Our congregation published an Advent Devotion Book that you can find here. In it, you’ll find a short excerpt from this post. I wasn’t thinking Advent when I wrote this in September, but it makes sense to reshape our worry into longing for Christ’s return when we will see the end of the story play out.
Walking through the grocery store, I heard a ping, then another. I looked toward the sound and saw a woman grabbing her phone, looking at the screen, then smiling. She put the phone down and continued pushing her cart down the aisle. I saw her several more times as I made my way through the store. Each time, it was because I heard the ping first. Her phone was calling her attention; it caught mine, too.
As I pulled into campus the other day, I drove past a half a dozen teenagers who…
I’m re-visiting this post from November 2015 because ’tis the season of nostalgia. I have such fond memories of my childhoodChristmases and many of the center around music. This Christmas hymn sank deep into my fibers way, way back, and its truth is an anchor for me today.
I can still hear us sing-shouting the words:
God loves me dearly, grants me salvation
God loves me dearly, loves even me…
I was standing in the front of the church dressed in my Christmas finest — floor-length dress with plaid skirt and white ‘blouse’ top, black patent-leather shoes, white tights, and a bow in my hair. The place was packed. We had practiced and memorized each word to each song and all the words of the Christmas story…”And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field…” Our grandparents had driven an hour to see the event.
After posting on Monday about choosing hope over despair, I thought I’d revisit one of the first pieces I wrote this year, to remember how far we’ve come.
2018 was the year that I stopped rucking. I finally had to set down my pack.
According to my son, who served in the 82nd Airborne, “rucking” is a long march, 15-20 miles or more, with a heavy pack of gear strapped on your back.
The soldier carries necessities — provisions, weapons, extra socks, and the like — and moves forward. The more he does this, the better he gets at it — the longer he can go, the more he can carry. Soldiers practice rucking, of course, so that when they have to go on a mission, they have the strength and endurance they need to endure.
I had gotten pretty good at rucking in my former life…
And just as I’ve set my resolve to Take Care and to Be Kind for the holidays, just as we’ve decked our halls humming fa-la-la-la-la, I find myself with a weight on my chest and a lump in my throat.
It’s December 1, the first Sunday in Advent, and I am sitting here talking myself away from the ledge of despair. Why? One innocent Instagram post suggested that my hopes might be disappointed — that all my resolve-setting, and hall-decking might not end up in joyful reunions, restored celebrations, or a meeting of healed hearts.
After all of our healing work and intentionality, we might still find ourselves broken.
I can’t bear to face that reality. I can’t imagine the possibility of another holiday sprinkled with tears and punctuated by slammed doors followed by hours of silence. But I am beginning to imagine it, just as I was beginning to have hope.
I was beginning to picture smiling embraces, laughter at the table, and intimate conversations filled with sustained eye contact. In my mind, I saw four generations sharing stories, sitting closely, leaning in. I imagined games and coloring and gifts and food. I saw tenderness, forgiveness, cuddling, and love.
These images were born out of longing — a longing for restoration, for healing, for reconciliation, for an end to a long, long season of grief.
All year, we’ve been removing layers of mourners’ clothing — a black veil here, a grey dress there — and we’ve been eyeing the party gowns in the closet. Do we dare to hope that we might be celebrating? That we might kill the fatted calf, invite all the neighbors, and make a feast to announce the return of joy?
We’ve prepared rooms — fluffed all the pillows, set out new towels, and lined the manger with straw — but what if no one comes? Or what if they come, and they leave disappointed?
What if the gifts are not right, the food too much (or too little), the conversations strained, and the accommodations inadequate? What if there is no joy?
I can’t, I won’t entertain those doubts.
I won’t feed my longing with manufactured images of despair. I won’t, sitting here hungry, imagine a table filled with rancid food. I will hold onto hope.
We’ll prepare the space, hold onto hope, and wait.
Sarah Bessey wrote on herblog this weekend: Advent simply means “coming” – so for me, it is about the waiting. When people talk about “living in the tension” I think of Advent. It’s the time when we prepare to celebrate his birth and we also acknowledge that we are waiting here still for every tear to be wiped away.
And as I’m waiting for them to be wiped away, they just keep coming.
We’ve come so far! We have seen evidence that all things are being made new — the blind receive their sight, the sick are made well, we’ve had good news preached to us, and then one Instagram post can send me reeling.
I spiral quickly from choosing hope to drowning in despair.
Like Sarah Bessey, I need my Saviour who suffers with us, my God who weeps, who longs to gather us to himself as a mother hen gathers her chicks.
