30 November 2011

Christmas Mystery

{note: this post was started November 30th, and published December 23rd. Yes, it has taken me this long to finish it.} 
I have searched to no avail. It has disappeared. There is no sign of it. What has gone AWOL you ask? Nothing less than my all-time favorite Christmas album! Tragedy, right? How can I start the season, the merriment, the festivities without the tunes from Downhere? I searched through all my Christmas CDs and it isn't there. I looked on the rack on the play closet door- not there either. I checked the door pockets of my car; the only Christmas album there is the soundtrack to Elf, which is enjoyable but it isn't Downhere.

Now you may be thinking, 'Come on, Jennifer! It is just ONE album, just a few songs. And haven't you mentioned before that you have a Christmas music addiction? I'm sure you have plenty.'

It's true. I do have a slight addiction to Christmas music; I have to limit myself on new purchases each year. I do have plenty of holiday tunes - nearly two days worth. There may be thirteen different renditions of "White Christmas" in my iTunes library. But right now, there is no "How Many Kings." And that makes me very sad.

How Many Kings
Follow the star to a place unexpected
Would you believe, after all we've projected,
A child in a manger?
Lowly and small, the weakest of all
Unlikeliest hero, wrapped in his mother's shawl -
Just a child -
Is this who we've waited for? 'cause...

How many kings step down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
And how many gods have poured out their hearts
To romance a world that is torn all apart
How many fathers gave up their sons for me?

Bringing our gifts for the newborn Savior
All that we have, whether costly or meek
Because we believe.
Gold for his honor, and frankincense for his pleasure
And myrrh for the cross he will suffer
Do you believe?
Is this who we've waited for?

All for me...
All for you...
[from http://www.lyricsmania.com] 

This song speaks to my spirit, reaches right past the frenzy and the frantic, the hurried hustle to get more, do more, be more and whispers truth to my heart. The truth of this season, the miraculous wonder of God the Creator come in the form of the created, to redeem, to love. Advent, a time of expectant waiting, awaiting the Savior's birthday, remembering his first arrival, and looking with hope to the promise of his second coming. As music tames the wild beast, so this song tames my runaway heart and brings it back to the core of Christmas; my heart beats a little more slowly, the expectations matter less, and the wonder at Christ grows. This is why I need to find this album and this song, both of which I listen to year round.

"We are waiting for the glorious coming of Christ. Sometimes the heart yearning for the gift— is part of the gift!" -Ann Voskamp

Christ come down. God of the universe in finite fragile skin. It is a mystery. The greatest mystery of all. One that should be marveled at, anticipated, sought after. Do I seek after the Christ child in the middle of the Christmas season the way I seek after my lost album?
To be honest, I'm bedraggled. The Christmas season has just hit and already I'm frantic, frenzied, and weary. How is this celebrating the miracle of Emmanuel? Ironically, adding to the pressure the most is myself and the need to honor the season. I'm behind in sending out Christmas cards (can I send my horribly belated thank you notes to my supporters of my August mission trip along with my Christmas cards?), I'm behind in decorating, I haven't planned the annual Christmas girls get-together. The pressure mounts as each day slips away and nothing is checked off the to-do list. As my list mocks me, telling me that I am going to miss Christmas if I don't get busy and check off each line, a quiet voice whispers, "Be still."
But will it be Christmas if I don't have the annual party?
If I don't have the party, why decorate?
How depressing not to decorate; might as well skip Christmas.

The whisper returns, "That isn't Christmas. Be still. Abide in me - I am Christmas."

