Tis the Season?

I was forwarded this article today that connected with my soul. I am curious what it does for yours?

A Counter-Cultural Quiet
by Adam McHugh

Tuesday, Dec 08, 2009

For some people, the Advent season on the church calendar is one of the most anticipated times of the year. For some, there is no other time in which their love of God is stronger, there is no other time in which they are more aware of God’s mercy in their lives and in the world, there is no other time in which their hearts go out to others with such affection, and there is no other time in which their joy is more profound.

I am not one of those people.

For me this time of year has always been a spiritually dry time. There is a line in a Counting Crows song that says “You can see a million miles tonight, but you can’t get very far.” That is my experience during this season. Every year I anticipate it with everyone else, hoping that this year will be different. Maybe this year the earth shattering experience of God will take place, and I’ll be able to take in the seismic joy that should result from the knowledge that God entered the course of human history to reclaim it as his own. But by December 26th, I’m left with disappointment, another year of not getting very far.

I experience a deep division within myself during Advent. My inner world stirs with longings for deep experiences of grace, for moments of pregnant silence, for times of candlelit reflections on the fullness of deity wrapped in a child. But my outer world is harassed by the rampant activity, the hurried crowds, and the consumeristic clutter of the season.

I think my personal division reflects a broader cultural division. I’m willing to suspend my cultural cynicism for a moment and speculate that at the root of American consumer Christmas is a deep seated desire for meaning. I may be way off on this, but I suspect the decorations, the music, the saturated social calendars, the capitalistic flurry, and the caloric overload are attempts at finding something true, something significant. Hopes for discovering community and transcendence. There is a neighborhood near my own that puts on an unbelievable show of lights, music, and decorations for the weeks leading up to Christmas. Cars line up for blocks to meander through the illuminated streets and residents sit in their driveways around firepits and chat with the passersby. Aside from laying a carbon footprint likely visible from outer space, it is a powerful display of community spirit.

The problem, I think, is that our culture doesn’t know how to truly celebrate. Overconsumption and overstimulation are the only ways we know how to mark a special occasion. Even though most of implicitly know it doesn’t work and that we’re going to wake up with a hangover, it’s all we know how to do. When there is a significant event, we commemorate it by scurrying around, spending absurd amounts of money, gathering a crowd, and turning up the volume. If we’re not weighed down by anxiety and insomnia, then it must not be a very important occasion. Our holiday “celebrations” therefore seem destined to only get bigger and bigger, because we have built up such a tolerance.

Many of us in the church live in the tension of this religious and cultural ambivalence. Our Christmas eves are often a confusing recipe of ingredients like these: the onslaught of relatives, massive food preparation, stressful and boisterous dinners, hurrying everyone into the car, attending a hot, packed Christmas eve worship service in which we light candles, and sing lyrics like:

Silent night, holy night?All is calm, all is bright?Round yon Virgin Mother and Child?Holy Infant so tender and mild?Sleep in heavenly peace?Sleep in heavenly peace

Then we rush home, hustle the kids into bed so we can finish wrapping gifts and stuffing stockings, because they’ll be up in 5 hours. Sleep in heavenly peace indeed.

I was asked to write about this topic because I just published a book about Christian introverts, those in the church who prefer a quieter, slower, more contemplative lifestyle and who, for those reasons, often find themselves on the fringes both of the culture and of Christian community. I saw a blog post recently that called January 2nd “Happy Introverts Day” because of the notorious nature of the holiday season for those of us who find social interaction tiring and sometimes stressful. But the truth is that the need for a quieter, less cluttered, more reflective Advent season is not restricted to introverts. The clatter of the holidays has caused people of all temperaments to turn from the inner places of our souls, contributing to the superficiality of our spiritual practice during this season. We need to find a new way to celebrate.

In the early centuries of the Church, celebrating Christmas was a counter-cultural activity. It’s unclear whether the church fathers chose December 25th to co-opt the already entrenched pagan festival of the Unconquered Sun, or whether the pagan holiday was established to rival the Church’s celebration of the birth of Christ. What is clear is that Christmas was a subversive event, providing an alternative to the mainstream culture’s celebration.

