Provision

There’s a lot of stuff to do right before Christmas.  So much of it seems to put a strain on my family finances.  I always think I’m going to be prepared for the extra expenses but each year I still worry that I will have enough food, gifts and all those extras that come with celebrating.

 

Definition – Provision (noun) prə vi ʒn 1.  Supplying of something; the act of providing or supplying something.  2. Action taken to prepare for something; a preparatory step taken to meet a possible or expected need.  3. Something provided; something provided or supplies.  4. Legal clause stating condition; a clause in a law or contract stating that a condition must be met.

 

I know there are a ton of verses in the Bible about God’s ability to meet our needs in every circumstance.  But when the bank account is low and young kids are expecting a wish fulfilled from Santa Clause it’s very hard to feel secure in God’s provision.  When my boys were young, this seemed like a battle every single Christmas.  Now that I don’t have a house of Santa believers anymore, I still sometimes feel that same tension between wanting to feel confident in knowing God provides all I need and seeing a reality of a laundry list of expenses that far exceeds that balance in the bank.

What do I do?  Play the lottery and pray for a miracle?  I think what I find most helpful is to reflect back on the past.  While it’s tempting to tell myself “this happens every year!” and feel exasperated that I didn’t prepare better, the reality is Christmas comes and goes with the same wonderful celebration, good feelings and happiness despite a good or bad financial situation.  What actually “happens every year” is that everything ends up being okay.  My worries and concerns never come to fruition.

The best place to start looking for God’s provision in with my own attitude.  Feeling that infinite supply comes before finding it in its physical form.  Seeing doesn’t always find us believing. Believing needs to come first.  When I consider the fact that by December 26 of each and every year I have lived on earth there have been no regrets, bellies were full of Christmas dinner, leftovers were in the refrigerator and children were playing with their new toys.  Believing this will be true is essential to letting God’s provision be the miracle that it is each and every year.  This is the heart of faith.

 

“And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” – Matt 21:22

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Hibernation

You don’t have to know me very long to know that I love snow.  While most people complain about it, I look forward to it.  I think that snow is full of beauty and opportunity.  I’ve blogged about it a few of times.  I’ve compared it to God’s grace that perfectly covers all the ugliness of earth with a perfect white blanket.  I have also suggested that we embrace its silence and the temporary nature of snow that is completely dependent on temperature.

Another aspect of snow that I adore is the fact that it’s doing an important job in the cycle of nature.  It’s providing a much needed amount of life giving water in a period of dormancy or hibernation.

 

Definition:  hibernate (intransitive verb) hai bə neit 1.  Pass winter asleep; to be in a dormant state resembling sleep over the winter while living off reserves of body fat, with a decrease in body temperature and pulse rate and slower metabolism.  Animals that hibernate include bears, bats, and many amphibians.  2.  Become less active; to become less active, especially by staying at home rather than going out to socialize.

 

Dormant (adjective) dɔ:r mənt  1.  Not actively growing; in an inactive state, when growth and development slow or cease, in order to survive adverse environmental conditions.  2.  Temporarily inactive; temporarily inactive or not in use.  3.  Not erupting; describes a volcano that is not erupting, but not extinct.  4.  Latent; latent and able to be aroused.

 

The word hibernate actually comes from the Latin root meaning “to winter”.  When a tree lies dormant, it seems as if life has been removed.  But, the reality is life is having a regeneration and all that glorious snow is slow nourishing it with water as it melts.  It also acts as an insulator to harsh temperatures and wind.  Snow protects and feeds during a crucial period of rest.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.   Matt 11:24

We all need rest.  We all long for rest.  We all occasionally pray for rest.  It’s not only enjoyable, but required to continue living!  Especially this time of year when we tend to run around like crazy take a moment and see what it feels like to hibernate.  Take a breather.  Put up the weary feet and give up the burden of your thoughts and simply rest.  I assure you, that you will come back, blossom and grow.

reposted from 12/11/13

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Happy Sunday

This weekend marks the 3rd week of advent.  When you look at an advent wreath this is the one week where you light the pink candle instead of the purple ones.  It’s known as Gaudete Sunday.

Definition:  Gaudete Sunday  ɡˈdt – the third Sunday of Advent in the liturgical calendar of the Western Church, including the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion, many Lutheran Churches, and other mainline Protestant churches. It can fall on any date from 11 December to 17 December.  (source – Wikipedia)

 

The word Gaudete comes from the Latin word for “rejoice”.  In the early days of the church Advent was a 40 day time period of fasting similar to Lent.  However, by the 9th century, Advent condensed to its 4 week celebration that we now know.  Known as the Sunday of Joy, the third Sunday of the Advent season allowed a break in the normal fasting and other sacrifices made during the preparation season.  For example in the church the organ could be played and flowers brought in, which were otherwise missing during a fast.  Personally, people might be able to eat certain foods and in the early centuries it was common not to bathe during a fast.  Whew….joyful indeed!!

