Advent Week 2 -The Promise of a King

In Luke 1, the angel Gabriel announces the divinely-appointed births of two world-changing babies. First he tells Zechariah that Elizabeth will give birth to John the Baptist. Next he tells Mary that she will give birth to the King, the long-awaited Messiah.

Zechariah and Mary both respond with a question.

Zechariah: “How can I be sure of this?”
Mary: “How will this be…?”

Similar, but subtly different. Zechariah’s question carries doubt, whereas Mary asks for clarification: This will be, but how?, she might have said.

Too often, my questions sound more like Zechariah’s than Mary’s. Doubt first, trust later.

To both Gabriel said, “Do not be afraid…” That might just mean they had a darned good reason to be afraid! I wish I were more like Mary, meek, humble, accepting. But God made me in a different, fierier furnace and, as much as I love Him, I’m stubborn and seem to need to wrestle with Him first. I’m also a big scaredy cat. Most days I am content to be a spectator, to cheer others on from the sidelines. I don’t crave fast-paced action. I like comfort.

I’m pretty convinced, however, that God doesn’t intend for our lives to be too comfortable. When we’re comfortable, we rely on ourselves; discomfort pushes us into God’s arms. Five years ago God shook up my comfort: He gave our family the opportunity to participate in a Thanksgiving break mission trip to the Dominican Republic.

I love to travel, but travel and mission trips are not synonymous. Previous mission trips had convinced me that some of us get to send money, pray, and cheer others on. I felt fine with that role. Until God called me.

Do not be afraid? Right!

I thought money would be a deal-breaker. God provided.

I like to be well-prepared, but mission trips don’t work that way. “Flexibility” is key. Unfortunately, I rediscovered that when I’m stressed I can be a cranky control freak.

But the overriding fear was: How could I be a participant and a parent? Teen would be fine–he craves adventure–but Tween is a homebody, content in his pj’s and his own company for days on end. At the time he was 7 years old, and he didn’t even like easy vacations.

God and I had an ongoing conversation about all this for months. One early morning, after sleeplessly tossing through the night, I told Guy I couldn’t do it. I had time to go for a walk by myself and started to pray, when God cut me off. He said: “Be strong and courageous…for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (from Joshua 1:9). I don’t typically think in Bible verses, so I recognized this verse in my head as God’s word to me. I could go to the DR because God would be with me.

I told God I wouldn’t be the obstacle, however, I was open to God throwing up obstacles. He leveled them. I thought we might miss the passport deadline. Instead, we got two appointments in one day on the very day we called, early enough that we didn’t need to expedite, and then the passports arrived in one week.

Another time I tried to duck out the back gate of a team work day. I didn’t feel like good company and I didn’t know how to help. But our team leader just happened to be in the driveway, looking for me. I burst into tears. Talk about humiliating, but God turned it into an opportunity to provide the support I needed to once again say yes to the trip and to God.

I pleaded, “Hey, God, you’ve got the wrong person! I have all sorts of excuses why this just won’t work for me. Do you want to think this through and get back to me? I’m sure there’s plenty I can do for you right here…” And still, God was patient. He got me there in the end, with a powerful sense of His presence and encouragement along the way.

John Ortberg wrote, “The antidote to fear is the presence of God. In him we are courageous.”

The evening of our first full day in the DR I jotted some notes in my journal. I started with “Where I’ve seen God so far…” The list isn’t short! It includes things like
*an unexpected nap
*meeting the child we’ve sponsored for years face-to-face in his home
*and one of my all-time favorite worship experiences: Tween’s little body wasn’t feeling great after the long trip, so we sat outside church. The congregation sang in Spanish, “Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord.” He recognized the song, so we sang along in English. Those words—open the eyes of my heart, Lord, I want to see you—echoed what I had asked people to pray for me, that I would see God.dr-nikaury

All those prayers worked, because Tween and I had the best trip! Young as he was, he saw himself as an important member of the team. During our meetings we shared SMOGs, “small moments of grace.” God’s grace was everywhere, and we took time to notice and celebrate it together. Tween shared at least one SMOG at every meeting.