In our world, quiet is counter-cultural. I’m not only referring to quiet on the outside, but also quiet on the inside. In fact, it may be easier to shut out the external voices than it is to silence the internal noise. It’s often those inner voices, especially the unacknowledged ones, that compel us to fill our lives with movement and agendas and spending and eating. Our behaviors and hurry are echoes of our inner doubts about our worth. Sadly, in many ways the nature of our holiday celebrations reveal how incompletely we have embraced the actual message of Christmas.

In contrast to the dizzying nature of our cultural celebrations, the biblical narratives about Jesus’ birth speak in hushed tones about simple, unsophisticated scenes. The baby of prophecy, the King of kings, is born in a quiet town in an inconsequential region to unremarkable people and placed in a trough in a barn. Yet by the grace of God this spot becomes the center of the universe, the matrix of hope and redemption and salvation. The quiet, ordinary place becomes the beginning of the dramatic climax of the great Story. The birth of Jesus incarnates the promise that we are not alone and that we are loved beyond measure, recipients of a love that brings peace and stillness to our souls.

The birth of a child is both a time of poignant gratitude and a time of quiet anticipation.
I remember how friends of mine described the day they brought their first child home from the hospital. They placed him in his crib, in the room they had been preparing for months, and watched him sleep. For hours they sat in contented silence. My friend said “It was unlike any other moment in my life. It was the greatest moment of love we’d ever experienced, more intimate than even our wedding night. There was nothing else in the world we needed that day - we had everything.” Yet he also said that as he looked into his son’s eyes, he was full of anticipation. Who will my son be? What will he do in his life? Who will he marry? What will be his gifts, his calling? Like Mary the mother of Jesus, my friends stored up these things in their hearts and silently wondered who their child would become.

Advent is not only a season of reflection on events past. It is a season of quiet hope, as we await the second advent of our Lord Jesus, who will come and complete his reclamation project. Our celebration during this time of year is necessarily incomplete. In this season we must prepare small, quiet places in our individual souls and in our communities, still longing and waiting for the fulfillment of Jesus’ work and the rebirth of creation.

I’m still struggling with Advent, still reaching for something that I haven’t found yet. I do know that if there is any chance for deep experiences of God’s grace and love in this season, we need to open spaces for hope and attentiveness in our hearts. We can’t compel God to move, but we can clear away what distracts us from hearing his gentle voice. We can reduce the external clutter of the season by simplifying our celebration. We can slowly savor the biblical prophecies of the coming of the Messiah and the narratives about Jesus’ birth. We can devote time to silence and solitude as well as to corporate celebration. We can learn to say “no” when we find ourselves spinning from all the invitations and seasonal stimuli. We can listen to the voices of people who are not often heard over the cultural shouting – the poor, the hungry, the suffering around the world. We can prepare a quiet place for God to renew his love and rebirth his hope in us. 


Be careful little eyes...

I am sitting here, just having put my son to bed, listening to the presidential address... all I can think about is the advertising that keeps coming out of my tv all day. They speak words into my home that penetrate my heart. Victoria's secret...Victoria's secret show...it's getting hot in here, etc.

Oh yes, tonight...while our president speaks about pulling out of the war, or not to pull out of the war, millions of americans will be tuning into the victoria's secret fasion show (if you can call it that). I wonder what the demographics of that show will be...what genger will mostly tune in, and at what age will they be?

 I looked across the dinner table at my son and realized that he will be effected, taunted, tortured and deceived by shows like this in his future. What can I do...what can I say to protect my son? I want to shelter him from the very world I want him to enter and share the gospel with.

No, that is not the answer...there will be no sheltering from the world, so i am left to explain to him ABOUT the world and how we need to be different...Christlike, and set apart. I tucked him into pray, and all that came to my mind was this song...

