hope

Fireflies

Early summer evenings in Louisville, Kentucky can mean wind and thunderstorms or sweltering humidity. But tonight is the perfect night. 

As dusk settles over our neighborhood, I walk out onto our front porch and let out a long sigh. With a slow, deep breath I take in the sweet smell of the almost-summer evening. I close my eyes and feel the warm air caress my arms and the back of my neck under my messy bun. The air is warm but dry, none of the usual humidity that plagues many summer nights. A sweet breeze blows and it feels comforting.

I walk across the street, the pavement still warm from this clear, sunny day. Just across the sidewalk are cement stairs that lead down to the track at the School for the Blind.  As I approach the stairway, my heart quickens. 

The fireflies are here! 

I was born and raised in the West Coast, and the only fireflies I had ever seen were the fake ones in the bayou scenes in the Pirates of the Carribean ride at Disneyland. When we moved to Louisville last July, I was thrilled to see a few fireflies here and there. I’m hoping I’ll see a few tonight. 

The cyclone fence along the road and leading to the stairway is lined with towering trees and low lying bushes, which makes a shadowy sanctuary in the fading light. Before I even reach the top of the stairway, there is a flash in the corner of my eye. As I scan the stairway and the cool green grass leading down the hill to the track, a chorus of twinkling yellow lights greets me. In the shadows, down the hill, on the lawn, around the curves of the track, fireflies at every turn. Everywhere I look, beautiful twinkling yellow flashes of light. 

Walking my laps, my heart fills with joy at this little blessing. I’m not sure how little flying beatles flashing their hind ends looking for a mate can make me so very happy, but it does. 

I’m walking a brisk pace, and every ten to twenty feet a little lightening bug buzzes across my path, as if he’s slowly leading the way. I could reach out and touch him, but I don’t. I stray off my lane to follow him, off the track and onto the grass, slowly floating in the air in front of me, occasionally flashing his tail if I lose him, as if he wants me to follow him. At one point, he seems to almost stop in mid air. He slowly floats near my face, flashes me a short greeting, and flies away. 

Thank you, Lord, for this sweet little blessing tonight. It made my heart flicker with a little light of hope and joy. 

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I’ll Sit With You in the Pain

“I guess I thought if I prayed about it, I would magically feel better and suddenly have a group of friends with whom I could share my heart and there’d be a rainbows and unicorns.”

I woke up this morning still feeling very melancholy. It seems the last couple of weeks I’ve been experiencing a lot of ups and downs, and I find myself wondering

“God, where are you in all of this? Why are you leaving me alone? Can’t you hear me?”

I thought if I prayed about it, I would magically feel better and suddenly have a group of friends with whom I could share my heart and there’d be a rainbows and unicorns. This morning as I was scrolling through Facebook before I got out of bed, God sent me a message. Yes, it’s true – God sent me a message on Facebook. No, I’m not crazy, at least not now. I believe that God can speak to us through other people sometimes, and this morning he spoke to me through Brene’ Brown.

“I thought faith would say, ‘I’ll take away the pain and discomfort’, but what it ended up saying was, ‘I’ll sit with you in it.'” Brene’ Brown

You can listen to her 6 minute message here.

Another quote that really spoke to me this week was from author Lysa TerKeurst (I have never read any of her books, I just follow her on Facebook and I like her quotes. She is on my list of books to read)

“How to overcome that seemingly impossible issue… pray more words about it than you speak.”

I find that I’ve been praying about things, but not an intense, fervent, journal for hours, pour-my-heart-out, fall-on-my-face prayer. I’ve been thinking about things, things have been on my mind, and when they come to mind, I’ve said a little prayer.

That is not the way I need to be praying about things.

Prayers on-the-go are not the same as deep conversations with God.

Just as a text to a friend is not the same as an hour-long phone call. Or a message on Facebook isn’t the same as a handwritten card or letter. Or a “how are you doing?” as you pass one another in the morning isn’t the same as a heart-to-heart conversation over a cup of coffee.

It’s no wonder I sometimes feel that God has forgotten me in this move. It seems I have also forgotten how to have a deep relationship with Him. So I ask myself, what am I afraid of? Why am I avoiding heart-to-hearts with God? And deep inside, I know the answer.

He’s asking me to do hard things. I can feel that nudging in my heart and I keep trying to distract myself. I stick to prayers-on-the-go so I don’t have to listen.

He’s asking me to step out of my comfort zone.

He’s urging me to reach out in grace and love to people in my life who have been unloving to me.

