Beijing neighborhood and a group of us were going for one last meal. I had one meal on my mind, God had a feast for his children.

*Re:Think Worship linked it in Creative Mother’s Day Ideas for Church. Shout out to Dan (the host) thanks for all you do to help churches!

*A Catholic priest contacted me asking to use The Wide Spectrum of Mothering in Mass and in future seminary classes he teaches on preaching.

*A woman who hosts a FB group for those who have miscarried asked to use it as well and the post was shared nearly 10,000 times. She told me she has 600 followers.

*Time Warp Wife had me as a guest author on Friday using the letter as it went nuts — in a good way! There are currently 321 comments. (Anyone else chuckling at the irony of a single woman posting at a sight with “Wife” in the title? You just have to. This is so beyond me it’s hilarious). And Darlene has been delightful to work with!

* Beth at Selftalkthegospel asked about combining the two letters and she did a stunning job. Stunning.

*This was one of my favorite comments this year:

After finding so much comfort in your Wide Spectrum of Mothering last year, this year I chose to share it in my facebook group for those who live with Borderline Personality Disorder.

I wanted to thank you, not just for the comfort I found there — but more than that, for the comfort others in the group found. Some of them had held grief and shame to themselves for years, believing they didn’t have the right to those feelings, and your spectrum acknowledged them, and gave them permission to their feelings (something that those of us with BPD sometimes need).

On behalf of myself and the group, thank you. Your words have made difficult journeys a little easier to bear, and given a voice to hurting women on a hard day.

*A pastor in Dallas turned The Wide Spectrum of Mothering into a responsive reading! Next year I’ll get it added to the resources.

*Cyd who commented on the first letter and was one of the examples in the second letter supported me in the comments.

* I got an email from a woman who was able to forward the letter to her pastor and share a bit of her story with him. This has helped both pastor and parishioners to have the kind of conversations both sides wants to have.

*Sandi Patty’s daughter shared it with Sandi and she put it on her Facebook wall.

*And many commented again — sharing a bit of their lives. The good, the bad, the ugly. The messy middle. God is in our midst.

I love seeing how much God cares for and pursues his people.

Yes, the snows of life may come

snow in May

 

 

May 2014 055

snow on bleeding heart

They will. Even after you have gardened and weeded and been excited for a favorite plant.

Yet beauty can exist in the storms as well. It has been an encouragement to me to see the compassion extended to each other through this letter. Bad things are going to happen, but a kind word can sure go a long way, eh?

As Paul Harvey would say, “and now you know the rest of the story” — for this year.

How have you seen God’s heart bleeding for others? What compassion has been extended to you this week?

P.S. WELCOME to all of you new to The Messy Middle … so fun to have you join us! Amy

Another open letter to pastors for Mother’s Day {Beyond the surface of mothering}

Dear Pastor,

When I stepped into your office two years ago, Diet Coke can in hand, I don’t think either of us could have foreseen how far and wide our conversation would go. Turns out to every country in the world, save six in Africa and one in the Middle East with hundreds of thousands reading our letter.

And it got me thinking there has got to be a better way to honor mothers without alienating those who don’t fit into a tidy box. Turns out we were right, there is. What I have come to understand the last two years through the responses to our letter is that Mother’s Day can have complexities and nuances far beyond the binary approach to motherhood.

Either you are or you aren’t a mother doesn’t begin to capture it.

We can (and need to) create space for fuller truth. If life is a stage, allow me to pull back the curtain.

Beyond the Surface of Mothering

One comment from the letter comes to mind – she said Mother’s Day is complicated for her, because on the surface she has “the perfect family,” a husband and two healthy boys. But on Mother’s Day she feels sad when she sees the images on the screen at church of a mother with her young daughter and knows that part of her story is also the loss of not mothering a girl.

In my mind’s eye, she is standing on a stage with her husband and sons, whom she loves and enjoys. And it is the truth of her life, but it’s not complete. If we pulled the curtains back a ways, we’d also see her longing for a daughter.

Another woman commented, “One of my four children survived. The other three died in utero, after I had seen a heartbeat.  For the ones who have lost their babies, it isn’t about jealousy. It’s about ‘what if?’ It’s about ‘what would my child have looked like if she had survived?’ It’s about ‘what would my life be like if my child were here today?’” Her stage includes the child we can see, the three we can’t, and a whole heap of questions.