Be careful little eyes what you see...be careful little ears what you hear, be careful little lips what you say, and be careful little feet where you go.

Aden and I talked on a 4 year old level what each of these things means, and Oh, Jesus...I beg you to protect him from the mass destruction of this type of temptation. Hear my prayer, Oh God!


Car rides, Air Plane rides, Visitations and Funerals...

Last weekend, we got the soon-to-be expected call that Eric's grandfather had died. The cancer that festered inside his body had finally taken him away from us. Although we were warned, we were somewhat expecting his death, it was still an awful call to get. The wonder, the worry, the overwhelming overflow of memories, explaining to your 2 and 4 year old why we aren't going to see grandpa in his hospital bed any longer. Watching the kids hustle and bustle as they made plans, printed programs, arranged the funeral, and collected pictures and thoughts to share on paper.  It was my assumption as I picked out Avery's funeral appropriate dress with matching coat and hat, and Aden's dress shirt with matching tie that we would drive down as a family, and relax as we greeted those from the community coming to the visitation. I envisioned a tearful funeral, but then a joyous luncheon afterwards where we would visit and share with family from afar, remember grandpa and what his life meant to each and everyone of us.

SCREECHHHHHHHHH (That is the sound of the wheels in my brain coming to a halt! NO SUCH THING WAS ABOUT TO HAPPEN!

The phone is ringing yet again...just 10 minutes after the first call. What???????????? Eric's uncle just died?????? It was Eric's mom, calling to tell us that her brother, Eric's uncle was having a stint put in that day, and the surgery wasn't going well. His organs were shutting down, and the family should RUSH, and I mean RUSH to Colorado if they had any hopes of saying goodbye...

Within minutes of Eric's mom getting that call, she was on the phone with us, crying, that her brother had  indeed just passed...he was gone...and he wanted Eric to do his funeral...

Eric just sat there, eyes big as saucers, neither of us knowing what to say, or what to do. There was so much to do, to plan, no time to think...ponder, or reflect.

Monday my mom and dad came up to give Eric and the kids a hair cut. We went to lunch, we went to the library, we finished packing, made plans with the dog sitters, and then we were off...We reached our hotel in Minnesota, took the kids swimming (an attempt to make the kids think this was a fun time) and woke to our alarms the next morning at 5am. The shuttle rushed Eric to the airport as the kids and I hauled our luggage back to the van. We found a nominal breakfast that the hotel was offering, and hit the freeway while it was still dark...

I kept watching the clock, praying that Eric's plane would be safe, that the pilots would have wisdom while flying my precious husband across the friendly skies. Eric arrived in Texas, on time, took off on time, and arrived in Grand Junction again on time. He was safe, with family, in the mountains. He was there to share the message of hope that is only found in Christ, and to say goodbye to his uncle.

Meanwhile, i was back at home with the kids, packing for the next portion of our week, gathering Aden's school work, rearranging snack day at school, packing and getting ready to go. Thursday morning, we hit the ground running. With $15 left to my name, I hurriedly packed the pb&j sandwiches, string cheese, carrot sticks and juice boxes. We hit the road, up to Minnesota again, rushing to pick up daddy in time. We get there...we park...we hike across the parking lot to the terminal doors, hike across the airport, up two escalators, to baggage claim 10 and check point number 3. Take the kids to the bathroom (avery didn't go even after sitting there for almsot 5 minutes) and then back to our seats to patiently wait for daddy to come home to us. Avery pees........

I lost it! I...was no longer sane, I was no longer concerned with anyone but myself. Super mommy deflated and there I sat...alone...with two kids under the age of 4, one just peed her pants, pale as could be, just over the flu, and the other child so wound up that he was doing summer salts on the dirty airport floor. I glanced at the computer monitor just in time to see a 30 minute delay...oh wait, now it is 45 minutes? Oh, there we go...an HOUR delay?????????? Did I mention that when Eric landed safely in Texas to reach his connecting flight to Minnesota his cell phone died and I had no idea where to meet him when he did land 1 HOUR late????????

