Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Fourth Day of Advent: Listen

Not only did I struggle to find an image for today's AdventWord "listen", I also struggled to write an upbeat encouraging Christmas-y ("Sleigh bells ring, are you listening?") blog. Then, the picture I took (the second one below) when posted shows mostly the wall in the post! So, for purposes of posting, I am adding the picture directly below: Grandpa listening to his granddaughter while the youngest one listens to both.

We struggle to listen and be plugged in -- to God, to each other. Perhaps there are too many voices and too many noises for us to hear the Lord God's still, small (small in sound, quiet) voice, a powerful voice gentle and meek. Not like a baby's voice, as precious as the Christmas image of Jesus as a baby is. Yet when we quiet ourselves, we can hear Him, and in hearing Him, we can then hear the lonely, the lost, the hurting. We can hear Him say:

"But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you....Love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and you shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye merciful, as your Father also is merciful" (portions from Luke 6:27-36 -- the whole passage is Jesus' amazing argument as to why we are called to love).

My friend in the picture above listened not only to this dear man play the piano in a shopping mall, but also listened as he told us his story. She brought a moment of joy to his lonely life. Her presence was a gift which said to him, "You are loved."

As we go about shopping during this Advent season, might we consider that the gift of listening is truly one that says, "You are loved." 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Third Day of Advent: Renewal and Hope in Christ's Name

Renew? Made fresh; the old made new? What sort of photo could I take this day to show "renew"? I didn't know anyone who was renewing their wedding vows today. Then, I glanced over at my Christmas Cactus.

This cactus is seventeen years old. It was given to me by a student when I taught fourth grade. It's a miracle that it is still alive (I'm not the best gardener.) The plant was surviving but not thriving as shown by the inner leaves on the lower left. Then, a cousin posted a picture of her Christmas cactus in full bloom. When I asked her how she encouraged the plant to bloom, she didn't do much to it except place it in a window with morning light. I changed my plant to the other side of the house (as shown in the lower righthand picture) and my plant was renewed!

I realized I have experienced that renewal in relationship with Christ and in relationship with Christ's people. This picture below is where I met with my classmates from Renovaré -- a French form of the word "renew".

I learned anew to place my hope in Christ's name and friendship, of Whom was written:

" But when Jesus knew [that the Pharisees held a council against him, how they might destroy him], he withdrew himself from thence: and great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all; And charged them that they should not make him known: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying,  Behold my servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased: I will put my spirit upon him, and he shall show judgment to the Gentiles. He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory. And in his name shall the Gentiles trust" (Matthew 12: 14-21). 

During this season of Advent (and indeed every season) I need to place myself in the Light of the One in Whom I trust, hope in His name, and be renewed.

#adventword #renew

Monday, November 28, 2016

2nd Day of Advent: Love and Waiting in Hope

In this four generation picture, love abides. My father has Alzheimer's. He doesn't remember my name but still remembers some of the time that I am family. He gets up in the middle of the night and doesn't know how to get back to his room. He doesn't like to take showers or baths. He is like a little boy, but he is a little boy who still knows what love looks like. 

My dad is "waiting in hope", another phrase for this advent day. 

"Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord...I wait for the Lord, my soul does wait, and in his word do I hope...My soul waits for for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning...for with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption..." (from Psalm 130). 

And, when my dad does not remember to wait in hope, we stand in the gap and do the waiting for him. That's what love looks like. Love is a choice. We choose each day to love, to will the good of others. What is the good of others? Can't get much better than really looking at how Jesus treated people: patiently, kindly, courteously, humbly, wisely, gently, lovingly. Nothing can separate us from this love. 

"...neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (from Romans 8: 38-39). 

Yesterday's #adventword" "shine" was a struggle when the day was cloudy and "flexibility" was a more important word than "shine." Yet, this morning, the sun broke through! 

The sun doesn't always "come up tomorrow", because life's griefs are great, but I wait in hope knowing that God's love abides.

