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Stacks of Unspoken Words

I look around my home and see the stacks and piles. Stacks and piles of things. Mail sits on the end of the black granite countertop.  Leaning precariously, as though anticipating that it will slide to the floor, unopened.  Stacks of books.  Not neatly stacked.  Just stacked.  Waiting to be finished.  Or started.  Or just waiting to find a permanent spot on the bookshelf. And then, there’s the dust. The dust colors everything like a winter fog.  Dulls those things around me. The dust, piling up, particle by particle, on everything, not left by anyone, but just settling there.  I notice it, even if no one else does.  But I’m sure they do.

Mom would have. She noticed everything.  Everything that wasn’t put away.  Every mess.  Everything I never finished.  Every crumb left on the counter after making toast.  Every sock hiding under my bed.  She noticed the things.

But somehow, she never noticed me. The scars.  The pain.  The loneliness.  The heartaches of a young girl growing up.  Or, maybe she did but she just didn’t know how to catch her daughter’s tears.  Maybe she just didn’t have the words.  Maybe she couldn’t help me heal because she had never healed herself.

Despite her flaws, I loved her, as little girls love their mothers.  And, I miss her, even after all these years.  Today, if she were here, I would sit down with her and gently ask her why she couldn’t be there for me when I needed her most.  Why I needed to look elsewhere in my life for shelter from the storms. And, I would look into her eyes and seek to know her heart.

And, I would tell her that it was okay–that I had found comfort in the loving arms of my heavenly Father.  I would tell her that despite the stacks of unspoken words and unopened hearts and the grey haze that dulled our relationship, that love prevailed.

In my home, the dust on the hearth piles up, the mail sits unopened on the counter, and the books sit patiently for shelves or pages to be turned.  And, I try not to notice socks hiding under beds or crumbs gathering around the toaster’s edge. They remind me of the piles and stacks of words unspoken in my childhood home.

And, so, instead of tidying up the house, I look into the eyes of my children, searching for their hearts. I hope they know that I notice them–every aspect of them.  Every tear. Every heartbreak.  Every moment of loneliness.  And, I hope they know that their tears, and heartbreaks, and loneliness are mine, too.

Today, I hope that the piles and stacks for things go unnoticed–at least for one more day.


Bringing Our Children Home this Christmas

I’m re-posting from my old blog today. I thought it was timely during a time of year when many children and family members are traveling.   Blessings!

I sat on the blue leather sofa, gas fireplace burning, as the first light of day broke through the darkness. The house was mine at this hour. Even the dog left me alone. Time with God. Quiet. Calm. Uninterrupted.

And so, I prayed, as I did so often recently, “Please God, cover him. Keep him safe. Help me to trust you.” God knew that prayer was coming every day while my son was overseas last year, in a remote village, in a country that was giving him the experience of a lifetime.

For me, it was the first time that he had been that far away, without a group of friends or people we knew and trusted to look out for him. I trusted our son enough to let him go, but once he was gone, I had to learn to have faith that he would be okay.

There was nothing that I could do 7,500 miles away.

Despite one stint in the local “hospital,” our son arrived home unharmed — a little thinner, older, and wiser, but safe. God kept him safe and healthy. And, brought him home.

Today, my prayers in these early morning hours have shifted. Our son is across the country, no longer in a poverty-stricken country. Instead, he is in the throes of urban-American-big-city life, grappling with his faith.

It is a familiar place. I grappled with my faith at his age, too. Questioning, doubting, not finding God relevant or consistent with the life I thought I wanted. Turning away as I lived a life that was less than what I knew was desirable. And, so, I have hope and faith that my son will grapple and fall back into the arms of a loving God.  I see him turning back towards God, slowly.  On his own terms.

As a mom, I have few details about my son’s internal struggles. But the details don’t matter. He needs to grapple with his faith, more so than he needed to go to Africa to grow into a young man.

I cannot tell him what faith is or what it should look like. He has known what faith is and who God is, but he needs it to be real and authentic for it to remain that way.

Rather, I need my son to know that it is okay–even good–that he is grappling with his faith. I need to let him know that I love him unconditionally. No matter what.

So, he seeks.

And so, I sit on the blue leather sofa, gas fireplace burning, as the first light of day breaks through the darkness. Time with God. Quiet. Calm. Uninterrupted. And, I pray, “God, cover him. Guard his heart. Reveal yourself to him. Pursue him.”

God is faithful. I need to trust Him completely. Instead of asking God to bring our son home safely to us, I ask God to bring him home safely to Him.

