I AM _________________ .

I spent the entire drive home rolling it over and over in my mind. Down right angry at the way the world works. Because if I were in control I would grab the broken system by its shoulders and give it a shake. I would look it straight in the eye and demand change. Surely there’s something to be done, some fix to this mess, somebody out there who knows a better way.

I put the car in park and sit in the driveway all tied up in knots. This is a big broken mess. It leaves me feeling helpless and my heart literally aches. What to do… what to do. Is there anything I can do?

Yes Lord, I heard her mention we should pray about it. I doesn’t feel like that’s enough. 

As I open the door my eyes drift to the sacred space.

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Scripture words float across my mind. I am the vine. You are the branches. Abide in me. 

Oh my. How in the world did I go from teaching the young ones about God’s name I AM to this? Just thirty minutes ago I had them write I AM ___________________ and fill the blank in a way that points to God in their struggle. Some word to remind them of who God is in the midst of the hard. It’s so easy to teach, much harder to live especially when the issue is big, and there’s nothing I can do to control or change it.

I take my own medicine, heed my own teaching words and fill in the blank.

I AM working, saving, protecting.

I AM WHO I AM.

I AM the vine, you are the branch. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

Please don’t misunderstand. These are not words to be taken out of context. Nor are they coins to slide into some heavenly slot machine. No, these are reminder words. For truth is I am in control of very little, and I waste much energy attempting to fix things I’m not called to fix.

My friend was right. When the issue is too big and it feels there’s not much we can do, we pray. We write words in I Am blanks and abide. For prayer has the enormous power to change the world and its systems.

And at the same time it unfolds enough in me.

Rest in the Mess

“Aunt Stac, do you have a word for this year?” my spunky niece questioned with eyebrows raised. I shared my word and she responded, “That was your word last year!”

Oh, I know sweet one. Last year’s word still has work to do. I would like to say I’m moving on to a different word, but I’m not. New year, new decade, same word. Ugh. With a little chagrin I carry last year’s word into 2020.

The word… rest.

Lord knows I need focus. I’m bent to dream and imagine and conjure up all kinds of things. I gather much energy when I think of a new year and its possibilities. I’m the staff member who actually enjoys the visioning meetings.

What can I say? I love, love, love new beginnings. Dr. Suess’ Oh The Places You’ll Go is my theme book.

My word for the 2020 sparks little excitement. I’ve made no plans as to what the year will hold, what this word will mean for me. Each time my thoughts wander to the planning of some great scheme, those four letters drift across my mind.

R… E… S… T.

As I put away most holiday decorations I create  space for my early morning devotions. Inspiration becksons me to leave the tree up a little longer. A reminder Christ is born in me each and every day. By the time I finish my sacred space is clean, organized, and inviting.

It’s three days into the new year when I look over as my fisherman spreads his stuff out to prepare for the next day’s trip. No big deal, he’ll finish the job shortly right? Wrong! Eight days into the New Year and it’s still there. My sacred space, my place of rest looks like a tackle box.

Here… take a look.

Messy Christmas

Sun’s first light makes its way over trees as I reach through a maze of fishing rods to light the candle. I pour coffee and ponder.  I’ll take my stuff to another room. Maybe I should just carefully set the stuff aside and clear the space. I could throw it in the yard. No… no that’s not helpful. 

In the end I find a clear corner and watch night become day. I pray for those who float through my mind and turn thoughts heavenward. Right in the middle of the mess I rest. No cleaning it up, no pushing it aside, no hiding it in drawers or baskets. Though I want to. Oh, how I want to.

This resting business is a wrestling match of sorts. And the condition of my devotional space paints a picture of what’s happening on the inside of me.

Where did I get the idea rest only happens in clean and tidy spaces?  Some part of me must believe God won’t show up in this mess.

I know this is an upside down approach, but what if rest is the thing to do smack dab in the middle of messy? Before the cleaning, the organizing, the purging.  Rest might be the thing to do before the day begins, before the cleaning begins.

I remember holy words,  “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”

This morning I imagine Jesus turning holy words my direction.

“Come to me in the middle of the mess. Leave it be. Let it go. You, daughter of mine, are called to rest. Let me turn it right side up for you.  Rest is not about a job well done. Nor is it lazy or irresponsible. I was born to inhabit your mess. We’ll clean it up together. Rest assured I will show up. No matter what.

This way to Peace.

