At Christmas, We Fight

By Holly

Pezibear / Pixabay

On the shores of the Puget Sound, in a quaint coffee shop called The Jewel Box, I spend December Mondays reading Timothy Keller’s Hidden Christmas with friends.  We wrestle new insights about the birth of Jesus.  We admit our reluctance to accept the darkness in all of humankind.  Most importantly, we carve a humble slice of time to shift from holiday mode to Christmas meaning.

I feel the collective fight of the holiday season.  We fight to hold space that honors the how and why of Christmas, to occupy that sacred space with friends and family, with silence and time.

On unusually wintry Pacific Northwest nights, I slide into cold sheets and feel my heart make an uncharacteristic turn toward repentance.  Pride, control and judgment surface.  In the darkness, I see myself more clearly.  I fade as the flame-lit furnace kicks on, singing me to sleep.  

We fight for hearts that are more divine than human.

The fragility of things that once seemed stable – finances, careers, health – is brought to light as a light snow falls, vanishes.  As I feel my way through uncertainty, I understand why God told the Israelites to remember.  I remember things that seemed impossible years ago – dreams, longings, needs – and the ways God turned them into miracles I live with now.

 We fight to be people who see the future in miracles.

And none of this comes naturally.

There are things we fight against, too.

Another trip to the mall, stockings waiting to be filled, bank accounts taking their annual dip…  and anxiety rises deep within me.  I pray for freedom from the urge to numb my overwhelm with control.

We fight against self-reliance.

As one more pocket on the advent calendar is emptied, I taste the confusing mix of familiar feelings that arrive at the end of a year.  I want to rush ahead and meet the “new” of a New Year.  At the same time, I am weighed down with fear.  Another 365 days are gone.  Did I spend them well?  Was I enough?

We fight against the vortex of the past and the pull of the future.

We fight for things that are not natural and against those that are.

And in the battle, this battle for good, I can easily miss this:  it’s not about what I am fighting for or against.  It’s about the fight itself.  That we are all in it.  And that every single one of us, no matter how hard we try each day, how much faith we embody or how much good we do, needs to be rescued from the fight.

And, this, this is the meaning, the necessity, of Christmas:  Rescue already came.  Because God knew we all need it.

I imagine that newborn baby boy in the manger.  I see a fighter.

These 2 Look Good Together

by Kari

Stevebidmead / Pixabay

My mind has been fascinated with word pairings lately. Two words that intrigue me as I encounter people throughout the day and listen to political talking-heads throughout this election season are these: Humility and Conviction. Though they are hard to come by are they not the sweetest of friends when you come across them in a person? And isn’t it a beautiful thing that, yes, the Kingdom of God is among us.

Humility and Conviction

Hand in hand
they walk together
and do best
when in each other’s
clasp

But if Humility frees
her fingers
there is a Pride
who slithers to
counterfeit the posture

Conviction then changes
to shades of judgment
forgetting days so recent
of Humility’s embrace
which made her
more gentle, grace-filled

And there are times
when Conviction leaves
Humility’s side and
her gait slows down
gets mowed down
by the tracks of others
and called Weak-One
instead of Humility

And there is hope!
Yes, hope eternal!
These two can and will
walk together
paving the way for
justice and tranquility
and it starts in the
heart of each of us

God’s Kingdom is here!
Just look at them:
Humility and Conviction

Giving: Is It All About the Sacrifice?

By Holly

joduma / Pixabay

joduma / Pixabay

I can picture her sitting at the head of the dining room table; it’s midnight and she’s just getting started. Photos are strewn across the brown leather table protector; sticky album pages wait for their fill of memories, their place in the finished gift.

It is 1992, before scrapbooking is a thing. There are no 12”x12” decorative pages or digital layout tools. My mom’s project will take months, countless late-night hours. I am fourteen, old enough to understand how much our youth pastor, Kevin, who is moving from the Midwest to Las Vegas, will appreciate my mom’s efforts, and young enough to absorb a definition of giving.