This comment sticks with me too: “I am a single gal in my early 40s and not married and no children. This year I started praying for ‘just one egg’ to be left for me, just in case I am ever so lucky. Thank you so much for writing such a tender essay that captured the gamut of Motherhood/loving other. As I work with the elderly, my ‘mothering’ comes in working with other people’s family members!”

This stage gets to me a bit because she’s been willing to let go of so much and only asks for “one egg,” standing off in the wings.

We have our public truth, and our beyond the surface truth. The stage is big enough to hold all of our reality.

I am a proponent of preserving the line between public and private – not everything should be shared. It is sacred and holy to have parts of ourselves known only to God and a few.

In light of this, I offer the following prayer or blessing for Mother’s Day.

*****

Beyond the surface of mothering

Forgive us when we assume that what we see on the surface is all there is to your story. We know in our midst there are women and mothers who:

Like Eve, have children with serious rivalry.

Like Hagar, have been discarded for a new family and are mothering alone.

Like Naomi, have tasted the bitterness of a child’s death.

Like the mother of Leah and Rachel, knows what it’s like to have one child favored over another by society.

Like Hannah, have been separated from your child at a young age.

Like Mary, have a complicated pregnancy story or

Like Tamar, have tried multiple ways to become a mother or

Like Rachel, have counted the months and years while other women in your family and circle of friends become pregnant.

Who like Rebekah, are drawn to one of your children more than the others.

Like David’s mother, is raising children after God’s heart and though you rejoice in watching them, don’t want to rub it in friends’ faces.

Like Ham’s mother have children whose substance abuse can cause problems.

Like Bathsheba, have sick children who may die.

Like Joseph and Benjamin, experienced the death of their mother.

Like Mary, have children with public legal situations and all you can do is watch.

Like the Shunammite woman when told by Elisha she would become pregnant, replied, “No, please do not mislead your servant!” Like her, not wanting to open doors to hope, only to have them slammed in your face.

Like Hannah, have known the provoking of a family member.

Like many, watched their mothers age and waste before their eyes.

Like Moses’ mother, reluctantly gave up her child because it wasn’t safe for you to bring her child up herself. Or

Who like Pharaoh’s daughter, were called to love and nurture children that weren’t yours by birth.

Like Timothy’s mother and grandmother, are steadily and without much fanfare or recognition teaching your children about the truths of God, sowing seeds for eternity

Like the unnamed women who never quite fit into the norms of society, either never marrying or having children, yet wanting to.

You are in our midst. 

We are called to be a people who rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. Today our stage is big enough to do both.

For the seen and known joys of motherhood, we rejoice and smile and celebrate with you. For the seen and known suffering in motherhood, we ache with you.

For the private unseen and unknown joys of motherhood, like Mary, may you treasure them in your hearts. And for the private unseen and unknown sorrows and suffering of motherhood, may you know you don’t always have to be happy in our midst.

You are engraved on the palms of God, both the seen and unseen, held together by Him.

I’ve created a PDF of Beyond the Surface of Mothering.

I’m an unusual advocate for Mother’s Day, I know. Single, beyond child-bearing years, not a mother. But isn’t that God’s pattern? Take the second brother, the barren woman, or the forgotten shepherd and use them. God’s system can be a bit upside down.  All I can say is, we tapped into something.

Thanks for listening and for continuing to mother us in a shepherding way. Even though I think we’ve moved beyond the whole “stand if you’re a mother awkwardness”, if you do make us stand, I might just exit stage right =).

Warmly and in your corner,

Amy

p.s. The letter that started it allDear Pastors, It’s me again {what a few days, eh?!} and Another open letter to pastors {lessons from the comments section}. There is also a resource called 10 ideas for pastors on Mother’s Day

 

I’m having a subscription drive until May 17th! Click on the envelop below and sign up for my quarterly newsletter and a chance to win 0ne of these beautiful canvases by Emily.

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Sign up envelope via Tim Morgan on flickr

Photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar via flickr

Thomas Jefferson, Jesus, and a Tour Junkie

Last week, Good Friday found me away from home, attending a friend’s wedding in Virginia, with nothing to do until evening. Since I was in Charlottesville, I’d been told the one thing I must do was go to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.

I can now say, I agree. If you’re in the area, you might not want to spend the six hours I did, but you must go to Monticello.

Small secret about me, I am a tour junkie.  I love taking tours and am the tenacious person who attaches herself to the guide’s side.  So, I was I in one of my happy places – and truth be told, had left three others I’d met from the wedding party when they were already 15 minutes late and had their own vehicle.

