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In which heaven breaks through

We lit the candles after supper on Sunday, the table covered with the remnants of spaghetti and meatballs. The tinies bickered over who gets to blow out the candles at the end, and we were all “BLOWING OUT CANDLES IS NOT THE POINT OF ADVENT” and I read our devotional off the laptop screen. Evelynn kept interrupting, wanting to talk, too, and so we shushed and quieted and started over and over and over. Moment of peace and reverence, indeed, I huffed. But then Brian asked a few questions, and their eyes were big as they answered: this candle is peace! this one is hope! this one is joy! it’s because Jesus came to give us those things! Yes, indeed, I guess we’re getting it together, heaven forgive me for not noticing it. God, the mess and the reverence all gathered together is so beautiful.

Earlier that day, I had pulled up the school gymnasium and flung open the car doors: run! run! go to the music room! you’re late! Anne and Joe were off like a shot, galloping in their boots for the last kid choir rehearsal before their performance at 10:30 that morning. I parked the car and followed them into the dark gym. It was filled with empty chairs and Christmas lights, and there in one far corner, a gathering of parents stood smack right in front of the risers filled with children in their Christmas best. We bundled like penguins, shuffling shoulder to shoulder, iPhones up to record the actions, DSLRs set on automatic settings clicking away, our feet tapping with the songs we had memorized along with our tinies. I stood in the dark, hugged a few friends, snapped blurry pictures with my iPod because I’d forgotten my camera, sang along “doo-doot-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo it’s Christmas” and became the full sense of sight, drinking the sight of them standing on the risers right into my frazzled soul. God, they’re so beautiful.

We sang for nearly an hour and a half. Oh, there was other stuff, too – a spoken word poem, a dance, a choir, the kids singing, but we sang and sang and sang in the darkness, packed in beside each other with all of the grandmothers and grandfathers and in-laws who came to witness this moment. God, we were so beautiful.

Near the end of the service, a loud hum kicked in right above our heads. We looked up and fake snow began to fall through the blue lights while the girl on stage danced and twirled. The machine kept humming and spilling fake snow onto the low stage. The last song was a loud and boisterous celebration and all of a sudden all the kids, as one, without prompting, just began to head for the scaffolded stage, climbing the step and they began to dance. Joe and his buddies stomping and jerking, trying to imitate the break-dancers, Anne and her friends twirling and leaping in the back, Evelynn and all the toddlers flapping their arms and grinning. It was chaos and it was beautiful, the blue light illuminating the children, the grown-ups clapping along and singing at the top of their lungs while the snow drifted down through the darkness inside to gather in our hair. God, that moment was so beautiful.

My friend’s husband negotiated freedom for wrongfully imprisoned women this week. We talked about it, about the real tangible moment of Jubilee happening right this blessed second – captives! released! exiles returning home! – and we cried together for these women. God, my friend and her husband are so beautiful.

Someone told me about their church holding a Blue Christmas service for those in their community who are grieving and longing at Christmas, unable to fathom the joy perhaps, and so they make space for prayer, for communion, for quiet, to hold each other, to light candles for their grief together for just an evening in the midst of the shopping and the wrapping and the bright tinsel. God, what a beautiful way to minister to each other.

Our Legacy Project in Haiti is still going strong. We’re filling backpacks with hope for a Haitian community and even right now at a busy Christmas season, people are clicking and giving their money away, sowing seeds that will last for generations. We’re already at 50% of our goal. God, generous people of hope are so beautiful.

A hundred times a week, in the small daily moments of my life and the big borderless world of believers, one lighted candle after another, here are the moments when heaven breaks through.

Sometimes every one can see it, sometimes no one sees it but you: the light is breaking through.

I love the phrase “heaven breaks through.”

I love it because it means that we’ve set up an outpost for the Kingdom of God, it means that the God-way-of-life has been established for even just a moment here on earth, it means that for just a while there we saw the way we were always meant to live. Redemption, wholeness, beauty, love, peace, goodness.

