Empty and Waiting

I must apologize in advance for this essay.  I could delete it, I almost did.  Perhaps I still shall. 


I stopped dreaming.  I realized this as I sat in church yesterday.

It’s hard to feel hopeful when you no longer dream.  What you conceived for your life is not this, when you look around and hate who you have become.

[It takes me a long time to learn things.   I am hard-headed. ]

Perhaps, it is too much to ask?  I just wanted to be significant.  I imagined that I would do something amazing with my life — all those years of working on Urbana conventions, I felt I was doing something important.  Now what?

Is this it? I am a mother and not that good at it, seemingly always failing my children, a wife which I will never write about, a terrible homemaker, yes I mean lazy and bad at it, an infrequent friend and missing sister, ungrateful daughter who just feels forgotten, a hobbyist-at-best photographer and a sometimes I put words together on the page and call myself a writer  … Even this blog is simply an exercise in navel gazing.  And here I go again.

My fight with my maker is almost daily – my depression or remission, anxiety seems constant, recovery from alcoholism, battling with the isolation, feeling only loneliness.

I know that I am foremost an ingrate.  I don’t need reminders.  I have so much!  Four beautiful children, a home and husband and all I can think is, …  I thought I would be something, more.  I put these words here  for what?

I feel empty. I feel useless.   What purpose does my life serve?  Yes, I am looking for evidence of good, any good that I do, and hope.

God is faithful to his promises.  What are they, his promises?  What has God promised?

I’ve already lost whatever I heard in the sermon yesterday. 

He said “God’s results will look different than what we dream or imagine, what we prescribe for ourselves.  The book of Isaiah is filled with a promise that wasn’t fulfilled for 700 years.  God is not predictable but he is faithful. “

I am filled with longing — sick with it.  Perhaps this too is the waiting of Advent.

At times, we wait just for hope. We know we are ungrateful.  We know we are useless to Him.  He doesn’t need us.

We are simply empty and waiting.  

“In this harsh world, draw your breath in pain to tell my story.” — Hamlet

I am a Reformed Control Freak (Advent Musings)

I am a reformed control freak.  By reformed I suppose I mean that I know I am, was, can be a controlling person who wants things just so. Christmas is a perfect example of what really gets my ire up.  OK, once again I’m showing what a wreck I am.  Yesterday I found myself at the hardware store ready to purchase lights for the house.  Yes, outside lights.  Just that is progress for me, twenty years it took.  Colored lights and all the glitter and s*** that we’re supposed to buy for this holiday, and Halloween, and all the other supposed “Hallmark Holy Days” — Well I rebel.

Yes, I have been told that I am “no fun” when it comes to decorations at holidays of any kind.  I don’t do ghosts in the trees at Halloween.  I don’t do little plastic hearts on the windows on Valentine’s day.  And I’ve felt sort of righteous in my snootiness.

Most especially at Christmas.    From the year I had my first tree we had our first tree, I have tried to control it.  My need for control being off the charts I would allow no colored lights, only clear ones.  No home-made ornaments, only accepting matching ones with a theme on my tree.

((Sigh)).  I am reformed because we do have home made ornaments.  And this year, after eighteen years of marriage, I have decided that it would be “festive” and “fun” to have lights on the house outside for all the world to see in their glorious tackiness   I mean isn’t really all about the kids?  And their imaginations?

And this didn’t help.  Driving home the other night, I heard my ten-year old son counting out loud.  When asked, he said, he was counting the number of people on our street that had “Christmas spirit.”

I knew this was the year.  I was going to get some spirit, let go and lighten up and have a little fun.  Who cares if the house is garish if it makes kids happy? Screw Martha Stewart.  And so I found myself at the hardware store putting down the lovely-green-genuine-pine-wreath-that-matches-my-house, for the front door.  And buying a bright red, bow that lights up.  And colored lights. (Picture forthcoming.)  Yes, I am a reformed control freak.

This isn’t about me.  This year for Christmas I’m giving everyone a decidedly much better time.

Isn’t everyone controlling at Christmas, with expectations ramped up to 110% for perfection!?

In all honesty Christmas never lives up to expectations because it isn’t about us and whatever experiences we can conjure up.

It’s about a babe born to a girl, quite unexpectedly and miraculously, who grew up to give his life up for me. And you.

He did not wait …

He did not wait . . .

till hearts were pure.  In joy he came

to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.

To a world like ours, of anguished shame

he came, and his Light would not go out.

— from “First coming” by Madeleine L’Engle

Kids have been asking for weeks “When’s Christmas? How many days!?”  And yesterday, when Jacob and I went to do a little last minute shopping he asked again.  “What will we do tomorrow?”  I told him the plan, including going to church.  “Don’t we go to church on Sunday?” he asked me.

It is really difficult to help children understand what Christmas is really about, when the holiday seems to be about gifts, food and activity.  We spend all our time baking and shopping but still, I hope at some point it will sink in that the reason we celebrate at all is that Christ was born! 