The modern church does not participate in fasting and the temporary relief of having restrictions lifted, however, it does celebrate the Joy.  This weekend we should all focus on the Joy with a capital J.  The Joy of a promise fulfilled, redemption brought to earth and the Joy of knowing the best is yet to come.

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Embrace The Quiet

At church this weekend, and for each of the weeks coming up to Christmas, parts of the readings are from the gospel of Luke.  Luke is probably the most famous accounting of the birth of Jesus.  Handle’s famous work, The Messiah, uses Luke and much about what we celebrate regarding the Three Wise Men come from Luke’s accounting as well.  As usual, I hear a reading and something pops out that I never noticed about that particular verse before.  This weekend was no exception.

 

Luke 21:27, 34“And they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.”

 

I had just told myself that I was going to prepare my heart for a new arrival and I just read specific instructions on preparing a heart!!  I had always glanced over this verse and read that little part about “carousing and drunkenness” and thought…..”Yeah, that’s not really me.”, then just went about my merry way without thinking of how this verse applies to me.  What I never put together was the idea that by letting myself get wrapped up with the anxieties of life, my heart becomes “drowsy”.  Interesting that Luke chose this phrase and when translated it uses the words “anxiety” and “drowsy”!

It’s a definition two-for today!

 

Definition:  Anxiety (noun) æŋ ’zaiəti  1.  Feeling of worry; nervousness or agitation often about something that is going to happen.  2.  Something that worries somebody; a subject or concern that causes worry.  3.  Strong wish to do something; the strong wish to do something, especially if the wish is unnecessarily or unhealthily strong.  Synonyms:  nervousness, disquiet, worry, angst.

Definition:  Drowsy (adjective) drau zi  1.  Almost asleep; almost asleep or very lightly asleep.  2.  Causing sleepiness; tending to make somebody feel sleepy.  3. Sluggish; sluggish and dull.  Synonyms:  sleepy, lethargic, somnolent, tired.

 

When it comes to getting wrapped up with concern about things that haven’t happened yet……I excel.  I am a fantastic worry-wart!!!  It had never occurred to me that my constant fretting over this, that and the other leaves my heart so preoccupied with things that it becomes sluggish and dull, unaware and too drowsy to recognize the coming arrival.  It’s as if my heart has dined on the most fattening plate of anxiety and the tryptophan is kicking in as a lay on the couch!!

Only in the last couple of years have I felt like I made some progress on letting go of worry.  It was always my impression and even my intention to worry and concern myself with things because I thought I was “doing something” about them.  I started to realize that keeping wringing my hands over issues is actually holds back God’s ability to get to work on those things.  It’s through praying on them and then……letting them go….that we no longer let ourselves be controlled by worry.

I think my favorite part of the anxiety definition is the synonyms.  The word, “disquiet” is easy for me to dissect.   It means the opposite of “quiet”!  If I really want to wait in joyful anticipation of my beloved guest, I’m going to need to embrace the quiet and lose the worry!

adapted from original post on 12/2/12

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Love Stories

There is nothing quite like feeling loved.  Knowing that someone adores you and thinks you are worth not only their time and attention but their heart puts things in a unique perspective.  It’s something that should be treasured and sacred.  I have heard a few priests and pastors refer to both the Christmas and Easter stories as “love stories”.  Using Advent to recognize God becoming man as an incredible act of love puts our relationship with Him in a completely different category.  Before Christmas, in the Old Testament, God seems distant and separate.  But once born a man, it changes our perspective.  To see God as human allows us to recognize ourselves as His beloved.

 

Definition:  beloved (adjective) bi ’lʌv əd (predicatively) bi ’lʌvd  1. Adored; loved very much.  (noun) 1. Loved person; somebody who is loved very much.

 

Right at the center of our being all we really want is to be loved.  We might have a different idea of what that love looks like but if we stripped away the expectations and the packaging, essentially all we want is to love and be loved.  This was a big revelation for me over the last several years.  Not so much that I wanted to be loved, I think we all know that.  But the notion that every living being, from your houseplants to your dog to your crabby neighbor is essentially looking for love in one form or another.

Does this change your perspective like it did mine?  Knowing that a Love story is about you and me and our connection with everything around is life changing.

