Walk the Dog

One of our family’s favorite Christmas Eve traditions has been walking the trail around the Lafayette Reservoir. Our first NorCal Christmas, friends invited us to walk it with them; that first walk led to walking it every Christmas Eve (and so many times throughout and over the years), except for one rainy Christmas Eve in the last eleven years.

Walking our bodies around the Res makes for scenic exercise; walking with a dog is even better, and this year we had the added fun of walking it with our Big Dog and our Puppy, who had achieved age+shots enough to be out on the town eight days prior. Pups took to the leash like, well, fish to water, except truly, like a dog to a walk! He still wants to bite his harness and barks at anything that moves (humans and dogs, obviously, but also birds and holiday animatronic reindeer…), but he’s getting it alongside his Big Dog sister-teacher.

Pups encountered more than his usual number of dogs/people on his first Res walk. Tail wagging, he growled ferociously cute Christmas greetings at each passerby, joyfully accepting head pats as they came. Mostly he kept trucking along at our side.

But he is a curious and stubborn baby dog and, about halfway round the Res, he became so intrigued with something the rest of us had passed that he just stopped. Calling him by name and gently tugging on the leash as Pups stumbled forward, tripping over his legs as he gazed backward, Guy said to him, “You can’t keep moving forward if you get stuck looking back.”

“You can’t keep moving forward if you get stuck looking back…” The words stopped me.

I’ve spent hours this week combing through photos, creating what will become a family album. Despite the emotional roller coaster of this past year, it has been refreshing to reminisce about the adventures and the moments overflowing with gratitude that comprised 2017.

Still, reminiscing is different than getting stuck. Pups tripped over his own feet trying to move one direction while looking another. The future keeps coming whether or not we want to face it. Looking backwards will trip us up and land us down, scratching our shins if not our noses.

2017 was not my favorite year. It held necessary, good, gut-wrenching and soul-searching work: restructuring who we are as a family in this life stage; rediscovering myself, personally and professionally, and how I live out my calling; and reevaluating relationships and social constructs that may or may not be life-giving in this season.

Thank the Lord, 2017 draws nigh to a close. 2018 holds hope for another fresh start. Each year, and each day of the year, we can make the choice to leave the past behind. To thank God for even the misadventures that led us to today. To let go of slip-ups, things done or undone, said or unsaid. To forgive and receive forgiveness, to forgive ourselves as necessary. To choose love, and joy, and hope. To live into our best version of who we are and will become.

Walking my little dog will remind me: I need to look ahead to move forward, no looking back.

This is what the Lord says— he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. –Isaiah 43:16, 18-19 (NIV)

Merry Christmas – The Messiah Has Come

“O Lord, you are the musician, and we are all your instruments. You breathe, and we come to life. You breathe, and we are horns for your glory. You blow through the world the winds of the spirit, and we like chimes cannot keep silent. You pluck the strings of our hearts, and we become a psalm. You come, and we must sing.”
–Walter Wangerin, Preparing for Jesus

Read and light all candles: The first candle represents the Child of the Virgin. The second candle represents the King. The third candle represents the Prince of Peace. The fourth candle represents the Savior. The center candle represents Jesus, the Messiah.

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Read Scripture: Luke 2:1-20

Read: Hello, sweet baby Jesus, lying in a manger. We’ve been expecting you, Messiah! We’ve prepared for your birth, Child of the Virgin. We’ve anticipated the arrival of our King Jesus. And oh, how we have been longing for you, our Prince of Peace. Now it’s Christmas Eve, and here you are, announced by angels and guarded by shepherds and livestock. We’re so glad you’re here, since we need you now more than ever. We’re not very good at waiting, but we will keep expecting you, preparing for your next Advent, when you will gather your people to be with you forever.

Pray: Everlasting Father, thank you for sending us your Son, our Messiah Jesus. In His precious name we will rejoice forever, Amen.

Advent 3 – Longing for the Prince of Peace

When I chose “recreate” as my 2017 word of the year, I anticipated keeping on keeping on with my creative life pursuits while engaging more playfully. I did not expect the mess, the dusty piles that result from taking things apart in order to make something new. I didn’t expect the directions the word would take me, or the year to be so difficult.

I find myself longing for peace, every ounce of me aching with longing. I try to keep perspective, to make healthy choices, to put one foot in front of the other, one word followed by another. Sometimes I succeed. Other times I nap.

This world is not peaceful. This life is not peaceful. Yet… I read recently: “Life does not have to be perfect to be wonderful.” Yes, that.