I need to be gathered, just as I long to gather my own, to hold them close, to provide warmth and comfort, and to feel their warmth and their comfort.
I am longing for that warmth. That comfort.
Advent is for the ones who know longing, says Sarah Bessey.
And, if she’s writing about longing, she probably is familiar with it — that ache, that desire, that wake-you-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night hunger for wholeness, for healing, for restoration.
I’ve been so caught up — for actual years now — in longing for the restoration of my family and for healing for those I love, for peace in our world, for an end to violence, poverty, hunger, and pain. I’ve been feeling my brokenness.
We’re all broken — every last one of us.
We all are longing to be made whole, aren’t we? We’re longing for all things to be made new. We are watching in the distance for the arrival of a Savior who, we trust, is coming to gather us into His arms.
And He. Is. Coming.
In fact, He is here. He is already making everything new. We see evidence all around us — when long-lost friends reunite, when we share small kindnesses with strangers, when we realize we are forgiven.
We rejoice when we see these glimmers of hope, and we will celebrate even more when we finally see every broken piece put back into place.
We will see every broken piece put back into place.
And in the mean time, we’ll deck our halls, fluff our pillows, and make some room.
And I will continue to hope, even if reality doesn’t meet my expectation — if my gifts are all wrong, the food doesn’t turn out, and if everyone leaves disappointed. Because although I am longing for restoration, I know that it comes in ways that I don’t always expect and that I don’t always recognize.
Small glimmers accumulate over time…and then all at once, He wipes every tear from our eyes.
I will not lose hope, because Hope. Has. Come.
And He is coming again.
He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
I was standing behind him in a crowded grocery store on my lunch hour. We were in the line for the personal checkout — the one where you scan your own items and pay electronically.
I had just a few items in my cart — a few last minute Thanksgiving ingredients and a cup of soup for lunch. I barely noticed him at first. He was clad in dress pants and sport coat, and I only really acknowledged him because I noticed he had opened his bag of kettle cooked jalapeño chips and he was crunching away.
As I waited, I noticed that our line was rather long and I was blocking the entrance to the checkout lane next to us, so I tried to maneuver my cart to create an opening. When I did this, I came within inches of bumping Mr. Jalapeño, which I wouldn’t have known if he hadn’t said, somewhat loudly and in an irritated tone, “What’s happening here?” as he waved his arm in my direction without turning his head to look at me.
“Oh, I apologize,” I offered, “I was just trying to get out of the–“
He cut me off by flinging his hand into the air, again not looking in my direction, signaling nonverbally, “We’re done here.”
Well, alrighty then, I thought, but I said no more. Sure, internally, I muttered, “Sheesh, what’s got your panties in a knot?” as I watched him walk forward to the next open checkout to pay for the remaining crumbs in the wrinkled chip bag he clutched in his hand, but I didn’t let any sounds come out of my mouth. His words, and that brief gesture, had stung me. I instinctively wanted to sting back.
It took me about five minutes to scroll through all the replies I could have given him as I paid for my items, walked to my car, and put my items in the trunk. Then I snapped myself out of it and started reciting the phrases that have gotten me through many such situations.
His behavior says more about him than it says about me…I have no idea what this man has gone through this morning or what internal battles he’s facing… Lord, have mercy on him, encourage him, surprise him.
As I sat down in my car and turned the key, I felt my adrenaline subsiding. My mantra was working. I checked my rearview mirror and backed my car out of the parking space. Then, as I shifted from reverse to drive, I noticed another car that had just backed out of her space. We’d have to jockey a bit to get around each other, so I backed up, slid over, and shifted back into drive. As we approached one another, to make our way out of the parking lot, I raised my hand to smile and wave a greeting.
However, I saw no reciprocation. Instead, I saw a face drawn back in a stressful expression. Her mouth was moving, but it was not smiling. She was clearly upset.
Oh, dear. I thought. Here we go again.
Her behavior says more about her than it says about me…I have no idea what she has been through this morning or what internal battles she’s facing… Lord, have mercy on her, encourage her, surprise her.
‘Tis the season, my friends — the season of the Grinch.
And, hey, no judgment — I, myself, have been the Grinch.
I have sneered, I have muttered, I have glared, and I have sputtered.
What with all the pressure to find the right presents, make the best meals, get to the parties, and find the best deals, a person could find herself bogged down and annoyed; she could feel overwhelmed, under-sourced, and un-joyed.
(I can’t stop; I promise, I can’t.)
