Monday, December 31, 2012

Moving Onward

And here we go.
We begin a new year.

And the old one passes away, joining memories and become past. Becoming a part of our history.

A bittersweet change, from old to new. For me, tied up with endings and beginnings, and all sorts of new experiences and memories on the journey. But somehow, I am not sad to see it go. I will be glad to begin again, to go forward from here.

At times, you see, it has felt so hopeless to me. A hopeless place, where I'm just pacing, waiting and revisiting everything I've done before. Day comes, and the rounds go on, and night comes, only to bring day again, and have I moved forward?
At times, you see, it has felt like I've gathered dust.
Perhaps I haven't. Perhaps during those dust-gathering times I've been growing somehow, or grabbing onto grace somehow. Perhaps, its for a reason, but frustration has been tangible, too.

Perhaps, the grand things have been the moments of grace. Like living in Bolivia. Bolivia. I say the name and floods of thoughts, ideas, memories come. I say the name, and go into Spanish mode, thinking in Español a mi mismo and taste the rice and feel the itch of hundreds of mosquito bites again. Bolivia was the highlight of the year, the great lesson teacher, the shining months of happiness. I remember the first time I laughed in months was there. Really laughed, with head thrown back, eyes shut, laughing from my toes. Sun shining down on my head, sparkling in my eyes. I remember that laugh. I remember those moments.

I remember moments on a motorcycle, wind catching my hair and blowing it behind, giggling softly to myself, because the driver couldn't understand me, and I couldn't understand him, and we got lost together in his hometown, with me giving directions in a strange half Spanish, half sign language way. At last we found the place, and he smiled shyly and charged me much less than he should have, and we laughed together before he sped on to the next fare.

A grand thing, was teaching 5 little children, all who nestled into a little place in my heart. Washing hands, reading books, making paintings, sliding down the slide (teacher is sliding down the big slide- they giggled so much at that) and playing all sorts of games. I taught them to read and write letters, crooked as they may have been. They taught me joy in simple things like goldfish crackers, and friends who share.

Grand things, small things they seemed, too. Day by day things. Like catching those perfect shots on my camera. Like a few hours here and there in a coffee shop with a sibling. Like hours on the phone with my best friend. Like cherished emails and chats and time spent in special places, just being together. Golden moments. Small adventures. They gather together to create the dust of the clay of the whole year, becoming part of who I am.

Hard things, too. Many tears, my heart aching. Many times head down, working as hard as I could, lips tight in determination. Many nights spent studying, praying, writing as I endured.
Life. Vida. Its all a part of the journey.

No, I don't want to go back and begin this year again. I'd rather go forward. I'd rather move on. But I am grateful for lessons learned, for experiences lived through, for grace showered down from God.

And I look forward to the next one. I wait anxiously to see what happens. I search earnestly for Christ's leading.

Onward. Upward. Vaya con Dios. Viaje con Dios. Go with God. Journey with God.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Selah - Think About It

Psalm 130 was today's psalm. I didn't plan for it to be, but there it was, jumping off the page. And so I share it here.

Psalm 130
Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.
If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who would stand?
But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you.
I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord more than the watchmen wait for the morning, more than the watchmen wait for the morning.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.

Praise the Lord. 


And I will think about it, until it settles deep within. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Graciousness

Today is the eve before Christmas. And its the biggest day of celebration for our family.
I've been purposely counting hidden gifts today as often as I can. I'm so tired and stretched thin, that any gratefulness I can offer for things given to me from God is precious and welcome.

Its helped me immensely. So much so, that in this moment of quietness, I decided to blog about it. These hidden gifts still have not made it to my camera, but its a certain step in the right direction to at least record them here, if not on my other blog, A Thousand Hidden Gifts in photo form.

First off, today I have been enjoying some Christmas music sent by family or friends to my Spotify lists. I love that we can see what others are listening to and that they think of things to share. Dubstep is fun, and so is a song that brought back lovely memories from a highschool choral choir I was part of. Music for the soul. Music reflects and guides our souls so much more than we would admit or realize, I think. And now I am listening to a fun Christmas playlist I put together of unique renditions of traditional songs. Love!

Next up I was enjoying the creativity of making a salad for Mom. The lettuce was such pretty colors of green and purple with all different textures. We had several different kinds to choose from. Then I grated orange carrots, chopped yellow pepper, and added red tomatoes. Black olives and green cucumbers will be added later for even more beauty and deliciousness. It made me happy to notice the colors and textures, and enjoy the rainbow in the glass salad bowl. Not to mention hungry. For a change.

