The Day After Christmas

December 26th.  The day after Christmas.  The presents unwrapped.  The turkey eaten.  The day we spend a month preparing for is over.  

It was a quiet Christmas here at the Willcock house.  I wasn’t sure I’d like it quiet.  (Quiet being a relative term with two boys in the house, nerf guns and assorted superhero gear!)  Mark’s parents were away and my parents have our family Christmas on a later day.  It ended up being perfect.  I haven’t been feeling particularly Christmassy this season.  The boys have been sick and have been battling a particularly nasty skin infection that keeps occurring.  The infections are boil-like and painful.  Another round occurred late last week.  

I’ve also been remembering my brother’s dog, Reno from my childhood.  I was eight and we looked after him one fall while my brother worked up north.  Reno was still a pup.  A Doberman but my brother had not gotten his ears clipped.  He was a beautiful dog.  He was a great dog.  I LOVED that dog.  I spent hours outside with him.  He loved to jump up on you and lick your face.  Even as a pup, he was big!  I taught him to sit as I approached.  I would come home from school and he’d be waiting for me.  He’d sit.  You could see he really wanted to jump but he’d sit and let me come and pet him.  That Christmas my brother came home.  He took Reno out for a run on Christmas night and the dog was hit by a truck.   We were all devastated.  

I haven’t really been interested in dogs since.  Until the last couple of years.  Boys need a dog.  So we’ve been THINKING about getting a dog.  Maybe that’s why I’m remembering Reno.  

I realize that many people are suffering through a death of a loved one or sickness.  Or any number of awful things.  A memory of a dog may not be a big deal.  But I loved him and then he was gone.  It still hurt.  People still hurt on the holidays.  Christmas makes the pain more palatable.  Hollywood likes to make the Christmas season all magical and perfect.  Up against our expectations for a festive season, our pain and suffering becomes more pronounced.  It seems politically incorrect to not be feeling the Christmas spirit.  But how many people feel let down on December 26th?  I think more than would like to admit it.  But you know what?  It’s.ok.  

Christmas is more than one day.  Christmas lasts all year.  Because the babe born in the manger grew up to be a man who lived out a radical ministry.  He changed people and their lives.  It’s more than the Christmas story.  When Jesus was just thirty-three, he died on a cross to change our doomed existence.  It’s the Easter story too.  But in between there was a life lived that loved people that were excluded from society.  He was best friends with fishermen.  They weren’t considered a stellar part of society either.  He healed the physically, emotionally and mentally ill.   He associated with harlots and tax collectors.  He blew up the rules of the Pharisees and religious leaders to show us truth and love.  He came to earth for all of us.  Those who felt they didn’t need him and for those who felt they were desperate for him.  He came because he loved us and he wanted to heal us and save us from ourselves. 

 The spirit of the sovereign LORD is upon me, because the LORD has chosen me. He has commissioned me to encourage the poor, to help the brokenhearted, to decree the release of captives, and the freeing of prisoners, to announce the year when the LORD will show his favor, the day when our God will seek vengeance, to console all who mourn, to strengthen those who mourn in Zion, by giving them a turban, instead of ashes, oil symbolizing joy, instead of mourning, a garment symbolizing praise, instead of discouragement. They will be called oaks of righteousness, trees planted by the LORD to reveal his splendor.   Isaiah 61:1-3 The NET Bible

 The year of the Lord’s favour.  As we head into the last week of December and into 2014 my prayer is to walk out these verses.  Life brings both good and bad.  As we walk the paths of life, whether in mourning, discouragement or with broken hearts, OR in good times, we don’t walk alone.  Jesus is beside us and he enables us to walk strengthened, joyful and full of praise, in ALL circumstances.  He came to earth as a babe to live life as a human.  There isn’t one emotion, temptation or situation that he doesn’t understand.  That is the greatest part of this gift.  The baby born didn’t just disappear into oblivion but lived a life that changed the world and then he died to give us eternal life.  

I’m so thankful that Christmas is way more than just a day on the calendar.  Christmas is a lifetime lived out.

 

Why Christmas Shouldn’t Make Sense But Does

My brain has been in overdrive lately.  (Uh oh!)  I’ve been in denial that Christmas was coming.  I know right?  DUMB!  Too many things to think about so I cope by denial, denial, denial!  I had to shake myself back to reality, this week.  Christmas is coming whether I’m ready or want it to.  As my brain has zipped from one thing to another, it keeps coming back to Mary.  

