What are we searching for?

As Advent 2020 began, I continued to struggle with health challenges. Grieving losses, mine and those I care about, I worked hard not to carry the weight of our crazy world in my heart. (I tried, anyway.) Seeing Christmas lights and plastic cartoon figures pop up around our neighborhood, I put out the figures for our manger scene, one lone cow resting under the light.

The shepherd and his lambs watched the skies from the mantel.

Mary, Joseph and the donkey journeyed across the bookcase in the next room, then on to the mantel.

Wise men and camels made their way from the Far East – well, from the corner.

Some days, heavy with sad news from others or a downward turn in my health, I felt stuck in that far corner, too.

Nevertheless, the characters slowly made their way toward the manger as I prayed for the Creator Life to come in a new fresh way to all those I was praying for against so much darkness, and into my heart.

On December 21st , I was struck by the buzz about the convergence of Saturn and Jupiter, dubbed the “Christmas star.”

Hopeful excitement in 2020 is welcome and worth pondering!

Not well enough to go, I waited for my husband’s pictures from the Celery Fields. When I saw his photos and those on social media, I wondered, what are they seeking?

Jupiter and Saturn

With a year like this, with death and sickness from COVID, uncountable loss of life, health, jobs, plans, security, companionship, activities, and normalcy, and adding in the racial strife, so much anger in our cities and our political process, wild fires that wouldn’t stop burning, and hurricane after hurricane bringing devastation…

You know the list. You likely have your own personal anguish or loss to add to it.

Aren’t we all looking for light out of the darkness of 2020?

We did our part with a Bethlehem star above our house and warm candles in the window (offering a welcome we couldn’t extend this year).

We tried, anyway.

But the truth is, even before 2020, in some ways we were “cooped and crawling.”

“And that inverted Bowl we call The Sky,
Whereunder crawling coop’t we live and die,
Lift not thy hands to it for help — for It
Rolls impotently on as Thou or I.”

― Omar Khayyám, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

I observed everything going on under the sun, and really, it is all meaningless—like chasing the wind.

Ecclesiates 1:14 NLT

As we read over and over in Eccleseastes, eveything under the sun is futile, like leaves blowing in the wind. That’s life outside of God’s presence.

Even the best of us are in some way darkened or twisted by our faults, or have suffered from someone else who is acting out of their pain.

How often we search for the light in some way, through a person, a job, a possession, accomplishments, success, even if just a series of small happendings like a great meal or a day at the beach. However, too often we find ourselves still wanting, still seeking.

In that pursuit, especially this year, some have found themselves lost in addiction or hopelessness.

As I gazed at the waiting crèche, I realized why I treasure those little porcelain figures, why I enact my little pageant every year. As they glow in the Christmas lights they remind me how much I need the Creator and Sustainer of life itself to enter my world, our world.

My heart needs redeeming, over and over again. So I sing, “Come, oh come Immanuel,” not just in Advent or Christmas, but daily.

“Joy to the World, the Lord has come!” is more than nice music. Thankfully, the coming of the light is not a once in a lifetime event like the convergence of those planets.

Yes, we have a bright star to lead us. The Light of Christ has come into the world to bring light into our darkness, every day.

Hope for those in pain or isolation.

Freedom from whatever keeps us cooped and crawling.

Everyone is ready to bid 2020 goodbye, with high hopes that 2021 will bring a release from isolation and fear of infection. But only one thing is certain.

The Word was first, the Word present to God, God present to the Word. The Word was God, in readiness for God from day one. Everything was created through him; nothing—not one thing!—came into being without him. What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by. The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out.

John 1: 1-5

The light has come. Help isn’t just “on the way.”

He is here. God with us.

Immanuel.

No haloes here

LIttle Mac on blanket, Virginia Beach, VA

This weekend, many of us in the Western church are celebrating All Saints Day.  I’m grateful for the big Saints, people like Moses, the prophets, Peter, Paul, and John, who proclaimed and documented the faith, and those who shared it so that we could receive it, too. I thank God for them, but this weekend, I’ll be thinking of my little brother Mac, who I lost to Lake Ontario in Oswego, NY. He was the first of what is now quite a gathering of loved ones I miss who have gone on before me. How I look forward to our reunion!

When I attended confirmation class at Christ Church in Oswego, after early dismissal on Tuesday afternoons for religious instruction, I trudged through the snow a little over a mile and a half from the Oswego State Teachers College Campus School to Christ Church, though it seemed longer, especially on the cold, dark walk home.

Despite the boy’s hard snowballs stinging my bare legs (on Tuesdays, I refused to wear my baggy, hand-me-down snow pants) I loved going to church and learning the faith. I especially enjoyed our weekly hymn, “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God.” The second line still lights up for me.

“They loved their Lord so dear, so dear, and his love made them strong.”

Every week, I sang from my heart,

“For the saints of God are just folks like me, and I long to be one, too.”

