Turning the Pages of a Year

Turning the Pages of a Year

OXYGEN ChristmasI remember a year that I was really glad to turn the pages of. It began with our newly home from the hospital, preemie getting sick, very sick. Her first three months had been spent in the neonatal unit at Minneapolis Children’s Hospital. After five weeks at home with six older siblings, she had been exposed to everything that was going around their school.  A day earlier, her six and a half year old brother was running a temperature of 105. By Friday night, of that 1st weekend of the new year, it was becoming obvious that what had appeared to be a small problem with my daughter was much larger. On Saturday, she’d been put in the pediatric unit of the hospital where our doctor practiced. By Sunday morning, the hospital called to tell us that she was being transported to life support at Children’s hospital.

Meanwhile, that same Sunday morning, our two year old, four year old and six and a half  year old were in the emergency room of another hospital, with bronchitis and tonsillitis. Later that week would see my four year old admitted to the hospital with pneumonia. I don’t know how we managed to have children in two hospitals, but we did. Most everyone else was sick at home too, except for my two older children who avoided all of the rest of us. On the positive side, our yearly family deductible had been met for our insurance by the end of the first week of January.

I wish I could say that the rest of the year had gone better. The youngest was very sick again in February and hospitalized in March with bronchial pneumonia. A series of illnesses would plague her through the year, until in late December, she was back in life support at Children’s having an apnea study done. A heart monitoring system would follow that stay.

I think it was the overwhelming sense of everything going wrong at the same time, which made it so difficult. Like Mary discovering she was in labor at the very moment she and Joseph were being told there was no room for them in the inn. But life went on. The child survived. Difficulties were overcome. By the time the magi arrived at Christmas, scripture records the couple living in a house.

The magi’s visit would force additional changes upon the young family. Being warned in a dream, Mary and Joseph flee the city with Jesus, to live in Egypt for a time. Once more their life had to be reconstructed. Fortunately, Joseph’s carpentry skills were useful anywhere. For the magi, that Christmas miracle, would send them home in another way, avoiding Herod and his plans to kill the child.

The gift of Christmas is not and has never been, a stress free – pain free life. Rather, the gift of Christmas which we carry every day, is that Christ has come.    What I treasure most about the gift of Christmas is knowing that whatever the new year will bring,  God is with us.   God will be with us in our joys and in on our griefs. God will be near to pour healing on our wounds, blessing on our prayers, and calming waters on our fears.  Christ has come to be with us in our pain and our sorrow, our joys, our dreams, our hopes and our fears. We have been visited by one who has chosen to live and remain among us.

Christmas Will Come and Go – But the Christ of Christmas Will Remain


Christ Came as Light

Some years back, a person kept taking a cab to the same location several days in a row. He simply asked the driver to stop at a certain place where he would sit and stare out the windows. After the third night, the cab driver became suspicious. He contacted the police who came to talk to the man. The man told the officers that his wife was very ill. The future did not look good. He wasn’t, he said, a very religious person and found it hard to pray. Pointing to the stained glass windows, glowing in the darkness of a nearby church, he said, “Something about its light gives me strength and peace and somehow, looking at it, I have the words to pray.”

Something about Christmas and that light which came into our world gives me strength. Strength to face trials, hurts and the inevitable losses that life brings. It gives me strength to face whatever lies ahead for good or for evil. Because God chose to be present in our world, not only for a season, but for all time.  Christmas is about hope. It is about the light that breaks into our darkest night, our most anguished moment. Light that gives direction when we are confused or broken. Light that surrounds us and embraces us. We never really come to terms with Christmas and what Christmas is about, until we realize that Jesus was born for us – you and me. Light came into the world to meet every single one of us in our personal darkness.

I’ve been reminding myself of this as the season of Christmas has come with complications in my family. An extended hospitalization for a family member with surgery scheduled just before Christmas, has changed agendas and plans as well as created anxiety. Other family will be out of town. The forecast is not conducive to trust that many of us will be able to get together.

I’m reminded that this Christmas will come and go, but the Christ of Christmas will remain, shedding light into our world. A light that does not diminish with the years or shine only for a season, but lasts through each day. Christ came into our darkness to be our light, to be our hope, to be our peace and to give us life  – not only in the distant future  – but here, today,   at this moment.   The New Testament writers looked to the words of Isaiah to describe the changed reality. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shined.” (Isaiah 9: 2)   There really is something about that light that stirs the soul, moves the spirit, encourages us and gives us strength.