Another of my fears: would I be able to do anything worthwhile? To make myself laugh and keep a good attitude, I pretended my tasks were challenges on The Amazing Race. I helped sort the 2,000 pounds of donations our team brought with us; weighed and measured kids at Anija (school); led Christmas craft projects; and peeled countless potatoes and apples for 2 huge Thanksgiving meals.dr-thxgiving

More importantly, I shared coffee and conversation with house mothers at The Ark (orphanage); played and laughed and hugged lots of new friends; and shared conversation and worship with teammates. The goal on The Amazing Race is to be the first team across the finish line and win $1 million dollars. My goal was to see God and serve Him in whatever way He asked. I’m pretty sure I won.

God doesn’t always call you to something you’re good at, but simply to something you can do. I didn’t expect to be good at something, so I simply made myself available. That was enough. We heard repeatedly that God doesn’t care about how much or little you have; He cares about your heart. The Big Question is always the same: Do I trust God?

This trip changed me, and it changed our family. Both kids made friends and did their jobs. They grew in faith and even encouraged each other. We each saw one another with new eyes as we served together. This trip gave us the courage and preparation to spend 10 weeks of Guy’s sabbatical in Costa Rica. We were prepared for crazy motorcycle drivers, humidity and bugs, and having to think so hard to understand the language. We were ready to look for and share SMOGs, to see God everywhere.dr-friends

Do not be afraid… If you believe our good God has set an open door before you, then you should walk through it. Saying yes makes it easier to say yes again. The opposite is also true: saying no makes it easier to say no again—and, honestly, that scares me more than saying yes.

One week five years ago still has significant impact on my willingness to trust God. I may keep arguing with Him along the way, and yet I can’t wait to see what else He has in store!

Week 2 – The Promise of a King
December 4-10

Read and light two candles (purple): The first candle represents the promise of joy. The second candle represents the promise of a 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: Luke 1:26-38

Read: In old age Elizabeth miraculously conceived her promised joy, her son John. The angel Gabriel delivered a similar promise to her young cousin Mary: she, too, will miraculously conceive a baby. But whereas John will prepare the way, Mary’s baby Jesus will be the everlasting King, the Son of God. With Mary, we trust the promise because no word from God will ever fail.

Pray: We are the Lord’s servants. May your word to us be fulfilled. We wait and pray in the name of Jesus our coming King, Amen.

Monday Deuteronomy 31:8 How can God’s presence comfort you in discouragement?
Tuesday Psalm 5:1-3 What difference does it make that your King hears your cries and requests?
Wednesday Matthew 6:9-10 What might God’s kingdom look like on earth today?
Thursday Hebrews 1:1-3 How do you learn to hear the Son’s voice?
Friday 2 Timothy 3:16-17 What has God said to you through His Word recently?
Saturday 1 John 5:20 What does it mean to you to have eternal life with the Son of God?

 

Remember, Forget, Imagine, Hope

As we approach the end of the year and the end of this guest post series, I feel reflective and overwhelmed at the talented people who surround my life. Sarah is one of those people (as you’re about to see if you don’t already know her). We are co-workers and friends; she leads me in worship regularly, and she inspires me in so many ways. Today’s post is vulnerable and lovely and reminds me to create wherever, whenever, and from whatever situation lies before me.

Create Challenge #38: Sarah D. Williams

Sometimes I create to remember. Sometimes I create to forget. Sometimes I create to imagine what could be—creating from a place of hope, as if offering a prayer to the Creator through my written words or painted canvas, potted plant or redesigned room, chord progressions or dance steps.

In 2013, high atop Machu Picchu, gazing out over the valley of wondrous Incan ruins, I created to imagine what could be. What could be just a little bit better. More. Not that there was anything saliently wrong. But that’s the beauty of creating: Sometimes we don’t even know what we long for until it is unearthed through the creative process. And sometimes it takes a breath-catching backdrop to poke deeply enough, to prod our souls, to till and dig and do the unearthing.

I broke my foot 3 days before I was scheduled to fly to Peru and lead a team of 13 adults and students heading high up in the Andes Mountains to spend a week working at a children’s home in Andahuaylas.

I broke my foot while packing and organizing the 50-lb donation bags we would carry 2-per from SFO to LIM, LIM to ANS. My doctor put me on her own no-fly list, but (thankfully, and with much begging) she greenlighted me to fly 8 days later. So my husband and I set off to join our team, me booted up and him carrying all 200 pounds of our donations plus our carry-ons. (He made a lovely Sherpa.) We arrived just in time to head to Machu Picchu, all while creating our own version of Plains, Trains, and Automobiles.swilliams-mp

If the cobblestones of the streets of Cusco don’t kill you, the steep drop-to-your-death cliffs of Machu Picchu, sans guardrails, will. Therefore, after deciding perhaps touring MP was a bit too dangerous to do in a boot-as-cast that left me balance-challenged, the group headed into the park without me.