And in this season of giving, celebration, and love, she could find herself fuming and wanting to shove.
So, dear ones, if you, as you wander about, find yourself cheerful and happy, and light on your toes, have mercy on those who are feeling the woes. When they glare, give wide berth, when they sputter, breathe deep. Don’t retaliate, lash back, say harsh words, or weep.
Just remember that underneath all of their sass, these grinches have hearts; they have feelings, alas, they are burdened by struggles, by wounds sometimes deep. If they could, they’d be springing through tasks like young sheep. But they can’t. Not now, but they might again, soon. So hope for them, pray for them, give them some room.
Hurt people hurt people. That’s what they do.
They’ll find their way back. I did, so did you.
In the season of giving, of love, and of hope, let’s make it our business to help others cope. Let’s keep our eyes open, let’s slow down our roll, let’s open our hearts, let’s make peace our goal.
It might make a difference. It might; it might not. But if loving and caring is all that we’ve got, let’s use it, let’s share it, let’s hope for the best. God, we can trust, will take care of the rest.
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another.”
As we head into the holidays, let’s gently remember that not everyone in our path is looking forward to reunions. I re-read the words of this blog this morning and remembered writing them through tears last year — we were broken and anticipating feeling all of that brokenness at the holidays. While much healing has happened in the past year, we are still tender enough to remember — and in that remembering, I want to be sure to take care.
Though we may not have admitted it — we are well on our way into the holiday season. It started with emails and phone calls early in October. Who is doing what for Thanksgiving? Who is hosting? Who will travel?
Discussions of Thanksgiving have already turned into talks about Christmas. Where will we…
In Monday’s post, I described a new relationship I’m building with my emotions, one where I trust their warning flags and stop to listen to their message. The post that follows, from August 2018, comes from a time when I was mired in sadness. As I waded through the tears, I built the muscle that prepared me for this new way.
Barbara Brown Taylor, in Learning to Walk in the Dark, asks “What if I could learn to trust my feelings instead of asking to be delivered from them? What if I could follow one of my great fears all the way to the edge of the abyss, take a breath, and keep going? Isn’t there a chance of being surprised by what happens next?”
I got up early one day this week and headed into work with an extra spring in my step. I was looking forward to some concentrated time to attend to several tasks that needed to be completed by the end of the week and was expecting about two hours of almost uninterrupted time to focus on them. I was charged up to be super productive, and I drove to work practically whistling “Hi ho, Hi ho!”
I parked my car, walked into the building, and ascended two flights of stairs, excited to get right at my work. However, when I walked into our office and saw our office assistant on the phone, I had an uneasy feeling. A 7:55am phone call could mean one of two things: 1) a student was cancelling instruction, or 2) a staff member was calling in late or sick.
I quickly learned that it was the second option, and I would need to cover a session with a student, sacrificing one of my coveted hours of uninterrupted work.
My inspiration and positive attitudequickly turned to frustration and irritation. I mentally stomped through the center gathering materials, grumbling under my breath about how I would be behind for the rest of the day.
I was annoyed, and it was going to take real work to shift my attitude.
Now, I love working with students, but this was not the morning I had expected. The plan that had me whistling and practically skipping into work had been altered, and my psyche was flung from enthusiasm to disappointment. I had to take action so that I could still give my student — and myself — a quality hour of instruction.
With set jaw, I mentally talked myself down — certainly I can recover from one lost hour. I could ask our office assistant to reschedule an appointment, I thought, logging into my computer. I could still get everything done. My blood pressure was coming down; it’ll be ok, I thought. Then, I settled in with my student.
By the time we were finished with our surprisingly fun and effective session, I had mentally realigned my tasks and developed a new set of expectations for how the rest of my morning would go.
And then, you guessed it, my office manager informed me that after my meeting, I would have to take another student hour and sacrifice my newly adapted plan.
I bet you are thinking that at the second change in plans, I much more easily adapted.
I am quite sure my face said it all, “I am not happy. This is not how I pictured my day going.” I glowered and muttered a few discontented comments as I looked at my calendar and my list of tasks. I was definitely and obviously frustrated.
Once again, I talked myself down: Ok, Ok, shift this here, shift that there. It’ll be fine. Come on; you’re a professional. I completed a couple of tasks and then moved into the meeting. I celebrated with a parent who shared some great news, I fully enjoyed my second hour of instruction, and I did, actually, manage to once again redistribute my work and make another plan for its completion before the end of the week.
