Christmas Eve

At 4 p.m. on Christmas Eve, our community will gather to remember that our wait is over. We light a fourth candle, we remember that Christ would come not only as a Son, but as Immanuel - God with us. So we will celebrate the birth of Jesus the Christ, the Good Shepherd, the forgiver of our sins, the Jesus who will come again, the Son of Mary and the Son of God!

In 1965 Charles Schulz and the Peanuts gang struggled with the commercialization of Christmas. Imagine what they would think today - when Christmas decorations were available for purchase in big box stores in August!!

Charlie Brown loses his way when he tries to direct his friends in their Christmas Pageant. In frustration he bursts out with, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about!?!”

And Linus, dragging his security blanket onto center stage, stands alone and recites Luke 2:8-14 (we’re using the CEB):

8 Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. 9 The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified.

10 The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. 11 Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. 12 This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said, 14 “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

CBS execs thought this was a mistake; but the viewers loved it. They needed to hear Linus’ answer even as they needed to wrestle with Charlie Brown’s question. Has that much changed? Oh sure, we have iPads and cell phones. We have more allergies and less fresh trees in our living rooms. But I think we need to consider both the question and the answer.

Who knows what Christmas is all about?

We know. We actually know. Especially if we have misbehaved, been beaten down, live on the margins, have griefs and losses. We know. We more than anyone who hasn’t known personal failures and bone shaking heartbreak that our baubles and beads cannot provide collective effervescence.

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” On Christmas Eve, we light a candle with joy and hope because of who God is. Not because we have lived up to our own expectations for happiness, success, and security. Amen

We do not know enough to judge

12 We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

13 But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

- 1 Corinthians 13:12-13 The Message

The second principle that I’ve been mulling over is this: I am only responsible for living out my way of seeing. I have no right to judge yours, even if IN THEORY it seems like we should agree.

The person who demanded that I comply with his request or take on the status of “enemy” was a confusing relationship for me, because I was under the impression that we shared a set of core values. And, I believe that we did. But my mistake was thinking that we applied them in the same way too. And we did not.

Compassion to carry on a relationship or end it will be in short supply if we do not get a grip on how unclear we all are so much of the time about just about everything. No wonder we get confused when what we think are shared core values end up being expressed in such different ways. If we can see how we are all prone to walking around in a fog, then maybe we can find some compassion for one another as we continue to bump into things in the dark.

Disagreements and Deal-Breakers

Whether we are able to maintain a relationship or choose to let it go, there is a principle that applies to both situations all the time. We do not let the (feared, expected, dreaded, desired) outcome dictate the way we show up for the relationship.

As image bearers of God, we are called to show up for relationships with our truest, most loving selves. Our work is to have the courage to love others EVEN IF we do not get our way in the relationship.

There are limits. In cases of abuse, neglect, and years of evidence that someone is unable (or unwilling) to learn how to relate with some degree of reciprocity, these relationships may need to end.

But what has no limit is our capacity to do so with compassion, even love.

Once I was in a relationship tussle with someone over a disagreement related to how our organizations interfaced. When it became apparent that I was holding firm on my position he said, “I’m sorry to say this, but if you continue to take this position you are my enemy.”

I thought he was joking. He was not and proved it in the years that followed. But what I knew then has remained true for me - he was not my enemy. It is easy to confuse a disagreement as a deal breaker if we are more invested in outcomes than we are committed to living out of our core values and inspired way of seeing.

12 We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

13 But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

- 1 Corinthians 13:12-13 The Message

Honorable image bearing

Honorable image bearers learn that failure is a thing, it happens all the time, it is inevitable, and it is never as big a deal as it feels at the time. When we don’t figure this out, we struggle in relationships as we compare and compete. People who can embrace failure as a norm have the energy to devote to cooperating and encouraging others.

I was in a public place with a television blaring. A commentator, speaking of President Bush during one of the services eulogizing him said, “President Bush was willing to risk failure in pursuit of a higher good.”