Mary.  She is at the very centre of Christmas.  A young teenager, pregnant.  In a day and age where that didn’t happen outside marriage.  And if it did, well it wasn’t going to end good. If the guy didn’t marry you, you were a social pariah.  No one was expecting the Messiah.  God had been silent for 400 years.  This was out of the blue.  Unbelievable really.   It makes no sense whatsoever.  Why would God be silent for 400 years and then BAM! send his son to a virgin?  I would have though he’d be busier than ever preparing those Israelites for his Son!  I mean a real media blitz!  Prophets proclaiming, academics reading the signs.  Isaiah being read from the rooftops!  Instead he sent one prophet, some thirty years after the fact and he ate honey, dressed in animal skins and lived in the desert.  What?

And why choose Mary?  What qualities was God interested in when he looked for the mother for his son?  What did Mary have that the rest of the girls didn’t have?  God himself states in 1 Samuel 16: 7 that “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at.  Ma looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  He definitely did that with Mary.  The bible never says what Mary looks like.  Often it will state whether the woman is beautiful.  Like Sarah, or Esther.  We never get a glimpse of Mary in the physical sense.  The words of scripture do give us some idea of her beauty inside.  The angel greets her with the words “Greetings, you who are highly favored!  The Lord is with you.”  Wow!  Can you imagine an angel appearing to you?  Then he says you are favored and the Lord is with you!   I don’t think it gets much better than that!  

“Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.” (vs 29)   Mary was real.  Favored but fallen.  She’s scared and her fear and wonderings brings her back to us.  Fallen humanity.  She wasn’t perfect.  Nor a super-saint!  I’m so thankful she reacted like any one of us would.  

On the other hand, she was favored because she had something special.  She was ready to accept the assignment God had for her even though it was going to make her life complicated.  “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered.  (vs. 38)  I wish I would answer God that way even half the time He comes looking for me.  Mary did and that says a lot about her heart.    

 I was going to say that God obviously must have seen a strength in Mary as well.  Then I think no.  God created Mary for the role.  He gave her everything she needed to raise that little God-boy into the God-Man.  God gave her the heart, the love and the strength to do this job.  Mary just had to have the courage and obedience to accept it.  With that one sentence she did.  She was obedient to her calling.      

The whole Christmas story is full of wonder precisely because it makes no sense in our human terms.  We really do like to stuff God in our little preconceived boxes.  It makes us comfortable.  Because we like to think we are in control.  In reality it’s the exact opposite.  I really like the song Outside the Lines by Hawk Nelson.  The chorus goes,

Don’t worry, we’ll be just fine.

Our God is working all of the time.

And when the sun comes up,

You’ll see He paints outside the lines.

He paints outside the lines.

 I love that visual.  I’ve done a tiny bit of painting in my day.  The real artists, in my humble opinion, don’t care about staying in the lines.  Freedom comes when you just let go and paint.   I imagine that God is that kind of artist.  He just paints.  We don’t always get it.  All we see are scribbles.  A mess.  I mean a virgin to give birth to God’s son?  It’s a social nightmare!  That’s not what God sees.  God sees beauty.  He sees the whole picture, some of which is not visible to us.  Some of which we can’t possible understand.  He sees His perfect plan which someday “when the sun comes up” we’ll see it too.  A beautiful picture painted outside society’s preconceived lines.  It’ll be a masterpiece.  Up there with the masterpiece of Christmas and a teenage virgin giving birth to God’s own Son. 

A True Gift

Last week, amidst the hustle and bustle of the season, I took the time to meet up with an old dear friend.  A bestie in today’s terms, or as I prefer, a kindred spirit.  I’ve known her since our first full-time ministry position when her husband also served on staff as the youth pastor.  From the first, we understood each other.  We were both sort of shell-shocked with the whole pastors’ wife thing.  We both knew that faking it wasn’t going to work.  We had long conversations on this topic.   Beyond that common bond, we had fun together.  She accepted me as I was.  I didn’t have to put on a mask.  We’ve been through thick and thin together and weathered some storms.  We haven’t even lived close to each other for the majority of our friendship.  There were some years that we lived hundreds of miles and provinces apart. But our friendship has lasted.  We pick up where we leave off.   Our friendship is a gift and has continued to be for the last fifteen or so years.  As I thought about Christmas and presents, I began to think about true gifts.  The kinds that money can’t buy.  Sometimes unexpected.  Gifts that continually give even when we don’t deserve it.  Gifts that become even more beautiful as the years go by.  I have been blessed over my life with true gifts of friendship in every place we’ve lived and through every stage of my life.  