It is now over three weeks since I started this post and I am determined to publish it tonight. This has been a very different Christmas season for me this year. I decided not to have my annual get-together, but did decide to decorate - although the decor is very limited. While it is minimal, it brings me joy. Although there is a shocking lack of twinkle lights which seriously bothers me. Bothers me to the point that I am planning on pressing my dad and brother (and their height) into service when they come over for Christmas dinner to help me hang some strings of lights randomly across my living room. I had every intention of obeying the quiet voice and being still this Christmas season, being quiet so that I could lean into Christ, dwell with Christmas himself. Instead it has been four exhausting, draining, frenzied, emotional, overwhelming weeks. Very little of it, almost none of it, has related to Christmas. Life just sorta hit me broadside at a time of year where the world around burdens us with unbearable expectations. To deal with the messies, I had to decide not to care about the expectations - whether culture or self imposed - and just let the Christmas crazy happen around me. I never got around to Christmas cards, I hardly decorated, no parties were planned, all gifts were purchased online on Cyber Monday so that task would be over and done with, treats for the neighbors have been planned but not executed - they may yet, but not before Christmas, most of my traditions took the year off. (But I did find my album, or at least a digital copy of it on my back-up drive of my work laptop which recently had the hard drive replaced. Yeah, no wonder I had trouble finding it.) I have had none of the typical Christmas cheer and yet, I think I get Christmas more this year. In dealing with the messies I've had to lean hard into Christ to gain perspective and strength. While I have not been still this season, not by a long shot, if I hadn't started this season with the idea of being still my life would have been too full to cope with the broadside hits that unexpectedly came my way. This has been a very unconventional Christmas season for me, but as I reflect on the last four weeks amidst the pain, there has been a richness that I have a hunch will cause me to treasure this year for many to come.

With Christmas Eve beginning in just mere minutes, my Christmas wish for all of you is to know Jesus Christ personally, in new ways, that takes you deeper, grows your love, and expands your awe and wonder at the unlikeliest hero, following his star to unexpected places.

Peace and Joy, Merriest of Christmas - Jennifer

22 November 2011

Twinkle Toes

The black leather bucket chair which had been cool when I first sat down was causing me to sweat as I squirmed. My foot was bouncing up and down nervously; I slap-patted my thigh just like my mother does when she is highly emotional. Tears marked a path down my cheeks as I tried to explain to my counselor how I do not want to make a decision out of fear, that I’m tired of living a life guided by fear. But the fear looms so large and seemingly insurmountable. I want to live a life of faith, of radical, obedient faith, but the fear grips my heart and squeezes tight. I feel paralyzed. Much of my life has been dictated by fear. While God has been gracious to me, I don’t regret the choices and paths I’ve taken, but I do wonder sometimes “what if?” It isn’t helpful, I try to avoid hypothesizing what my life would be like if I had fought through the fear for what seemed like first choice. What if I had applied to Wheaton’s Conservatory of Music? I still doubt whether I would have gotten in, but what if I had? And if I didn’t get stopped by the fear of failing at my dream, of moving far away from home, going to unknown mid-west lands? What if I hadn’t been fearful about moving across the country and quitting the job I had been at for one month and applied to Gordon-Cromwell Seminary? Instead I went to Western, which was good and I don’t regret my time there, but how would life be different if I had gone to Boston? What relationships have I let slip away because I feared to be myself, to be open, to share myself? Fear. Fear of failure. Fear of rejection. Fear of the unknown. Fear of being known. Fear of change. Fear of hurt. So much fear. I am certain that fear is the main weapon Satan uses to intimidate me. It has been a powerful shaping force in my life, and I fear what my life will be like if I allow it to continue influencing me. 

"If you didn't live by fear, Jennifer, what do you want?"

"I want to live life with gusto!"

I heard myself say it as if someone else had proclaimed it. I sat stunned in wondered silence. Where had that come from? It was exactly what was in my heart that I had not found a way to articulate and express. For years I had been trying to find a way to express my heart cry, the true yearning of my heart as it beat against the cage of fear. The front of my fridge is testament to this, a page from my daily calendar is posted reminding me to "Live Out Loud." Next to it is a bright yellow sticker proclaiming "Live Strong." Rosie the Riveter flexes her arm, showing solidarity that, yes, "We can do it!" My favorite part of the movie "Holiday" is when Kate Winslet's character answers that she has "gumption." While all these resonate with me, they are not my own. What do I want instead of the status quo of living by fear? I want to live with gusto! It feels so good to say it!