For much of my life, I’ve tried “to be one, too.” I’ve had some not too spectacular failures and some of what looks like success. But it has taken me an inordinate amount of time to begin to really grasp the meaning of that second verse: “…his love made them strong.”

This weekend, I am playing the song in my mind (I often have a tune looping through my days and nights) with an emphasis on really receiving His love, not trying to be a good, saintly person so I can earn a halo.

Okay, I didn’t think I was working for a physical halo, but that really is the sum of my trying-so-hard-to-get-it-right actions, and the nighttime rehash of my days, my not-good-enough pronouncement on what I had done or failed to do that day.  

I was struck recently picturing Adam and Eve in the Garden. There, Eve chose her own way to satisfy her longing for wisdom, for more of whatever she thought she needed. She believed the lie that God wouldn’t provide.

All through the Old Testament, we have the history of God promising what the people needed, and most of the time, people choosing to try to get what they wanted in their own way.

The outcome was loss, just as it was for Adam and Eve, the loss of everything they really needed.

When he celebrated his last Passover with his friends, Jesus broke the bread and offered it to them, and told them to keep remembering.

Keep accepting the love he offers.

Keep choosing life through him, not trying to meet our needs our own way.

When he died on the cross and rose from death, he drew a big X over the world and everything in it that drags our hearts into darkness and death.

This weekend, I sing a song of the saints of God, reminding myself of that freedom, that love, that promise of life with Him in eternity, grateful I don’t have to earn a halo, or even polish one.

I can simply take life from his hand as he offers it.

His love makes me strong enough.

Good enough.

His love.

Such a gift.

It’s not so much what we do, but where we go to meet our needs that determines the outcome of our lives.

What are you choosing today?

Cut off?

Recently, I broke off two stems from a shrub I enjoy propagating and stuck them in water. A week later, one was wilting, and the other full and green. Looking at the roots, it was clear why one failed to thrive.

After a couple more days, the difference was even more dramatic.

The weak plant finally made a tiny effort to spurt a few roots, but not enough to get the job done. I tossed it in the compost pile.

The one that put out roots right away is now even stronger. With a growing root system, even in water, it is ready to go into the soil.

With the suddenness of the COVID-19 sequestration back in March, for many of us, our lives felt chopped off like that plant, broken or severely altered in countless ways: connection with others (too little or too much), job/income or business losses, schools, worship gatherings, athletic events worked so hard for, birthdays, anticipated holidays and trips, long prepared-for confirmations, baptisms, weddings and graduations postponed or drive by only.

Even being able to go to the store and choose our veggies became a no-go for many of us. (I won’t go into the time and energy to decontaminate groceries once they arrive at our house.)

After months of this, I’m wondering how many are floundering without their on-the-go busy life, no concerts or meet-ups, dining out, parties, or gym workouts, or church services to attend.

Hugs, anyone?

The diversions that used to keep introspection at bay have been sliced out from under us.

How have you handled the severance of everything we call normal?

Was it okay for a while, but now you are beginning to fray around the edges? Wilting, asking, “How much longer?”

Like the two stems, broken from their normal source of nourishment, when life cuts us off at the knees, we decide how we are going to respond. If we want to flourish, then our first priority has to be developing a new root system.

Life, as it used to be, won’t support us anymore.

I love Psalm 1. The ones who delight in God’s law, who seek his wisdom, are like trees planted by the riverbank.  

If we want to thrive, we have to go deeper for our life source.

Not find a different diversion or distraction.

Or comfort food.

And certainly not yielding to old habits, patterns, or addictions that used to enslave us.

At some point for all of us, life will offer challenges. Even if we’d rather not face them, in reality, it’s when it gets hard that real living begins. For a plant to thrive it needs a good, strong root system and a consistent source of water.

And so do we.

But I’m not going to give you advice on how to improve yourself, or Bible verses to memorize, even though that might be helpful.

Sometimes it’s in doing less that our roots go deeper. As I’m learning in lessons sprinkled throughout my adult life, I can’t do anything to actually make good roots grow.

Ps 37: 7 says: “Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act.” NLT

The same loving hands that knit me together in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139) and prepared me to live (Eph 1:4), has guided and protected me through the years, and is here, now, to take me deeper. He will develop in me whatever I need to reach His nourishing love. (2 Peter 1:3)

I’m learning to stop trying so hard to get it right.

It’s in resting I find my peace. Then I will bloom and grow.

God makes his people strong. God gives his people peace. Ps 29: 11 MSG

Today, I invite you to join me in this prayer from The Swindoll Study Bible, p 675

Oh, God, we long to enter into the rest You promise to those who trust in You. Give us ears to hear. Give us hearts to trust. Give us wills to wait. Put stops on our efficiency so that we learn, while resting, that You have all things under Your control—even people who are doing what is wrong. So today I pray that You would help us rest in You.  Amen

Where are you going for strength?