The early phone call is a nice surprise. He needs a place to crash while working in a town nearby. “Do you have room for one more tonight?” I smile because there’s always been room since the day we brought him home from the hospital. And let me tell you he needs lots of room for his larger than life living and big personality.

We end the call and I make mental preparations. Dinner plan… check. Place to sleep… check. Let the youngest know… check. This changes the day. I work a little faster hoping to leave the shop on time. I rearrange a few to do items on my list to spend time with the family at home.

Folks, seventy-two minutes is all I got. Because dinner plans with friends are already in progress and there’s no need to set his place at the table. We hover around in the kitchen with friends and cousins, laughing, talking, and then… they’re gone.

Making my way to the couch takes the parting of a shoe sea.

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“Looks like Jesus came back and all that’s left is their shoes,” I jokingly say to the hubby.

If you’re a mom of teens and infant adults you can imagine where my thoughts might have gone. Is seventy-two minutes all a mother gets? I am the one who birthed you, nursed you, and attempted to direct you. Is this all it’s worth? 

A while back I would have pouted and sulked, maybe cried a few tears, but over the last few months I’ve been practicing something I read.

Everyday there are things we want, situations in our relationships, work, ministry or projects that we’d like to have turn out a certain way, which, of course, is natural. But pushing for a certain outcome is contrary to Jesus’ easy yoke. Instead of trying to make things happen the way you want in that circumstance you let go of your agenda and entrust the results to God.

–Bill Gaultiere, Ph.D., Your Best Life In Jesus’ Easy Yoke

I get up earlier than usual to make coffee and see him off to work. He gets ready as I sit at the table soaking in his presence. He stops with his suitcase in hand, opens the door and looks back, “I’m not sure what the day will bring. I could be back tonight or maybe in a month. Love you Mom.”

I watch his taillights fade away and grin. Turns out this letting go of outcomes practice makes way for praise. Because in this moment I’m thankful for every second of seventy-two minutes, for the unexpected hug of my son’s friend there in the kitchen, and the day’s work ahead.

The morning’s devotional leads me to the sacred place, but my mind is on the mountain of tasks I need to complete. There’s decorations to finish and stockings to fill. Food to prepare and neighbors to bless. What in the world will I get him? I have to order the last of the gifts today…

Oh how quickly the moment fades. I imagine and dream of all the perfect outcomes when I notice something he’s forgotten.

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These are my blinking yellow light.

Proceed with caution… slow down… look both ways.

Advent is a time to yield control to the only One who can possibly bring about a good outcome. It probably won’t look like I imagine, at least it hasn’t in the past. Does it really even matter if it does? Most will not remember the gifts or the creative wrapping. Running out of time to make kolaches is not something they’ll hold over my head for years to come.

The forgotten empty shoes signal me to surrender, and give me direction. Details will be forgotten. Love, peace, joy. These are the things we’ll remember. My list fades into the background and I breath peace deep. Everlasting, unexplainable, Christ the Savior is born peace.

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

Philippians 4:6-7, The Message

 

 

 

Don’t Look Back…

The podcaster’s words grab me, “Nostalgia, or at least remaining nostalgic for long periods of time, is a sin. Looking back, attempting to return to what once was, is faithless living.”

I literally shuddered with defense when he called nostalgia a sin. Don’t misunderstand, remembering days gone by was not his focus. He talked about the desire to return to better days instead of looking forward.

I looked it up in the dictionary.

Nostalgia means the “state of being homesick or a wistful and excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition.” (Merriam Webster)

Hmmm… he might be right.

I’m reminded of the newly freed Israelites who complained and voiced their desire to return to slavery.

Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.

Exodus 14:12, ESV

I think about the comments I hear others make about our country and politics. I listen and laugh as my friend fondly recalls our teen years when carrying quarters in our pocket was a reminder to call home. I hear my hubby’s longing to return to a time when we stayed up late on Christmas Eve assembling toys.

More importantly I notice my own desire to encourage parents to enjoy the years when their children are young as if this is somehow better than what I enjoy with my children now.  When I get stuck in the remembering, I miss the here and now. I miss the joy of landing the dream job she worked so hard to get, or the new Christmas tree in the new house in the new state where he lives. Looking back causes me to forget the wonderful place this family is experiencing now and the places God is moving us toward.

Whew! I hate to admit my faithless living but his words ring true. I light the second Advent candle and sigh deep with repentance.