Not that long ago I had  a hard time connecting with God’s love.  It felt distant and too extravagant for my unassuming existence.  It was hard for me to imagine that not only does God love me, but thinks of me as “Beloved”.  The story of Christmas brings the reality of Love in our midst home in a concrete way.  Christmas Love is a prime example of how Love through one can be Love for all.

It’s pretty amazing, isn’t it?  Now that’s love!

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Warm Gooey Center

I love dessert.  I often select what I’m having for dinner at a restaurant based on what the dessert tray has to offer.  Give me a warm dessert with something amazing in the middle and I’m all over it!!  To me, it’s all about the prize in the middle of the cake, that warm gooey center.  YUM!

 

Definition:  center (noun) sent r  1. Middle point or part; the middle point area, or part of something that is the same distance from all edges, ends or opposite sides.  2.  Middle of circle or sphere; the interior point that is the same distance from all points on the circumference of a circle, the surface of a sphere, or the vertices of a polygon.  3.  Middle of line; the point on a line that is the same distance from both ends.  4.  Food filling; the filling of a chocolate, doughnut or other food.  5.  Main part of town; the part of a town or city where the main stores, offices and other facilities are situated.  6.  Place for particular activity; a place where a particular activity is carried on.  7.  Focus of attention; the point that is the focus of attention or interest.  8. Influential place or organization; a place, area, or group of people exerting control or influence over somebody or something else.  9.  Cluster or concentration; a place or part where something is concentrated or focused.  10.  Political moderates; those political parties or the section of a party holding views that are neither left-wing or right-wing.  11. Middle player position; in sports a player or position in the middle of the field or court, usually responsible for initiating play.

 

This is the time where our focus should be on our own center.  We can use Advent and it’s reflective nature to keep watch on what goes on inside us and listen for God’s direction.  We often let the outside world control and direct our actions.  It is when we pause for a moment and focus on our own warm gooey center that God has our full attention.  It’s there that God gives us direction, fills our hearts with love and brings peace.

I often look at the days leading up to Christmas as an analogy for that quiet meditative state that I have come to appreciate over the years.  It’s interesting that in order to fulfill the prophesy  God chose to remove Mary and Joseph from their community and take them to a remote location in Bethlehem.  We often picture Jesus being born in the dark of night, under stars and receiving the attention of a few peculiar, but contemplative visitors.

To me, this is exactly what contemplative prayer or meditation is.  It’s removing yourself from those influences and letting yourself appreciate God in the stillness and quiet.  If we really settle down, we also receive a visit in our heart from God, complete with gifts!  By focusing on the center of our heart, the center of our body (breathing) and the center of our spiritual life we end up keeping a watchful ear to God’s calling.

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Heart’s Desires

One of the first pieces I learned to sing was Mendelsohn’s Oh Rest in the Lord from the oratorio Elijah.  I was in middle school and was taking private lessons from the soloist at our church, who also happened to be very good friends with my mom.  The text is from Psalm 37 and for a pre-pubescent girl the words were not something I could relate to emotionally.

Oh rest in the Lord, wait patiently for him

And He will give you your hearts desires.

I think my heart’s desire at the time was that the suburban community we lived in would have no qualms with the idea of a real horse living in my backyard.  I was infatuated with horses and collected little plastic models.  I dreamed of riding a horse to school and feeding it carrots and peppermint candies every day.  Of course I had no idea how to care for a horse and my back yard was about 12 square feet of green space but I still dreamed about it.  My parents wisely never came close to entertaining the idea of letting a horse graze next to the garage and I would settle for my second best desire; a new pair of Jordache jeans.

 

Definition:  desire (transitive verb) di zair  1.  Wish for something; to want something very strongly.  2.  Find somebody sexually attractive; to want to have sexual relations with somebody.  3. Request something; to wish for and request something.  (noun)  1.  Craving; a wish, craving or longing for something.  2.  Something wished for; something that or somebody who is wished for.  3. Sexual craving; a strong wish for sexual relationship with somebody.

 

In hindsight I often found what I wished for was not always worth the wait when I received it.  Those Jordache jeans never fit me like they fit that popular girl who sat next to me in science class.  I ended up feeling silly and uncomfortable and went back to wearing my reliable Levis.  Sometimes our heart’s desire is so crazy and unrealistic it is better that it’s not fulfilled, like a horse in the backyard.

The Psalmists wasn’t referring to presents under a tree, jeans or horses.  As I grew older I learned to appreciate more and more what the desire of the heart really is.  Of course it’s something much deeper.  Elijah was referring to filling a heart of its deepest desire……Love.

This is the time of year we wait patiently for Him to be born in our heart.  It happens every year, actually EVERY DAY!   Our focus during Advent is to see that God’s love is contained not just in our heart but in the heart of everyone around us.  We can take the time to recognize that this Christmas Love happens all year around by remembering what is our own heart’s desire and know that it is filled with a simple “yes” to God.