We live between Christ’s coming and coming again. He is the Prince of Peace–He offers peace unlike anything the world can offer–and yet we struggle. I know I’m not alone in my longing for peace, for the Prince of Peace.

Yesterday, a friend I haven’t seen since college wrote and posted the following:

Ode to 2018

I failed myself this year.
And last year.
And … honestly, it’s been so long, I don’t remember my last victory.
I have decided to dismantle this rock wall I built to protect myself from seeing and feeling the loss.
It has only kept me in the pain, apart from where I want to be.
Where I’m meant to be.
And I’m breaking through.
From rock bottom.
From beneath these boulders.
I am crawling out from under the rocks and suffocating depths that kept me pinned and stuck for so long.
From the heaviness that left my spirit crushed and unable to breathe in fully.
Love fully.
I am gently and compassionately wiping off the mud and filth from being buried.
Stomping and shaking it off my boots.
Wiping away the soot and grime on my face.
Cleaning out the silt in my ears and nose.
Surrendering my arms high, and letting the cleansing and healing waterfall of God’s love wash over me.
I am taking responsibility.
I am wrapping my arms around my failure and giving it the warmest hug I can muster.
And in that embrace I will identify my wrongs, admit my shame and whisper how truly sorry I am.
And then …


I will let it go …

And exhale.
And breathe in the crisp, cool air of new birth.
Of mercy.
Of hope.
Of love.
I refuse to sabotage myself further.
Never again.
I will no longer live in fear of falling in and risking everything.
And I know it will take everything to change.
Everything I got.
And I will give it.
It will require meditation, faith, discipline, prayer, grit, self compassion and living mindfully.
Everyday.
And the next day.
And the next.
And the next.
And I will squeal with the delight of a toddler and the gratefulness of a 90-year-old woman for the privilege to give it all again this day.
And the next.
And the next.
And I will I will pick myself up when I stumble.
And see how beautiful and strong I am.
Even with the scrapes and the bruises.
And because of them.
I will not fear what will be, but focus on who I am becoming.
I will choose joy.
Make joy.
Give joy.
I will run and skip and romp and frolic and catch my breath and clutch my chest for the sheer wondrous awe of God’s grace that covers me.
I will love fully.
I will drink it in from my overflowing cup.
I will spill it everywhere and dribble it out of the corners of my mouth as I smile big.
And laugh it out of my nose.
And leak it out of my shining eyes.
I will no longer hide from discovering how bright my light can shine.
I was made to shine.

Thank you, Kara Schwab, for taking the risk to live and write and create so vulnerably, to encourage me and others that we aren’t alone in this struggle to become the people we were created to be, to fully live the life set out for us. Yes, So Much YES, to the cleansing and healing waterfall of God’s love, the wondrous awe of God’s grace that covers us all.

Photo by Alice NG on Unsplash

Advent Week 3 – Longing for the Prince of Peace 

Read and light three candles (two purple, one pink): The first candle represents the Child of the Virgin. The second candle represents the King. The third candle represents the Prince of Peace.

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Read Scripture: Isaiah 9:6-7

Read: We do not live in a peaceful world. War. Shootings. Discrimination. Crime. Illness. Divorce. Job stress. Division, lack of unity, in all its forms. Jesus is the Prince of Peace yet we struggle beneath the weight of the world. Without God we have no chance at peace or hope. With God, the Prince of Peace, we have both. We long for, cling to, Jesus our Peace.

Pray: Prince of Peace, hold us tight as you work out your justice and righteousness. We long for you, Jesus. Amen.

 

Monday Psalm 93:1 How do you hang on in faith that God is in control?
Tuesday Isaiah 26:3-4, 12 What worries do you need to put in God’s hands?
Wednesday Ezekiel 34:24-26 How might you participate in God’s showers of blessings for someone else?
Thursday Matthew 5:9 What can you do today to be a peacemaker?
Friday John 14:27 Let go of your troubles and receive Jesus’ peace.
Saturday Romans 15:13 Pray this verse for yourself and for anyone else you know who feels peace-less.

Advent Week 2 – Anticipating the King

My family will attest: I enjoy having people over. I enjoy cooking and serving and spending time with friends in the comfort of my own home.

My family will also attest: In the last hour before company arrives, more often than not I transform into a dragon.

I could blame the family but, truth, it’s me. I’m a mess. I lack the gene for good organizational systematizing and tidying. Even at my home’s cleanest, you can still find stacks of things to be filed or sorted. I hope you can ignore them as well as I do.