He’s asking me to be patient. It took years to build the purposeful relationships that I left in Vancouver. It will take years to build new ones.

He’s asking me to remember the commonality of suffering in people around me, when I selfishly just want to focus on my suffering. Everyone wants to experience happiness and avoid pain. He wants me to love those around me, and remember that everyone has a story, and every story matters.

He’s asking me not to wait for other people to come to me, but for me to reach out in love towards others. And that puts me in a vulnerable position. What if I’m rejected? And selfishly, what if it’s inconvenient to me?

So, I commit to prayer this Holy Week. I commit to real prayer, kind of prayer that builds relationships. The kind of prayer that restores me and my heart. The kind of prayer where I don’t just pour out all my feelings and tell God what I think He should do, but the kind of prayer that sits quietly and listens, which is so hard for me.

And I’ll remember that in the discomfort, in the loneliness, in the hard things, in the quiet listening,

He sits with me.

I Really Want to Love Advent

*Disclaimer: Writing about how sometimes I don’t love Advent does not mean that I don’t love Christmas. Just as writing about my longings for changing the church does not mean that I don’t love Jesus. Just as writing about how my marriage could improve does not mean that I don’t love my husband. Just as writing about my hopes and dreams for my children does not mean that I don’t love them. You get the idea.

I want to love Advent. Really I do. It is not something we practiced growing up. In fact, I had never heard of Advent until I was a young mother, and heard a talk about it at a MOMS group as a meaningful alternative to the commercialization and Santa-frenzy of the Christmas season. It sounded good. Taking time out of the chaos of the holiday season to focus your heart each week to prepare for the spiritual reason for the season – the coming of Christ.

Oh Lord, let my soul rise up to meet you as the day rises to meet the sun.

What is Advent?

It is part of the liturgical church calendar, beginning the fourth Sunday before Christmas (this usually falls the Sunday after Thanksgiving). The season focuses on the expectation and the anticipation of the coming of Jesus. Often there are four candles placed around an Advent wreath, with one candle being lit each week on Sunday, representing hope, love, joy, and peace. There is sometimes a candle placed in the center to represent Christ, and that is lit on Christmas Day. As each candle is lit, there are readings, hymns or songs, and scriptures for each week, often meant to be read together as a family.There are variations of the practice of advent, but those are the basics.

It sounds lovely, and it can be. There are times that I really appreciated being reminded to push pause and reflect. I particularly loved getting up early Christmas morning and lighting the center candle and just spending some quiet time praying and reflecting before everyone else got up and the busy day began.

But honestly, it often felt like one more thing to do during the Christmas season. And three little boys weren’t particularly keen to sit quietly and participate in readings (unless it was their turn to light the candle). Most of the time I was unprepared when that first Sunday of Advent rolled around, because not only did it mean putting away my fall decorations, it meant finding and putting out my Christmas decorations, or at least my Advent wreath. To add to this pressure, two of my boys have birthdays the first week of December, so we often put off decorating for Christmas until after we celebrated their birthdays. And when I finally got my act together and had everything set up, it often felt like a forced ritual, rather than a meaningful time of reflection. And if I’m truly honest, it was sometimes a source of pride and self-righteousness that I was practicing Advent and down-playing Santa. Yes, that is the ugly truth of it.

O come, O come, Emmanuel : and ransom captive Israel

So as I’ve started my search for the sacred, I am trying to look at Advent with new eyes. And evenso, I was not ready for the first Sunday of Advent. We moved across the country this summer, and I had to find my Christmas boxes among the piles of boxes up on the third floor. (And also, the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead was on). Ummmm. Yeah, so there it is.

But by the first of the week I had found my advent wreath and bought my candles and started reading each day. In my journey to discover the meaningfulness behind the church calendar, I have been reading Common Prayer: a Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, and I am trying to rid my life of some of the distractions so that I can learn to focus on what is important.

Praise to you who lift up the poor : and fill the hungry with good things.

Which is truly difficult for me – I am strongly ADD and my life is centered around distractions. I thrive on them. So this learning to be still and focus and remove distractions and have discipline is scary, uncomfortable, and very, very difficult at times. It does not come easily for me, but I am slowly learning.

There are many readings that go along with Advent – some are quite formal, others a little more laid back. If you have never practiced Advent, or like me, sometimes just went through the motions, I encourage you to look at Advent with fresh eyes and an open heart. There is something truly sacred about pausing and reflecting, not as a duty, but out of a sense of wonder. This year, along with the readings from Common Prayer, I am following Sarah Bessey’s writings for Advent. I love her writing  because she speaks hard truths with a sweetness and gentleness that draws me in. So if you’re a late starter, like me, you can begin here:

Week One:  Hope

Week Two: Peace

You speak in my heart and say, “Seek my face” : your face, Lord, will I seek.