Why is friendship a true gift?  Friend makes your life richer.  As I’ve journeyed through life, friends who have shared that pilgrimage, have blessed me beyond measure.  We were meant for relationship.  Sharing life with others enhances our lives, bringing out the joy and beauty we might otherwise not see.  We go from self-absorbed mediocrity to love-filled, outward-focused brilliance.     

As always, true gifts come from the One who knew what gift giving was all about.  He created humans so he could have a friendship with us.  That was the primary reason for Adam being formed.  Not to work.  Nor to do good works.  It was so God could be our friend.  When that relationship was in jeopardy because of a snake and a piece of fruit, even then God had a plan to save it.  His plan?  To give us the gift of His beloved Son.  “For unto us a Child is born; Unto us a child is given”  (Isaiah 9:6)  

Who was the Child born to?  US.  Who was the child given? US.  To all men and women past, present and future.   According to Collins English dictionary, the definition of given is “to present or deliver voluntarily”.  God presented (gifted) us with his Son.  Jesus came willingly, voluntarily.  He wasn’t forced to do anything.  Why?  Because God loves us and He wants to be our friend.  Not just an acquaintance that we might talk to occasionally but a bestie.  A kindred spirit.  Someone we share all our dreams, passions, messes and disasters with.  A friend that walks the journey right alongside you.

He doesn’t stop there.  He mirrors the relationship He desires with us by giving us friends here on earth.  Every person needs at least one good friend.  Some of us need more than one.  As a pastor’s wife, I don’t really know where I’d be without some of the friends I’ve made along the way.   People who have been the hands and feet of Jesus to me and my family.  Gifts of grace.  Gifts of friendship.  True gifts given by the original gift giver.  

What are some of your true gifts?

   

Diamonds, Ducks and A Lesson Learned

Amid the ashes, sometimes a diamond appears.  As I sift through the events of a crazy weekend, there are a few moments I’d like a DO-OVER, and a few moments erased.  The meltdowns (my own), a mom fail which at the time felt epic, are just a bit of the ickiness I’d like to forget.  Ashes.  As I sift through the grey dust, there is a glitter of something good.  A sparkly diamond amongst the grey, black dirt.  A little boy surprised me.  He performed in the pageant at our church, all by himself!  

Let me explain.  Our church puts on a huge outdoor pageant with live animals for three nights, three performances a night, every year.  

The three of us were signed up to be townspeople.  My youngest was asked to wheel a cart of ducks in.  I was to go with him.  We had signed up to do Friday and Saturday.  On Sunday, we were going to watch the performance.  

Things changed.  I wasn’t going to make it Sunday and neither was my oldest child.   Too many late nights and early mornings had worn us out, among other things.  But my youngest wanted to go. And be in it.  I knew they didn’t have a duck person for Sunday so his spot was still open.   I also knew I couldn’t go.  He’d have to do it on his own.  I wasn’t sure that was possible.   

Mark had to be there to introduce the show.  I wasn’t sure he could look after our son too.  People want to talk to him and he needs to be available.  I wasn’t sure this would work.  There were going to be thousands of people there.  (We had been averaging close to 4500 people a night!)  He could get lost or worse!  I reminded Mark that the boy was only eight years old.  (Like he didn’t know how old his son was!)   Mark patiently told me that he would take care of him.  B knew the drill; we’d done it six times already.   So I let him go and prayed hard.  (OK just a note here – my husband is not an incompetent!  He’s actually very good with the boys.  It’s my own helicopter tendencies being played out here.  Can you say control freak?)

Shortly after six, I texted Mark.  I couldn’t resist.  DID B DO THE SHOW?  B did indeed do the show and was having a great time!  Mark was with him when he could be and had arranged for another couple to keep an eye on B when he was behind the scenes.  My little boy, did this three times on his own.

But the incredible thing – the thing that makes this gem-worthy, is this boy can get so nervous he can barely think straight.  A meltdown is right around the corner.  He’ll decide he can’t do it and then worry about making the wrong decision.  So I was surprised when he wanted to go and be in it when it meant he had to be on his own.  

