Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Actual Pastor Twitter: @stevewiens

Honestly, more than making an impact or changing the world, what I most want to be is a gentle, healing presence.”

These are words written by my friend and pastor, Steve Wiens.  Steve authors a blog called The Actual Pastor, and on Monday he will be re-posting a piece that I wrote called The Wailing Woman.  I hope you enjoy it; feel free to share!

While you’re at Steve’s blog, please take a look at a few of his posts.  They’re written with insight and so, so good!  Here are some highlights:

If you recognize Steve’s blog, it might be because his post about parenting went viral.  That article, along with several others, ended up being published in the Huffington Post! 

Steve comes from a talented family of writers.  His wife, Mary, is a poet.  (She was also published in the Huffington Post), and his sister Lisa is a writer and pastor who works at St. Matthews in the Twin Cities.  Oh yeah, and he may not have a blog, but Joel Hanson is Steve’s brother-in-law.  So, along with essays, the music written in this family is amazing too!

Steve is a reader.  When he started his blog, he also started a book club to discuss Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly.  The discussion is over now, but the posts are still thought-provoking.  And, if you’re looking for a book, especially one about vulnerability and shame, I recommend it!

He’s a runner with a big heart.  Steve has run several marathons including Twin Cities and Boston.  A few summers ago, I asked him to write an essay about what it is like to finish such a race.  This September, Steve ran the Grand Canyon from rim to rim to help raise money for an organization called Eyes that See.

And finally, if you’re dreaming of the lake and the snow outside is making you pine for brighter days and warmer weather, read this post: For Those of You Who Have Grown Weary.  It’s one of my personal favorites because it talks about how tired we find ourselves and our need for the restoration that only comes from God.  

I hope you enjoy The Actual Pastor.  It just might be something you’d like to add to your inbox!  

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Thank you for reading my blog, encouraging my writing, and being patient with me while I took a much needed break this summer!  I hope you've had a chance this season to stop and ponder Emmanuel:  that Jesus left heaven to be with us, the Holy Spirit is with us now, and someday we will spend forever in heaven with Him.  Can't wait!

Speaking of things I can't wait book, Walking with Tension, is due out this spring on Amazon in paperback and ebook.  My plan is to launch it on March 26, 30th birthday!  I promise to keep you posted!  For now, here's a sneak peek at the cover art, designed by my friend, Aimee LibbySteve Wiens, my friend and pastor, wrote the foreword.

One last thing, please enjoy this video holiday video! (If you can't see the video below, click on this link:   Merry Christmas and may you have a very Happy New Year!


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Looking for Emmanuel

 We were asked at church to submit a photo and caption answering this question, “How do you want Christmas to be different this year?”  This was my response:
I want to stop white-knuckling my way through December long enough to actually slow down and enjoy it.

And then, it happened.

I was forced to loosen my death grip on my precious calendar December 4th.  I had been asked to speak to some students and mentors at church about disability.  So I spent much of Thanksgiving weekend preparing, delighting in the anticipation of sharing on a topic that is very near and dear to my heart.  If any of you speak, you know what it is to carry a message; you live with it; it grows in you until it’s time to deliver.

But, it snowed that night and the event was cancelled.  I spent the evening by the fire writing, pondering my disappointment. 

I’m still learning from this situation, but among other things, I’ve been asking these questions:
What if I let myself be interrupted? (Yuck.) 

What if I was willing to loosen the grip on my calendar creating space for God to do work in my life that I can’t plan, and maybe, at first glance, don’t even like? (Let’s be honest, this still feels uncomfortable.  I’m cringing as I write it.)

What would it be like to slow down this season and actually look for God at work in my life; to experience Emmanuel?

It happened when I didn't want to go for a walk that afternoon because it was so cold, but my body seemed to groan from all the sitting I did that day, so I relented. I pulled on extra layers, but they didn't seem like enough as my fingers were still chilled 20 minutes in. Gradually, my body started to warm. The sun peeked through the clouds in an encore of brilliance for the day. It shown down; I felt warm and embraced. My heart poured forth a spontaneous expression, "Thank you God for this moment." 

This is Emmanuel: God with us bringing light and warmth.

It happened late Sunday afternoon while grocery shopping at Target. I was headed home to eat dinner alone as I prepared to face another week.  My cell phone rang: Teresa.  “Come over for dinner!  I’m making your favorite, cheesy potatoes.”  Suddenly my loneliness was interrupted by company: my niece’s smiles, warm dinner conversations, and a walk through the neighborhood to see the lights. 
This is Emmanuel: God with us bringing comfort and joy.

It happened in church on a Friday night.  I had had a disappointing week, so while everyone stood to sing, I remained sitting. I didn’t have much praise inside of me.  My throat was dry from crying that afternoon, so I let myself be silent. Grief has introduced me to the Man of Sorrows, and in that moment, I turned my face towards Him. I imagined Jesus sitting in the chair next to me, holding my hand, whispering His truth.  Light has come into the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.

This is Emmanuel: God with us bringing us the Light of His Word.

It happens in the morning when I steal just a few more minutes wrapped in my prayer shawl while the candle is lit.  It’s like an extra hug from the Almighty before heading out the door.  It happens while driving to work. I turn the music up loud. My car transforms into a sanctuary.  The space fills up with sound as my heart fills up with joy.  As I finish up singing, We’ll praise your name forever..and put my car in park, I’m ready to face a new day. 
This is Emmanuel: God with us bringing His presence into our praise.
Where have you seen Emmanuel this season?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Waiting: The angst of growth we cannot see

Advent is the season of waiting.  It’s pregnant with expectation and hope.  Eugene Peterson puts it this way:

All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why 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.