2 Timothy 1:7 "for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control." (ESV)

To live with gusto, means to live attentive to the Holy Spirit prodding me, nudging me, beckoning me to step out of the shadow of fear into the light of faith, depending on my Holy God to lead - and following. The fear of the unknown, not knowing where the next step might lead keeps me rooted in what feels like safety. I recently read or heard from someplace (I would give credit if I could remember or find it) that the lamp referred to in Psalm 119:105 "Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path." would have been a small clay pot; something about the size of your palm. Something like this:
It would fit into your palm, a flame would come out of the 'spout' from the oil within. Can you imagine the amount of light a lamp like this would produce? I think we can all agree the answer is - "not a whole lot." Yet this is what the Psalmist is comparing to God's Word. While His Word illuminates and shows us the path, it only does so for the next step or two, not the next twenty or hundred and twenty. It shows us our feet, we can know the solid ground on which we stand, we can see the immediate area, but the rest remains shrouded - it isn't for us to know just yet. We must trust the Spirit, step forward in faith, follow His leading, one step at a time, stay close to Him - our shepherd, our guide, our Lord - for He will make our paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6). There is wisdom in this. I often feel as though I have plopped right down in the middle of the path, stubbornly sitting criss-cross applesauce, refusing to budge until God turns on the high-beams and discloses the path for the next 30 years. Yet if He did that, I know I would see things that scare me more than what my imagination can conjure up where I sit now and I would absolutely refuse to budge. But everything comes in its own season. What may happen in 10 years time, will come with 10 years worth of God preparing me to handle it. All things in their time. And it won't all be hardship and misery, for I honestly believe God takes great joy in us and our delight (Jeremiah 29:11; Zephaniah 3:17; Matthew 7:11).

I want to live life with gusto, going after life, living it with passion and fullness, my heart fully engaged. Breaking old habits and patterns to live from my heart is going to take some practice. It starts with Bob like "baby steps." Shortly after my "gusto" revelation I wrote a list of things I want to do in life for a contest.  It seems like a pretty safe list - either far-fetched, or non-threatening, some are maybe a little silly. But there is one item that, for me, will require courage - learning to dance - #26.

When I was 7 years old, I dropped out of ballet class as soon as my mother would let me. I didn't like being the pudgy klutzy kid who didn't get it, and the teacher was mean. The only school dance I went to from 7th grade until 12th was the "50's dance" in junior high that was at the end of the swing dance unit in gym class. In seminary I had a classmate who would host dance lessons in the basement of his church about once a month, teaching us the waltz, foxtrot, swing, and would organize 'outings' to such places as the Norse Lodge for their dances. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Take note - I enjoyed it; that is not the same as being good. I haven't had much opportunity to dance since then. About a year ago I started going to a class at the gym, "Group Groove" (think modern jazzercise). But not before doing several drive-bys, going for a 'regular' workout about the same time as the class so that I could scope it out through the windows, fearful that I would be out of place, make a fool of myself. The first time I went I staked out a spot in the back corner where no one would see all my missteps. The thing is, a year into this class, I have accepted that I do look like a fool, especially when I try (and fail) to do the running man. But also because of my big goofy grin that spreads from ear to ear because I am having so much fun. The joy I experience has overcome the fears and I keep going to class whenever I can.