The scrapbook project is mammoth, covering more than a decade of memories from hundreds of people with no help from the internet. Just an old-school photo album, kitchen shears, Scotch tape and an ambitious woman’s self-sacrifice.

Sacrifice. It’s the cornerstone of giving, right? We hear it from the pulpit on Sunday mornings and TV ads comparing monthly latte budgets with the cost of school for a little girl in South Africa. We feel it when a friend shows up and lets her millions of other things wait and when those who have the least gather the most tags from the Angel Tree. We see it at midnight through teenage eyes.

And, all the while, the story of the ultimate cruciform-shaped sacrifice pulses through our veins like a dare to choose a selfish, guilty life or a sacrificial, giving one.

We do our best to choose the latter.

Then one day, somewhere between fourteen and forty, sacrificing and giving become one and the same. Spiritual synonyms. Sacrigiving. We find our ourselves trying to feel the cheerful heart that God loves as we search for the right ways to give – the ones that come with words like inconvenient, uncomfortable and risky. The stuff that will move us from our cozy, protected, latte-filled lives into the unpredictable, risky, faithful world of sacrificial giving.

We spend a lot of time wondering if we are sacrificial enough, and may find ourselves creating sacrificial scenarios to cancel out our selfishness, and hyperfocusing on giving because it’s what God called us to do.

But there’s this thing about giving that God says over and over again, this thing that gets lost in sacrigiving: Obedience is better than sacrifice.

Even thousands of years ago when sacrifice was worship and the goats were slaughtered in the name of faith. Even then. Even in 2016 when we have too much, spend too much and eat too much. Even now.

God wants our obedience more than our sacrifice. And so it seems that God only wants our sacrigiving if it is out of obedience.

I saw my mom sacrifice; I didn’t know it was obedience.

Even now, I don’t like the word, “obedient.” It feels parental, submissive, even robotic. Maybe that’s why it’s easier to go for the sacrifice. Or maybe it’s just that sacrifices are tangible, seen and praised.

But it helps me to learn that the Hebrew term for obedience, shema, means “to listen.” And the Hebrew language does not separate hearing from responding. I like to think that this means we can’t listen to God without changing.

Shema first. Change me first.

As I enter this season of giving this is my prayer: Shema.

Shema first. And the giving will come.

Giving: Is it All About the Sacrifice?

By Holly

joduma / Pixabay

I can picture her sitting at the head of the dining room table; it’s midnight and she’s just getting started.  Photos are strewn across the brown leather table protector; sticky album pages wait for their fill of memories, their place in the finished gift.

It is 1992, before scrapbooking is a thing.  There are no 12”x12” decorative pages or digital layout tools.  My mom’s project will take months, countless late-night hours.  I am fourteen, old enough to understand how much our youth pastor, Kevin, who is moving from the Midwest to Las Vegas, will appreciate my mom’s efforts, and young enough to absorb a definition of giving.

geralt / Pixabay

The scrapbook project is mammoth, covering more than a decade of memories from hundreds of people with no help from the internet.  Just an old-school photo album, kitchen shears, Scotch tape and an ambitious woman’s self-sacrifice.

Sacrifice.  It’s the cornerstone of giving, right?  We hear it from the pulpit on Sunday mornings and TV ads comparing monthly latte budgets with the cost of school for a little girl in South Africa.  We feel it when a friend shows up and lets her millions of other things wait and when those who have the least gather the most tags from the Angel Tree.  We see it at midnight through teenage eyes.

And, all the while, the story of the ultimate cruciform-shaped sacrifice pulses through our veins like a dare to choose a selfish, guilty life or a sacrificial, giving one.

We do our best to choose the latter.

Then one day, somewhere between fourteen and forty, sacrificing and giving become one and the same.  Spiritual synonyms.  Sacrigiving.  We find our ourselves trying to feel the cheerful heart that God loves as we search for the right ways to give – the ones that come with words like inconvenient, uncomfortable and risky.  The stuff that will move us from our cozy, protected, latte-filled lives into the unpredictable, risky, faithful world of sacrificial giving.

