Saturday, December 28, 2013

Barefoot and Proclaiming: A 2014 Resolution

Shortbread crumbs huddle in small clusters like chilled people around a fire, pictures are posted, comments are made, the laughter quiets, the garbage cans burst with the refuse of a holiday well had.  Christmas slowly dissolves into clean-up, diet plans, thank you notes and work schedules resumed.  The holiday fades and flits her way into photo albums and fond memories.

And Christ?
The birthday boy?
The reason weary, wisemen wandered?
The reason we all gathered?
The reason we all laughed?
The reason we all baked and ate and wrapped and gave?
He remains.
Ever present.

While the groan of the engine of our homes resume—washing machines grunt and gurgle, dishwashers slosh and whine—His presence is still this miraculous thing that doesn’t end with a baby, some hay, some sheep, a maiden clothed in blue, and a bearded man gazing lovingly into the face of God in human flesh.  His presence fills the flush of our lives.

It does.
And I am blind.
Dear God, I am so blind.
Blind to miracles that extend beyond December. 
Blind to miracles that dance in front of me.

And I beg God for sight—sight to see the sway of Sassafras limbs in winter wind.  He made them. 

Sight to catch the cardinal’s crimson red wings splash like paint across a whale-grey sky.  When He dyed the cardinal’s wings did He think of the blood His Son would spill on another grey day?

Sight to goodness-gracious-catch-any-tiny-miracle  in the hectic craze that will consume me when I flip the calendar's page and 2013 becomes a history recorded in Christmas letters while 2014 becomes the urgent tyrant that demands my presence, my cooking, my cleaning, my helping, my studying, my mind, my hands, my energy, my life. 

Because I read Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts and I want to slow and record and catch and praise and revel in the miracles of a God that drips and oozes sacred and holy and good . . .

But I can’t find my camera,
My phone battery’s dead,
And the gratitude journal my family started is buried under fifteen unread copies of Time magazine.
And Ann’s amazing, but I am ordinary.
Ordinary and extraordinarily busy.
Still, His words wiggle and worm their way into my spirit.

Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you,
who walk in the light of your presence, Lord. (Psalm 89:15, NIV)

And can I learn it?
Learn to acclaim Him? 
Even amidst the chaos?  Just learn that one thing this year?
Just one thing?  (Because at resolutions for New Year's, I tend to fail, but maybe this year?)

Blessed are the people who know the joyful sound!
They walk, O Lord, in the light of Your countenance. (Psalm 89:15, NKJV)

I do know it, don’t I—the joyful sound of a people who have lived to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living?
And haven’t I seen it?
His goodness?
When He provided not only what we needed, but a few of our wants too?
When He gave us the theme for a camp we were overwhelmed to consider leading?
When He healed the infection that threatened to claim my life after a botched surgery?
When He healed the marriage that was statistically doomed?
But then, what are statistics to a good, great, giant of a God?

I’ve uttered acclamation to a God who deserves constant praise, but learning to do it all the time?  Isn’t this what sweet Ann was attempting to do with those lists of gifts?

How blessed are the people who worship you! 
O Lord, they experience Your favor. (Psalm 89:15, NET)

The lists are worship.
They are acclamation.
They are shouts of joy.
They are a writer’s way or waving a flag each moment they catch a glimpse of His continual presence in a world that insists on distracting us from every holy moment.

And isn’t it ironic that the people who have learned to acclaim Him are the blessed ones?
This is the thing I keep missing, but it holds the secret of joy in its grip. 
The blessed ones aren’t the perfect ones.  They aren’t the talented ones.  They aren’t the ones who have it all together.  They aren’t the ones who write the books or go to college or marry the perfect person or win the lottery. 
They are the ones who have learned to acclaim Him, have learned to sing the joyful sound of a soul that stops, a soul that seeks to see, to see the sacred in ordinary life.
And they are these souls—the seekers of the Sacred—that experience HIS favor. 
His favor isn’t just bestowed on a few fortunate ones.

Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests. (Luke 2:14) 

And I’ve been duped and fooled into believing the lie that his favor is measured in material things, in people, in ease of life, in comfort, in tangible things I can take into the palm of my hand and count when all along His favor has been as near as my skin.  Nearer, even. 

His favor IS His presence.

His favor IS His countenance.
And somehow, isn’t this a game changer?
Isn’t this the thing that whispers hope into desperate heartache?
Isn’t this the thing that promises possibility amidst poverty?
Isn’t this the thing that changes the trajectory of tragedy?