I think what helped was he was responsible for the ducks.  It helps when you have to worry about someone or something other than yourself.  He loves animals and our entrance point was with baby goats, and calves.  The baby goats were cute with their small horns and their loud bleating.  They’d try and make a dash for it when their handlers set them down.  It was fun to watch.  

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He also knew the routine of where he was supposed to enter and exit and what he was supposed to do.  Thank goodness for routine!

He knew people were looking out for him.  He wasn’t really alone.  Support was in place.  

It was really hard to say yes and let him go.  To trust that he would be okay.  It’s a spot I’m finding myself in more and more.  They are tugging on the apron strings and at appropriate times, I’m finding myself having to give an inch or two.  

Last nigh was worth it.  He came home, bright and shiny!  He was proud of himself and rightly so.  He’d had a great time.  It was a stone laid in his foundation that said HE CAN rather than He Can’t Because It’s Too Scary.   A woman had recently told me a similar story and how to use it to help kids overcome.  Focus in on what they have done well and use it to motivate and show them they CAN do it.

You can bet I’ll be shining that stone up repeatedly when he’s scared.  “You remember the time you went to pageant all by yourself…..” 

Watching and Waiting

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Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and prayerful.  Col 4:2

 I could order a boatload of books off Amazon right about now.  Or personally keep an independent bookstore in business if I had the money!  Not enough time, too many books to read!  There are a couple of new Christmas books out that I’d like to read.  They would help me get in the Christmas spirit, I thought.  That made me think about what it is that puts us in the “Christmas spirit.”   Why some of us are more scrooge-like and others have the wonder of Tiny Tim?  

There are many things to do to keep us feeling Christmasy.  There are the physical things like decorating your house up, shopping (Really?  I know retail therapy does this for some but for me, the malls at Christmas are a horror show!  I’ll scratch that one from my list! It makes me scrooge-like) and baking.  (Bah humbug!  Another nightmare as far as I’m concerned.  I could build a house from the bricks I’ve made over the years that were supposed to be chocolate chip cookies!)  Ok so making this list isn’t making me feel more Christmasy!  

Which is why it’s good that Christmas and being a Tiny Tim and not a scrooge, doesn’t depend on any of these things.  

The Christmas spirit is nurtured long before December ever arrives.  I started a Thankful list a few years back, after reading Ann Voskamp’s 1000 Gifts.  It’s about looking around you and noticing the little gifts that are in our lives in the everyday.  To notice the little things in life, which are ninety-nine percent of the time the real gifts, you have to slow down.  Sometimes even STOP.  This is a gift in itself.  Slowing, stopping lets you become more aware of your surroundings.  I started to notice how the skies are different every single day and night.  How some trees have rainbow leaves in the fall.  How the squirrels would lay stretched out flat on the branch of the big maple tree in our backyard on those really hot and humid Windsor summer days.  In each of these and the many other things that I became aware of, a little seed of joy burst forth.  These were gifts that were on display all year round, I had just to stop and see them.  It humbled me.  I had been too arrogant before, caught up in my own schedule and agenda to bother with nature and all that blah, blah, blah.  I’m embarrassed by what I used to think.  But the gifts were there all along whether I saw them or not.  Learning to stop and be watchful is a present I still unwrap everyday.  It’s my choice to unwrap it or leave it.

And so it is with Christmas.  Colossians 4:2 says it so well.  Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and prayerful.  Just like a little kid waits and watches for Christmas, I think I should have the same sort of expectant attitude to really enter into the Christmas spirit.  Be prayerful as I wait, watching for how God is going to show up this Christmas.  When I first read this verse, I really liked it.  It told me it was ok to watch for answers.  For some reason I thought that was wrong.  Waiting and expecting good things wasn’t in my Christian vocab.  I’m not sure where I got that idea from….

Margaret Feinberg in her book, Wonderstruck: Awaken to the Nearness of God, talks about praying for “pixie dust.” 

 “Praying for pixie dust was an invitation for God to lavish our team with his loving-kindness, and for each of us to walk more upright, eyes attentive to what God might do next….A prayer marked by faith is never about what happens on our terms or time lines, but God’s.  Faith-stained prayer brings us to a place of trust and hope.  Praying for pixie dust is a childlike expression of trust and hope – trusting in both God’s wisdom and winsomeness, finding hope in God’s mercy and mirth.”  (p. 17)

 

This Christmas I’m going to try to watch for how God is going to meet me in a special Christmas way.  Christmas “pixie dust”.  