Living Sacrificially and Reflecting Christ This Christmas

I have a longing that tugs at me: to serve the homeless. It isn’t new. But, it pulls at me stronger now.  In the winter months.  In the cold and damp and dark months of the year.  In those times when I am blessed to sit in my home, with the warmth of a fire and warm meals on the table.

I pray for the right opportunity to serve.  To know God’s plan for me. And, yesterday, at church, I thought: This is it.  This is it.

Our church has a ministry called 3 O’clock People. Those involved serve hot meals to about 100 of the homeless in our city every Saturday–every Saturday–at, you got it, 3 o’clock.

This year, Christmas falls on Saturday. And so, hot meals need to be prepared and served.  Without 3 O’clock People, these members of our community would go without on the day when we celebrate the birth of Christ.  The savior.  God among us.

And so, we are serving Christmas dinner in the gym at church. Fully decorated, tables, home cooked food.  And, we are sitting down–together–with the homeless, and breaking bread.  On the day we celebrate the birth of Christ. God among us.

I came home excited, ready to sign up the family. Drawn to the opportunity to live Christmas a little differently this year. Drawn to the opportunity to serve.

But, when I spoke to my husband about it, he had a different view. He wasn’t as excited about sharing a meal with the homeless.  He was happy to help–to provide food, to help with set up.  But sharing a meal wasn’t what he wanted.  He explained, it wasn’t about not wanting to share a meal–it was about having to be social.  Having to push himself to talk to people he doesn’t know.

I understood completely. But, I was let down.  I told him, “That’s not my vision at all. I really want to do this.”

“But,” I said, “let’s talk to the kids and hear their thoughts about this.”

My selfish, blame-it-on-my-husband voice kicked in. The ugly me. I thought to myself.  Of course he doesn’t want to do this.  He never wants to.  I wish he would change.  If he were a Christ follower, maybe he would want to do this.  Another Christmas where I’m reminded so loudly of our different beliefs.

Then, I heard my husband’s voice, “You know, I’ll do whatever my family wants to do. I just want to spend time with my wife and my kids.”

My selfish voice, the voice in my head continued: Great! We’ll get him to do this.  It will be perfect.  A selfless Christmas serving others.  We’ll get to do what I want.  I know the kids will want to serve.

In the quiet of the morning–this morning–it struck me. My husband—seeing the excitement in my eyes, and the disappointment when he told me he really didn’t share my excitement–was willing to give sacrificially for me–to push himself beyond his comfort level for me and the kids.  This man who does not know Jesus, showed me what it means to live sacrificially.

Any selfishness was mine, not his.

And so this morning I’m grateful. Grateful that my husband displayed for me selflessness.  Grateful that God showed me my selfishness  Grateful for God’s grace and mercy. Grateful that God reminded me of the things I love about my husband and the things I need to change about me. Grateful that God reminded me that I was placing my desire to love those I don’t know over my love for my husband.

I don’t know how or where we will spend Christmas day. I’m praying about it.  I’m praying that my heart won’t be restless about it.  And, I’m praying, whatever it is, that it will reflect Christ to those around us and to my husband. I’m praying for a heart that trusts God fully and trusts that God is faithful.

And, I’ll continue to pray that God will show me how to serve the homeless. Where He wants me and why He has placed this on my heart. And, I pray that serving and loving others will be a response to God because of my faith.

“Serve one another in love.  The entire law is summed up in a single command:

‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” — Galatians 5:13-14.

Being Present Not Just At Christmas

When our daughter was a toddler, she loved to be carried. She would reach her arms up to me with her big blue eyes and say, “Up, up.”  And, so, up it was.  Perched on my right hip, arms wrapped around my neck.

Most of the time I loved holding her. Having her close.  Giving her comfort.  Feeling the gentle hugs she gave freely.  I especially appreciated having her close because as a very young child she had been so sick we thought we might lose her.

But, sometimes, holding her wasn’t always convenient. At the store or doctor’s office, it meant learning to hold her with one arm while digging through my purse for cash or a credit card.  Or filling out forms with one hand and trying to hold the form still while my cuddly two-and-a -half-year-old squirmed to get comfortable.  I gained new skills–including patience–during those times.

But she taught me more than patience.

Our sweet girl would remind me of her presence, too — as if I was unaware that I had a 23 pound child on my hip. When I was in the midst of a conversation or trying to check out at the grocery store, she would gently grab my face with both of her hands and turn my head toward her so that we were face to face–looking straight into each other’s eyes.

It was her way of telling me she needed my full attention. Face to face.  Looking directly at each other.  She learned early that being present–giving someone your full attention–requires something more than just physical presence.  It means turning your undivided attention to them.  Eyes.  Ears.  Heart.