“This is gorgeous!” I gushed  to the ticket seller at the welcome center. She smiled, handed me the ticket and told me to hurry to the bus since the tour would start soon.

The bus drove us up the hill to the Jefferson’s house. At the top, I toured the house, joined a free tour of the gardens and fields, made a weekly skype call to a group of women who live around the globe (spread round the world made it too tricky to change the time), and took another free tour on enslaved people at Monticello.

The tour guide kept referring to this as the nickel shot.

The tour guide kept referring to this as the nickel shot.

 

Oh ... now I get it :). Not always the sharpest tool in the shed!

Oh … now I get it :). Not always the sharpest tool in the shed!

Needless to say, the range of topics bouncing around inside of me was vast and paradoxical. How does one reconcile Jefferson being against slavery, yet owned slaves? How do I reconcile the paradoxes in my own life?

After walking down the mountain (ok, more of a hill), all I had left to do was see the movie at the welcome center.

I sat off to the side of the front row and two boys around eight years old sat next to me, their mother in the row behind even though there were seats available. They were wiggly in a delightful boy way.

The movie was what you’d expect. Well done, informative, hitting on Thomas Jefferson the man, the politician, the product of the enlightenment, and his interest in exploring and experimenting.

Million dollar shot

It ended with a small tribute to the power of the ideas contained in The Declaration of Independence. Copies of different constitutions and political movements from around the world flashed on the screen.  India, France, Haiti, Abraham Lincoln, Yugoslavia, The Berlin Wall, Liberia, Vietnam.

Remembering it was Good Friday what struck me was the universal longing for life and liberty and from the Cross, Jesus cried, “It is finished.” These longing for life and liberty run deep and are God given and God honoring. So much so, God was willing to die so that we might be freed from sin and have life.

Yes, we are still entangled in the ramification of a brokenness and sin; thankfully we are no longer enslaved to the law, left to our own efforts.

Though not a traditional church service, God had met me (and maybe those boys?). Life, liberty, and pursuit of redemption is His heart beat for the ages.

Where have you been met in an unexpected way this week?

With Cassi (Small)P.S. With Cassi, the happy bride, the next day (after touring James Madison’s home and paying for an extended tour with extra information on the Constitution)

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To enter either sign up or pass on the word about the subscription drive (you can enter up to five times) — LAST drawing May 17th! And a chance to win 0ne of these beautiful canvases by Emily.

Congrats to Teresa for winning this round!

Sign up envelope via Tim Morgan on flickr

Pi day 3.14 … are you excited for next year?!

Woot, woot! It’s that time of year again! π  Day is every March 14th (3.14, get it?! Love it!?).

Last year we had a fun π  Week, but this year I thought I’d dial it back to build up the anticipation for NEXT YEAR, the Ultimate π Day! Why, you might ask? Pi is 3.141592… making next year 3.14.15! I know, I know, throughout history many have lived, but will not have the joy of living through the ultimate π day. Only one more year, people. Only one more year!

pi

In case you’re a bit rusty on math, π comes from taking the circumference of a circle and dividing it by its diameter.  π never stops, never repeats, is irrational (in the mathematical sense, not emotionally), you always see something different and it is quite mysterious.  Is that not a beautiful description of God? That every single circle literally radiates the glory and majesty of God is, simply, breath taking.

Stop and just glance around you, how many circles do you see? I see them in

the opening of a vase
the base of my timer
the top of a small table
the power chord plug for my computer
wall clock
my pen
a plate

Each item mentioned contains π. Can’t help it. Can’t stop it. Every single circle holds infinity. Meditate on that today! A stop light? Not just one, but three circles declaring the glory of their Maker. A meal, don’t even get me going with all of the circles.

*****

To help with Pi fun, I’ve got resources from previous Pi days, and a few new ones.

2008-03-14-happy-piday

  • Pi songs! – two fun pi songs. One sings Pi’s value and the others plays Pi based on do=1, re=2, mi=3. Both are AWESOME.

This video is hosted by Danica McKellar (of the Wonder Years) and has a fun rendition of “Dance of the Sugar Pi Fairies.” Thanks to my sister Laura for sharing it with me!

 

  • Pi cartoons!  – last year the two favorites of my students: “mind blown” (wish you could have heard the gasps!) and Pi’s full name. Thanks to my friend LeAnne for sharing the following morsel with me!

the-wife-of-pi

To prime the pump, I’ll share previous submissions.