Because sometimes someone is brave enough to be honest with you, and when they are, they’ll admit they’re disappointed with life.  Disappointed with God.  Feel like he doesn’t have their back.

When I think about stories like Elizabeth Smart’s—nine months of torture and rape and devestation indescribable—I can’t even fathom how she could have felt God’s favor was measureable.  Measureable by what?  Starvation and dehydration?  Measureable by the number of days out of nine months that she wasn’t raped?  Are you kidding me?

And yet she tells this story of a night when thirst had parched her throat for days, her body was ravaged by malnutrition, and she fell to sleep a broken, desperate soul.  Yet in the night, she awoke—her captors remained asleep beside her—to find a yellow cup of cold water.  There was no water in their camp.  They’d been out for some time.  There was no human being who would have brought her water.  No one knew of their camp.  No one unzipped the tent that was her prison cell by night to help her.  And yet this cup.

This golden cup of cold water.
She says she drank deeply.  The water, far more than hydrogen and oxygen molecules, gave her hope not because it alleviated her thirst, but because it proved to her the very near presence of her Savior.  And in her book, she will tell you, she acclaimed the Lord.  She knew Her God was present amidst her suffering.

Favor is not measured in the removal of tragedy, it is measured in the presence of God. 

And the people who are blessed?
The people who experience His favor?
They are the ones who worship Him.  Who SEE Him.  Who acclaim Him.  Who say—I see the pain, but I see the God who remains beyond December too. They are the ones who see the God who stays beside the thirsty child in Africa and the sex trafficked woman in Atlanta.  They are the ones who see the God who will go with the foster child removed from a safe place and sent back into a home where his prospects are poor.

Because somehow, though I don’t understand it and can’t explain it, in this life there is horrible suffering, and God is not to blame for that.  He does allow it, though.  And no theological, churchy, Christianese answer will ever satisfy the heart who hurts and hungers.  Because blessed people still weep.  But this I know.  Immanuel? 

That name?
It means God with us.
His presence remains beside us all.
And that IS the miracle of Christmas.
That is the thing to which we must hold until we can understand fully.
That is the only thing worth holding.
That is the thing which I must spend 2014 learning to acclaim—His presence.  Everywhere.
Every.Single.Place in my life and in yours.

In one fell swoop thousands of years ago He saved us from sin, but that isn’t the end.  Every day His presence saves us from a fallen world and ushers us into a holy moment.  A thousand holy moments.  Infinite holy moments.  Because when He died the curtain that separated us from His presence was torn, and we live in the Holy of Holies—In HIS presence every sacred second.  When Moses stood on Holy ground in front of a burning bush, he instinctively removed his shoes. 
And shouldn’t we, the ones on whom His favor rests, be a barefoot people?

Our lives are lived out on Holy ground because

This song says it too . . . maybe better than I can write it.

Monday, December 2, 2013

It's a Boy!