I thought to myself - you missed the mark buddy. He FAILED. President Bush failed over and over and over again. That is the point. It’s easy to talk about risking failure - it sounds noble and brave. But it is far more accurate to say that Bush failed spectacularly many times. It was a strength; he had the ability to move through it and keep going with his remarkable optimistic attitude intact. I wonder. Is that why he had so many unlikely friendships with folks that many would have thought were his enemies?

Why do we act so surprised, so defensive, so mad when we fail to get our way or have things go as expected? What if we were better at failing? Would it improve our relationships? Would it change the need to end some relationships?

12 We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

13 But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love. 1 Corinthians 13:12-13, The Message

What might change if we radically adopted failure as an expectation? What if we saw it as a normal part of accepting life on life’s terms? What if failure didn’t feel so personal?

Ending relationships SHOULD be hard

One of the most poignant scenes during the various events eulogizing the life of George H. W. Bush, at least to me, was watching former Sen. Bob Dole rise from his wheelchair and salute the flag draped casket of President Bush. Once upon a time they were political rivals; Dole lost, Bush won the nomination for President. The fight for the nomination was bitter. After Bush became president and Dole was the Republican leader in the Senate, they worked together to accomplish their goals.

It would have been easy for these two fierce competitors to continue the rivalry after Bush was elected; they chose to do the hard thing and set aside the bitterness in favor of maintaining relationship. Perhaps in the beginning it was grudging, who knows? But on the day that Bob Dole said good-bye to the President, the nation watched transfixed as Dole paid tribute to his rival who became his friend. At 95 years of age, Bob Dole cannot stand without assistance. He could have stayed home and written a nice note of condolence to the family. Instead, he was driven to the Capital, loaded into his wheelchair and pushed into the room that held the casket of President Bush. His aide helped him to stand, and Dole raised his arm in salute. It was a tribute to not one, but two men who refused to choose rivalry over relationship.

It ought to be REALLY HARD to end a relationship because, if we are intent on bearing the image of God, we have worked so very very hard on loving others. In many ways, it needs to become almost automatic, this inclination to love well. It is certainly at the core of who we were all created to be - but this does not mean that we are particularly good at remembering that, does it? We should work so hard on loving, that loving is what we do. And if we must, absolutely must, end a relationship, it should feel unnatural and not our preference or an act of convenience.

Relationships morph constantly; few last a lifetime. We value them because the capacity to love others is the essence of humanity. When they end, we may come to acceptance and know that it is the best decision under the circumstances, but that does not make it easy.


12 We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

13 But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love. 1 Corinthians 13:12-13, The Message


What can we do that will help us become better lovers, compassionate leavers, and honorable image bearers?

God's image is compassion

People can tame and already have tamed every kind of animal, bird, reptile, and fish. No one can tame the tongue, though. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we both bless the Lord and Father and curse human beings made in God’s likeness. 10 Blessing and cursing come from the same mouth. My brothers and sisters, it just shouldn’t be this way!

~ James 3:7-10, CEB

These verses essentially teach us not to use our bodies (in this case the tongue/mouth) to tear down other people. Why? Because human beings are made in God’s likeness. This is both physical and spiritual.

On the one hand, we’re made in God’s likeness. So, to tear someone else down is to use God’s likeness to do something that is, let’s say, not great. We should be thoughtful, at the very least, about how we’re using the gift that is God’s likeness.

On the other hand, every human being reflect’s God’s likeness in some form or fashion. When we tear another person down, we’re tearing down God’s image. The only way we see God, physically, in this world is through other people. When we tear down God’s image, how is that different from tearing down God?

And so we return to compassion. We do not practice compassion because people are good. We don’t practice it because they are better than they appear to be. We do not practice it because other people deserve it. We practice it because we are made in God’s likeness, as are other people, and we’re doing our best to live up to that responsibility.