This evening is the pinnacle of family celebration. First we cook and cook and cook together. Then we get dressed up and go to our church where Dad has a beautiful communion service. Then we come home and put dinner on the table. Dinner includes huge amounts of nice food, perhaps some wine, dessert, coffee, and chocolate. We eat by candlelight and use china and silver and take our time. There are often letters to open from each other or other reminiscences.  After dinner, we gather in the living room where we open presents. Paper explodes everywhere and laughter and chatter is abundant. Everyone is warm and full and a little sleepy and in good moods and eager to give their gifts first.

This is where things have changed more recently. We used to spend the rest of the evening watching A Muppet Christmas Carol. Every year. We can all quote it, and we love it. But the past few years we've been going to church for the 11pm service, which means we don't reach home until 1 or after. So this year, we've decided to do the movie on Christmas. It won't be the same, but at least it'll still happen. Its not Christmas until we watch that movie!

We also always listen to the Kings College Nine Lessons in Carols radio broadcast from Britain  This year if we miss it on the radio, I've found it online. The most meaningful carol is Once In Royal Davids City.

Our new tradition is going to the Episcopal church to their last evening service. They have a glorious choir and music and organ. And its beautiful and simple and candlelit. We leave, hearts bursting with the gift of Christ, humbled by the events leading up to it, hopeful of His return.

So now I am resting before all the celebrating begins, and writing out the graciousness I have noticed and received with thanksgiving today. And looking forward to those not yet received, but promised.

My heart begins to see the Christ who is here every day, offering gifts of unmerited love, offering grace and strength and hope.

Love that never ends.

Blessed Christmas.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Silence

The silence here has grown deep and dark. Normally I post at least once or twice a week. But suddenly, its been nearly a month since I have written anything to share.

I have been living a crazy existence. The past few weeks have had barely room to breathe, and no room for reflection or thoughtfulness or writing. I've been holding on barely to the schedule, always needing to move on to the next thing. There has been studying, and preparing for and hosting company, joining others for parties and spending time with friends. And there has been work and enumerable things to accomplish, remember, do, and think about. There have been a thousand hidden gifts, some noticed, and none captured with my camera.

Its been overwhelming, when you count all the things also going on within me. But things have kept on coming, kept on happening, and finally I've reached the end of my rope.

I have to have a break. I am going to break if I don't. I have to have some quiet that settles into the cracks and crevices like dust settling in an old house. I have to have some silence that grows thick and warm, that lets my soul find its music again. Its been drowned out, and I miss the steadiness of rhythm that I used to know.
I have to rest.

I don't even remember the last time I rested. Really rested, without guilt about things not being finished or accomplished, rest without a call on my time. Rest without an agenda for my thoughts. Rest without having to make any decisions.

I don't know if it can really happen. I need it and want it, but its difficult to actually get it. Somehow I have the idea I have to slog through somehow, finding strength to keep going. Other people have needs, and I am supposed to meet them, too. Only I don't have the resources or energy to do that and they are left disappointed and hurt.

Its a cycle that is crazy and must end.

The silence may continue a little longer. But when it ends, I hope it ends with energy renewed and new thoughts and ideas flowing from a rhythm that is beautiful again.

I am renewing my relationship with Jesus, and repenting from pushing Him aside for the everyday important unimportances. If I am silent or away, it is in a desert, alone, facing Him again. Finding the rivers of peace that somehow have become a trickle.

If anything, I hope this confession and musing will inspire someone else to guard the time it takes for wholeness, the necessity of prioritizing spiritual things, and the value of rest even during a time that should be spent on moving forward with tasks. I have a never ending schedule, and many things to accomplish.
But only after I am rested enough to do so well.

Silence shall reign in my heart for a time. Christ shall dwell there gently and peacefully again.

Come, Lord Jesus. Come.

Monday, December 3, 2012

A Global Story

I just love nativities. My favorite of all time is the one my grandmother made of ceramic and painted many years ago. We lovingly place it in the most visible spot in the living room every year. For as long as I can remember, I've gazed and contemplated Christmas and Christ through the weeks it was displayed, and it still brings me back into the story of His birth when I look at it.

A couple of years ago I decided to start collecting nativities, but not just any nativities. I decided to collect them when I travel world wide. And I wanted small ones, the size of my hand or smaller.
I think collections should be carefully selected, with items chosen because they invoke feelings or memories or thoughts. I think collections should be small enough to be enjoyed, each piece known and loved.

This is a photo of my collection.

The nativity in the back is special because it is a little house, with doors that open and close. Inside the holy family sits, and below the shepherds reside with their sheep. I was fascinated by the house, and it traveled home with me from Bolivia, my first trip there.