One winter night, the phone rang waking me from a distant dream.  My nephew was about to make his entrance into the world.  I pulled on some clothes and drove through the night to the hospital.  The morning was filled with bad coffee, fast food, and walking the halls with excitement.  It was like I had just boarded a plane:  I hadn’t showered, my sleep had been interrupted, and my heart ached for the moment when a loved one would be in my arms.

As the Today Show wrapped up, Calvin emerged.  Watching a human being enter the world was the most amazing thing I have ever seen.  It is unbelievable how the body changes, making space for new life.  (Watch this video of a crab shedding its old skin.  It’s remarkable!) I witnessed a miracle that day; Calvin is so beautiful!

Expectation and arrival can be a gift, but it can also be painful.  Desire can propel us, filling us with excitement and hope.  But unmet, the fire of desire can nearly ruin us. 

The bible seems to be full of this story: People who see the promises of God, but are asked to wait for long periods of time before becoming recipients.  Sarah knew God was going to give her a baby, but she was 90 before that promise came to pass.  Along the way came a baby named Ishmael fathered by her husband and her concubine and a whole lot of family drama.

Joseph found himself in a similar fix.  Early on he had visions of leadership, but the road to Egypt was long and winding.  He became a slave and then a prisoner before he was ever brought to Pharaoh. 

Waiting is hard because it delays the thing we so desperately desire.  When what we want gets put on hold, we are poignantly reminded who really is in control.  This reality can propel us to finally confess our deepest desires not just to our friends but also before a loving God.  We feel the angst of growth we cannot see.  We hold on to the hope that Henri Nouwen was right, “Waiting is a period of learning.  The longer we wait, the more we hear about Him for whom we are waiting.”

Enjoy this piece I wrote called Sensing Hope
I think of communion; God declaring that He is the Bread of Life, extending an invitation to come and eat because He offers everything we need.  But sometimes….
It tastes like losing your appetite because your stomach is full of ache.
Eating too much, too often, to try and fill a void.

It’s the feeling of being held and needing to be held when no one is around to embrace your skin.  It’s the feel of tears falling down your cheeks and dropping into your lips.
Holding your breath.
Holding on.
Feeling weighty.  Needing to grasp something heavy to grapple with the heaviness of life. 

It looks like Dr. Seuss’ The Waiting Place.
Praising God in church with reckless abandon.  People confess to staring.  You do it anyway.
Checking your e-mail to find no response.  No messages on your phone…again.
Coming home to an empty house.
Empty handedness.

Hope smells like rain.  A remnant of a storm to be sure, but also the promise that new ground is being watered to bring fourth life.  Spring will come again with the unexpected delight of new and beautiful things growing out of the dirt.

The song: Strangely Dim, by  Francesca Battistelli

Photo by  C. Hill
Waiting Place Source

Monday, December 2, 2013

Confessions of a Christmas Grinch: How Looking Through the Lens of Advent has Helped to Enlarge My Heart

I have a confession to make: I’m a Christmas Grinch.  I honestly don’t like the holiday season.  As I watch my calendar fill up with expectations and demands, I find myself wanting to white-knuckle the kitchen table, close my eyes tight, and hope with everything in me that somehow when I open my eyes, it will magically be 2014.

It’s a season where I struggle with the music.  I’m constantly flipping stations and feeding my CD player so I don’t have to listen to Frosty the Snowman, Jingle Bells, or Santa Claus is Coming to Town.  “It’s NOT the most wonderful time of year!”  I’ve found myself yelling while driving to work after shoveling my driveway, scraping my car window, and leaving 20 minutes early so I can arrive on time.

Snow and ice are not my friends.  Darkness and I aren’t on friendly terms either.  I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder and I usually fall about once a month on the ice; sometimes resulting in lingering pain. 

Winter driving is also not one of my favorite activities.  One New Year’s Eve I found myself in the passenger seat as my mom was driving me home from college.  We hit a patch of ice and the car began to swirl around and around like a tilt-a-whirl. In desperation, my mom reached out her hand to protect me and cried, “Oh Jenny, what are we going to do!?”  I sat up straight in my seat and silently said to myself, I guess this is the day I meet Jesus.  It’s amazing how much peace God gives you the moment you think you are about to die; I’m now convinced death is a beautiful thing.  Even though our car landed safely in the ditch and we went home that evening unscathed, I’ve lived in fear of the weather ever since. 

Unfortunately, I don’t fully understand the love language of gift giving.  I’m learning that a present is a way of saying to another person, “ I see you, I know the things you care about, and I want to reflect it in this gift,” but my primary love language is physical touch. I want to be held.  I want those I love to open their arms wide and receive me in their embrace.  No need to pick up something from Target—just sit next to me on the couch. 

My struggle with the Christmas season is why I love the gift of Advent.  It’s an opportunity to view the season from a whole different perspective. It’s the invitation to look through the lens of the gospel and remember three things:

Christ came:  Last December I found myself trying to grasp the threads on my bedroom floor carpet as I lay there shrieking with sobs and tears.  (I wrote about this in a post titled When Words Fail.) Children who attended Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, CT had just been murdered and I couldn’t make sense of it.  The only thing that brought me comfort in the coming days was the knowledge that Jesus was born into a similar terror.  My Savior knew my pain.

Jeremiah 31: 15 A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.

Christ will come again:  Last week I wrote about the hope of heaven.  My heart fills joyful expectation as I wait for that great day.

Revelation 21:4  “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Christ is with us even now!  Whether you like this season or not; whether December brings you good news of great joy or a keen awareness of sadness and pain, God is with us now, near to us in the midst of this season.

"The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" (which means "God with us").  Mathew 1:23

What’s Advent all about?  Check out this 2 minute video: