Advent 2018 Wk 2 – Joy

Lately I have been impressed with stories of joy: people enduring difficult circumstances with genuine smiles lighting their faces and claims of, “Laugh or cry, I choose to laugh,” or “I was born a happy child,” or “I choose to do something I enjoy every day.” People who, in witness to others’ difficult circumstances, decide to get their hands dirty and serve, to make life that much easier or better for someone else, and discover joy in the shared experience.

Unlike happiness, tied to experiences that easily elicit smiles and laughter, joy is a choice. A decision to rejoice even when the circumstances don’t seem to warrant it. A connection to God who is the source of all true joy.

Like young Mary who, when greeted by a mysterious messenger with mind-boggling news–Hey, Mary, you’re going to birth God’s baby…–responded, Let it be, and My spirit rejoices in God who has remembered His humble servant…

Happy comes easy. Joy requires intention, effort.

I wore an audaciously bright pink scarf to church today (atop a gray/black pant/sweater set) and mentioned to someone that the scarf was in honor of Mary’s joy. Eyes wide, she chuckled, incredulous that I would match my outfit to Advent. Well, I suppose that’s an insight to the odd workings of my mind!

And, yes. We can find hot pink joy against a dark background. We can find joy in a cute Christmas mug filled with messy clumps of hot chocolate. We can find joy in the homemade and gifted decoration even though the mirror has cracked. We can seek–and discover–joy in the clumpy, broken, messy, difficult parts of life… That’s kind of the whole point: we rejoice in God with us, because God walks with us through life.

 

Week 2 – Mary’s Joy

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.”

Light two candles (purple): We light these candles to celebrate Jesus, the Light of the world, who comes into the darkness to bring hope and joy.

Read Scripture: Luke 1:26-38, 46-49

Read: The angel announced, “Mary, highly favored one, the Lord is with you,” and Mary rejoiced at the role she would play in the coming of the Son of the Most High. God’s Spirit whispers to each one of us, “You, too, are God’s servant, with a special role to play in God’s story.” The story may turn and twist in ways we can’t anticipate but let us say “Yes!” to God’s calling and rejoice in His presence.

Pray: We rejoice in God our Savior who has been mindful of His humble servants. In the name of Jesus we wait and pray, Amen.

Monday 1 Samuel 8:6-7 How can you rejoice in Jesus your King today?
Tuesday Psalm 5:11 How does God’s protection increase your joy?
Wednesday Habakkuk 3:17-19 How can God increase your joy even when times are difficult?
Thursday Acts 16:33-34 How does believing in God give you joy?
Friday Galatians 5:22-23 Ask the Spirit to increase your joy.
Saturday Jude 24-25 Read these verses aloud as joy-filled praise to our good God!

Suggested Activities
Make a list of ways you can spread Christmas joy, such as:
Take a Christmas treat or poinsettia to someone who lives alone.
Find a way to serve someone, for instance, clean an older neighbor’s gutters.
Invite friends to join you for a cookie decorating party and/or viewing of a favorite Christmas movie.
Create handmade thank you cards and attach candy canes for your teachers or church leaders.
Gather a group and go caroling.
Pray over each Christmas card you receive, inviting God to rain joy over each household.

Advent 2018 Wk1 – Hope

Recently I had a conversation with a friend who admitted she is looking forward to the holidays and, truly, next year. She’s had a rough few months and needs some joy and a fresh start.

Same. And, from conversations with others, I know we aren’t alone. It seems so many people are up against so many things; the weight of the world feels like too heavy a burden, and we’re wondering if we might buckle.

It feels right that Advent more or less closes out the calendar year, this season of waiting to celebrate our Savior’s birth, waiting for joy, waiting for new beginnings. More than ever I need this spiritual reset of my focus. I need to meditate on hope, joy, faith, and wonder. I need to get caught up with the One who loves me more than I will ever comprehend. I need to worship, not just on Sundays but throughout the week, the Prince who freely rains peace that passes understanding on His beloved people.