What about you?  What are you going to be praying and watching for?

 Postscript:  I know this sounds a bit on the fanciful side.  It’s not.  Margaret Feinberg is just in her 30’s and was recently diagnosed with breast cancer.  She’s fighting this battle, still wonderstruck by a God who doesn’t disappoint.  Please pray for her and her husband.

Lost keys, rubber band bracelets and advent

First Sunday of Advent.  Gone.  We didn’t even make it to church let alone dig out the numerous books on it!  

We were ready to go out the door to church, the boys and I.  Mark had gotten a ride earlier with a co-worker.  The three of us had our coats on.  I went to get my keys and a vague memory from the night before surfaced.  I couldn’t find them last night when I had to run an errand.  I had taken Mark’s keys to the store.   Where were mine?  Mark had taken his keys with him this morning.  I checked my purse.  I looked in the bin where keys are supposed to be.  Nothing.  I checked my purse again.  Then the kitchen counters and my bedroom.  I checked coat pockets.  The boys checked my purse.  Nothing.  

“Did I lose them on Friday when I was out?”  I wondered.  

The boys were wondering if we were going to church.  “Not if I can’t find the keys.”  It was ten minutes later.  No keys anywhere in sight.  At 9 am when church started, I told the boys we were not going because I couldn’t find the keys.  I had a car, no keys.  The irony of it all!  I sent Mark a message.  DO U KNOW WHERE MY KEYS ARE?   I wondered if he had pocketed them and then forgot.

I began to worry I had lost my keys!  (Perhaps someone stole them for the Lego Superwoman mini-figure keychain or Princess Leah.)  Probably not.

I picked up my purse one more time.  I was going to clean it out and check for the keys.  I pulled all the “stuff” out of my purse.  I checked the pockets.  And then at the bottom of a pocket, there they were!  I am positive I checked this pocket at least three times.  They weren’t there before!  It was 9:40am.  Relief.  I had not lost my keys!

Fast track to the afternoon.  I had given my son, this thing called the Rainbow Loom that makes bracelets from rubber bands.  He’d been making them on his fingers but was asking for it.  I decided not to wait for Christmas because by then, who knows whether the interest would have faded.  He made bracelets all day.  (Yes that loom has paid for itself!)  He decided to google how to make a ladder bracelet.  A more difficult bracelet. He got it all the way done except for the last step only to have it fall apart in his small fingers.  He tried again and again, only to have it fall apart.  I looked at it and told him where he seemed to be going wrong.  I was on pins and needles because I really wanted him to succeed.  I wasn’t sure what would happen if he couldn’t make it work.  I figured a major meltdown and the loom cast aside.   

After the third try, he took my advice and took a break.  After supper, he went back to it, found a different video to watch and successfully made the bracelet!  He was ecstatic and so was I.  

So what does all this have to do with the advent?  Because of what didn’t happen.  I didn’t get mad because I lost my keys and couldn’t go to church.  Because I didn’t get upset, neither did the boys.  There was no guilt or remorse for yelling or saying something I shouldn’t.  

I didn’t lecture Ben when he was making the bracelet or let my anxiety for him to succeed take over.  I let him fail on his own and just encouraged him.  He didn’t get upset at his mistakes.  He kept trying and learned that he could do it!  It was a positive experience for both of us.  This may not seem like much to you but it is a HUGE deal to me.  A year ago, six years ago the scenario would have been much more uglier.  

Today I am celebrating victory and hope.  On Facebook, one of my friends kids’ were lighting the advent candle of hope at their church.  We may not have lit a candle but hope was here yesterday.  Hope for a better future.  Hope that things can and will have a different ending.  All the things that have been swirling around in my brain about believing, leaving a new and different legacy for my kids, all showed up on the first day of advent here.  There was victory.  And isn’t that what advent prepares us for?  The birth of the child who brought hope to the world.  Hope for something, someone, better.  Hope for change.  Hope for a life well lived.  And that child grew up and died for us so we could have not just the hope of it, but the victory.  He gave us that victory in his death.  In a very small but meaningful way, hope and victory graced us with their presence on the first Sunday of advent, even though there were no candles, no service.  Instead advent played itself out in very ordinary life.  I can live with that.  No, I can embrace that.