Getting Ready for Christmas

christmas-angelI’ve never been one to be over prepared, when it comes to Christmas. Usually, you’ll find me late on Christmas Eve wrapping presents for Christmas morning. One year, when my children were small, I was following my usual pace. Everything would get done. It would be finished on time, after all I’d always succeeded. My schedule for Christmas Eve day, was firmly set in my mind on the evening before as I planned out everything that needed to be done. A small banner for the sanctuary at church, packages to wrap and more cookies to bake.

The one item I’d left out of my preparation planning was the fact of being pregnant with a baby due on January 4th. Early Christmas Eve morning I realized that the day would require some significant changes. My son arrived very quickly after that, at home while his siblings were opening their presents. The banner didn’t get made and certain cookies were never baked. Leaving for the hospital, my five year old son announced, “I like all my presents, but I like my baby brother best of all.”

A baby is, after all, what Christmas is about. A baby that doesn’t wait until everything is done or the household is in order. A baby that makes an appearance when ready, not on a predetermined schedule. Bethlehem’s child surprises us with unexpected appearances. In the midst of singing a carol, taking cookies to a neighbor, stuck in traffic listening to the songs of Christmas, or opening a Christmas card from an old friend, Christ touches the heart.

In these days of Advent may you pause in your busyness to remember Jesus and truly rejoice in God’s gift of love, who came not for a few moments in time but for an eternity.

Yearning for the Perfect Christmas

Chihuly Glass - The Ceiling

Chihuly Glass – The Ceiling

For years, I only bought Christmas cards that had a picture of the three wise men on them. It was my strategy to make sure I was in the right season when they were sent. I knew that the likelihood of getting cards in the mail before Christmas was in direct proportion to the parties, programs, practices, presents and cookie making I needed to get done. My best intentions of having them sent in time were often thwarted. Throw in a pastoral crisis or two, and the cards waited till January.

Something in our hearts and minds yearns for a perfect Christmas. A Christmas that fulfills our expectations of what the day ought to be like, when all the pieces of life fall into place. Written into our hearts and souls is a yearning for a day when everything will be right. Justice will come on earth and will usher in a time of peace and harmony which spreads throughout the world. This yearning has existed, almost, from the beginning of time. In our personal lives we yearn for the spirit of Christmas to warm our hearts in some mystical, magical way, telling us all is well.

The book of Isaiah was written during a period when there had been a series of corrupt kings. Throughout those years, the nation had been under attack with great loss of life. The words of Isaiah carry both promise and hope. “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him. The spirit of wisdom and understanding. . . the spirit of counsel and might . . the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” (Isaiah 11:1,2) Hundreds of years later, the promised savior does not come in Israel’s strength, but in it’s weakness. Not in the days of power but rather in powerlessness. When all seems lost, God works in that mysterious way of God to change the course of history.

Isn’t that the way that God most often works in our lives? When all seems lost, God moves in and around us, bringing life to dead and barren places. Just at that moment when we are ready to give up, God surprises us with grace and compassion. God works in our lives a miracle of love that restores hope and gives us a promise that there will be a future.

This Advent season is one to reflect on our faith, our lives and the one who enters our world in Bethlehem. It is written of him, that “He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.” (Isaiah 11:3)

Our world is far from a perfect place. Wars consume lives of innocents. Systems of justice get corrupted. The wicked still prosper at the expense of the laborer. Good people grieve their losses. The promise of a day when all is just, peaceful and righteous continues to pull at our hearts, because it is God’s dream. The longing continues and will continue till God’s kingdom comes in all of its fullness. Meanwhile, there is Jesus, who came as Emmanuel, God with us, to walk with us through all the days of our lives in this imperfect world.


*Advent – Waiting With Expectation

*Advent – Waiting With Expectation

CandleFlame The dictionary defines “wait” as “to look forward expectantly.” Not all of our waiting is done with anticipation. From traffic jams and delayed raises, to family unrest, much of our waiting is experienced as impatience, frustration and a simple recognition that not all is well with our world. Advent reminds us that God is still working in this world.

We wait for our deepest hopes and dreams to come to fruition. We wait for answers to our penetrating questions. In our confusion, we wait for clarity of mind and purpose. We wait for ourselves to become the person we wish we already were.