It’s a little ironic that all those years ago I learned a piece of music I couldn’t relate to, but now can appreciate.  I love this aria.  It’s gorgeous and of course the words…..well, I will leave them with you:

O rest in the Lord, wait patiently for Him
and He shall give thee thy heart’s desires.
Commit thy way unto Him, and trust in Him,
and fret not thyself because of evildoers.
O rest in the Lord, wait patiently for Him

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Mary

More than one Advent has come and gone and left me completely exhausted.  I often bite off more than I can chew.  I’m a musician and December is usually ridiculously filled with church music and school choir commitments.  It seems like each year I work at eliminating commitments but still feel over booked and exhausted.

 

Definition:  exhaust (verb) ig ‘zɔ:st 1.  Tire somebody out; to make somebody feel very tired or weak.  2.  Use something up; to use up all that is available of something.  3.  Try out all possibilities; to try out or consider every one of a number of possibilities.  4. Say everything about something; to say or write everything about something, so that nothing is left to be discussed.  5.  Drain something of its resources; to draw off or use up all the resources contained within something.

 

Definition number 3; “trying out all the possibilities”, seems much more hopeful to me so I’m going to cling to that one and search through my Advent Heart to get me through the Christmas concert season.  Of course the first verse that comes to mind is Phil 4:13:  “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”.  But where are the examples of fending off exhaustion in the Christmas story?

My first thought went to Joseph and the betrothed Mary.  Imagine living in this time and finding out you are with child before you have actually gotten married.  This was something punishable by death! Joseph was going to be kind and release his obligation to marry Mary secretly until his plan was intervened and the angel announced God’s plans.

I don’t know about you, but if I just had been visited by an angel, I would have a heck of a time keeping it to myself!  Not Joseph.  He goes right about business as usual.  There’s a census and he packs up his belongings and his pregnant wife a travels a good distance to be counted.  Travel in the first century was an arduous and life threatening experience.  Not only was it physically demanding, but there was little to plan ahead.  No reservations.  No GPS.  No restaurants.  You had to pack your shelter, some food and hope to hunt an animal or two if need be…..preferable before the animals hunted you!   Imagine taking this journey while in the last month of pregnancy!!

YIKES.  Talk about exhaustion.

How does Mary handle this?  Well, before this point she had something to say when she visited her cousin Elizabeth, but after that, Mary doesn’t say a whole lot in the Bible.  She’s all action.  She travels.  She gives birth.  She wraps him in swaddling clothes.  She lays him in a manger.  She is visited.  She treasures up these things and ponders them in her heart.

Notice that not only is the speaking absent on Mary’s part, but so is any mention of her physical or emotional condition.  She’s not described as worried or exhausted.  She moves ahead because she knows everything has been taken care of.  Much like Joseph going on about business as usual even after a visit from an angel, Mary, despite going through what must have been truly exhausting, remains calm and carries on.  Her heart is full and she knows God has everything taken care of.

What an amazing example of battling exhaustion!  It is Mary’s complete reliance that God has her future secured that is so breathtaking.  There is never a hint of concern with Joseph after his visit with the angel.  Our Christmas undertakings are certainly not of the caliber that Mary and Joseph had and we will probably not be visited by an angel announcing the prospects of our future.  However, we can still rest assured that God has our back and know that the path we travel on will also be star-guided.

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Spirited By St. Nicholas

One of the most iconic Christian saints is St. Nicholas.  Tradition in some cultures is to leave your shoes or socks by the fireplace on December 6th (the anniversary of his death and now Nicholas’ feast day) and St. Nicholas will place coins in them.  This was in keeping with the miracle St. Nicholas performed when he was Bishop of Myra, Turkey.  The story tells of a man that had three daughters but was so poor he had nothing to offer for a dowry.  Without a dowry the young women would be destined to a life of slavery.  Word of the family’s plight reached Nicholas who came by in the dark of night and anonymously tossed a bag of gold for the oldest daughter.  The bag landed in a pair of shoes (or stockings) by the fireplace.  The same miracle would happen for the next two daughters.  As the story is told, the father eventually waited up to see who was giving his daughters the gold and confirmed that it was indeed Bishop Nicholas.  This is where we established the tradition of hanging stockings.