 Reflecting
 God:
not just for shapes

*******

Three year olds
Can
Make me smile

********

Ultimate
Pi
2015

********

Life springs from
Both
Joys and sorrows

*****

 

Can’t wait to hang out with you in the comments! What did you think of the Sugar Pi Fairies? The pi songs are stunning, no?! And the cartoons and jokes never get old! Add a new Pi-ku! Look at all the fun Pi offers :). Thank you God for your fun creative hand seen in this aspect of your creation! Amen and amen.

A love story told in broken bones {vintage}

 Last year I wrote Valentine’s Day is for everyone {said the single gal}. The post below first appeared two years ago on Valentine’s Day, but it was written several months before on an airplane as I flew back to the US five days after hearing my dad had fallen and broke his hip {thankfully I already had a trip to the U.S. scheduled to present at a professional conference}. It seems fitting to repost it today

He had broken numerous bones throughout his life, most coming with a fairly entertaining story. I mean how many second graders do you know who got a C- in penmanship because of two broken arms? The first broken while roller skating and the second, days later, walking the dog? Or the night he slid into second base trying to help his co-workers beat the other team, and broke his ankle. His teammates counseled him to apply heat and keep walking on it, much to the chagrin of his wife and the doctor when it was properly cast the following morning. Or how about the time he broke his ribs snowmobiling with a buddy? If you’re going to break bones, that’s the way to do it, in nature and with a good story!

when love enters a story

How quickly on a January night two years ago the story took a turn. The older tales still hold their own in the retelling, but on that night a line was drawn. A line, not to be feared or dreaded, nevertheless, a line that says the story is now different.

On that cold night his leg was broken with a double spiral break in the same place it had been thirty years before. The following months took a lot out of his wife and she told him that the next broken bone would be cared for by another wife. And he knew she meant it. As much as one means it when you know you’ll never leave but please remember that what you do effects me too.

And this is what love can do when it enters the story: it can change everything.

Out of love for his wife he started working on his balance to try and avoid future falls. He hired a trainer at the local gym and regularly worked on core strength and balance. He invested time, money, and effort because he knew his broken bones didn’t just alter his life, they altered hers as well.

Paul wrote about love in his letter to the Corinthians. It’s often used at weddings, and while weddings are an appropriate place to talk about love, there was so much more that Paul was getting at! Just before he starts to wax poetic on love being patient and kind, he set the scene of a community being tugged and pulled in different directions (see I Corinthians 12).  Like a coach at a crucial point in the game, Paul steps in and calls a time out. He refocuses them as to how love acts and what love does for another. He reminds them (and us) that love needs to enter a story afresh because it has the ability to change the trajectory.

It’s more than feelings, it’s something we do. Often at personal cost, but also with an eye for others and the impact we have on them. Love is patient and kind. It hires a personal trainer and works on core strength.

Love entering a story doesn’t mean that bad things won’t happen or people won’t fall or bones won’t break. Recently more bones were broken.  But because he loved her enough to give her the gift of removing the what-if’s with his tangible and faithful investment – What if you had done more or tried harder? –she loved him by supporting without (too many) comments.

No, love can’t promise that bad things won’t happen. But when love enters a story we can bear all things, believe all things, hope all things and endure all things. Love never fails.

Love

Linking with The Grove at Velvet Ashes

photo credit Anggie via Lightstock

Has your soul felt it’s worth?

When I was a child one of the holiday traditions my sisters and I had was to make eyes at each other and stifle giggles during the Christmas Eve Service. The same woman annually sang O Holy Night with so much vibrato girls bordered on embarrassing parents. The tradition also involved the annual LOOK of “stop it right now or you will not live to see another day and don’t forget I love you but I am not kidding.”

Unfortunately I never really focused on the words because in my mind, all I heard was high pitched vibrato.

Oh holy night!

The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appear’d and the soul felt it’s worth
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

The soul felt its worth

What a pitch perfect rendition of the Good News. Long lay the world in sin and error pinning. Even though we live this side of the cross, we still have seasons of pinning for God. Longing for an answer. At times so burdened by the weight of sin and error.

Til he appeared and soul felt it’s worth. The good news isn’t we won’t go to hell (though it’s true) or join a rich faith tradition (true too!). No, the good news is God cared so much he longed to return us to our Eden State of knowing our worth to him. The extent to which he loved us. To see ourselves the way God sees us. To know our worth.