Today I find myself waiting for God’s advent fresh over in this broken world. I wait for the lion and lamb to lay down together, for the misery of war to end, for voices of hatred to be turned from loathing into compassion. I wait for our world to become a better, kinder, more gentle place. I wait for the powerful to bend an ear to the powerless. I wait for a day when there are no refugees facing the terrors of the sea or fleeing the travail of ISIS. I wait for ancient ruins to be restored. I wait for God’s Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. Howard Thurman echos my thoughts in his book “The Mood of Christmas”

“Where refugees seek deliverance that never comes,
and the heart consumes itself, if it would live,
Where little children age before their time,

And life wears down the edges of the mind,
Where the old man sits with mind grown cold,

While bones and sinew, blood and cell, go slowly down to death,
Where fear companions each day’s life,
And Perfect Love seems long delayed.
Christmas is waiting to be born
In you, in me, in all (humankind)”
— from The Mood of Christmas Continue reading

A New Year – Leaving Christmas Behind

I have to admit that I stumbled across more than my share of impatient people on the highways in the past month. Some may have just needed a refresher course in driver’s ed, but I suspect what I’ve been witnessing is a deeper phenomena. We arrived at 2016 carrying stresses and strains of a difficult year.

The threat of terrorism towers over us. We were unprepared for ISIS with it’s barbaric ways. Yet, our faith calls us to trust, even in anxious times . . . To trust in the one who has provided for us in the past and promises to do so in the future. Our world sends us ample opportunities to get the lesson straight. One period in my life forever stands as a time of learning to trust. My personal world had collapsed. I wondered where on earth God had gone off to. Had God abandoned me? If not, where was God anyway? I’ve since learned that God is working hardest in our lives when we hurt most deeply. God surprises us in unexpected moments of love, mercy, forgiveness and compassion. I learned that God’s love is far greater than I had thought, for God’s love transcends our hurts, our sorrows, our worst mistakes; our most crushing defeats . . . even death and life.

The good news is that wherever we find ourselves today, we have been given the joy of new beginnings. Bethlehem is God’s commitment to be with us in all of life’s journeys. A promise that wherever we find ourselves, whatever our failures or successes, whatever our mistakes, whatever our sins, our personal struggles, God has chosen to enter our lives, to love, accept and be with us where we are.

On this day Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas, we are reminded that when the Magi came to Jesus, after offering him their gifts, they left and returned “home in another way.” The God who comes to us in our brokenness does not intend to leave us in our grief and sorrow, but rather, to lead us to a life of meaning and significance. May this New Year be one of trusting God, day by day. As you “Return home from Christmas” may you do so is such a way that you are touched by the transforming presence of the one who entered our world in Bethlehem. Of whom it was said, they will call him Emmanuel, which means, “God with us.”

God’s Welcome Sign, For All the World’s People

Remember how back in 1999 fears spread over the Y2K bug. The bug really wasn’t a computer bug, the way we think of them today. Instead it was a problem with the design of both the hardware and software of older computers, which didn’t allow for the changing over from the year 1999 to the year 2000. It was built into major computer systems when the year 2000 seemed a distant time and place. Only a few recognized the problem it would one day be. For reasons that are not entirely clear, the actual concern did not become widely known, until the new millennium was almost upon us. We worried and fretted over the problem. We wondered if there would be water and electricity come January 1, 2000. Fortunately, a warning issued decades before was finally heard. Around the world emergency fixes were made. Catastrophic failure of public utilities and telecommunications feared by many, did not materialize, except in a very few places.

We never know what a new year will bring us. Some of what we do know is that there will be trials in our lives. Among our circle of family and friends, there will be those who face enormous challenges. Others will confront heartache and sorrow. There will be moments when we climb the high mountains and revel in the accomplishment of long sought dreams. Along the journey, we may well find ourselves in turn, battered, bruised, bloodied, weary and worn by the stresses of life.

Brennan Manning, in his book, “Reflections for Ragamuffins” tells the story of a man who was reading the first chapter of the gospel of John where it is written, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God . . . The Word was made flesh and dealt among us.” As he pondered the passage it seemed to him that God was saying, “Yes, the Word was made flesh. I chose to enter your broken world and limp through life with you.” Manning goes on to say, “On that last day, when we arrive at the Great Mansion in the Sky, many of us will be bloodied, battered, bruised, and limping. But, by God and by Christ, there will be a light in the window and a ‘welcome home’ sign on the door.”

In the birth of Jesus, we witnessed God’s fresh start in our world . . . God coming to live among us, to show us how to live life with integrity and with power. In Jesus, God entered a weary, battered, bruised and limping world. Since Christ’s coming, this planet we live on has never quite been the same. Emmanuel – God with us, Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, wrapped in an infant named Jesus. One who chose to live among us, to share in our world and our trials . . . this one came to stay and walk with us each day. We call this gift grace. God’s gift, freely and abundantly available for all . . . God’s welcome sign, put out for all the worlds people. We may not know what the future will bring any of us. We do have this assurance though, whatever we face, we will not limp through this world alone.