When we treat people with compassion, particularly those who do not deserve it, we may even be helping them recognize the ways in which they represent God’s likeness. Perhaps this is a moment of clarity, or spiritual awakening. Who can say? What we can say, is that all of us benefit from compassion.

Compassion, Dignity, and Respect

32 “If you love those who love you, why should you be commended? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, why should you be commended? Even sinners do that. 34 If you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, why should you be commended? Even sinners lend to sinners expecting to be paid back in full. 35 Instead, love your enemies, do good, and lend expecting nothing in return. If you do, you will have a great reward. You will be acting the way children of the Most High act, for he is kind to ungrateful and wicked people. 36 Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate.

~ Luke 6:32-36, CEB

A few days ago, I wrote about the fact that compassion should challenge us. It isn’t supposed to be easy. That doesn’t mean, though, that we subject ourselves to a lifetime of abuse. It doesn’t mean we’re required to walk through life with no dignity or sense of self respect. It simply means why prioritize compassion beyond what is intuitive. The limits must be discerned with the help of a wise community.

If you know that you will have to be hospitalized due to mental of physical abuse during the holidays, then prioritize compassion to yourself and do not jeopardize your wellbeing simply because it’s customary to spend time with family during the holidays.

On the other hand, don’t use this as justification to get out of something that is merely uncomfortable. If you’re uncle has bad breath, stands too close, and tells too many “guy walked into a bar” jokes, you can probably tolerate that for the sake of your family. Uncles like that are probably lonely, and could use a little bit of the benefit of the doubt.

Do you see the difference between these two things? Compassion is not one-size-fits-all. It takes some work to find the appropriate path forward.

Lighting Candles

The third pink candle lit in the Advent tradition is intended to signify our excitement over the birth of a child, the son of Mary and the Son of God. The birth of a baby is always such a beautiful opportunity to witness a miracle. It astounds me when I consider that God’s plan for our salvation was such risky business. Babies are fragile; dependent; needy. Babies, although fully human and already possessing their personality and potential the day they are born, require the adults who love them to study them to learn how to best meet their needs. What if we miss? What if we are wrong as we seek to love our babies well?

How was it that God thought it was a good idea to put Jesus into the arms of a young, unwed woman from a humble town with few material resources? Why did this make sense to him? I am unsure, but it occurs to me that we need to remember it. We need to remember that the birth of Jesus was not a Hallmark movie moment.

It was a story that included hardship, loneliness, homelessness, and some weird gift giving by virtual strangers. As Jill Phillips sings, “It was not a silent night.”

Think about it.

The REAL Christmas story is closer to our lived realities than our idealized dreams. How can this change our own expectations? Our own responses to others during this sacred season?

Compassion is a Competition

32 “If you love those who love you, why should you be commended? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, why should you be commended? Even sinners do that. 34 If you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, why should you be commended? Even sinners lend to sinners expecting to be paid back in full. 35 Instead, love your enemies, do good, and lend expecting nothing in return. If you do, you will have a great reward. You will be acting the way children of the Most High act, for he is kind to ungrateful and wicked people. 36 Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate.

~ Luke 6:32-36, CEB

Compassion, true compassion, forces us to compete with ourselves. Why? Because true compassion does not feel natural or intuitive. It requires us to move beyond what feels good or right in order to live out of our certain way of seeing.

If I say, “Our culture has no compassion,” most people would likely nod and say, “Yes, I agree,” and perhaps even think of multiple examples of types of people who are not compassionate enough (or not compassionate at all). It takes spiritual discipline, though, to imagine the ways in which I (Scott) am not compassionate, to compete with myself.

If we wait to receive compassion before we’re willing to show it…why should we be commended? That’s easy.

Over the holiday season, think on compassion, but do so with discernment. Sometimes compassion means a gracious withdrawal. Sometimes it means avoiding a situation where compassion would not be possible if we showed up. Sometimes it means sucking up our pride for a few hours and being present in an uncomfortable situation.

I can’t say which situation is yours but, whichever it is, chase compassion.