During Advent we prepare room in our hearts for the joyful arrival of the Baby Jesus. He has come, He is coming, and He will come again. As one writer so eloquently put it:

“Advent is the time of promise; it is not yet the time of fulfillment. We are still in the midst of everything and in the logical inexorability and relentlessness of destiny.…From afar sound the first notes as of pipes and voices, not yet discernable as a song or melody. It is all far off still, and only just announced and foretold. But it is happening, today.” ― Alfred Delp, Advent of the Heart

In our church and home, we use an Advent wreath to meditate on the meaning of God’s coming. Every aspect of the tradition is symbolic: the Wreath (a circle) signifies eternity—God is, was and always will be. There are four candles on the perimeter of the wreath. Three purple candles represent royalty and repentance; one pink candle (for week three) represents joy. The white center candle represents the divine nature of the baby Jesus. Evergreens represent everlasting life in Jesus and His everlasting love for us. The candlelight itself symbolizes Jesus, the Light of the World. If you need to keep it simple, all you really need is five candles, four to make a circle and one in the middle.

I wrote the following for our congregation and plan to share each week here as well. May God fill your life this Advent season with His light, His love, His joy, His hope.

Week 1 – The People’s Hope

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.”

Light the first candle (middle purple candle): We light these candles to celebrate Jesus, the Light of the world, who comes into the darkness to bring hope.

Read Scripture: Isaiah 9:1-7

Read: Though now we trudge in darkness through our daily toil, we do not fear because our hope is in you. Sunbursts of light will illuminate our way to you as we joyfully anticipate the birth of this baby who will bring peace, justice and righteousness. We will rejoice before you then and forever when we see the face of our Mighty God, our Prince of Peace.

Pray: Father God, we joyfully anticipate the birth of your Son. In His name we wait and pray, Amen.

Monday 1 Kings 8:56-58 How does God’s presence fill you with hope and joy?
Tuesday 2 Chronicles 13:12 What hope does it give you that God is your leader?
Wednesday Psalm 46:1-3, 7 How can God’s presence turn your fear into hope?
Thursday Ephesians 1:4-6 What encouragement do you have from being chosen by God?
Friday Colossians 1:27 What does “the hope of glory” look like in your life?
Saturday 1 Peter 1:3-5 Describe the “living hope” you have in Jesus.

Suggested Activity: In anticipation of all the season’s celebrations, have a conversation with your family (or yourself) about hope. What emotions are primary as they think about the holidays, and why? Which events does each person expect to attend, and what do they hope for those gatherings? What do they hope will be on the holiday menu? Do they hope to receive certain gifts? What hopes do they have for extending charity? When the new year dawns and they look back on this month, what do they hope to have experienced and/or accomplished? How do they hope to have encountered God?

Happy Thanksgiving 2018

What are you facing this week? Traveling or family coming in? Stay-cation with lots of local activities? Business/work as usual? Cooking, eating at another’s table, dining out?

Little about this week has been our family’s version of usual. Q14 got an unexpected day off school, closed due to unhealthy air quality from the Camp Fire in Butte County, CA, hours from here but close enough to make our air quality the worst in the world. A good call on the district’s part, but an anticlimactic way to begin ten days of vacation. Often we travel or have family travel to us, but this year we’re staying put. Guy’s brother will join us, the only one who doesn’t eat at our table at least once a week. And I’m still working, albeit remotely. The gross air outside keeps us all indoors, so we’re not even enjoying local day-trips. Cleaning out closets may be productive, but less fun.

Still, we’re looking forward to a day of cooking (we all like to cook) and lots and lots of veggie goodness. Plus lots of family time and thanks-giving. To that end, I turned to Ted for ideas…

10 Questions to Ask Around the Dinner Table

What are you grateful for?
What are you proudest of?
What has been the happiest moment of your life so far?
What has been the hardest moment of your life, and how did you get through it?
What important life lessons have you learned so far?
How would you describe yourself as a child? Were you happy?
Who has been kindest to you?
How do you want to be remembered?
If you could share any wisdom with your great-great-grandchildren years from now, what would you want them to know?
If you could honor one person in your life, living or dead, by listening to their story, who would that be? What would you ask them, and why?