It means that for a second everything fit into wholeness and we caught a glimpse of true intended humanity. It means that something rises up in our soul when we see it, and we offer the only response: God, that is so beautiful.

***

I’d love to hear about a moment or two when you found heaven breaking through in your life. Look forward to reading about it in the comments.

Oh, and to donate to Backpacks of Hope, which is part of the Legacy Project in Haiti that we helped to fund last year, you can click here for info.

 

Continue Reading · advent, christmas, church, community, family, Haiti · 27

In which Advent is for the ones who know longing

This past Sunday, my two little nieces performed in their church Christmas pageant. I love to watch Christmas pageants and so few churches do them anymore (for good reason: that amount of work is no joke). One little red-haired lamb and one angel with tinsel-trimmed wings stole the show for me. But our littlest girl isn’t known for her meek and quiet spirit: she’s a ferocious mover-and-shaker, none of this silent night, holy night business for her. So I found myself out in the lobby, watching Christmas through a glass partition. When she settled down into a calm heart and listening ears again, we sneaked into the back of the darkened room to finish watching. The children sang at the top of their lungs, beautiful in their simple costumes, surrounded by hay bales and iPhone screens, and in that moment, the grief of longing nearly overwhelmed me.

Advent simply means “coming” – so for me, it is about the waiting. When people talk about “living in the tension” I think of Advent. It’s the time when we prepare to celebrate his birth and we also acknowledge that we are waiting here still for every tear to be wiped away. I think of the waiting for the Christ child, yes, and I think of the still-waiting for all things to be made right, for our longing for Shalom.

Would we be so filled with joy at his arrival if we weren’t so filled with longing already?

If Christmas is for the joy, then Advent is for the longing. As I learned in particular through our lost babies, one after another after another, the joy born out of suffering and longing is more beautiful for its very complexity. The joy doesn’t erase the longing and the sadness that came before but it does redeem it, it may even stain backwards changing how we look at those days or years. But the joy is made more real, richer and deeper perhaps, because we longed for it with all our hearts for so many days.

I’m not one for crafts for Advent, I admit. I’m rather simple because I know that Advent is more for me than for little ones, and that’s okay. Light the candles, say the prayers, read the Scriptures, let them learn to sit in that quiet tension, we are preparing for the joy that comes only after the longing.

I’m waiting for all things to be made right.

I’ll be honest, I’m not feeling the joy much these days. I’m learning to be okay with that. I’m learning to be okay with the sadness that rises, with the frustration of a broken world, with longings still unfulfilled, with the profound ache in my human heart for all things to be restored, to be redeemed, to be whole. I’m learning to turn towards the third way: the one that holds both the joy and the sorrow.

People I love are struggling financially or emotionally or spiritually: real honest pain. I’m frustrated with divisions in the Church, with conversations that miss the point. I feel distracted and fragmented, caught in the thicket of other people’s priorities and pet-issues and dysfunctions. A hurricane in the Philippines slipped from my consciousness too quickly. My friend’s son is sick, no one knows what to do.  My other friend’s little nephew is in hospice. There is nothing more wrong than a child who suffers and a parent who feels helpless to make it stop – I need my Saviour who suffers with us, my God who weeps, who longs to gather us to himself as a mother hen gathers her chicks.

Advent has become more important to me as I’ve gotten older. When I was young, I couldn’t understand this emphasis on waiting – let’s get to the Christmas joy! Now that I have wept, now that I have grieved, now that I have lost, now that I have learned to hold space with and for the ones who are hurting, now I have a place for Advent. Now that I have fallen in step with the man from Nazareth, I want to walk where he walked into the brokenness of this life, and see the Kingdom of God at hand. Now that I have learned how much I need him, I have learned to watch for him.

Advent is perhaps for the ones who know longing.