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I wonder if Mary thought about the good ole days on the way to Bethlehem. Did she wish for easier times? Second guess her decision to say yes to God? Is it possible she despised the government’s demand for the taking of a census. Heavy laden with child did she yearn for the comfort of her bed or bemoan the loss of her youth?

And what about Joseph. As he walked mile after mile did he worry about taking care of his pregnant bride? Did he ever consider returning?

Though the scriptures don’t reveal their thoughts, I can imagine doubt along the way. But it didn’t deter them. Didn’t stop them in their tracks or cause them to go back. The very fact they kept going is testiment to their faith.

Hebrews describes faith as forward looking to things hoped for not things once lived (Hebrews 11:1). Podcast words become my sign, “Going back, attempting to recover the past, is faithless living.”

Lighting the second candle reminds me Advent is a eyes forward, looking ahead journey. Bethlehem calls me to take the next step, remember with joy how God brought us to this place, and look foward expectantly to coming days.

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.

Jeremiah 31:31-34

I Can’t Drive 55

It’s early. Really early when my eyes open wide. I roll over hoping for another hour of sleep, but sleep won’t come. Before I count to ten my thoughts run. Twenty more days until Christmas. Less than three weeks to get it all done. I need to order this, and pick up that. What in the world will I get him? 

I consider my calendar for the next few days. I need to get the tree by Thursday. He says if we don’t go soon there won’t be any good ones left. How in the world did my friend get all of this done before Black Friday? I wish I had her discipline.

I pour coffee and gather Advent devotionals. Is it even possible to get all the work done? I may need to put in a few extra hours next week. I should make a list.

I stoke the fire and climb back in bed. My friend’s devotional words strike a nerve. He tells of being intentional about slowing down. How it changed his poor attitude about the Christmas Season. His encouragment speaks to me.

Do the things that help you keep focus.  Focus, Stacy. Focus. 

I already need a speed limit sign and we are just four days into the season. Some constant reminder going fast, getting it all done is not the way. At least not for me anyway.

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This Advent journey is not an open highway where I can push the speed limit. Nor will there be any “making up time” as my hubby likes to say. There must be a slowing down on my way to the manger. An arms wide open embracing of every single mile. Every twist and curve. Every hill and valley. Some moments will be a blur and others will feel as if they last forever. In the end, it will all get done or it won’t.

The truth is none of that matters if I arrive at my destination and miss out on living along the way. This is one of the most beautiful things I’m learning as I follow His lead. There’s always time. Time to live the journey. Time to notice the good and the not so good. Time to sit a while, sip coffee and be present to the moment at hand.

The manger will be there when I arrive. It’s waiting for me. When I get there I’ll creep quietly forward careful not to wake the sleeping babe. I’ll gaze with wonder at the sight of the Savior resting in the hay. If there’s one thing I know, He’ll be there.

He always is.

So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant.

While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.

Luke 2:5-7, The Message

Journey to the Manger

Advent slips in without much fanfare as hunters head off long before the break of dawn. As they stand in the wetlands of my son’s new home state, my daughter and I sip coffee and prepare for our Sunday morning journey. Most Sundays you’ll find the two of us worshipping within the walls of our churches, but not today. Today we plan to hike to the top of the peak that keeps drawing our attention from here below.

We make a quick stop at the visitor’s center where the volunteer encourages us, “The weather’s perfect and the trail is totally doable for you.”

And so our journey begins.

The sun shines bright as we make our way up the well worn trail. Strangers come and go along the way. Our dogs sniff and scurry as we sit to rest before the final push. We climb, we rest, we climb some more. By professional hiking standards this is an easy trail, but for us it is a challenge. Each step has my complete focus. No looking up. No turning back. Up and up we go, step by step, until finally we stand tall to take in the view.

As I passed by her to the farthest edge the question came, “Did you notice I’m not scared?” Until this very  moment, until the words came out of my mouth, I hadn’t noticed either. Wait? What did I just say? Is it even true?

I take notice of my heart rate, my breathing, my thoughts. No panic rising from within. No thoughts of falling off the side to my death. Nothing. This is new. I’m not even sure what to do with it. Oh my word! How is this possible? 

Pinnacle peak

She snaps the picture and I revel in the joy of the moment. I’ll not remember this moment as the end of a long hard climb, nor an arrival at my final destination. It is both a beginning and an end. A sign of surprise transformation I choose to embrace here and now, and wonderful way to usher in this first day of the Advent season.