At the top of MP—after taking the van and train and bus it takes to get there from Cusco—you find one snack bar. There, at this overpriced and un-vegan-friendly (as one would expect) eatery, as I sipped hot tea (served in an extra-large, wax-coated soda cup that melted as quickly as it brewed), I opened my journal. And I began to create.swilliams-journal

My husband and I have taken the road less traveled in our marriage. After being friends for 9 years, we transitioned to dating and then married quickly (6 months later). And 4 very challenging years in, we separated (again for 6 months). He moved back to Kansas (We are both native Jayhawks), and I stayed in our little home in Pleasant Hill. We had no plans to reconcile once the move was made; we were divorcing and getting our legal and financial ducks in a row (as they say in Indiana—our home before moving to the Bay Area, one year into marriage).

I won’t delve into the details here, though I am happy to do so over tea or wine. The point is, marriage for us has been a challenge. And that may be putting it mildly. Our current union, and past reconciliation, is a story of grace and redemption, forgiveness and re-creating. I often say that the old relationship had to first die (a painful death) before we could try again, start rebuilding, from the ground up. An example of creating in hope—a reimagining of what it could be.

We have always been good at outward-facing intimacy: intimacy built when facing away from one another, focused together on a common goal or project. We have not been so good at inward-facing intimacy: when it’s just the 2 of us, looking at each other, focused only on one another. We lead worship together, and we have since high school; this intimate act we can do easily, even when married life is hard and messy. This is outward-facing intimacy. We song write together, and we have in fits and spurts since high school as well; this intimate act we do with much kicking and screaming (mostly screaming), especially when married life is hard and messy. We have actually spent time in couple’s therapy (which we both highly recommend) working on our co-writing process, as it mirrors our intimacy struggles in other areas as well.

But let’s head back to Machu Picchu, shall we? To me, with journal open, drinking waxy tea, reflecting and praying and creating. My jumping off point for the song below was (a slight derivation of) the last line of a Pablo Neruda poem (Every Day You Play), though I was not cognizant of that at the moment. (At some point, it seems, that line had deeply embedded itself in my soul).

From here, I created to imagine what could be: what could be for us in our most intimate expression of inward-facing intimacy. How we could be free and playful while embracing the messy and the unknown. How we could dare to explore the dance of sexual intimacy with effort and energy that we may feel drawn to spend elsewhere. How we could, with authenticity and respect, communicate needs and desires and then seek to meet those needs and desires in ways that perhaps challenged each of us to be more vulnerable, more present, more…creative.

I want to do with you what spring does to the cherry tree
Gently sway and blanket you in life and blossom wild
I want the juice to run down my chin get on my hands
I want, I want you

I want to do with you what frost does to the windowpane
Close enough to etch myself right into your skin
I want to trace the lines left by my love for you
I want, I want you

I want to do with you what bunnies do, what bunnies do
Without a care, a cost, a thought—let nature have its way
I want the fur to fly, then rest up on the bed we made
I want, I want you
I want, I want you

We create to remember. We create to forget. We create—in hope, and with trembling sometimes—to imagine what could be.

Most importantly, we create.

swilliamsSarah lives in the East Bay with her partner Michael and 2 dogs, Bristow and Jed Bartlet (and formerly Bob Dylan, RIP). Creating is her jam, both for work and for leisure–from music and stories and scripts to succulent arrangements and visual art and interior design (and blog posts). She spends most of her time outside (Yea for California weather!) and can usually be found in her adorable (read: tiny) backyard with her dogs and a laptop, blogging, doing prep work for an upcoming Bad Rap event event, designing vocal parts for Sunday services at MVPC, or emailing a sales lead for Retzlaff Vineyards & Winery. She imperfectly strives to live an authentic, Christ-centered life and desires for all people to be given a voice and treated with dignity and respect…and love, because ALWAYS love wins. One day she hopes to try her hand at stand-up comedy: Have you heard the one about the vegan who used to live in Kansas?