Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Advent: Contentment vs. Hope

Over the last several days, I've been slowly chewing on those two verses about the hope that Mary & Joseph had as they waited for this mysterious Messiah to be born. I've read those passages so many times throughout a life of growing up in the church that it feels as though the shine has started to rub off a bit. But for some reason, this week I continued to be struck by the way their Hope was placed in something beyond themselves, beyond their own comfort.

I tried to sit back and reflect on the things that I hope for. Over the last few years, they have been pretty basic:
I really, really hope I can make it this next hour without wanting to puke; I really, really hope I have what it takes to survive labor; I really, really hope I can sleep for 3hrs straight... 5hrs straight... 8hrs straight; I really, really hope we can buy a house & move out of this tiny apartment; and I really, really hope I can go back to work and not feel so stuck at home. Seriously, I think that just about covers the scope of all my aspirations over the last 2yrs.

And now, as strange as it is to say, all those things have happened, and I'm kind of left with nothing to hope for. That's not to say that we aren't super busy, that our house isn't always a mess, that we don't desperately need more funding, or that I've got any part of my life together. But, really when I think about it, things are pretty well lined up for us. And since my hopes have been rather small lately-- and rather self-focused-- I have had the strange privilege of seeing them come to fruition, and am now sitting around & looking at what I have in front of me, without lifting my eyes to what is ahead.

Now, in one sense, that is a very good thing. Contentment with our lives, our current situation, our possessions is (I believe) a key to living life well. We shouldn't always be aching for the next thing, forgetting about what we already have.

But on the other hand, we
should always be aching for what is ahead. I should be discontent with our world, injustice, pain, suffering, and my own brokenness. I should be constantly looking ahead with a Hope for what could be.

And there's the tension: Hope and Contentment. How do we center ourselves now, and ache for the good things we do not yet have?

Tomorrow's Advent verses point to those questions a bit.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Advent: Prison, Mozart, and Hope

This week's Advent readings and candle are centered on Hope.
It's difficult to find a more beautiful representation of hope than in Shawshank Redemption.
Here are two clips that go back-to-back (sorry about the subtitles on the first one).

I can't embed the second clip. Here's the link to it

Monday, November 28, 2011

Advent: Hope

Last night, while munching on the bread that had just come out of the oven, and smelling the granola that had just gone in the oven, Chris & I read through some advent devotions. This first Advent Sunday we joined millions of other followers of Christ as we lit the candle of Hope, the first in the advent wreath.

I admit, I was kind of anticipating warm fuzzies as we contemplated our readings on Hope-- what with the insane baking smells wafting through the house, and the romantic glow of the newly decorated full-sized Christmas tree (not the tiny 2ft apartment tree we've had propped on a table for the last 6yrs!!!). But as we read through the verses marked out in our advent devotion, the warm fuzzies didn't come.

Two of the verses were accounts of Mary & Joseph being told that they were about to become the parents of a King who would reign forever and would take away the sins of his people. Big stuff. Lots to hope for.

But then, Mary has to travel 9mos pregnant by donkey, and just happens to go into labor at the worst possible time, when there is no where to go and one to help. I can remember the exhaustion after labor, the desperate need for help from family & friends, the fear & stress & sleeplessness. My biggest hope was to get through that phase of life. But, if we read ahead, we know that Mary & Joseph also faced the fear of a mass-murderer trying to kill their baby. They were forced into exile in Egypt, and sometime between Jesus' 13th birthday and his public ministry, it's believed that Joseph died.

All those hopes, all that anticipation of what it would mean to usher in the King & Savior of Israel, and I'm sure none of it turned out the way they thought it would. It would seem that their hopes were placed in something beyond their own comfort-- which is not often where I can find my own hopes lying.

It made me want to dig in a little deeper and ask myself where I truly place my hopes, and if maybe my hopes are a little too small.

Here are links to two of the Advent Readings on Hope. I would love to hear your thoughts, as well.
Matthew 1:18-24
Luke 1:26-38

Sunday, November 27, 2011


There's that certain feeling of regret that comes on Thanksgiving night, after you've stuffed yourself to the breaking point and wonder what on earth possessed you to take that second (third? fourth?) piece of pie. And the feeling is multiplied about ten times over come New Years when you've got a month of regrets haunting you.

It's not just the caloric regrets that make me squirm with discomfort after the Holidays are over, its a feeling of excess everywhere-- cramming too many activities into a schedule, too many miles driven over a weekend, too many new things sitting in my room, and too much money spent on gifts. I tend to get the same feeling after Christmas as I would if I had eaten a whole cake for dinner-- I am stuffed, but not with the right things; I'm full, but not quite the way I want to be. And it seems like, no matter how good my intentions are, each year, I get caught up in the whirlwind of activities, in the aching need for new things, in the stress & busyness that makes me full-to-breaking-point, but not satisfied.

I tend to leave Christmas with the feeling that I've missed God in it all somewhere. And just like there wasn't room for him at the inn, I always feel as though there somehow wasn't room anywhere in my schedule during Christmas for my Messiah.

So, one way that I am committing to make room this year is to keep an advent blog.
Advent is a time of expectant waiting, looking forward to the arrival of Christ the King. I am most familiar with it in the form of cardboard calendars with a piece of crappy chocolate hiding behind each number. But, growing up, I have also celebrated advent on the four Sundays before Christmas, lighting a candle on the advent wreath that symbolized a different aspect of our anticipation of Christ's coming.

My goal is to write each day a little snippet on that week's advent candle: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. I hope that it helps to draw my mind & heart closer to God this Christmas-- and that you might even get one or two gems from it too.
Here goes...