And here’s a super-short Ted talk on the importance of giving and receiving thanks.

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Greatness

[Since I don’t post when I’m away from home, this week I’m going to post some of the content I wrote while on vacation…]

“Do you think this makes one too many visits?”, my mom asks as we’ve ‘lost’ the teenagers again in the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

“No,” I reply, “never too many visits. The kids just know their way around. They know what to look for and what to expect. And they’re bigger, so they move faster.”

We’ve been coming here for so many years, truly, their lifetimes. We know what we’ll see in each exhibit, each tank. We’ve long ago determined our favorites and, also, the ones we’ll quickly pass by. We know where to find each other for the long looks, the tanks that even now warrant wonder, our focused attention.

Okay, so maybe the teens are a little underwhelmed after all these visits, but that comes with the age.

No matter how many times I’ve been here, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has earned my respect. Their work in research, conservation, and education is nothing less than awe-inspiring.

Just today, we saw a program we’ve never seen before: a live-narrated video presentation about Great White Sharks. We have seen Great White Sharks live, in their tanks (though they don’t have one now); most people have never seen a Great White except in a movie.

I don’t always love a zoo. There’s something about animals in captivity. But the best zoos, including aquariums, care for both animals and viewers. MBA is The Best Aquarium.

These creatures…we’d never see them otherwise. Fish with vibrant colors. Shore birds swimming in silly circles to churn up whatever delicious bite might have lodged itself in the mud. Baby bat rays that swim up and slide down the glass. Penguins treading water as they watch crazy humans. Octopus tentacles clustered against the tank while it sleeps. Cuttlefish marvelously changing color as they glide.

The beauty and variety of these creatures amazes me. No matter how small they might be, they make me feel small. Together, we are the creations of an infinitely creative God who loves all of us.

Later, I walked along the coast, finally perching on one of the many benches (with a coast this dramatic, there should be this many benches). I soaked in the view, the smells and sounds and sights: the crash of waves on rocks; the delighted squawk of a seagull discovering a fat, dead fish; two sea lions ‘porpoising,’ taking turns gracefully arching their bodies up and out of the water; an otter, bobbing and diving in the surf.

I clicked open my daily Bible reading app to Psalm 145, a favorite.

“Great is the Lord! He is most worthy of praise! No one can measure his greatness. Let each generation tell its children of your mighty acts; let them proclaim your power” (vv3-4).

While we admire God’s greatness mirrored in the beauty of His creation, my sister lies in a hospital. Again. For fourteen years, she’s been fighting for her life.

“The Lord is good to everyone. He showers compassion on all his creation” (v9).

If she could be here, she would be as enthralled by the coast and its creatures as I am. But of course she is also fearfully and wonderfully made, more precious to God than all the rainbow fish. So we pray that God will fulfill His promises:

“The Lord helps the fallen and lifts those bent beneath their loads. The eyes of all look to you in hope” (vv14-15).

We pray and we hope…

 

[Update: she is out of the hospital but, given her chronic illness, she will never be entirely out of the woods. We pray and we hope…]

jean wimmerlin

Milestones

Annie burst into the bar exclaiming, “What IS this place?”

“It’s the best little wine bar you’ve ever stepped foot in, but tonight it’s also a karaoke bar!” came my response.

Without a glance at the menu, she ordered a sauvignon blanc and a song list. Her two friends, obviously indulging Annie’s whim, didn’t even want water.

Annie danced in the heart of the bar. And when she sang, she did so as badly as you might imagine—off-key and off-tempo—and with so much joy we all laughed along.

She told stories, and laughed at her “L.A. friends, who think they’re really something, but they’re missing out,” danced some more, and completely whooped it up. She brought the party.

Before she left she asked for one more song, a special song she sang to her kids as they grew up: Que Será, Será. I smiled, because my mom had sung it to me, too.

I couldn’t have told you Doris Day sang it originally, but I knew the words:

When I was just a little girl
I asked my mother, what will I be
Will I be pretty
Will I be rich
Here’s what she said to me

Que será, será
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours to see
Que será, será
What will be, will be

When Annie got to the third verse, tears filled my eyes:

Now I have children of my own
They ask their mother, what will I be
Will I be handsome
Will I be rich
I tell them tenderly

Que será, será
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours to see
Que será, será
What will be, will be

While I haven’t sung this song to my own children, in my own way I encourage them to have faith, that God knows the plans we don’t. I regularly repeat to them another of my mother’s lessons: “You do your best and let God do the rest.”

What will be, will be…

C19 finished one year at the only college he ever wanted to attend, and it didn’t go the way any of us had hoped. He gave up what he had thought would be his dream major and came home. He’ll work and attend community college as he pursues whatever will be next for him.

Q14 graduated middle school last week. We are so proud of his tenacity, because this so-smart kid can’t seem to figure out how to “do school” well. And yet, he loves school. He enjoys his friends. He adores band. He has a curious intellect and genuinely wants to learn. And learn he does, he just doesn’t perform accordingly. Our frustration increases as no teacher or learning specialist we’ve met so far has been able to determine why, or how to help him.

And yet, these young men are all caught up in the fabulous work of becoming. C19 matured so much in his first year of college. He advocated on his own behalf in several situations. He sought healthy outlets for stress. He joined a sports club and made friends. He determined who he didn’t want to be as much as who he might like to be.

Q14 composed his first piece of music. He went on a nine-day trip to Europe with peers and teachers; and he endured a migraine in a foreign country with as much grace and peace as one could possibly have under the circumstances. And the weekend following graduation he was thrilled to go on his first backpacking trip.

So we sing: que será, será, whatever will be, will be. Because God only knows what will be. And still we trust that these kids, with their gifts and talents and challenges, with their twists and turns on life’s roads, will be just fine.

 

[photo credit: Steve Bartis]

Overflow

The Friday before the Monday C19 left for college out-of-state, neighbors we hadn’t met posted on social media that they were giving away a full-size bed, a few years old with limited wear-and-tear, with an almost-new mattress. Free.

That morning, C19 had awoken in the twin-over-full bunk beds he’d had since childhood. We asked if he’d like a new bed, even though he wouldn’t sleep it in often. He replied with an emphatic, “YES!”

We didn’t need more to do that weekend, but nevertheless we made arrangements to see the bed, and the owner, congenial and overly generous, helped us load the pieces into our minivan. He easily could have sold the bed/mattress, but he just wanted it gone. Two trips and less than a half-hour later, our kid had a new bed he loved.

Q13 liked it, too. Since his bed was the metal frame we’d found, free, when the crib-daybed-full bed frame that had served both our children finally cracked, he decided he’d be moving in to the new bed as soon as his brother left home.

Guy recognized that Little Brother, easy-going and uncomplaining as he was, had grown tired of hand-me-downs. He needed a new bed of his own. He also needed a show of provision from his parents. So he checked online and found another almost-new bed/mattress combo for sale at a ridiculously low price. He bought it, and wouldn’t you know?, it matched the existing decor of Q13’s room as if we’d planned it all along.

We donated all the matching bedding from the twin-over-full bunks to charity. We listed the bunk beds for sale, and the low purchase price was still enough to pay for the purchased bed plus new bedding for the free bed.

And somehow, we still had a good quality full-sized mattress left over. We gave it to a young friend in her first apartment + (low-paying) professional job.

We thought we didn’t have time for more in an already overly-full weekend. But generosity flows downhill. Someone generously giving something away led to more, and more, and more. In the end, our kids had new-to-them beds they love, we came out about even on the cash flow, and we still had things to give away.

God is good!

