Month: November 2014

Advent 1: Hope and Labor Pains

I remember it like it was yesterday.  Actually, what I remember is waiting.

I was 29 years old.  I was on a train, for the 100th time, leaving seminary and heading home.  The third and final year of seminary had taken its toll on my body, soul and wardrobe.  I sat across the Amtrak aisle with my overused backpack and weary winter coat and tried not to stare at the beautiful woman playing with her baby boy.  My heart ached.  I wanted a baby, now!

Feeling slightly crazy, I got home and announced to my husband that by the time I was 30, I had to have a baby. I couldn’t wait any longer. That spring, right before graduation, we learned that we were going to have a baby.

I walked down the long  aisle at the University of Chicago’s sanctuary, with a stirring in my belly and a diploma in my hand.  I couldn’t have been more excited and more scared, more uncertain and more certain about anything in my life.

I got a pregnancy calendar book and marked every day, noting when toe nails were coming in and eye lashes were formed. I tried to know as much about the unknown as humanly possible.

We talked about names and we talked about names some more. –That was something we could control.

Meanwhile, I tried to prepare for motherhood, the most difficult thing I would ever try to do and similarly learn what it meant to be a pastor, the second most difficult thing I would ever try  to do.  It all seemed very impossible.  So I tried to prepare.  I tried to prepare by imagining being a mother and pastor. I tried to prepare by determining what principles were important to me, from which I would not waver:  breast-feeding, not using my children as excuses for work, nor using them as showcases, reading to them every night, always being present, and never ever, ever sacrificing their needs over the needs of the church, or using my kids as reason the church work did not get done, never owning Barbie doll, or toy gun, always reading them the Bible and saying bed time prayers.  High principles indeed.  Lofty principles, I am afraid, in which I see now were unobtainable.

I had forgotten about the fact that I was human.

She was to come in January.  Right around my 30th birthday.  I grew and grew.  She kicked and turned.  We changed the office into a nursery.  The church family provided every item of clothing, book, bedding, and bear.  We waited.

I started having irritating labor pains on January 1.  We went to the hospital no less than 10 times, only to be returned.  We waited.

“I don’t think you understand the amount of pain you are going to feel when you are really in labor,” the doctor said.

Finally inducement was scheduled.  The night before we were to go in, full labor started.  Nineteen hours later, this little person came into the world.  She did not cry.  She sort of looked around the room, with these huge eyes as if to say, “I am here to see if I like it here or not.”  She still does that.

Never in my life was I so afraid, so excited, so in love, and so totally unprepared for what it meant to be a parent.

This, to me, is what I think of when I think of the Hope of Advent.   The idea of Christ coming into the world should sound no less overwhelming than the idea of having a child for whom you are responsible for loving. We can prepare for Christ in simple ways of prayer, scripture, service and worship, but we will soon realize that we can never be fully prepared for the gift and the awesome experience of knowing Christ.  We realize that we aren’t in control of Christ being born in us, and that we are reliant on hope. Hope that we will serve and give and receive the gift of grace with open arms.  Hope that we will forgive ourselves when we fall short.  Hope that we will be forgiven when our humanity is transparent, and our shortcomings are apparent. Hope that though the journey will sometimes be hard and often painful, it will also be filled with moments of grace and light and joy.

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; 23and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in* hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes* for what is seen? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Romans 8

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On Gratitude

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When Jimmy Fallon was the host of Late Night, he came up with shtick called, “Thanksgiving.”  He had found a funny way to be thankful for the most meaningless things. He says, “I would like to thank the word moist, for being the ‘worst word ever.’ ” He’s thankful, too, for taco shells that have survived their long journey from factory to supermarket to his plate — and then break the moment he fills them. And he’s grateful that the name Lloyd starts with two L’s. Otherwise, he says, it would just sound like “Loyd.”

The thing that makes this funny is of course his sarcasm, and yet he’s on to something. The thing that he does is that he makes the seemingly meaningless, meaningful.

Thanksgiving has increasingly become a crunched holiday. It doesn’t hold the market value of the holidays that surround it.  Halloween and Christmas are far more marketable and therefore, seemingly more powerful.

Thanksgiving is a time that asks us to do something that requires a measure of spiritual substance. It asks us to show gratitude. Not high fructose corn syrup gratitude, but real, homemade pumpkin pie gratitude.  Not I’m thankful for my family, but I am grateful for my family. Not thank God – gratitude, but Praise God from Whom all blessings flow –Gratitude.

To genuinely thank God for all that has been given in this world, everything we have and are is to recognize Grace.

This Thanksgiving, breathe in the fresh air of God. If you are lucky enough to have a grandmother’s hand to hold, hold it.  If you are blessed enough to a child to play with, give them your undivided attention. If you are fortunate enough to eat a good meal, take your bites slowly, enjoy the tastes and the aromas and give thanks for the bounty that is before you. If you have the day off and are given the space and time to be with your family, then be with them. Be present. Pay attention to them in a spiritual way – in a Grace receiving way.   Take that discipline and spend the rest of your days grateful for the day you have been given. For today is the only day you know you have.

Consider the lilies of the field.  Look at the fuzz on a baby’s ears.  Sit in the cool grass and feel the sun on your face, run through the leaves, watch a bird sail on the wind.  Remember to give thanks.

Now thank we all our God with heart and hands an voices, Who wondrous things hath done, In whom this world rejoices; who from our mothers’ arms, hath bless us on our way with countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us, with every joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us; and keep us in God’s grace and guide us when perplexed.  And free us from all ills in this world and the next.

God Bless,

Shelly

 

The Owl in the Woods

Snow already. Middle of November and the trees are almost bare.  Pumpkins wear little caps of fallen snow, and remaining leaves curl and crunch under our feet.  I went for a walk in the woods and spotted a bird soaring overhead.  Huge, fluffy feathers, “What was that?”  We walked off the path and found him stoically sitting on top of a tall tree, “hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo” we sang. He turned his head, large black eyes looked through the branches and limbs, directly at us.  “Yes?”  He seemed to say.  “What is it you are looking for?”  He then turned the other way.  We were far more amazed by him than he was of us.

It’s moments like these that are gifted moments.  When owls are spotted and snowflakes kiss our eye lashes, that time suddenly, mercifully, stops and we pause and wonder at the moment.

My 99 year old grandfather is in the autumn of his life.  His skin is like the wrinkled leaves we walk upon. He sleeps under a white blanket in a nursing home, for hours and hours, waking for a small bite to eat or a round of medicine.  I think of his long life, almost a century of living.  Born into poverty.  Losing his mother at the age of seven, raised by a brash father and steadfast grandmother.  Catching raccoons and squirrels for supper, fishing in the pond, working in the field, putting out house fires,  quitting school at 8th grade, leaving home at 17.

I think of his joy when he got the job on the railroad. A job. A job. A job.  A  Lineman, a Fireman, an Engineer.  The loud roar of the engine would eventually take his hearing. He rode the Burlington line from Galesburg to Aurora for over 30 years.

He kept a garden, took apart cars, went dumpster diving to see if he could repair what others threw away.

But more than anything, he never forgot what it felt like to be child. We would explore deep woods, find treasures in his basement, and see how high we could climb trees.  He was always fully present.  He also brought his imagination.  And at  night, I would lie between my grandparents, under their crisp, ironed sheets and Grandpa would tell stories about his childhood and how he and Grandma met and she would lean her head way back, closing her eyes, and laugh, until little tears seeped from her wrinkles.   He would tell stories and grandma would laugh and I was completely loved.

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The owl looked at me with his large, black eyes and beckoned me to remember moments like these.