If I didn’t look her way during those times, the tears would flow–she wasn’t afraid to show me how she felt about the attention she needed. She let me know that, at that moment, she needed to be the focus of my attention–the most important person or thing in my life now! She needed me to show her that she mattered more than the groceries or the girl at the checkout stand or the form the doctor needed me to complete.

My daughter taught me about being present–of showing others that they matter. She reminded me that I, too, long to matter in the eyes of others.  That I long for loving, messy, drop-everything-now relationships.  She reminded me to off the tv, the laptop, and the cellphone–and turn my attention to those I love. Those who, like me, long for relationships that say, “you matter to me.” To give others the attention I long for, too.

It can be efficient to multi-task. We can work and watch tv.  Talk on the phone and shop.  Have a conversation and check our text messages. Carry our small child around while we accomplish our daily tasks.

While sometimes mult-tasking is necessary, it doesn’t breed strong relationships. To be present–fully present–so that we can nurture the relationships in our lives, requires us to turn our eyes and ears and hearts toward others.  Like my daughter’s hands turning my face towards hers, we need to turn our hearts towards others and live fully in the moment.  To have relationships that enrich our lives and the lives of those around us.

And so, when I feel the urge to check my cell phone or turn on my laptop while spending time with family and friends, I think of my sweet girl. I remember those tiny hands pressed gently against my cheeks and I remember those big blue eyes staring me down–inches from my face.  And I smile.  I tuck my cell phone into my pocket or close the lid of my laptop.  And, I turn my heart and eyes and ears to the relationship at hand.

Being present everyday, not just this Christmas. That’s what Christ asks of us.

How will you live fully — how will you be present in the lives of others today?

Being Present This Christmas

Christmas eve at our home was about dinner and then an evening of opening gifts. As young kids, we looked forward to it with great anticipation.  We usually had dinner at the Gaddie’s house, so mom and dad would let us open one gift before we went to dinner, and then the rest when we got home–usually late at night.

I remember some of my favorite gifts. Mrs. Beasley, a talking doll.  Shrinking Violet, another talking doll.  Mighty Mike, a truck that could do anything.  And when I got older, a pair of my favorite “Seafarer” jeans.

I think back about those holidays and I remember the tree and opening gifts and the feeling of anticipation. They were good memories.  Time with family.  Time with family friends.

But the focus was on the gifts and the opening of gifts. At times, it was embarrassing.  So many gifts piled under the tree.  We joined in the consumerism that drives Christmas in America.

Guilty as charged.

But, four years ago, that changed for me.  Our Pastor and a few other pastors from around the United States introduced a radical idea:  Advent Conspiracy.  It was exactly what I needed–affirmation that I could get off the treadmill of consumerism and celebrate Christmas in a way that honors Christ.

I’m so grateful.

Advent Conspiracy is about reclaiming Christmas for Christ — worshiping fully, spending less, giving more [time], and loving all during the season of advent. Advent Conspiracy asks us to be present this holiday–present in the lives of those we know and love.  To give of ourselves by making gifts or just spending time with those we love.  To avoid racking up credit card charges for gifts out of a feeling of obligation.  Instead,  to focus on Christ and his love for the world.  To worship Him, and in doing so, to love the world–to love the least of these.

Advent Conspiracy has changed Christmas for our family. We buy no gifts.  In fact, after Thanksgiving, the only shopping I do is for groceries and household items.  The stress of the traffic and crowds, the pressure to find the perfect gift for each person, is gone.

Instead, we pack up our car and spend three days together as a family at the beach. While it is still a “gift” to take a short trip, it is a gift of time together.  This is our fourth year.  And, I can’t tell you how it feels to have our now young adult children “anticipate” Christmas.  Beginning in July, the kids start asking about the trip.  And, from September on, we hear over and over how much they are looking forward to the trip.

It isn’t fancy or eventful, after all, it rains at the Oregon Coast all winter. So, we’re pretty much stuck indoors as a family for three days.  Together, we cook, read books, build puzzles, play games, sit by the fire and look out on God’s creation–and even brave walking on the beach in the wind and rain.  And, we also catch up on each others lives.  We spend time being present–living in the moment.  Laughing, talking, loving.

Advent Conspiracy–our celebration of Christ’s birth–is more than that, too. Advent becomes a season of Worship because we don’t have to think about buying gifts or spending money.  And, instead of giving what might be meaningless or trivial gifts, we give to local and international charities–to the least of these.  To those who Christ asks us to love as He loved.

God’s gift to us was a relationship with Christ–a relationship rooted in love. I’m praying that we celebrate Christ’s birth in a way that reflects His love.  I’m praying for a season of being present in the lives of others.

May your season be so blessed.

Here is the Advent Conspiracy Video.  I hope you enjoy it!

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