Compassionate Endings

A few weeks ago, Scott did a message at NSC about compassionate endings in relationships. He started out by observing that as the year draws to a close we often begin to talk on and on about new beginnings but we aren’t too keen on talking about endings. True and compelling. Since that message I’ve been thinking about endings in general, and if compassion can accompany them - all the better. It’s given me a lot to think about.



Frankly, he gave us room to begin small. He talked about how easy it is end a relationship by burning bridges, maybe even blowing them up. He encouraged us by saying that if we could avoid doing that - maybe that is the best we can do. I’ve heard him speak similarly about forgiveness. Sometimes, according to Scott, we are forgiving “enough” if we can restrain ourselves and refuse to seek revenge, i.e., burn bridges.



So let me level with you and start where I ended up: it ought to be HARD to end a relationship. I mean REALLY, REALLY HARD. Why? Because relationships are the glue that holds the world together. (I know, you thought it was gravity.) Relationships are fueled by love. If there is any universal characteristic of God that we are all challenged to reflect - it’s love.





12 We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

13 But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

~ 1 Corinthians 13:12-13 The Message

Waiting for Forgiveness

If we go to church, the second Sunday of Advent (which was this past Sunday- December 9) finds us lighting another candle, also purple, reminding us of our great need for God’s forgiveness. Tradition says that Santa keeps a naughty and nice list of all the little girls and boys; that list determines whether or not Christmas morning will be cause for celebration or suffering. Even Santa understands that our behavior matters.

But what I really, really love, is that when we regularly spend time getting to know who God is, we do not have to freak out about our stuffed stockings. We understand that part of expecting, waiting and hoping is simply remembering: God forgives, loves and is crazy about his people. Like most moms and dads I know, he wants blessing for his children, not cursing. However, what we discover as parents is that our desires and our capacity to deliver are sometimes not congruent.

I know plenty of parents who curse their children too. I know parents who mock their children. I know parents who do the best they can but that doesn’t mean they have the tools, resources, and experience to actually BE great parents. This is a sad reality.

But that’s the beauty of Advent. It gives us hope. It tells us that just because we ARE sometimes a disappointment to ourselves doesn’t mean we cannot BECOME a person who better reflects our hopes and dreams for being a person who can bear the image of God and show up for others.

None of this happens by magic; it requires that we respond to this God who shepherds, saves, forgives, and restores.

The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine. Isaiah 9:2, NLT

We don’t need to manufacture sparkly; our work is to expect, wait, and hope. And in that space, I suspect we all find new ways to think, feel and do - ways that are more in keeping with our status as kids of THE king. What about you? Are you ready to look for the light?

Unbelief

When an angel appears to Zechariah in the temple, he tells him that his wife will give birth to a son, and the old man doesn’t believe the angel. Understandable right? If an angel appears to Pete and tells him that I am going to give birth to a son in our advanced age - heads are gonna roll! Zechariah’s response was not unreasonable. Because of his unbelief, Zechariah was given a timeout and was unable to speak until his boy was born. I suspect he thought that was the least of his problems.

During Zechariah’s encounter, and once he regains his voice, he expresses his renewed viewpoint, including a description of the times, saying that God’s people are “lost in darkness”. That’s not all he sees and says, he also says this, “God’s sunrise will break in upon us, shining on those in the darkness.” Further he says that God will “Show us the way, one foot at a time, down the path of peace.” If you want to read more, check out Luke 1.

Part of the ritual of Advent that I have loved as an adult is the lighting of a candle each Sunday of the Advent season. The first week the lighting of the purple candle focuses on taking our hope seriously. I love that. Hoping is not always happy. Sometimes it is a determined small but next right step of obedience.

Zechariah messed up AND still ended up with a son who would play a pivotal role in the ministry of Jesus. Have you or yours messed up so much that it feels impossible to enjoy Christmas this year? Fine. You do not have to. What you could do, if you were willing to believe, is look for ways to help others have a better holiday season. Who can you bless? Gift? Appreciate? Serve?