By the way, I was going to title this post “Pay It Forward,” but I’ve already used that title on another post about someone’s generosity. C19 still enjoys that gift when he’s home and driving about town!

Abundant Life
Week 2: Grace-Fueled Gratitude
Luke 7:36-50

Connect
Share about a generous gift you have received.

Study
Read aloud Luke 7:36-50.
Describe Simon. Describe the woman. How does each interact with Jesus?
How does Simon view the woman? How does Jesus view her?
How would you retell this story in a contemporary context? Who would play the Pharisee and the woman?
Based on this story, why do you think the religious establishment and “sinners” had such different reactions to Jesus?

Live
Write a Yelp! review for the banker who forgave your $36,000 debt (equivalent to 500 denarii today). How would your review reflect your gratitude?
How are you like the Pharisee? Like the woman?
What moves you about the woman’s response to Jesus? Does anything about her response unsettle you, and if so, why?
How can we demonstrate our gratitude to Jesus?
What prayers has God answered for you?
How do we prevent a pharisaical, judgmental mindset? In other words, how can we keep God’s grace in constant view?
What would it take for the Church to be as welcoming to sinners as Jesus was?
Discuss: “Appreciating beauty and giving thanks for life’s treasures is not living in denial of life’s suffering and challenges. It’s what helps us cope with life’s suffering and challenges” (Rene Schlaepfer).
Create a Generosity Project—something you can do, ideally with others, to demonstrate and share your gratitude to God with others.
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Ask God to help you stay grateful and reflect His generous spirit to others.

Favorite Things

Sing along…

Raindrops on roses And whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things

While I’m a big fan of dew-dropped roses and kittens, my favorites list includes different items:

My family, my marriage (coming right up on 25 years!), our home
Our menagerie of pets, and animals in all their wild and wonderful weirdness
The beach

Well-told stories, and a library system with access to more books than I will ever read
Sharing a crisp sauvignon blanc with girlfriends on a warm summer evening
A fire in the fireplace on a cold winter’s night, and candlelight all around
Cooking healthy and delicious food to share with people I love
Walking our neighborhood and hiking trails, especially with family, friends, and dogs
Meaningful work
Adventures in exploring the world near and far
Beautiful home-grown flowers
Farmers’ Markets overflowing with fresh produce
Laughing so hard I cry
Heartfelt conversation
Quiet moments of awe, wonder, peace
Cheering on my people as they do what they love
Art and creativity in oh-so-many forms

I recognize all these things (and so much more) as gifts from God, examples of the riches of His grace which He lavishes on us.

But sometimes I don’t. Sometimes, I get tired and cranky, disillusioned, caught up in my own frenzied spirals or the harshness of others and the world’s brokenness.

All the more reason to keep reminding myself of the good gifts God pours into my life…

When the dog bites
When the bee stings
When I’m feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don’t feel so bad

Abundant Life
Week 1: Lavish Generosity
John 10:10-11 & Ephesians 1:3-8a

Connect
Reflect on a generous gift you have given.

Study
Read aloud John 10:10-11.
Contrast the thief and the good shepherd. What happens to those who are near them?
Read aloud Ephesians 1:3-8a.
What has God done for us, and why?
How would you explain “every spiritual blessing” with which God has blessed us to someone who doesn’t feel blessed (v3)?
What does it mean that we are “in him” (vv4, 6-7)?
How does this passage describe our relationship with God? What difference does that make?
Which of God’s blessings depend on us? Which change or affect us, and how?

Live
Why do people choose to follow the thief instead of the good shepherd?
Name some of your favorites of God’s lavish riches. How do you respond? How can you share them with others?
“…worship and praise are so crucial [because] they give opportunity for us to tell the truth about ourselves and God” (Klyne Snodgrass). How are worship and praise appropriate responses to reflecting on what God has done for us?
How can you hold on to the truth of the abundant life God has designed for us in light of the daily realities of a messy, pain-filled world?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Read aloud from Psalm 145 as a hymn of thanksgiving to our lavishly generous God.