So during the Christmas pageant, the tears were sliding down my face as the beautiful children sang their innocent Christmas songs, they were illuminated angels to my eyes, and I was standing on the edges in the darkness in my sadness.

“Where are you?” I whispered to heaven. “The weary world is still waiting.”

Evelynn began to dance. She raised her hands over her head, and twirled slowly, watching her hands move in the darkness. She sang along, off key without words but quietly now. I picked her up and crushed her to my breast. She wrapped her pudgy arms around my neck, “my mumma” she said.  I began to turn slowly with her in my arms, swaying, both of us quietly singing a little off-key. I buried my face into her ringlets and held on.

Sometimes the only thing left to do is simply hold on to each other and dance in the darkness, waiting for the light.

Marantha.

 

Continue Reading · advent · 66

In which the Kingdom of God is also a small family leading worship

 

Every Sunday, during Advent, one family gets up at the beginning of the church service to read the devotional, text, and prayer. This Sunday’s candle was Love, and it was our turn. So I carefully dressed Evelynn in her older sister’s hand-me-down Christmas dress, but the older two couldn’t be bothered: fashionista Anne wanted to wear harem pants and a lotus dress, pragmatic Joseph preferred his red hockey t-shirt.

Initially, I handed Brian the full reading and text we were given without thought. Probably I would stand, beatifically, madonna-like, no doubt, surrounded by my children, behind him, supportive.

This up-front-stuff is the part of worship that The Daddy does, I defaulted, without thinking, slipping into my old pastor-wife groove. It was my husband who said, “No, this is Advent, and it’s church, and we’re a family: we’re all in this. Together.” (Usually, he’s the one reminding me that those old ways don’t fit a Jesus-shaped life, not anymore.)

.Of course, Anne was thrilled. There is no timidity or fear in her, she dances through church. One day, a friend of mine came over to me, with tears in her eyes, and said, “I know it might be odd but I need to tell that I think I heard a word from God about Anne. I was watching her dance, and somehow, in my heart, I heard Jesus say, “I love to watch her dance for me. It makes me so happy.”

Isn’t Jesus happy when children are happy in his Presence?

Now, all on her own, Anne often goes into a quiet room, turns on praise music, and spins and dances, just her and (I imagine, I wouldn’t be surprised) an Audience of One, dancing with her even. (I cried when my friend told me that Jesus was happy about Anne’s dancing. I tucked another moment into my own heart, Mary-like, we know what it is to ponder and remember for the rest of a life.)

Joseph is my singer, my worshipper. He memorizes the words to songs, and is always singing under his breath. I didn’t realize how easily songs came to him until I heard him singing to himself all the time, just working on puzzles, singing all the songs I sing. He loves to sit in the very front of church, but I’m a back-row soul so we usually clash about where to sit in church. Every once in a while, we end up in the very front, and he watches and learns, and he wants me to hold him close during worship, so I sing the words right into his ears (and Brian chases Evelynn back and forth across the gym because, have mercy, that child never sits still). He told me, in his Cookie-Monster boy-voice, that he wants to sing songs always, and someday, that will be him making up songs and playing the guitar. His favourite song, his top-of-the-lungs-gracious-that-is-loud-bellowing-song,  is Matt Redman’s Bless the Lord, Oh My Soul. And he means every word of it.

So Anne ran on stage, and I followed in her confident wake, sedate, the matriarch of this little tribe. Brian handed the microphone to Anne, and my girl, she read it strong: “This morning we light the second candle and we remember Love.”

The sound of her girlish voice through the speakers, rang out, in bell-ringing-clear proclaiming.

Brian sat down on the stage beside her and Joe, and he read, in his midwest man voice, “In a manger on that incredible night Love was born. Mary held Love in her arms. The shepherds from the fields came to worship Love. Years later, Wisemen would come to bring gifts to the King Love. Here was Love born to us. Love grew and touched those who could not be touched. Love forgave those who would not be forgiven. Love listened to those who had no one to listen to them. Love prayed for those who did not love him. Love gave life to those who were caught in the grasp of death. Love willingly died so that our sins were removed, forgiven, and so we could be face to face with God.”