God is the Shepherd, We are the sheep

Like a shepherd, God will tend the flock;

he will gather lambs in his arms

and lift them onto his lap.

He will gently guide the nursing ewes. Isaiah 40:11 CEB

Let’s be honest. Christmas expectations, waiting and hoping are WAY different depending on your perspective. As kids, we wondered about gifts under the tree. Ours. We couldn’t wait for Christmas break, not the childcare arrangements that working parents need to figure out. Unchurched as a child, I didn’t have a lot of opportunities to think about Advent. I was thinking about adventures!

As an adult, it has certainly been easy to get hyper-focused on re-creating Christmas adventures for my family. Another possible distraction from the reason for the season. But I also have MORE reasons to wake up and pay attention and reframe the holidays for myself (and maybe others?).

I am aware of my friends for whom this is the first Christmas without a child who lost their fight with substance use disorder this past year. I am awake to the possibility that for some, this is just another holiday that reminds them of their precarious financial position. Or the stress of dealing with fractured family relationships.

BUT - I can also choose to remember who God is, seeing as how I know more about him than I did when I was seven. I can remember that in all these things, God tends his flocks, gathers his lambs and gently guides nursing ewes.

Scott and I have been focusing on bearing God’s image for I do not know how long - are you sick of that message yet? This is the perfect time to practice what we’ve been preaching!! Are you willing to join us in trying to apply this in our daily life? In this holiday season?

The BIG question is how can I participate in tending, gathering, lifting and guiding? How can you?

Reframing

Shepherd of Israel, I am listening!

You, the one who leads Joseph as if he were a sheep.

You, who are enthroned upon the winged heavenly creatures.

Show yourself 2 before Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh!

Wake up me up to understand how you lead me!

Come to save us!

3 Restore us, God!

I long to see your face shine so that we can be saved! Forgive my distractibility!

4 Lord God of heavenly forces,

how long will I fume against your provision for me? How long will I ignore you?

5 You’ve fed us even when our disobedience brought us to tears;

you’ve given us water three times over because we have been stubbornly resistant!

6 Our selfishness has put us at odds with our neighbors;

our enemies make fun of us because we behave laughably.

7 Restore us, God of heavenly forces!

Make your face shine so that we can be saved!

The Israelites often expressed their self-pity over their difficult circumstances, some self-inflicted, others simply part of living life on life’s terms. It served neither them nor us well. How about we give it up for the Advent Season? Turn it in and ask for a refund. Instead, lean into the collective effervescence. In sickness and health. Conflict and camaraderie. Joy and sorrow. Getting our way or giving away our preferences for the sake of the tribe. How can we apply this to our decisions as we plan for our holiday festivities?

And maybe we can do what the Israelites got so very right - ask God to save and restore us so that we might see the value of singing in the rain, even if it is very, very uncomfortable.

Honesty and blame with God and us

Oh Israel, I Feel You!!

Shepherd of Israel, listen!

You, the one who leads Joseph as if he were a sheep.

You, who are enthroned upon the winged heavenly creatures.

Show yourself 2 before Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh!

Wake up your power!

Come to save us!

3 Restore us, God!

Make your face shine so that we can be saved!

4 Lord God of heavenly forces,

how long will you fume against your people’s prayer?

5 You’ve fed them bread made of tears;

you’ve given them tears to drink three times over!

6 You’ve put us at odds with our neighbors;

our enemies make fun of us.

7 Restore us, God of heavenly forces!

Make your face shine so that we can be saved!

~ Psalm 80:1-7 CEB

The Israelites were always willing to be honest with God. Their ability to blame God even as they ignored him was not only impressive, it is relatable - at least for me. Tomorrow, I might take the liberty to rewrite this call out to God from a teeny tiny bit more recovered perspective. I do so even as I respect these people - so willing to just lay out their own sleepy perspective for God to hear and respond to.

Tomorrow: How can we change the way we see? What is ours to do? How will we apply it between now and December 25th.