Won’t you join me here on the blog as I mark my Advent journey with photos and words. Like signs pointing me to the birthplace of the Savior, I’ll share them with you. And maybe you’ll have a sign to drop in the comments too as we make our way together to the manger.

Clean up on Aisle 3!

Two weeks ago I broke my hard and fast rule of no Christmas decorations until after Thanksgiving. My young adult children may read this and wonder what in the world has happened to me.

It is not a rule I think everyone should adhere to because I’m not even sure where I came up with it. Looking back I realize our Thanksgiving preparations and travel kept me too busy to even think about the next season. But this year feels different and when the desire hit me to place a tinsel tree in my bedroom, I did.

Little by little over the next few days I set out holiday items. I find myself enjoying the process as I arrange Mary and Joseph on the hutch. In the moment, I am content with the change around here. The quiet doesn’t seem so hard. Letting go of my self imposed rule brings new freedom and joy.

A few days later we run errands in a nearby town. We grab lunch, purchase the ever growing teen a few pair of jeans, and order Thanksgiving dinner. I hesitantly ask to check out the new craft store, and he relucantly says yes. Moving from place to place feels a lot like bumper to bumper traffic during rush hour because the store’s fifty percent off sale draws a large crowd. He follows along without much fuss enduring my life long love for all things crafty. We joke and laugh and fill the cart with necessities to create my holiday decor vision.

As we head up the next aisle he spots a cookie platter on the shelf and comments, “Remember when we placed the milk and cookies out each year. And how the oldest would exclaim, “Look Dad, Santa left me a cookie!”” He smiles and turns back to continue on his way. In an instant, with no warning tears well. Right there in the middle of the crowded store I’m a puddling mess.

Alarms sound in my thoughts, Clean up on aisle 3! Bring the mop and bucket. Set out the yellow caution signs. Almost empty nester is having a melt down!

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Only there’s no one to clean this up, and there’s no hiding it from the one who knows me too well. And so I just keep going. Pushing my cart and swiping tears and laughing at his antics of distraction. In this moment I’m content to laugh and cry all at the same time because this letting go brings freedom too.

We drive home and I let go of it all. The joy and the sorrow. The once was and what will be. The expectations, the self imposed rules, the hiding it all behind a smile…

And I give thanks for moments of contentment and meltdowns on aisle 3. For laughter, and sorrow, and the freedom both bring.

You did it: you changed wild lament
into whirling dance;
You ripped off my black mourning band
and decked me with wildflowers.
I’m about to burst with song;
I can’t keep quiet about you.
God, my God,
I can’t thank you enough.

Psalm 30:11-12, The Message

 

–Photo by Oliver Hale on Unsplash

Giving Thanks for Who I Am

It’s one of those busy days in the shop. I have lots to do and just when I get focused something draws me away. A phone call here, a request for help there, an email to send, facebook posts to make. My to do list is all over the board, and so am I. That’s when she jokingly says, “I see where your son may get some of his attention deficit from.”

This one haunts me for a few days. Is it true? Because there are days recently when it is hard to concentrate. Do I have a problem I haven’t noticed before? Is it something I should work on? 

My gut reaction was to defend myself, to come up with a mirad of excuses. I considered what to do so others wouldn’t see this in me. Sort of a self help appoach because honestly, I am concerned about how others see me.

As I dove deeper and appoached God with my dilemma, I recognized the beginning of an identity crisis coming on. Is this who I am? How can I change it? Why in the world am I still thinking about this? Lord, what do you think? Can you give me some insight here? 

Identity is a funny thing. You think you know who you are until something comes along and makes you wonder.

I watch the news and hear talk of stolen identities. An entertainment clip features a young person claiming a new identity with words I’ve never heard. Everywhere I look I notice talk of changing identities as if it is a simple matter of outward appearance or vocabulary. For me it is not that simple. Every age and stage of life offers me an opportunity to consider who I am. What names or titles I will discard or keep.

It’s taken me years to arrive at a place where I am able to wade through all the world’s input and embrace who God made me to be. I won’t deny some of who I am still needs transforming, but experience tells me I can’t muscle my way into authentic change. No, transformation comes when I let go of attempting to change or hide my flaws, and draw closer to the One who transforms from the inside out.

I send the happy birthday text, and her reply brings a smile to my face. She is the first to give me this part of who I am. The first to call me, “Aunt Stac.” A name I am grateful to embrace, and a reminder to let go of all the things in need of changing.

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A reminder to give thanks.

Thanks for the three who call me mom, the two who call me daughter, and the one who calls me sis. For the husband who calls me babe, and eight who call me Aunt Stac.