"And now abides faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love." 

The One who shows this perfectly is Jesus. This Advent season, I prepare not for the coming of a baby (wonderful as that advent is), but rather for the coming of Jesus who chooses me and chooses to be in relationship with me, with nothing separating me from His love. While I can not show this love completely, it does not stop me from following like a child after Him: loving God and loving others, waiting in hope. 

Sunday, November 27, 2016


Last night, I carried my husband's computer out of the bedroom and sat it in the kitchen. In the kitchen, it could shine off and on to its megabyte hearts' content. As for me, I need the dark at night so I can sleep well; otherwise, this woman is not going to shine during the day.

Yet, the shine of humanity is seen best, like faraway stars, in the midst of darkness. What kind of darkness? To color a dark night sky, one chooses the deepest blacks and blues. But no crayon can literally illustrate the world where we need to shine. A gifted photographer can capture hate, anger, despair, discourtesy, ungratefulness, greed, malice, loneliness, poverty, injustice, hunger -- but he or she will do so by capturing looks, body positions, the story itself. The colors and use of or absence of light will be a part of that composition, but other clues are needed. Is that dark forest tranquil or menacing? Is this a dark night of my soul or the peaceful rest I need?

The man who grumbled at me in line at the grocery store might be going home to sit in deep depression; the woman smiling as she chatters away might be intensely lonely. Sometimes where I need to shine is easily identifiable and sometimes it is not. Most often I have found out that I have been a shining light in someone's life only after the fact.

Perhaps, if a candle could think, it would actually struggle to shine if it worried about whether it was shining, how far, how often, and how bright. Truly that candle is only shining because something greater than the candle set it aflame. So, too with me, Someone greater than I, sets me aflame. However, I'm not a candle and I do have control over my wick. I don't have time to let the man go ahead of me in line. (It is the Christmas season, after all, and I have so much to do!) That woman is fine: don't worry about listening or being present to her. After all, I'm only a little candle. Let the big candles do the shining.

I experimented with candle shine and I tried to research whether a big candle lights up a room more than a small candle. It didn't seem a discernible difference to me, but before I could track down all the research, life happened. I planned out some lovely "shine" pictures as I contemplated the word shine and embark on an Advent Adventure with #adventword : morning sunrise and a first day of Advent candle lit by my youngest grandson and his great grandfather. None of that happened. We woke up to rain; I could only find a dried up wreath in the Christmas storage and then I lost the special Advent prayer we were going to pray. Isn't that what life often is like? I seek the Hallmark moments (or now the Pinterest experience) and instead we are called to shine or look for shine in the midst of rain, during days of watching a father fall further into his Alzheimer's world, with dried up wreaths and lost plans.

It's dawning on me that the shine of God, like the sun (but greater than), can be seen even in the day unless clouds (of doubt?) hide it, and the Almighty I AM shines on believer and non-believer. I also see the shine of God in the midst of community. Today is not only the first day of Advent but also my birthday. My little church prayed a blessing specifically over me during service and while I have no picture of this special time, it will be a moment that shines out in my memories. The lack of traditional ways to represent "shine" also caused me to look for other ways to show shine.

I imagine that humanity looks to many sources for shine and even though I know this is a bit humorous using a pot of coffee to show shine, basically I was looking all over the house for reflected shine. Maybe it will remind me to not fall into the ways of worldliness (consumerism, materialism, egoism) to look for shine, but to look for how God shines in places and people where and who I think might not represent shine. And, often our everyday blessings do shine if we only look for them.

I am encouraged when I read one Advent printout that lists this first day of Advent as representing "unseen hope". To the one who is searching for the shine of this day, this season, this year, I pray for you glances of shine that remind you of hope that is not fully seen yet. Just in case you can see my husband's knee, he has had surgery and full recovery is not seen yet, but we have hope, and we have this precious shiny face in our lives as well as other people and moments for which I am so thankful (and can not possibly write of without making this blog yet longer).
#adventword #shine