Yesterday a Groupon showed up in my inbox for ballet lessons. My first impulse was to buy it. I want to learn ballet, I had it on my list. But then I waffled, my seven year old self and all her fears re-emerging; all the insecurities of old bubbling up and splotching out my excitement. What if I was the only adult? What if I have to wear a leotard and tights? (Yikes!) What if I fail, and I'm just as bad now as I was thirty some years ago? What if I'm foolish looking? Fears and obstacles, trapping my heart. Once at work, I looked at the email again. And closed it down. After grabbing my mid-morning coffee I opened the email again and followed the link to the company website. I found a class called "Absolute Beginning Adult Ballet." I might be able to handle this class, I thought. But then I noticed it is only offered on Sunday and a voice told me it was wrong to do something like a ballet class on Sunday, the Sabbath - it is the Lord's day; 'how can you consider doing something like dancing and working out on a holy day?' I closed the email once again. I never deleted the email, just closed it, my heart was yearning to say "yes" to this opportunity. It wasn't long before I opened the email again, looked at the class listing one more time - yup, still only Sunday - but why should that matter in this instance? I would go hiking on a Sunday. I regularly do races on a Sunday. I fill my Sundays with busyness that is anything but holy. If I do believe that God rejoices in our delight, why wouldn't this be a perfectly wonderful thing to do on a Sunday? Here is an opportunity that will give me joy, delight, and in a strange way help to loosen the shackles of fear around my heart; give me practice at stepping out of the worries and bindings of fear and into my heart desires. A baby step. Or, perhaps, a "glissade en avant" (yeah, I looked that up online) towards living a more open, heart driven life - living with gusto.

I opened up the email one more time and clicked "purchase." A moment later I nearly skipped down the hall as I went to refill my water bottle, grinning the whole way. I am going to take ballet lessons! And if I have to wear a leotard and tights, I'm getting a tutu as well!

Pinned Image
Wherever I go - even into ballet class! 

04 November 2011

Thankful Thanksgiving

On November 1st I started counting down to Thanksgiving, picking just one thing each day to be thankful for and avoiding repetition (if not my list would alternate between my momma and Jon).

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for...

1) My Momma!
2) My Bible study group ladies. What a supportive lovely group.
3) GPS enabled phone for when I get lost in my own town.
4) The chickens and goats I saw on my country walk.
5) Hearing from God.
6) For several people who want to bless the Micah boys with Christmas gifts - even if it is a challenge to pack.
7) Friends who help, friends who speak to my heart, friends who encourage.
8) Jon. He makes me laugh, keeps me entertained, is a good friend. He helps the work flow going. Jon rocks!
9) A packing miracle! Somehow almost everything fit in to my bags. I really don't know how it happened.
10) The salty taste on my lips from kissing the sweaty cheeks and foreheads of Micah boys.
11) A delightful day witnessing two friends become husband and wife.
12) Lives changed. David, Miguel, Wilmer, Arle, and Junior graduated. What an accomplishment! I am so very proud of each one.
13) A day spent with Micah boys is always a day to be thankful. For their lives and the joy they bring to mine.
14) Sometimes, it's the simple things in life - like a good coffee, or two.
15) A furnace that works! Warm clothes to wear on chilly days. My needs are met abundantly.
16) Marvy Jei! You are such an encouragement to me.
17) A friend who shares her Pepto to help get me through the work day with my Teguzy tummy. {blah!}
18) A settlement has been reached between me and the HOA board. It only took 6 months or so.
19) Friends are so dear and treasured, especially the ones who have walked with you for years. 19 and counting with Kim. Tears shed as we share our hearts, precious times.
20) Lunch with Miss Fire-Cracken, and her listening ear greedily eager to hear stories about Micah boys.
21) A wonderful manager. She is funny, witty, thoughtful, an advocate, and just plain cool.
22) Group Groove. It brings me joy and delight to shimmy, cha-cha, mambo, and twirl.
23) That God never stops working on me. His gentle strength continues to refine and bring growth in my life.
24) Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade! I get so excited to see the snippets of Broadway shows and watch it every year.

Most of all I am thankful for God the Father, Jesus my Redeemer, and the indwelling Holy Spirit, my family - both of blood and of the heart, and my dear precious friends.

"Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." 
1 Thessalonians 5:18 (ESV)