St. Nicholas is also the patron saint of children and over the years became known as Santa Claus from the Dutch who referred to St. Nicholas as Sinterklas.  One of my favorite posthumous St. Nicholas stories is the one about the boy returned to his family.  The St. Nicholas Center (www.stnicholascenter.org ) website tells this story:

One of the oldest stories showing St. Nicholas as a protector of children takes place long after his death. The townspeople of Myra were celebrating the good saint on the eve of his feast day when a band of Arab pirates from Crete came into the district. They stole treasures from the Church of Saint Nicholas to take away as booty. As they were leaving town, they snatched a young boy, Basilios, to make into a slave. The emir, or ruler, selected Basilios to be his personal cupbearer, as not knowing the language, Basilios would not understand what the king said to those around him. So, for the next year Basilios waited on the king, bringing his wine in a beautiful golden cup. For Basilios’ parents, devastated at the loss of their only child, the year passed slowly, filled with grief. As the next St. Nicholas’ feast day approached, Basilios’ mother would not join in the festivity, as it was now a day of tragedy. However, she was persuaded to have a simple observance at home—with quiet prayers for Basilios’ safekeeping. Meanwhile, as Basilios was fulfilling his tasks serving the emir, he was suddenly whisked up and away. St. Nicholas appeared to the terrified boy, blessed him, and set him down at his home back in Myra. Imagine the joy and wonderment when Basilios amazingly appeared before his parents, still holding the king’s golden cup. This is the first story told of St. Nicholas protecting children—which became his primary role in the West.

 

I love the part where Basilios is spirited away by St. Nicholas

 

Definition:  spirited (verb) spir i ted 1.  To animate with fresh ardor or courage.  2. To encourage; urge on or stir up; as to action.  3. To carry off mysteriously or secretively.  (adjective) 1.  Lively; lively and vigorous.  2. Animated; with great animation.  3. Behaving in a specific way; behaving in a way that has a particular feeling, mood or character.

I like having a saint that exemplifies the Love of God in both concrete and legendary ways at the center of Christmas.  It seems fitting that Nicholas’ legacy is what Santa Claus becomes.  While many might see Santa as a symbol of consumerism or feel Santa is an icon of a season focused on secular celebrations, he is one of the most evangelical symbols of this time of year.  Jolly Ol’ St. Nick was called to serve with grace and joy.  We celebrate this year with Christmas “spirit” while we have spirits and saints among us.  There is something about Christmas and Advent that heighten our awareness of God in our everyday.  Just like St. Nicholas, we feel called to be God’s messenger in the darkness and show that love to those around us.

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Song and Poetry

Most of my children have participated in some way in the school choral programs.  I love going to the holiday concerts.  Many times the pieces they perform are the same arrangements that I performed when I was in high school or college.  One of my perennial favorites is “Sure on This Shining Night” by Samuel Barber.  The lyrics, a poem by James Agee, are haunting and the melody leaves me in tears.  So gorgeous!  If you have never heard this piece, I’m going to leave you with a video link:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1CZWX9kSKLU

And the lyrics:

Sure on this shining night
Of star made shadows round,
Kindness must watch for me
This side the ground.
The late year lies down the north.
All is healed, all is health.
High summer holds the earth.
Hearts all whole.
Sure on this shining night I weep for wonder wand’ring far
alone
Of shadows on the stars.

I have to read, read, then reread poems to understanding their meaning.  But somehow, when they are set to music, the emotion of the poem explains itself.  Such is true about this poem.  Most people interpret this poem to be about an individual’s longing to be in heaven.  That even though our “late year lies down the north” or ahead, “all is healed, all is health”.  There’s an eternal summer and “hearts are whole”.  Even the poet is stirred to tears just thinking about it!  However, as with every poem, the interpretation is always up to the person reading it.  While the poet may put their entire being into their words, each quiet reader finds those words to mean something special in their own hearts.

 

Definition:  poem (noun) pəu əm  1.  Piece written in verse; a complete and self-contained piece of writing in verse that is set out in lines of a set length and uses rhythm, imagery, and often rhymes to achieve its effect.  2.  Writing with poetic effect; a piece of writing that is not in verse but that has the imaginative, rhythmic, or metaphorical qualities and the intensity usually associated with a poem.  3. Beautiful or delightful thing; something particularly lovely, beautiful, or delightful.

 

It is a God inspired event when words assembled the right way and set to seemingly perfect music move us to think beyond our daily scope.  The combination of music and poetry has an astonishing power to either pull us out of the depths of despair or meet us in the pit of the well and give us a shoulder to cry on.  I think this is why during Christmas we hear so much poetry and sing carols.  The birth of a Savior is something that can sometimes only be expressed with emotion.  A conversation will not suffice to understand the majesty of God coming to earth.  Meer story telling seems inadequate when describing the unrelenting joy of Christmas.  Sometimes we just need a song.

revised from original Dec 20, 2012 post

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