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.” (Gospel of Luke)  

That is the message I tell my son, the word spoken to John the Baptist and this is our calling as well — don’t you agree? 

“We are enslaved, by selfishness and addiction and all the wreckage that sin can wreak on the world, but are we willing to risk being freed?  Do we dare enter that dangerous new country, leaving sure comforts behind?  Perhaps it is time to surrender, open our hearts, and accept the wonder of Christmas by saying, with Karl Rahner, “We have no choice.  God is with us.”  (Kathleen Norris, God With Us.)

It took me a long time, years, to pull back enough from Christmas as a season so that I could truely understand and experience Advent.  I pray for us all that this will be true as we experience Christmas Eve today.

Waiting: What we can’t see!

Originally uploaded by M e l o d y

I have been reflecting on what Luci Shaw says, “anticipation lifts the heart.”

But if I am completely honest, I have found the waiting of this season to be excruciating. These weeks of in-between, of surrender, of emptying, of letting go and ultimately, the truth of knowing that what is coming, the Son of God coming as a Babe, it is so undeserved.  This anticipation feels uncomfortable.

“Faith is giving permission” Richard John Neuhaus says. “The gift has already been given and forever is now for those who have given God permission to let life be a gift.”

Mary, the mother of Jesus, anticipated his birth like any mother would if she were hugely pregnant!  And our waiting for the Babe is like being engulfed with pregnant expectation. The women reading, who have carried a child in their womb know this feeling.   The weight changes you! (by which I do not mean ‘weight gain’ but rather the feeling of being weighed down by what is to come).  Changes how you walk, how you sit, how you sleep (or don’t!) Day after day you wake, wondering if this is the day! You are full of anticipation that the babe might come today and you are rather helpless as to its timing.

Paul gives us a description of waiting in the New Testament book of Romans, as rendered by Eugene Peterson,

“Waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.”

I’m challenged to turn my impatience into a contentment I do not feel. I don’t want to rush. I don’t want to worry.  Will this gift appeal or meet the expectation? Who will surely be disappointed? Who is longing for something else. That’s bogus! I hate it. I want to sit “enlarged” by the waiting for the Babe.

This year, I feel as if I am waiting for something more.

It has been a long time coming. I do not know what I am doing with myself, my future, my career, what I am learning, my searching and my growing, with finding my voice and finding myself. This has all been happening so slowly, for the most part.  At times it comes in fits and bursts that have amazed me! But it has felt glacial in most other cases.  It has been a decade of anticipation.

Some days this is distressing.  And there are days when I completely lack any vision for my life – for its grander purpose.  I scream at God, impatiently. If I had quote that sums it up now, it might be this:

Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning. ~ Albert Einstein

But as we question and wait, we must be clear about something else.  The book of James incredibly says it:  “Let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete.” Oh, how I long to be mature and complete.  Less striving.  More peaceful waiting.

And Shaw finally, “Pain, grief, consternation, even despair, need not diminish us. They can augment us by adding to the breadth and depth of our experience, by enriching our spectrum of light and darkness, by keeping us from impulsively jumping into action before the time is ripe, before ‘the fullness of time.’ I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope.”

It is his Son that I long for in this last week of Advent.  Oh, there is more that I wonder about but I know ultimately that the Babe is all I need.

God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas.

God is With Us. But Can We Find Him?

I have marvelled at my doubt.  

I am going through one of my phases where I feel extremely disappointed by organized religion.  Like Michael Jinkins, in Called to Be Human, I don’t understand what spiritual means any more than I understand what it means to be religious — but I know that today they are a pale imitation of what they should be, could be and this must grieve God.  It is almost an insult to be called “religious” today whereas “spiritual” can mean almost anything and is somehow in its inclusivity found to be admirable.

“Faith is a matter of trust and reverence more than it is a matter of beliefs and belief systems.  This is not to say that beliefs are irrelevant.  It matters a great deal whom you trust and what you hold sacred.  But the older I get, the more I see that life is mystery and the less certainty I possess.  I take more of life on faith.  I trust a lot more than I know. So my beliefs have become increasingly modest in their claims while they have become more extravagant in their hopes.”

When troubles come, when I am still, when I feel most devastated by this life, deep inside I know that the Babe of Christmas is real. 

The Babe of the incarnation is not anything to do with sentimentality and materialism.  Though my whole being is crushed by this season and though it is too strong to say that I hate Christmas — what it has become — My heart and soul are dragged down this time of year.  And I know with certainty that I lack the courage to do something different with it. 

I am no longer a child — the wonder of the season is gone. 

I am so disenchanted by it all that I have trouble relishing “the silent and holy night, the sweet and heavenly peace” that the song speaks of.  The Creator God entered into creation which is totally wrecked by our sin and He doesn’t hate nor is he disgusted by you and me, rather God takes our inconsistency, and selfishness and betrayal — the mess of our human heart and what we have done to this season — and by becoming the Babe he took it all. 