Most importantly I give thanks to the One who sees my need for transformation, and still calls me enough.

 

Process Over Product

When the time falls back and darkness beats me home, my evening actities change. I’ve been waiting for this season, prepping for the long hours indoors, gathering the necessary supplies and stacking them in the cabinet. My most recent aquisition has me all giddy with anticipation.

I picked it up on my trip north to see the middle son. Hauled it all the way home on the plane just for “such a time as this.” For the last few weeks I’ve worked in the quiet evening hours, and just a few days ago I celebrated putting the final piece in place.

Puzzle Process

I’ve touched every single tiny piece. One thousand to be exact. There were times I sat in silence, other times I worked in the midst of loud. A few helped along the way. My hubby encourages, “You’re getting closer.”

Closer? Closer to what? Because after it is all said and done then what? What do I do with the completed puzzle? 

I could buy some puzzle glue and permanently stick those pieces together. I could frame it like I do for others in the shop. While this is a good possibility, I won’t.

I know I won’t.

In a few days I’ll disassemble the puzzle and he’ll proclaim, “Oh no! What are you doing. Aren’t you gonna make something out of it?” I’ll smile and shake my head no. He’ll walk away wondering why in the world I went through all the trouble.

I get it, and there are times I wonder the same thing. Why the work? Why go through the process if there’s nothing to show for it in the end. No finished product. No fruit from the labor.

Here’s the thing. I’m wired to produce something. I’m prone to value the finished product over the process. I value results in almost every area of my life. Results in my work, my parenting, my home. Even results in my faith journey. I constantly look for ways to improve what I’m doing to get a better end result.

I go through the motions, rush to finish the process and often miss out on things along the way. Puzzle working reminds me the process is the most important thing.

The first few hours of working a puzzle are the hardest. You pick a piece up, turn it around hoping to find another one with the same shade of blue. Every single piece looks similar with very little to distinguish it from the rest. But after time, once the border is complete and a few areas come together something happens. All the piece turning and sorting makes more sense. I begin to notice shades of color I was unaware existed. It’s like I know the puzzle better and am content with the idea it will eventually create a work of art.

Faith, following Jesus, is a puzzle working process. It’s letting go of the end product and learning each piece has its unique shade of color. Each piece has a divine place, and when the time is right… it will all make sense.

Until that day every moment I spend turning and sorting is an opportunity to know Him more and more.

I sweep puzzle pieces back in the box, and give thanks. Thanks for the process of faith. Each step of the journey to get to where I am. I’m thankful for the good and the not so good because every moment has it’s place in the working of me.

Fear… is a Liar

Dear Fear,

Just a few months ago she made the comment, “I’m surprised you’re not anxious.” It seemed like a strange thing to say until I looked out the window and realized we were driving on an elevated highway.

I was surprised you weren’t there.

And today, as I head up the ramp not one butterfly flutters in my stomach. No elevated heart rate or hyperventilating. I’m curious.

Where have you gone?

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Did you get tired of me doing this over and over again all the while being content with you? Did you give up because I didn’t? Because almost three years ago I made this commitment and you didn’t stop me? Because I kept going in spite of you?

All those years of trying not to feel you. All that time attempting to avoid you. Is this really all it took.? Accepting you might show up at times and that’s ok. That having you around doesn’t mean I’m weak or incapable. Nor are you or the lack of you a measurement of my faith. Did you let go of me in this, or did I let go of you?

It doesn’t really matter anyway. What does matter is I’ve learned your secret in the driving over this ramp.

You. Are. A. Liar.

You told me I wasn’t strong enough or worthy enough or good enough. For a while, a long long while I believed you. But not any more.

Because this ramp has taught me to trust. Not in myself.  On my own I am not strong or worthy or good. On my own I am never enough. That is the one thing you were right about. But I’m not on my own. Never have been. Never will be.

There’s probably a moment or place on the horizon when you’ll show your face again. Don’t expect a welcome party. Don’t expect me to avoid you either. I’ll nod to you and acknowledge your presence. But I’ll not run or avoid or hide. Instead I’ll look up.

Look up and give thanks. For butterflies in my stomach and a racing heart. For shallow breathing and white knuckle driving. For every single time I breathe deep and keep going.

I’ll give thanks because eventually I’ll let go of you or you’ll let go of me. And in the end it won’t change the most important lesson this ramp has taught me.

You sir, are a liar.