I was looking for Christmas cards the other day and came across one that was all blue. (I'm not a fan of blue cards.) But this one . . . it caught my eye. Stenciled across its face were three short words.  Just three.
 "It's a BOY!"
 Because apparently sometimes we need reminding that Christmas is about Christ's birth. And sometimes over Christmas, we Christians can be the biggest non-celebrators (those who don't celebrate) of the real holiday that there are. Of course we go out and buy presents, we deck the halls, we stuff a turkey, we even buy an Angel Tree gift for the needy children in our church, but where's the birthday cake?
In our house, on someone's birthday, we pull out all the stops.  I mean, really.  We go crazy.  We do, say, and cook ALL the birthday person's favorite things. You want to eat a pound of bacon for your birthday?  Sounds great.  You want to have a medieval knight birthday party complete with handmade wooden shields?  Got it.  I live for those days.  I’m GREAT at those days.  Tell me what gets your heart pumping, and I will do my darndest to make it happen on your birthday.
But I have to ask.
Where are all of Jesus' favorite things?
I wonder if he would have preferred to hear our beautiful choir singing the Hallelujah Chorus in the Wal-Mart Parking lot while we handed out cups of hot cocoa and gift cards instead of inside our tired sanctuary with raspberry jam colored carpet where everyone is sparkling like disco balls and the lost tend not to come.
 I wonder if he would have preferred less fancy Christmas clothing and more donated coats to homeless people.
I wonder if he would rather have a simple meal shared with many hungry people as opposed to pate and caviar on artisan bread toasted golden.
I wonder if I can help my boys to celebrate Jesus' birthday this year . . . by doing all the things HE loves.
In fact, if you want to know the truth, I think my boys might need to help ME to celebrate Jesus’ birthday.  Maybe I am the obstacle that stands between commercial Christmas and Jesus’ Birthday.
Just the other day, I went to the boys and asked the annual question. 
To the youngest, I asked, “Corty, what would you like for Christmas this year?”
Without hesitation, he replied, “Seventy-five dollars.”
I know a smile snagged my lips and swung them upward.  “What would you like seventy-five dollars for?”
“A goat.”  Now, if you know my youngest, you know that he would like NOTHING better than to have another animal.  A goat.  A pig.  A chicken.  Any animal is pure delight to him.  So, I’m thinking in my head, “No way.”  But I say, “Where would we put a goat, Corty?”
“Not for me, mom,” he responds instantly.  “I want a goat for the children in Africa.  I saw how much they are in a magazine I was reading.”
And you know those moments when some invisible being sticks a vacuum cleaner down your throat and sucks all your breath out and you are left without speech?  Yeah.  That happened.  Because that wasn’t solicited or prompted.  That.  That?  That was Jesus’ heart pouring out of my sweet boy with unruly hair and freckles sprouting on his milky cheeks.
Later, I asked my eldest the same question.
He replied, “A goat.”
My knees are weak because if you know my eldest, you know he’s got ZERO interest in owning a goat. 
“Did you hear your brother and I talking?” I’m naturally a suspicious person.
“No, mom.  I just don’t need anything this year.  I’d rather help other people.  Please don’t make me come up with a list.”
And I’m looking into amber eyes that sparkle because tears threaten to break free, and I know he’s dead serious.  And I know it was my boys’ lips that were moving, but it was Jesus who was bringing me Christmas tidings of TRUE JOY through them.
Somewhere along the way these two boys with shoulders getting broad and upper lips getting fuzzy have figured out that Christmas is more than an opportunity to get.
Somewhere along the way they have understood that their heart is an inn and they’ve made room for the heart of Jesus to be birthed in them.
And most of us Christian adults are still sending him out back to the stable.  After all, we’ve got Christmas dinner to cook, presents to wrap and cards to send out.  So, if he can wait ‘til after the new year, then we’ll have room and time.  Right?
And isn’t that a little ironic?  I mean how can we sing Joy to the World  and push the very God who brings joy aside until a later time?  If we wish people joy and peace, shouldn’t we invite the very guest who created those blessed states of being?
For unto us a Child is born,
(Is. 9:6)
The child was born unto us.  Right?
So His birthday is our responsibility, right?
So, tonight, I find myself sitting here asking Him this question:
“Jesus, what would you like for your birthday?”
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you.  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:35-40
It’s as though I hear Him saying,
for my birthday, I want
To feed the hungry.

To give the thirsty a drink.

To give the naked clothing.

To care for sick people.

To visit prisoners.
So, I start making my list.  I can do this, God.  I’ll give you a birthday bash even the angels will envy.  I’m on it!

And YOU. 


YOU too.  I want you.
I hear the phrases from scripture, “Be still and know that I am God . . . Mary has chosen the more excellent thing . . .Seek ye first the Kingdom of God . . .”


Everyone and their brother gets of piece of me on a regular basis.  And it hits me, what if WE are the birthday cake?  In our home the birthday boy gets the first and biggest slice of cake, but Jesus is lucky if he gets the crumbs of me.  I’ve got two boys, a husband, a huge family, a massive church family, a job, and well . . . me?
It stops me, you know?
Because life is a hungry beast and the urgent things get my time, my attention, my focus, my commitment.

Could I commit to one month of stillness before God?  Could I give Him that gift?  The gift of me?  Instead of 12 Days of Christmas, could I give Jesus 25 Days of Stillness?

Stillness despite the calendar/day planner that resembles some kind of gumbo made with a year’s leftovers?  Stillness despite basketball season?  Stillness despite all the other Christmas traditions?

But how can I truly know the heart of God if I fail to sit with Him a while?  Who am I kidding?

So today begins the

25 Days of Stillness
And an invitation to my children and husband and perhaps you too? to embark on a new Christmas tradition.  Spend 25 days in stillness and take the final 12 to offer Jesus additional gifts.  Gifts He’s shared with us while we were still.  I don’t know yet what they will be, but I have a feeling they will not look like the Black Friday Multi-Tool Home Depot had on sale or the Rubbermaid Tupperware set from Wal-Mart for $7.  I’m guessing they’ll reflect His heart.

25 Days of Stillness

12 Gifts for Jesus
Come celebrate the birthday of the year with us, will you?
After all, It's a Boy!
Shouldn't that be the message we shout from the tops of our Christmas Trees this year?