Everything I was hoping to get done, would get done; it just wouldn’t happen in the way that I had expected.
So here’s the question: why did these small interruptions make me so upset? Why couldn’t I more easily shift gears? Why did I get emotional at each transition?
I retold this saga to my husband when I got home that day, still kind of simmering emotionally. “Why,” I asked him, “why did this make me so upset? I hate feeling this way! I want to be a team player, to go with the flow, to step in and help. Why is it so hard for me to shift gears?”
He, the therapist, said, “That’s your flag. When you respond to something in a way that seems off, you need to ask yourself why.”
As we talked some more, we unearthed a couple of things that were bothering me — some stressors that I hadn’t been realizing were stressors– and I made a plan to address them.
By the next day I was able to communicate some of those frustrations with the people who had the ability to do something about them. This allowed me to stop burying my emotions and, rather, express them appropriately.
I am feeling stretched thin. I am disappointed by this reality. I don’t feel heard.
When I stated my grievances, I was told, “Please be sure to share these things when they come up; don’t carry them around for so long.” But, you know what? I didn’t know how much I was bothered until I started paying attention to the flags.
When my husband said, “That’s your flag,” several images popped up in my mind of other times recently when my emotions flipped like a switch as a result of seemingly insignificant circumstances. I thought to myself, I’ve been overreacting to small things for quite a few weeks. I guess I have been more bothered than I was aware.
This has, of course, happened throughout my life. I’ve snapped at an inconvenience, I’ve growled at a surprise turn of events, and I’ve stomped and slammed when the people in my life didn’t behave in the way that I expected them to. However, rather than noticing these behaviors as flags, I often just chided myself and felt guilty for reacting so emotionally.
I saw myself as too emotional — I cried too much, laughed too loud, and had big emotional responses to almost everything. But I’ve come to see my emotions as a gift — they reveal what’s going on inside of me when I am unaware, and they stand by the side of the road, waving bright red flags so that I’ll stop and take notice. They draw my attention to internal hurts and frustrations so that I will do the work that allows me to be present for others.
Paying attention to the flags this week helped me unearth the real issues. I was never upset that a coworker called in or that I needed to work with a student when I wasn’t planning on it. I was upset for legitimate reasons that had nothing to do with the current situation. I just wasn’t allowing myself to admit it.
Now that I’ve acknowledged some underlying stressors and have some strategies for managing them, I’m hoping to have a more balanced response to the unexpected changes that will undoubtedly arise this week. Maybe when my plans get rearranged, I’ll be able to roll with the punches, unfazed.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
InMonday’s post, “Off the Couch, at the Table”, I briefly mentioned my weight. As age, illness, and circumstance are reflected in my body, I am often tempted to address the surface issues rather than what lies underneath. In this revision of a post from 2015, I recommit to not falling into this old pattern.
What’s your Achilles’ heel — that one weak spot that, if carefully targeted, can render you helpless.
I know what mine is. No, it’s not my drive to be successful. It’s not my tendency to jump in and dothings in order to take charge of a seemingly out of control situation or my ability to turn off emotion in order to get through difficult times. It’s not even autoimmune disease. Those are all things that I battle, of course, but they aren’t…
I recently wrote a post, On and Off the Couch, which was both an acknowledgement that I had been grieving some substantial losses for quite some time and an announcement that I was ready to move away from that period. A recent experience helped me take the first steps.
While I was still sitting on my dilapidated pleather couch, the University of Michigan reached out to me — would I be willing to participate in a study the Nursing School was conducting? The participation requirements were that you a) be over 50, b) have a chronic illness, and c) have a wifi connection. The study would take 6-8 weeks, and upon completion, I would receive a $150 gift card.
Well, why not? Since I’ve lived in this little house by the river, I have been open to experimentation. In fact, I once even called myself a lab rat! What did I have to lose? The goal of the study is to determine if ongoing nursing care can impact the lives of those with chronic illness. Let’s find out.
Going into the study, I was picturing that a nurse would come to my house, clipboard in hand, checking boxes to make sure that my home environment was safe. I was guessing that she would give me some tasks to do. I knew that I would be expected to make a voice recording every day and to meet with my nurse via video conference once a week.
I was not anticipating being nudged off the couch and supported into a new rhythm of life. I did not see that coming.
Yes, I was ready. The couch was sodden from all the tears I had shed on it and was practically disintegrating under me. I could see that I was going to have to stand up soon, but I gotta tell you, I was still pretty comfortable, so I was lingering for as long as possible.