The meaning of Advent

We aren’t quite there, but we’re getting close to the Christmas season.

Advent means “coming” or “visit.” For Christians, Advent has historically been a time when we prepare for the coming of Christ at Christmas. The people of Israel had expectations for God’s “coming.” They had legitimate needs. And although they sometimes, well, regularly, forgot this one true thing, when they got into trouble, their hearts would inevitably return to the source of their hope and rescue - God.

When we forget that we too have profound needs, it is often because we have distracted ourselves, just as the Israelites did, with baubles and beads (false strategies/false gods). Christmas can be an enormous distraction. But it can also be collectively effervescent.

I believe we can do that without giving up our lights and tinsel and trees and hot cocoa and cookies. But only if we are willing to wake up and recognize our need for a God who saves and restores. You know what is beautiful about this perspective? It gives us a way to appreciate even our gully washer holidays. You know the ones - when coal shows up in our stockings, or all our family goes out of town and we are left to scramble for a way to celebrate with others. Or the kids all come down with the flu. Or there is a fight about politics on Christmas Eve that takes the Ho Ho Ho right out of the season.

Collective effervescence can provide us insights into how we can take the most humbug Christmas and turn it into something magical. But we will have to wake up to do so. Are you ready to wake up? Are you willing to think about the collective even at the expense of your personal preferences?

Gully Washers and Effervescence

Thanksgiving is now technically behind us, and that means we start looking at Christmas, right?


I could write something snarky about how we’ve all lost our way with the commercialization of Christmas, but who am I kidding? I love it all. I love the secular, the sacred, the lights, the handbells, the cheesy Christmas movies, the old standby Christmas songs, and even all the preparations surrounding the Christmas season. In our community, we have a few rituals around how we celebrate Christmas and I love them as much as I love the ones my family practices. I love Christmas. Mostly, I love the expecting, waiting and hoping that Christmas seems to awaken in me. As an adult, I am more focused on creating the experience of Christmas than hoping someone will make my Christmas merry and bright. I believe in Christmas. After reading Brene’ Brown’s book “Braving the Wilderness,” I have no guilt or shame about my love for the season. I no longer understand my passion as the generational expression awakened in me by my Christmas-loving, Santa-celebrating, and over-the-top light-loving mom. In fact, I am turning into a Christmas holiday celebrating zealot.

In chapter six, “Hold hands. With strangers,” Brene’ Brown describes in detail a key point that emerged from her research to help us cultivate and grow our belief in the inextricable human connection. This matters because this capacity for connection is so vital to our well-being, and the wellbeing of our communities. It is what Christmas does for us as a collective, in my opinion. Brown was shocked by the results, which were this: Show up for collective moments of joy and pain so we can actually bear witness to inextricable human connection. (p.120)

She entertained, illustrated and connected with her reader by providing examples of how she had experienced this showing up, which pretty much explains why I was unwilling to stand in the hallways at Scott Stadium during a recent downpour and legitimate gully washer at a recent UVA football game. At gametime, the seats were mostly empty but the entire stadium was filled with water! In raincoats, boots, ponchos and head gear, we were soaked within seconds of taking our seats. Pete suggested we go stand in the covered concession area. Maybe buy UVA apparel to change into that would at least give us dryer clothes? For like 15 seconds? I was having none of it. I cheered with the others in the stands, sang the good old song, and said to our neighbor a few seats down, “This is crazy, right?” What we were experiencing was collective effervescence. Brene’ says (p.130) that a French sociologist coined this term to describe a type of magic he witnessed during religious ceremonies. He says it is an experience of connection, communal emotion, and a “sensation of sacredness” that is what happens when we are willing to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. And this feeds our soul.