We spend a lot of time wondering if we are sacrificial enough, and may find ourselves creating sacrificial scenarios to cancel out our selfishness, and hyperfocusing on giving because it’s what God called us to do.

But there’s this thing about giving that God says over and over again, this thing that gets lost in sacrigivingObedience is better than sacrifice.

Even thousands of years ago when sacrifice was worship and the goats were slaughtered in the name of faith.  Even then.  Even in 2016 when we have too much, spend too much and eat too much.   Even now.

God wants our obedience more than our sacrifice.  And so it seems that God only wants our sacrigiving if it is out of obedience.

I saw my mom sacrifice; I didn’t know it was obedience. 

 Even now, I don’t like the word, “obedient.” It feels parental, submissive, even robotic.  Maybe that’s why it’s easier to go for the sacrifice.  Or maybe it’s just that sacrifices are tangible, seen and praised.

But it helps me to learn that the Hebrew term for obedience, shema, means “to listen.”  And the Hebrew language does not separate hearing from responding.  I like to think that this means we can’t listen to God without changing.

Shema first. Change me first.

As I enter this season of giving this is my prayer:  Shema.

Shema first.  And the giving will come.

A Story to Help You Breathe Before the Holidays

By Holly

Illuvis / Pixabay

Have you heard the story about the gardener and the Emperor Moth?  The one that celebrates the necessity and power of struggle and attempts to answer the why of suffering? By showing what happens when a gardener tries to free a moth by snipping its restricting cocoon with a pair of scissors, we are reminded of the purpose behind pain and that, sometimes, rescue is exactly what we don’t need.

I love that even moths give up sometimes.  I love the gardener’s tenderness and the imagery of the fragile veil – a hair’s breadth of tissue – providing exactly what the moth needs to grow a body and wings that can fly.

And, in this season of busyness and giving, I find comfort in this:  Because the Emperor Moth resisted the struggle, it never flew.  It couldn’t stop it’s healing, growing work just because the Starbucks cups turned red or the pre-Black Friday emails piled up in the inbox.  It didn’t matter what was going on in that vast world less than a millimeter away:  the Emperor Moth was meant to be in a season of cocooning.

Maybe, in these post-election holidays, the pressure to give, help and serve feels greater than ever.  There’s a distinct empowerment that arrives with the aftermath of 18 months of bearing witness to so much hate and division.  We renew our belief that change really does begin on the ground, even when the earth we travel consists of humble small town sidewalks, swampy November soccer fields and minivan-worn suburban streets.  We feel more certain that there is something we can do, that small acts done with great love really do matter.

So when you are asked to do more, be more and give more this holiday season, when you feel like there’s a fire within you that’s waiting to be put out with saying, “yes,” when you want to crash into the end of 2016 like a combat-boot clad Mother Teresa…pause, breathe, and ask yourself:  What season am I in?

Because the Emperor Moth resisted the struggle, it never flew.

And…isn’t time always a season of giving?  

Like the Emperor Moth, there are times that we must struggle in our own thin cocoons before we can do what we need to do in this world.  And if that’s happening for you now, the pressure – temptation, even – to get out there and do more, be more and give more, can make its way through your thin, protective tissue just like the gardener’s shears.  The needs of this broken world can press in so hard that escaping into busyness feels like the only way.

But what about your wings?

Do you want to be swollen with untimely yeses and premature escapes or filled up with acceptance of a season that is more cocoon than wings?   Swelling retreats; it fades away by being squeezed and compressed into something smaller, a substance reabsorbed.  But a filled-up person pours out into the world.

If, in these uncertain holy-days that will wrap up 2016, your season is one of healing, growing, grieving or refining, remember the story of the Emperor Moth.  Remember your struggle needs space, even when what’s out there is tempting and good and seems like it will fill you up.  Breathe.  And remember the season of giving, loving, helping and changing is one that never ends.

Because the Emperor Moth resisted the struggle, it never flew.

The world wants you to fly.