"There he is!" I said, excitedly.  We get Eric's bags, rush back down the escalators, back across the airport, across the parking lot to the van. Change Avery's pants, buckle in the kids, shove their snacks in their laps, give each other a kiss, and off we go! Back on to the freeway. What is that? Avery spilled her juice, as we both look back to the back of the van where she sat, I glanced forward just in time to see us pass our exit. You know...the one that takes just just a few miles down the road to 35S. Oh...we are lost, heading North and East, we are stuck. Exit ramps are closed for construction, detours are detouring us where we did not want to tour, and 1 hour later, almost out of gas, we land back on the interstate!

We drive 2.5 hours to the clear lake exit, call a friend to come and gas us up, rush back on to the interstate. Meet my parents in the McDonald's parking lot in story city, exchange cars and children, and peel away as I change into my visitation clothes in the back seat. We get there...we see the urn...we see the family, we take a deep breath. We visit, we cry, we leave...slowly driving back to my mom's to settle the kids into bed wondering...

Was any of this part of God's plan???? Where did we all go wrong? Why death? Why sin? What now?

We made it through the funeral on Friday, and made it back just in time that night to say hello and welcome to our new pastor and his wife. They just moved in that day, and we missed it...

The next morning up at the crack of dawn to get the kids dressed. It was, "Let's get dressed, go outside in the cold, stand for 30 minutes in line, and then walk up and down the streets of town for some free candy" day. We made it through...we were keeping up...

We get home, finish lunch, put the kids down for quiet time, and then we practice our songs for Sunday. We were leading worship and had nothing picked out or planned at that point. At 10:30pm we finished. Sound asleep on our pillows we went.

Up and ready, to church by 8am, practice, sunday school, home for lunch. Youth group until 11pm, then back to sleep on our pillows...

Today...I sit...I think...I write...

No, death was not a part of God's plan. It is icky, it is inconvenient, it causes hurts, problems, a depletion of funds, energy and emotions. It reminds us that this place...full of car rides, air plane rides, visitations and funerals is not our home. THANK GOD!


I can't get the toothpaste to go back in the tube...

Have you ever heard this statement before or even thought of the concept? Of course, we all know that once the toothpaste comes out, it ISN'T going back in! That is the obvious result you will get when handing over the tube to your two year old with no assistance. (I don't recommend it)

 I have to admit, I never heard anyone use this word picture or analogy before, but a few weeks ago, I was privileged enough to sit in on our JR High Sunday School class. I was joining a student that we had invited to our church for the first time, and was so moved by the lesson the teacher had prepared. She simply had the kids draw the first picture that came to their mind as they read selected words she had written on their page. (fire, poison, trouble, evil, etc.) Then she attached verses for them to look up directly below the pictures they were drawing. The overall goal was to help the kids see that our words are much like the toothpaste squeezed out of the tube. She reminded all of us how our tung can spew such evil, troublesome, and sometimes even poisonous words. She also reminded us that our words, much like the toothpaste squeezed out of the tube, could not be put back in...

I left that day with a light hearted "happy" feeling. After all, I don't often go around saying mean things to people on purpose to hurt them, and when confronted with my less than frequent offenses, I am ALWAYS willing to say I am sorry. Right? You can probably relate?  I left with the attitude, "At least I am not one of THOSE people."

A few days later, I received a message from a dear friend. Something I had done out of obligation, had wounded them deeply as they perceived the action from a different perspective. I must honestly tell you that after hearing of their hurt, and hearing in my ears the words they chose to use in telling me of their hurt, I sat....for hours...steaming mad...

Not only did I stew, but I tossed words around in my head, wanting to fire back, wanting to sling some hurtful things that I just so happen could drum up about them, in their direction. "Let's give them a little something to think about," I thought! "They think they are so perfect? Well, wait until I tell them a thing or two!"

 I began to write. This is a very common activity for me, something I often do. However, I wasn't writing in my journal, or in a notebook to collect my thoughts. I wasn't even writing to God, praying for help in my response... Oh no! This was a letter that I planned on writing to THEM.