Anne took the microphone again, and prayed, “May we be teachable to love like Jesus himself.”

Then I took the microphone and began to read the Scriptures. I had Evelynn balanced on my cocked hip, and I wasn’t nervous. For once in my life, holding a microphone, I wasn’t nervous. My daughters, my husband, my son, were all here with me, there was no need to fear because this, this was communal worship: not a performance.

“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love,” I read from 1 John.

Then Evelynn grabbed the mic out of my hand and hollered “LOVE!” into it, bursting out laughing at the sound of her own loud voice. I laughed, too, relieved, and joked that we were raising a preacher in this one. (Seriously, this girl.)

“Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.”

I handed the microphone to Brian, thinking we were done, but Joseph took his Dad’s arm, pulled it down to his wide mouth, and solemnly said, “A-men” in benediction. I lit the candles with a fireplace clicker thing, we walked back to our seats to sit amongst our friends.

I think the Kingdom of God looks like children, men, and women in worship together. We wait in the darkness together, so we worship together. Aren’t we all a picture of the restored life in the full light of day, how this new life means all are welcome?

So that the Kingdom of God is yeast and seed, and also a slender little girl, dancing for Jesus alone, and one little boy, singing songs, and one little family leading worship for the community, and one more candle burning, on a lampstand, lighting the whole room. It’s Angels on a hillside with common shepherds, and Kings in stables, and virgins having babies. It’s the uneducated Galileans as ambassadors for God, and murderous Pharisees as great apostles, it’s Mary Magdalene charged with announcing the resurrection, and little children as our examples.

So my children lead worship right alongside of the grown-ups, and their mama reads Scripture right alongside of the men, and their dad is the one who willingly gave up his own time in the lead, for the joy of giving his most-loved-ones a chance to worship out loud, too.

Isn’t it beautiful, all together? Isn’t it beautiful when young and old, male and female, rich and poor, broken and beautiful, all gather for Emmanuel, God with us?

Come, Lord Jesus, among us, and until you do, I have a little girl who wants to dance, and a boy who wants to sing, and a baby who wants to preach, a husband with a leader’s mind and a servant’s posture and a heart after God, and me, I am learning to be not afraid but to speak truth in love.

It’s just a small incarnational moment, hardly worth noticing for most of the world, but for me, this was a metaphor moment of life in the Kingdom, life in the glorious truth of worship in spirit and truth, Jesus-shaped leadership as servanthood, and so our family’s lighting of another candle within community, with their affirmation and prayers and participation, pushed back just a bit more of the darkness, and then we scattered back out again.

 

 

Continue Reading · advent, Anne, brian, christmas, church, community, Evelynn, faith, family, Joseph, women · 34

In which we wish you a happy Christmas – and a poem

Happy, happy Christmas from our home to yours, my friends.

What a year.
What a year.
What a year.
(More on that later.)

I’m thankful for your voice in my life, I’m thankful that you read my scibbles over here, I’m thankful for your kindness and support, your wisdom and your prayers over this past year.

My life – and my family’s life – is richer because of you. It’s been grace in an unexpected place for me.

And now a final poem for your weekend, as you will also find grace in unexpected places this Christmas.

Odd Couples
by Luci Shaw

Things are so often
at odds with their containers.

Our cat once nested her young
in a bureau drawer.

The copper kettle on the shelf
is boiling with partridge berries.

Other mixed metaphors rush
to be recognised:

That baby in the corncrib.
God in a sweaty carpenter’s body.

Eternity spilled the third day
from a hole in the hill

for you, a painter-plumber,
me, a poet sorting socks,

all of us teetotalers drunk
on the Holy Ghost.

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Continue Reading · advent, christmas · 24