Show up day or night, and I will gladly welcome you in and bite my tongue trying not to apologize for this mess. Because apologies only draw attention, and you didn’t come over to admire my housekeeping.

The more comfortable I am with you, the more comfortable I will be letting you see my mess. If it’s your first time over or we haven’t been friends very long, if you’re Bono or Jen Hatmaker (or if I know you’re an interior designer or neat-freak), I’m going to fire-breathe more fiercely at the piles. Or hide them more carefully–laundry baskets full of all the desk contents stashed in the garage? Don’t peek!

I don’t think Jesus really cares all that much about the piles on my desk or in my closets, except as they reflect the chaos in my soul. I think He cares a lot about what’s going on in there, though. And sadly, I’m often as messy on the inside as the outside.

Last week I had a cool opportunity to work serving food/drink at an event celebrating people using their gifts, resources and experiences to make the Bay Area a better place to live. Their projects ranged from early childhood literacy, to offering dignity (and food) to homeless people, to services for those in abusive relationships or seniors who desire to age in place, and sailing the Bay with at-risk teens and police officers.

I got teary with inspiration, and wondered, What do I do to make my community a better place? Sure, I volunteer here and there. I do my best to be a good neighbor. I try to love my family well. It adds up to something, but is that enough?

Making our communities a better place to live, noticing those who make our communities a better place, seems to be a great way to anticipate the King. So I’ve been pondering and praying, evaluating my activities and noticing others’.

Yesterday we took Tween with us to run some errands. He was a good sport about it, and I gave him an appreciative hug. As we waited to exit the crowded Costco parking lot, a guy sat on the curb, snuggling his dog, and holding a sign indicating that they were homeless.

Not my proudest moment: I turned my face.

My proudest moment: My kiddo didn’t.

He said, “Hey, can I get out? I want to give that man the $2 in my wallet.”

He grabbed his money and the door handle as I choked back tears. I watched the man’s face as he earnestly looked my boy in the eyes and thanked him for the help.

Tween got back in the car, lamenting that the line of cars hadn’t been longer so he could have spent more time talking to the man and petting his dog.

Another not-proud moment: As we drove away, I realized I had $4 in my purse. I hadn’t given it to the man who truly needed it, but I immediately handed it to my surprised son.

I wanted him to understand that sometimes when you give, you get more in return than you’d have expected. He received genuine thanks from the man, and he received more money than he’d given away. And I got another lesson in how much I have to learn about anticipating the King.

Week 2 – Anticipating the King

 Read and light two candles (purple): The first candle represents the Child of the Virgin. The second candle represents the King.

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Read Scripture: Isaiah 11:1-10

Read: We plan appropriately when we expect company, picking up the house and preparing refreshments. When we anticipate the arrival of someone important, we might also brush up on discussion topics or customs which will make our guest feel more comfortable. So too as we anticipate the Root of Jesse, the coming King, we clean up our hearts and faithfully commit ourselves to His righteous ways.

Pray: We anticipate the coming of our King Jesus and pray in His name, Amen.

 

Monday 1 Samuel 8:6-7 How can you honor God as your king today?
Tuesday Psalm 24:8 What battle do you need the King to fight for you?
Wednesday Psalm 145:10-13 What mighty acts has your King done for you?
Thursday Isaiah 6:1-5 Draw a picture of this scene and talk to God about it as you draw.
Friday Mark 1:14-15 How would you explain the good news of God’s kingdom?Saturday 1 Timothy 1:17 What other words could you use to describe your King?

Advent 1 – Preparing for the Child

Having babies didn’t come easily for us. Before each of our two successful pregnancies, we endured months of waiting and praying, regular heartache, and celebrations of the births of many babies to family and friends. Our boys arrived almost six and eleven years into our marriage, definitely not on our timeline.

In both cases, we prepared for their conception and their births. I committed myself to overall health and wellness and, once pregnancy took, we also prepared our home and our lives.

Our first baby arrived on his due date, just before Christmas, just as I had finished writing a paper for graduate school (or so I thought…I had to rewrite all the end notes because, as it turns out, writing end notes during labor is not particularly effective). Our second baby threw us a serious curve ball when he arrived five weeks early, mid-term of my last graduate school course.

You can buy a crib, clothes, and all the equipment. You can decorate a room and baby-proof a house. You can read all the books and blogs. But can any parent ever adequately prepare for how a baby will forever change their life?

The arrival of a child will change your life in ways you’ve never imagined.