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving, Pirates, and Black Friday

Every year, around Thanksgiving, I start to salivate in eager anticipation. Although I do love the turkey, stuffing, pie, and even the cranberry sauce (not that jellied stuff shaped like a can, but the real live cranberry sauce that no one else seems to go for but everyone makes), it's not the food, or even the Holiday itself that gets my heart beating faster.

What makes a little smile break out on my face, even when I'm all alone, is the knowledge that the day after Thanksgiving marks the official start of Christmastime-- trees, lights, carols, ornaments, cookie baking & decorating & eating... glory.

The day after Thanksgiving (and sometimes even before) also marks the infamous Black Friday. It even sounds sinister, doesn't it? If the Dread Pirate Roberts hadn't already been sailing a ship called Revenge, I'm pretty sure it would have been named Black Friday. There's a certain ring to it.

Now, I have nothing against sales. I'm a big believer. And I'm not here to lecture anyone on that little old man who got trampled to death at the Walmart on Black Friday a few years back, or tell you that you're probably going to burn in hell if you wake up at 4am and stand in line for a new big screen TV. Nope, I'll leave all of that to your own conscience.

I was just thinking about how beautiful it is that we have a whole day set aside to be thankful-- and that it just happens to be the day before Black Friday. We have a day to reflect on all the things we have, to soak in the abundance of our gifts & comfort and to thank our Creator for them. We come together with our families & share the extravagance of the good things we have, and acknowledge our gratitude for it. What a healthy and beautiful tradition to observe in a culture where we so rarely think about all that we have.

And then, the very next day, while we are full to the brim with thankfulness & the awareness of all the good things in our lives, we can turn our thoughts towards Christmas and giving to others.

*Sigh* If only that were reality. Usually, mom stresses out in the kitchen, making this ridiculous meal for 20 other family members who are watching football in the other room. Then, everyone comes together, gorges themselves, falls asleep feeling sick, wakes up 2hrs later & has seconds. After that, we wake up at 4am, buy thousands of dollars worth of stuff, get lost in the stress, pressure & endless force of that Voice that tells us we need more. And then, sometime after Christmas, we wonder if there isn't a better way to do it.

And yet, here it is, all laid out for us. A whole day to be thankful, to reflect on what we have, not what the TV tells us we need. I wonder what would happen if we literally made a list of all the things we are thankful for-- the stuff we usually forget, like indoor plumbing, access to clean water, being able to eat food everyday, a safe place to sleep, the sound of silence, or the feel of a really hot shower.

I wonder if we were to enter Christmastime in that context, how our mindset would change, how our spending would change-- not just financial spending, but time & resources & thoughts & words.

Maybe Thanksgiving isn't just a blip on the Holiday radar, in between Halloween & Black Friday, but an actual stopping point to help us enter in. And I think, that if we enter with intentionality & thoughtfulness, we'll be headed in a good direction.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Eulogy: Gavin

They say that you don't miss a good thing 'till it's gone, and it's oh-so-very true for me in this moment.

There was a "certain member" of our family who always smelled bad, always left a mess in his wake, snored, slobbered, woke me up, and required us to clean up his poop & cater to him several times a day, rain or shine. No, that "certain member" is not our little man, but our stinky, greasy, gassy mutt with a wet nose that always seemed to find the underside of your elbow when you were least expecting it. He was dumb as a rock, afraid of new people, embarrassingly racist, and sometimes very clingy... but now that he's gone, I have to say that I miss the big thug.

If you've never been introduced, Gavin is/was our pit bull pup that we rescued from a life of neglect & abuse, and despite his idiosyncrasies (and my complaints), he really was a fantastic dog. Although his IQ was a few notches below Forrest Gump's, he was very obedient, sweet, mellow, super fun at the beach & on hikes, and never dug in the trash or begged for food. And in those early Nolan days, when we would forget to take him out to pee or feed him, he never complained, but patiently waited for us to pull it together. Sometimes, when Chris would go mountain biking, Gavin would run alongside him during the ascent, and then take off & meet him at the bottom, by the car with a huge smile on his face.

The only bummer was that because of his background, he wasn't a good candidate for babies, and so after months of searching for a new family & home for Gavin, Chris' parents graciously adopted him as their own.

It's been quite a relief, honestly to not worry about Nolan chasing a skiddish pit bull into a corner, and (selfishly) it's been beautiful to see how clean the rug stays now that there's not 5lbs of white fur deposited on it every day. But that first night when he was gone-- which also happened to be the first night that Chris was gone from our new house-- it felt very lonely & vulnerable without that big pit-mutt around.

A jarring noise woke me out of a dead sleep in the middle of the night, and I realized that for some reason, Nolan's baby monitor upstairs in his room had suddenly stopped working & was making a startlingly loud static noise. As I crept upstairs to see what/who had mysteriously turned off the monitor, I saw that there was a light on that I was sure I had turned off. Then creepy piano music started playing in the background, and a man with a chainsaw came out of the shadows. Wait, that last part didn't actually happen, but I knew that it could have, and that there was no 70lb dog to save me.

In that moment, I missed Gavin very, very much.

And I continue to notice his absence when I wake up in the mornings, or go out to our empty backyard, or try to explain to our baby why he can't find the "dah".

Gavin, I would like to publicly apologize for my lack of appreciation, affection, & attention this last year-plus, and especially for the lack of long walks since we bought a house with a yard. You are an amazing dog, and you deserve better. I'm so happy that you have retired to a warm, sunny home with a pool & plenty of neighboring dogs to torment. May you live a long & happy life.