A thrill of hope the weary soul rejoices. Rejoices. Re-joy! Again… joy!

May your soul know it’s worth this year. May you experience a thrill pass through your soul and rejoice.

It is indeed a holy time.

*****

The book club I’ve been leading for Velvet Ashes has concluded our first book, Ann Voskamp’s The Greatest Gift, a Christmas devotional. Pop over and enjoy the discussions in the comment section (I do love a good book chat!). It would make a good Christmas Evening read :)

Christmas Gift for you: Best Christmas Advice (that won’t cost you a time, but will still cost).

Merry Christmas! Amy

P.S. a Messy Middle newsletter will be coming soon. If you haven’t already, please subscribe on the right hand of the blog where is says Newsletter and a free book. The newsletter won’t be on the blog.

Has there been a moment you felt your worth these past few days?

Seasonal Expectations (and not getting bit in the behind)

In my former job, I spent a considerable amount of time talking to folks new to China about their expectations. We looked under this rock and that rock. What do you expect your role to be? How do you think God will use or grow you? What do you expect from folks back home? What do you expect your interactions with the locals to be like? We’d look at scenario after scenario.  Week after week, brick upon brick we looked at our expectations.

One of the anchoring quotes for the discussions was:

Expectations need to be recognized, evaluated and either discarded or committed to work on for progress. Expectations and Burnout by Eeningenburg and Bliss (Don’t you love that Bliss wrote a book on expectations?!)

Like a broken record, I’d say, having expectations isn’t the problem, it’s unexamined expectations that can bite us in the behind.

Setting Season Expectations

Expectations can be seasonal

St Augustine said, “Christmas is fast approaching. And now that Christ has aroused our seasonal expectations, he’ll soon fulfill them all!”

At first glance, I loved this quote. Yes, yes! I do have seasonal expectations and I so enjoy this season! But then I slowed down and reread the part about Christ arousing the seasonal expectations and I realized only some of my seasonal expectations are rooted in unadulterated Christ (is my love of Christmas lights really pointing to Christ? How about all of the Christmas ornaments that point to memories of trips or experiences?).

And that part about how Christ will fulfill them all. I don’t think his great goal of this season is that I have pretty snow while I’m drinking Chai and looking at the tree. I also don’t think he’s opposed to these types of experiences.

St. Augustine has helped me to slow down and examine what it means to have seasonal expectations and where they might be located.  Why do we celebrate Christmas? As a Christian, it is the birth of Jesus who came as the ultimate sacrifice to set us free to be more fully human, in stronger relationship with the triune God, and to be shiny, not tarnished, image bearers.

I have gone back and forth on how to organize these thoughts, with so much over lapping existing, it’s like a big venn diagram in my head.

Do we look at the areas we can have expectations and categorize them as good or bad? Helpful or not so much?

Do we think in terms of “inside the church” and “outside the church” and what we expect in each arena?

Do we focus on what we expect from activities and rituals that foster relationships and memories? {Which I do think is part of what Christ arouses in us this time of year.}

At this point I want to throw my hands up and say ARGHHHHHHH. Due to the mini-family crisis I mentioned last week I don’t feel like I’m organizing my thoughts clearly. If you’re expecting deep insights, sorry to disappoint :). If you’re expecting me to just show up, offer what I can, and receive from you, we’re in the messy middle, eh?!

When it comes to seasonal expectations, Christ does arouse within us the desire to connect with memories and people. And to remember that he came to bring hope and salvation. To join us in a bigger story. And the beauty comes in the variety and the ebb and flow over time in how we remember and join in the story. Our family story involves fig pudding, tamales, ornaments, and Christmas books. And one person’s obsessions with lights and other people’s normal enjoyment of them. {I am the one.}

Form over function.

Our greatest disappointments often come when we focus too much on the forms. It has to look like this. And miss the function. Am I reminded of the mystery of God becoming human? Am I connecting to people? Am I resisting certain cultural messages that say our value is measured in things, while looking for ways to connect to people?

What expectations do I need to recognize in order to evaluate it and potentially discard or update or implement as is?

The Christmas season can be a bit like walking through a landmine, wondering where an explosion is hidden. It doesn’t have to be this way. By setting more realistic expectations –maybe lowering some of your expectations and for the more cynical, maybe raising them—focusing less on stuff and more on people, St. Augustine is right. Christ can fulfill them all.

What is a unique tradition in your family during the Christmas Season?

Linking with The Grove. Word prompt: Expectation

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