Lord, help me to learn to turn from the many distractions that, although they may be good, serve to distract me from the best. 

Lord, help me learn to be still and quiet, so that I can hear your voice. 

Lord, give me open eyes to see truth, and a mouth that can speak truth in love as well as hold its tongue for the sake of grace and peace.

Tomorrow

Tomorrow

What do we do when the world breaks our hearts?
When violence and hate, terrorists and their tools, ignorance and apathy seem to prevail?
We want to turn away, to hide our faces and shield our hearts.
We want to scream and strike and get our vengeance.

What do we do when the world breaks our hearts?
We wish we didn’t have to listen, to hear about it, to read about it.
We wish we didn’t have to see the pictures flash across our screen.
But we can’t turn away. It’s everywhere, and it begs us to see and hear.

What do we do when the world breaks out hearts?
We change our profile pictures in solidarity, and that is good.
We post a meme with a comforting cliché or Bible verse, because we need to find a sliver of hope.
We say, “Did you hear about such and such, isn’t that heartbreaking?” and we all agree, yes, it is.

What do we do when the world breaks our hearts?
We read, we see, we talk, we feel. And sometimes we turn away.
We grieve, we feel, we look at our corner of the world.
And we want to change things. We ponder how.

What can we do when the world breaks our hearts? Because the world will break our hearts again tomorrow.
We can love the unlovable.
We can speak the unspoken.
We show up.

~Kristin Meador

 

He Rescues and Restores Us From a Hopeless Place

Time after time, he rescued me from hopelessness: abuse, infertility, broken marriage, prodigal child, loss of community, broken relationships, unfulfilled dreams
God answered and came to my rescue when I didn’t even know to cry out.

Part of finding your dream/passion/calling is to look at where you have been and what you have learned. In my last post I talked about a process called Creating a Life Plan from Donald Miller’s Storyline. The assignment was to list your ‘major life turns’ – those events that changed your life from that point on. So yesterday on the plane from Boston to Baltimore (a short flight), I began listing those events, and then labeling them positive or negative, and weighing them with a number from 1-10. On the videos for the curriculum, Miller state that if you are forty years old you would likely have about 15 events. He also confesses on the training video that he is 42 and has 37 events, while Shauna Neiquist, the other participant in the video, has 8. I identified twenty-seven.

First, I listed each event, with a short description. I then labeled the event as a positive or negative turn, and gave it a number from 1 to 10. Then, on the next leg of my flight from Baltimore to Louisville, I placed each event on the timelime of my life.

+ Positive turns

_____I_________I______I__>>>>>

– Negative turns

 

I had to do this a couple of times, because I hadn’t written the events chronologically, I just wrote about them as they came to mind. To simplify it for me, I made a timeline for each decade of my life, then transfered them onto one major timeline. It just helped me to organize things better.

As I started plotting the events onto my final timeline, something became very apparent.

For most negative turns, there was a redemptive positive turn. When events in my childhood caused shame or brokeness, there was a person who showed love or gave me value. When our marriage fell apart, we found a great counselor and were able to confide in friends that became like family. When times were tough with my oldest son, it strengthened our marriage because if forced us to really communicate and become a team. When broken friendships and family relationships ravaged my soul, I found healing with skilled counselors and healthy relationships. There are countless examples like this, and I had not seen the thread of rescue and restoration until I plotted these events on my timeline.

The last part of this module is to reflect on your timeline and see if you can identify a life theme. Here is what I wrote in my notes:

Whenever there was a low, or a time of hurt and pain, or a great loss, there was also a great RESCUE. A source of help, redemption, healing, restoration. During times of trouble, God provided a way out.

Restoration

Rescue

Hope from despair, hopelessness

Time after time, God rescued me from a hopeless place: abuse, infertility, broken marriage, lost and wandering child, loss of community, broken relationships, unfulfilled dreams

God answered and came to my rescue when I didn’t even know to call out.

I think I found my life theme for this season of my life:

He rescues and restores us from a hopeless place

As part of Dare to Dream: Finding Your Dream (Again), I am completing Donald Miller’s Storyline process of Creating a Life Plan. (this is meant to be done over a month’s time, but I am doing it in four days so that I can complete it before the Storyline Conference) Note: I have been through this process before. It would not be a good thing to rush through it your first time.