Even after they arrive, it seems you never stop preparing room for your children. My kids are now in college and the tail-end of middle school, and I’m still preparing for who they are now and helping them towards who they will become. As we do life together, they also shape me.

In Advent we prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Could anyone have imagined the truth of how the arrival of the long-awaited Messiah would change the world? Could we imagine how He would change our lives, at first glance and daily from then on? Can we imagine even yet what His second-coming will be like?

Immanuel, God with us. Let’s prepare for His birth, and strap in for the wonderful wild ride of life with Him.

Week 1 – Preparing for the Child
December 3-9

Read and light the first candle (middle purple candle): The first candle represents the Child of the Virgin.

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Read Scripture: Isaiah 7:10-17

Read: Parents actively work to prepare for their child’s birth. They visit the doctor, assemble a crib, purchase and wash clothes and fill a nursery, all in anticipation of the child’s arrival. Similarly, in Advent we prepare not only our homes but our hearts for the birth of a Child. While some, like Ahaz, will reject God’s sign, we joyfully wait for God to fulfill His promise.

Pray: Father God, prepare in our hearts room for your Son. In the name of Immanuel we wait and pray, Amen.

Monday 1 Kings 8:56-58 Pray that God will make you aware of His presence with you.
Tuesday 2 Chronicles 13:12 How does God lead you?
Wednesday Psalm 46:1-3, 7 How can God’s presence with you free you from fear?
Thursday Ephesians 1:4-6 What difference does it make in your life that God chose you to be His child?
Friday 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13 Is there a hard-to-love person in your life? Ask God to increase your love.
Saturday Jude 24-25 When has God kept you from stumbling?

Find Center

If you’ve been around here for a while, you’ll know that I’ve been a Jesus-lover since forever. I have spent most of my professional life working in churches, and I am also married to a pastor. And I (mostly) love the church in all its beauty and brokenness.

All of this can lead to a flurry of activity: worship attendance, so many groups of various sizes and kinds for study and prayer and community, volunteer service, special events, even cookie baking.

So many things on the calendar threatening to crowd out the heart behind them. In fact, truly meaningless without the heart behind them.

Lately, I’ve had four words cycling through my head: Love God. Love Others.

That’s it, folks. It all boils down to love.

Because you can do all the things, but if you don’t do them for the love of God and others, why do them at all?

Jesus blasted some harsh words at the folks in His day who did all the things, were very proud of themselves for doing all the things, but had completely missed the point of all their activity: loving God and others. He called them “white-washed tombs.” Eww…I don’t want to hold the dead things. No sirree, I want Life!

Lately as I’ve practiced yoga, my intention has been along the lines of gratitude (hello, Thanksgiving!) or strength (because, exercise). Today my word was “center,” and as soon as it landed it struck every nerve in my being in the best way.

In so many ways yoga is all about center, core, balance. As a Jesus-follower, GOD is the center of my being. Or, that should be true, but I don’t always live it. When I don’t, I’m off-balance, toppling this way and that, and life doesn’t work nearly so well.

Throughout my practice this morning, I mentally and physically returned to my center, my God whose love and gentleness and goodness overflows my life in ways I don’t always recognize.

When engaged in a balance challenge, it helps oh so much to set your gaze on a stable point directly in front of you, whether that’s straight down on your mat or two feet in front of you. Holding your gaze steady helps to strengthen your center and steady your balance.

A yoga newbie, I am way wiggly, but I’m working on it. As a long-time pursuer of Jesus, I should be less wiggly. It all depends on where I put my gaze: on me, my challenges or obstacles, my fear or anxiety? Or on the immovable God who created me, knows the plans He has for me, and promises to give me strength to meet anything He puts before me? Let’s see, which makes more stabilizing sense?

They tell me that no matter how long you’ve practiced yoga, sometimes one side will be tighter than the other. I’ve found that true already, that some days I can stretch deeper or balance with more stability on one side than the other.

Same goes for loving God and others. I venture most of us find it easiest to engage in loving others, flesh-and-blood, visible right before our eyes. But then some of us tend toward contemplative introversion, so loving God can feel more natural than engaging with actual humans.

Still, with our gaze set on God, His love flows through us back to Him and out to others. It’s always a both-and.

So that’s where I’m at as we enter one of the busiest seasons of the year, Advent, in which we anticipate Christ’s birth and second-coming. The decorations are coming out today to be ready for the first Sunday of Advent tomorrow. The calendar is filling up. I’m praying God will keep my gaze centered on Him. Then all the activities can filter through the two sides of the fulcrum: does this help me love God? Does this help me love others?