Pete and I have been going to UVA games together for 44 years. UVA fans understand that the “effervescence” has been a lot of PAIN with an occasional side of joy. Our football team has lost a lot of games in 44 years. But our night in the rain was magical. To sit and stand and cheer and have water gather in nooks and crannies of our body was awesome. Our team lost that night, but we won another memory to cherish that was bigger than either of us individually or even the two of us as a couple. We need more of this in our lives folks, we just do. Christmas can be that if we are willing to be more intentional, aware and thoughtful in our Christmas expectations, waiting and hoping.

Letting go gives us balance

Over the past few weeks we’ve visited and revisited step 11 of the 12 steps of AA: We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of his will and the power to carry that out.

It seems to me that the eleventh step takes a lot of pressure off of prayer and meditation. It’s clear and simple: we are simply improving our conscious contact with God, we acknowledge that our capacity to connect is limited by our gaps in understanding who he is, we ask only for the knowledge of his will and the power to carry that out.

It is assumed that to have the capacity to know and do the will of God is enough. It is more than enough. What else is there? This makes such perfect sense to me. Without big long lists of demands for God’s immediate action in the life and times of me, I am now given the time to meditate. To sit quietly. To be still and know that God is God and I am not. To, as Jesus did, draw away from the hustle and bustle of the world into solitude.

This is yet another blessing of letting go and letting God. It is a counter-weight to my natural tendency to codependently point out to God all that I think HE is missing!! Today, I wait more, expect more, and hope more.

Or, to be more specific, I expect differently. I have stopped demanding results and started trusting God with whoever and whatever my mind is concerned about. I’m aware that God is not obligated to DO anything about my concerns, but I love the practice of sharing them because I know he cares, not because I think he needs me to keep him informed.

December is a big month for waiting, expecting and hoping. I’m going to spend the rest of this month looking at the season of Advent - the four Sundays prior to Christmas and ending on Christmas Eve, a time of preparing for the coming of the Christ. I wonder if our recovery perspective might enrich our faith perspective on Christmas.

Plan for the worst, Hope for the best

When it comes to difficult holiday events with family, sometimes it helps to have a plan for when things go sour. So often we walk into these events with fear, stress, anxiety, and more, but we don’t have a plan. When things take a turn for the worst, we react. That generally is not a great strategy.

So, in preparation for this holiday season, think about some ways that you can hit the “reset” button within the confines of the types of situations you find yourself in. Is there a way to hide, for instance? Can you sneak off to a bathroom and meditate (or scroll on your phone)? Can you plan to spend less time in a hostile environment? Perhaps you can plan some stock phrases for awkward conversations: “I don’t appreciate it when you talk about me that way and I think I’ll be going now,” is a better choice than “F*** You!”

What kinds of situations do you find yourself in?

How would you like to respond, if you had the option?

Wisdom for the Holidays

Good friend, take to heart what I’m telling you;
    collect my counsels and guard them with your life.
Tune your ears to the world of Wisdom;
    set your heart on a life of Understanding.
That’s right—if you make Insight your priority,
    and won’t take no for an answer,
Searching for it like a prospector panning for gold,
    like an adventurer on a treasure hunt,
Believe me, before you know it Fear-of-God will be yours;
    you’ll have come upon the Knowledge of God.

~ Proverbs 2:1-5, Message

The goal for us, at all times in life, is to live out of our certain way of seeing to the best of our ability. Sometimes there are constraints on that ability. In ideal circumstances, let’s say, I may have the potential to be 100% compassionate. Under stress, maybe the max number is something more like 50%. We don’t need to live in fear of God or shame of ourselves because we aren’t able to reach 100% compassion under stress. We’re better off realizing that 50% is the best we can do and then brainstorming how we get to that number (as opposed to tumbling down to something like 10%).

Perhaps if you spent less time with your family, you would be more likely to reach 50% compassion (or loving or gracious or merciful or whatever), than if you spent more time with them. So often we think being loving and compassionate is giving people whatever they ask for, but, sometimes when we give people everything they ask for we lose the ability to fully display our certain way of seeing. If boundaries help us get closer to our “max number”- then why not consider implementing those boundaries? Everyone wins.