That I can believe.

Christmas can be — Advent should be — about that recovery of our hearts.  But it is so difficult and intangible if we cannot slow down our spiritually corrupt minds and souls and be conscious of the mysterious and ancient ways of experiencing time and place in the spiritual realm.

Advent, in the high church, was meant to begin the sacred year because it begins with anticipating the Babe.  The Church also uses the act of remembering those Saints whose lives are an example to us all.  For me, it is easy to look at those throughout history who were Saints and Martyrs of the church and believe.  The act of remembering, through liturgy and worship whether corporate or in isolation, is beautiful and sweet.  But it is the actions we take — today, now — “the physical gestures, prayers, or other customs — that make faith a tangible presence.”  This is the Babe — the incarnation — this is why we offer our worship. 

Advent is the time when we prepare for the mystery of the Babe — the arrival of God with us — God incarnate.  My heart wrestles with the truth as my actions seem to do something else.  It’s relentless — the gluttony of the Thanksgiving meal, then the shopping, endless carols playing on every radio, the searching for “happy” — that at a certain point I shut down. 

And that is where I find myself today.

Advent seems that is should be more solemn, a time of anticipating.  The mystery and miracle of Christmas is the Babe’s birth. We are challenged to be winnowing and sifting in our heart and preparing ourselves for when He comes.    And it becomes clear that we are simply searching for God in all of our flurry and activity. 

Almost a thousand years ago, St. Anselm of Canterbury said:

“God is that greater than which cannot be thought.” 

God is Inconceivable.  Incomprehensible.  Unbelievable.  That is our God.  That is (perhaps) why God came in the form of the Babe — Immanuel, which means “God with us.”  As I sit here wrestling with the truth that I have to work to find him, God is here.  With us.  Searching for us, some say.  God is not lost.  We have become lost — so distracted by the eating and drinking and shopping and giving and receiving, the singing and serving — lost by it all.

Advent means coming.  Christ came.  Christ comes.  Christ will come again.  In this Advent season, as we search for the Babe, we only need to understand more fully what that means.  “God is enfleshed in our humanity.” 

We only need to wake up and receive the gift that is already given, the fact that we are found by Emmanuel, God with us.




GOD WITH US: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas, authored by Scott Cairns, Emilie Griffin, Richard John Neuhaus, Kathleen Norris, Eugene Peterson, Luci Shaw.  Edited by Greg Pennoyer & Gregory Wolfe.

Peace to You

This holiday season, so far, I am baking, baking, baking and Tom is cleaning, cleaning, cleaning.  Today has been busy with baking two pumpkin pies, a cheesecake, and a Key Lime pie and cranberry sauce.  Tomorrow it will be sugar cookies and a Cherry pie.  Perhaps a Pecan.  And then it is on to preparing for a traditional Turkey dinner (mashed potatoes, stuffing, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, etc. for eleven on Christmas day.  And spiral Ham, scalloped potatoes, etc. for 17 the next day.  It seems typical that we have one sick child and one on the mend.

It’s all wonderful and fun to cook and it will be great to have everyone in our home.  And Tom’s cleaning is stellar.  You’d think he owns a cleaning company or something! :-)

I hope your holidays are filled with good food and people.  If not, give me a call.  We’ve got plenty and you are welcome.

We are grateful for our abundance and the love which surrounds us.  And on this day, before the day before … we are grateful for good friends who have enriched our lives this year.  For the true meaning of Christmas, for us, the birth of Jesus.

Be warm!

Femmes arabes sur baudets.

The New York Public Library has shared old photographs to the public commons of flickr. I was intrigued by these really old images from Syria and Egypt and this one in particular. It made me think of Mary, Jesus’ mother, possibly riding in to Nazareth, exceedingly pregnant. She would not have been veiled, but in every other way this image takes me there.

I just love old images and thoroughly enjoy scrolling through them.

On a slightly different note, has a kid ever asked you things like “Why is Santa called Santa?” Or, I’m trying to remember some of the stranger questions I’ve gotten over the years…. about various Christmas customs?  Have you ever wondered why a tree is used to celebrate Christmas?  I have.  I found an interesting website explaining why we have certain Christmas traditions and fascinating to me, how Christmas is celebrated  in various cultures.  Christ followers celebrate the birth of Jesus and if you’re curious, read the full Christmas story here.

And, being a step-parent, I found this rendition of the story of Joseph to be interesting.  It’s found on an Anglican Church website.  Being a step-mom was one of the most difficult roles I’ve ever found myself playing and it isn’t a game.  Every day, with an instant five year old child was personally challenging and tested my character and strength.  I’m afraid I many times came up short.  But I never considered the fact that Joseph was raising a child that wasn’t his own blood.

I hope you will enjoy the 19th century images.  And perhaps learn something you didn’t previously know about the customs of Christmas.