I began crafting words together...loaded words...hurtful ones, full of emotion and passion...full of unkindness, yet correctness, I argued in my head. After sentences and sentences fell on the page, I felt a weight lifted off of my shoulders. "This is good," I thought. "This is healthy," I said to my self. Then, I sat back and reread my statements...

drum roll please.......

WOW! My appeal, my rebutle had NOTHING to do with the original issue at hand. It was a bunch of hurt and emotion that I had no place else to deposit, and because this person opened a small crack in my heart, boy oh boy, were they going to get it!

Have you ever done that? Have you ever just unloaded on someone and it felt so good...so right....so relieving? Well, for those of you that have...what often happens next? If you haven't ever done this, (I would love to meet you oh-so-perfect individual) please, let me enlighten you!

More anger, more hurt is stirred up. The slinging of words back and forth becomes a game...with very competitive players. Thrusting all of their hurt and emotions back and forth, back and forth. Throwing caution to the wind, neither player experiences healing, a strengthening of friendship, or the opportunity to both extend and receive grace.

This was the game I was about to enter. (Again) A game that I was good at. A game that I often played. When I have time to sit and think, to write, to craft my words perfectly, I can be pretty good at hurting others.  Thankfully, I was compelled to tell my husband about what I was about to do, and he assured me that the "send" button should stay far away from my fingers! He gave me no alternative solution to dealing with how I felt other than getting into God's word and being still.

I came across Proverbs 15:1.  A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger

"Oh my goodness, Mandi. What did you just about do?"

 I thought quietly for a moment and knew that God was speaking directly to me, and I knew I had to stop playing this game...I had to stop squeezing the toothpaste out of the tube.

Instead, I wrote a note, telling this person how much I loved them, how much I cared, and that I was so sorry. Now, many of you may say in the heat of the moment, "I didn't do anything wrong!" That may be true, but how about doing something right? I had apparently, unknowingly, hurt this person badly. I had opened a deep, deep wound that I didn't even know they had. I honestly, did feel bad about that!

 So, for the million dollar question... Did the person respond well? Did they cry, apologize and buy me flowers? Um...NO! The verse in Proverbs says a gentle answer turns wrath away, it doesn't say it will immediately heal wounds. It just doesn't create more. Am I disappointed, mad, or angry about the results?

No, the way I see it, in this situation...doing things according to the verse in proverbs, just allowed for less toothpaste to clean up. The next time you get ahold of that tube, let it remind you of God's word in proverbs. Gently squeeze it out, purposefully on your toothbrush. Not too little and not too much. Just enough to obtain the goal...

Clean teeth, and softened hearts.

Refilling with a new coffee cup

Some of you may have followed a previous blog I had going with a very similar name. I have decided to start over...refill...with a brand new coffee cup. I am a completely different person now than when I wrote my previous blog. I still drink coffee, I still consider myself an addict, and I still write all my posts over a cup o' joe. The difference is, I am writing over a cup of DECAFF joe, with a new perspective, or in keeping with the theme, a new cup...

I am a 30 year old female, in love with my Jesus. I am married to a youth pastor with gifts from God that are unexplainable at times. I gaze at him in awe as he executes his "relational" ministry calling through the gifts, passions, and longings God has given him. I only wish I could say that we do a team youth ministry. No, my friend, I am afraid I am just along for the beautiful ride. I am a mom. What a gift to be able to write that sentence. I am a mom...not once, but twice. My husband and I adopted a little boy from Taiwan in 2005 and a little girl in 2008. What an amazing experience God has given us through multiple adoptions, and this plan...God's plan...is by far BETTER than anything we could have ever come up with.

Today I start anew...a fresh perspective, a new aroma on life. Thank you for stopping by. I pray that the whiff you gain while spending time here will draw you closer to Jesus, and the brew he has for your life. Your aroma will be different from mine, but isn't it great that we all can start from the same pot...

What flavor are you brewing today???