Then in walked this nurse, who sat across the table from me, asking me some non-threatening questions and inviting me to set some goals. What types of change was I interested in making, she asked.
I told her all the changes I had already made — practicing yoga, avoiding gluten and dairy (and now corn), and writing every day. I said, “If there is any stone that has yet to be turned over, it is probably addressing my weight. Since chronic illness benched me from running in 2013, I have gradually put on about 10 pounds.”
I wouldn’t say I am overweight, but I am not overly thrilled with the way I look, even if by lifestyle I have diminished most of the symptoms of my illness and I feel the best I’ve felt in years. I keep trying to decide if I should just be content and accept this as how I look as a 50-something woman, or if I should try to make a change.
I don’t overeat. I do yoga usually five or more days a week, and I often go for a 20-30 minute walk sometime during the day. What more could I do to drop some of this weight?
“Maybe,” I suggested to the nurse, “my husband and I need to stop eating our dinner on the couch in front of the TV. Maybe we should go back to eating dinner at the table.”
I cringed as I said it. I didn’t want to make this commitment. We had established quite a rhythm during the Season of the Couch. Come home, utter a few words to one another, fill our plates, and plunk down in front a string of meaningless shows. It was quite comfortable. We were together, after all, and we didn’t need to say a lot. Couldn’t we just continue coexisting in our misery?
But I knew, I knew, it was a change that needed to happen.
We were the ones who, when our children were small, ate all our meals at the table. We all ate a big breakfast together before the kids left for school and he left for work. Those who were home with me ate lunch at the table. At dinner, we all gathered for a sit down meal — no matter how fatigued we were, how distressing the conversations got, or how many glasses of milk were spilled (typically three). Although it was sometimes stressful, we valued the face time this gave us as a family.
Even when the kids were teens, we still made an effort to eat breakfast in close proximity to one another (maybe standing with a bagel or a bowl of cereal in hand) and come together for dinner. I’d be lying if I said that every meal was blissful and meaningful — they were not. However, this rhythm allowed a check-in, a reading of the temperature of the room, a moment to gauge the health of the family and the individuals in it. It was sometimes difficult to look all that hurt straight on, but we continued.
I think when we moved — just the two of us — to this little house by the river, we started out at the table. It was natural. He was working all day, and I was taking some time off. Making dinner and setting the table gave me a project in the afternoon. We would sit across from one another, sharing a re-telling of the day, making plans for the upcoming weekend, or discussing a planned purchase or a current event.
But when our bottom fell out and we found ourselves scrambling for something to hold onto, we landed on the sectional in the living room, plates in hands, eating quietly, and watching Jeopardy or Law and Order. It was a comfort to be together, not talking, just existing in our grief.
So we stayed there.
Until I uttered those words, “maybe we need to stop eating our dinner on the couch in front of the TV.”
When I said them, the nurse asked me, “Will your husband be open to that?”
“Well,” I said, “I think he’ll initially grumble a little, but I think he knows we need this change, too. I think he’ll be on board,”
And he was. When I told him my goals, he gave a sigh, then said, “Yeah, I’m in.”
We started that evening. I made dinner, we filled our plates, and instead of walking toward the couch, we sat at the table, across from each other, and practiced having conversation over dinner.
“What was your day like?”
“Have you spoken to any of the kids today?”
“How are your parents doing?”
It was a little awkward at first, using those conventions that we hadn’t used in quite a while, but over time, we remembered how to have a conversation over dinner. We found the rhythm of clearing our plates and putting away leftovers together. We discovered that we can watch a television show or two in the evening rather than scrolling through several.
It might not seem like a big deal, but it was one of the first steps in getting us off the couch and out of the season of grieving.
I met my nurse, Karen, about six weeks ago. My husband and I have carried our plates to the living room three times since then. All of the other nights we’ve eaten together at a table, either at home together or out with friends or family.
We’re talking to each other; we’re laughing. It sometimes feels like we’re celebrating.
And, in a sense we are. Our reason for grieving hasn’t changed, but we have reason to hope that God is in the process of making all things new.
I haven’t lost any weight — not the kind that can be weighed on the scale. Instead, I’ve found some joy that I was beginning to think I wouldn’t feel again.
It seems to me that ongoing nursing care can make a difference in the lives of people with chronic illness (and chronic grief). I’m thankful to Karen and the University of Michigan Nursing School for giving me the opportunity to participate in this study.
I’m not sure this is the kind of change they were hoping to make, but it was the kind of change that we needed.
I will turn their mourning into joy;
I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.”