On the right the donkey is tired, but carefully led by Joseph, with Mary and babe perched on his back. I love how the figures have no faces, but allow for imagination to take over. I can picture a "Mary" I know, who said, "let it be according to your word!" and a "Joseph" who courageously accepted what seemed impossible. Faces I know can replace the ones the artist would use. This is made of olivewood and bought in Jerusalem. I haggled with a Jewish man who had just given me fresh orange juice, the freshest I've ever tasted. He declared I was starving his children, but when I left his shop we were both satisfied.

And on the left, is my latest one, bought in Santa Cruz this year. I love how the family looks so Bolivian with a tabor tree behind them.

I think I am fascinated because I love the ethnicity of them. I love seeing how people in different cultures represent Jesus, and how they take their artistry and weave it into the global message. I love seeing Jesus portrayed in different color skins, different cultural details telling a story to people in familiar ways. It fascinates me to think of how different places in the world view Jesus and His story, how they clothe Him in their clothing, how they picture his setting like their own. And I wonder about what I add to the story, unknown, from my own setting. Perhaps my Jesus was born in a shed in the middle of a cotton field. Its really a beautiful thing, how we can all read the same story, written thousands of years ago, and all from different times and cultures, and yet are united by the same story of salvation for all. Grace and strength for all.

Its a global story for all.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Disgusting Materialism

The past month or so I have been struck by materialism. And as the holiday season begins, it really causes me to notice it more and more. The materialism is just sickening to me.

I used to be just like the next one, and had lists of things I wanted for Christmas, or went shopping and wanted the things I saw. I was never brand loyal or interested in the latest technology or newest versions of things, but there was always something else I needed to be happy or live better.

Perhaps its because I spent the summer in an area of the world where they live with a much lower standard of living. Seeing people live joyously on so little puts things into perspective. Watching someone take crusts and leftovers off people's plates in a restaurant suddenly makes you want to clean your plate at home. Meeting little children who are hungry suddenly makes black Friday shopping seem much less...necessary.

Why do we do this? What does all the stuff even mean? Does it really make you happy to know that you have the latest $600 phone? Is it really a necessity? Does it really make you feel better about yourself to buy loads of new, shiny things? Things are meaningless. Things will go out of style, get broken or look less shiny. Things have a way of fading away, and then you can't remember what you even owned or had.

It all just makes me so disappointed to see people spending so much money and time on what lasts for moments or is quickly forgotten. We have things so backwards, and no one seems to realize, but rush on to the next item, or stand in line at the next sale to get the item that will make them happier or look better. And no one knows why, it seems. The money we spend on things for ourselves or our children...a fraction of that is someone else's daily living. And what are we spending it on?

The materialism is a problem when it grows so out of proportion with everything else, that it overshadows what is really important. How do you put into perspective what is necessary vs. what is superfluous?

I keep thinking of the line, "you can't take it with you." and I wonder, what happens to all the time spent on these things, when we die? What about all the money we've wasted? How is that accounted for when we're dead? What good did we do Steve Jobs by buying the newest version of the same product over and over again? What good did we do ourselves? And in the end, what did it all matter, really.

And then I think of the millions of people who just barely survive, much less worry about whether they have the things we deem necessary in our culture. Cable tv and internet on our cellphones. Some don't even have heated houses, or sufficient clothing. Not to mention decent food or water.

I'm generally feeling disgusted by it all, and especially this Christmas season. In the rush of buying, the flurry of making lists for Santa, I just want to sit back and say, so what? Where's it getting us, who is it helping, and who are we harming with all this STUFF. Stuff that will burn away and can disappear in moments. And leave us with....what becomes the essentials. Things like relationships, like character, like intangibles that will never be burned away or stolen. And this season to remember and celebrate Jesus' beginnings...I'm not sure the Jesus I know would be thrilled by what its turned into. Worshipful gratefulness for the gift of salvation, for what He ultimately came to buying?

I find materialism disgusting. Things don't impress me. Let me see your passion, your life, your inner self. Those things will always be there, no matter what. I don't want to live with all this stuff. I don't want to be defined by it, I don't want my money wasted on it. I know we need certain things to live, but all those extras...what if we went without and gave the money to someone else?

I grew up during an extremely hard time in our family. We had many nice, new things, but compared to everyone else around us, we had nothing. I remember Christmas' with a new toy. A present from my parents. And it did a world of good for me. I never regret growing up with less than my friends. It gave me so much to be grateful for. It gave me so much awareness of what is really necessary to happiness. And it wasn't heaps of things.

Oh Jesus! Help us see that Your love is the ultimate important, necessary thing! Help us to put into perspective the things that attract us so, help us to use the gifts you have given us to show your love to others instead of selfishly thinking of ourselves. Forgive us for losing ourselves in things. With all my heart, I pray. Amen.