What holy message?

Advent is a season of waiting. Advent is a season of yearning, hoping and expecting. The Israelites waited hundreds of years for God to restore them to a right relationship with their Creator. We have the aid of history on our side today. We spend the season of Advent, not wondering what good news will come at the end of the season, but slowing down the rush to the manger scene. During Advent we wait with anticipation, for the coming of Christ. We wait with hope and expectation to see and hear the good news of God’s Son, the Messiah who arrives on earth to reconcile the world; to restore hope and healing; and who proclaims the kingdom of God breaking in to the world. Advent is a time for the church to remember the light and love, joy and peace that Jesus brings into a broken and deprived world.

We too are like the Israelites and wait in lament and experience the weight of God’s silence in the midst of oppression. We witness illness and death and injustice. We stand with our Latino brothers and sisters who wait for fair immigration reform, or for our black brothers and sisters who face crushing pressures daily through racism, micro-agression, and an unjust criminal system. We sit with those who are homeless, fighting cancer, or battling depression. Their pain becomes our pain. How does the message of Jesus Christ, born in a lowly manger, startling the world with such subtly and humility rather than grandeur and the pomp and circumstance of royalty speak to lament, pain and suffering? What majestic and holy message do we find in the filthy, fetid manger scene? Where does heaven meet earth? God is an out-of-the-box God. God’s glory and presence appears out on the fringes, in the fields with the “least of these”.  Where does Jesus light shine brightest? In the churches, temples and sanctuaries? Or in the depths, the darkness, the corners of the world, with the rejected and outcast. Advent is a season to be reminded of our sin and depravity and brokenness and how God’s light pierces through the darkness, illuminating, healing and strengthening the family of God who is the body of Christ.

To Do and To Be…the reality is they go together.

Every couple days someone asks me “how is school?” I am not always sure how to respond, it just depends on whom I am speaking to. Adjusting to seminary life as a working mom has been exhausting and exhilarating. I wake up most mornings at 5:00 and quietly tiptoe past my children’s rooms to the office downstairs. It is dark, but not yet cold, though I know winter is coming. Some mornings, I awake with a heart and mind full and ready to take on the day, other days I wake up overwhelmed by all there is to do and see and listen for and tasks to complete in a day’s work. My goal is to begin each day with prayer and scripture (and coffee). Some days, the two hours I have of quiet is not even enough space to complete my studies or morning prep for the day ahead of me, so I skip the reflection and go straight to work. I have always wrestled with the guilt of making decisions that don’t always reflect my truest, deepest yearnings- out of response to what feels like my most basic felt need. I am learning to accept grace in these spaces that God has for me.

Even something as simple as, what do I put my mind to when I first wake up?, is a very real question I ask myself. In these places where I am tempted to feel guilty about what I am not doing, I aim to remind myself of God’s presence with me in all things. The heart of the matter is where do I place my hope and trust? Is it in my own abilities to accomplish what needs to be done that day? Is it to succeed at doing my job, my role, my position whether that be as wife or mother, pastor, student, or even friend? There are times I am keenly aware that I am striving out of my own efforts, and other days that I sense God’s spirit urging me to press on, sustaining me when I can’t imagine how I will be able to complete a task or finish a day well.

This week, my sister called me from Portland and asked if she could come to Seattle for 2 days. I knew the reading and writing for school that needed to be done. I knew about a very heavy work load at church that I was facing. But after not spending time with my sister for three years as she has traveled the world with YWAM, I knew I had to say yes. We had two awesome days together, though far too brief. When she left however, I was overwhelmed with all I needed to do and I wasn’t sure how it would all get done. My nights were long and my mornings were early, but as I pressed on, taking things a day at a time, by God’s grace, again, what needed to happen, happened. What did not need to be, was not.

The wisdom comes in knowing what it is that does not need to be in that moment or day. Sorting through what is important and what is priority is what I find myself doing these days. My values are right in front of my face, brushing against me like branches of a bush on a nature walk deep in the forest. I cannot get away from them. Does this matter? How am I caring for my children? Does this lead me to a better place in my relationship with my husband? Does this help me connect with people? Does this help me prepare for a day of worship with the church family? Is this life-giving, or energy draining? These questions help form and shape my day. In these questions, God’s spirit speaks and encourages me; and challenges and chastises me.

The choice I made to respond to God’s call and take courageous baby steps of faith by applying to grad school, came with a cost. There is much sacrifice and compromise and giving up of former personal ways of being. The ways I am present for people are different. I can’t host a community group, I can’t volunteer at my kids’ school, I can’t read novels in my free time, the dishes are left in the sink for far too long, but this is only temporary. The gains outweigh the perceived losses. Spending time in scripture, reading, reflection, sharing with other students on the seminary journey, learning from amazing men and women who love God and are serving God through instructing, is just so amazing. I feel the weight of the privilege- and also the joy of responsibility- to soak this season in, and let seminary inform my ways of being. Ultimately it is God who is doing the forming and shaping, and I believe God will use seminary in powerful ways in my life. I will continue to seek quiet space, to receive grace God extends through my own personal acceptance of it, and to ask God for an abundance of hesed– steadfast loving kindness, as I navigate the day-to-day joys and trials of life as a mom, friend, wife, pastor and seminarian.

What is mercy? Hope for new beginnings

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I have begun classes at Seattle Pacific Seminary.

Everything started at the beginning of this month.

I packed my kids backpacks full of school supplies, arranged childcare and meals and headed off on a ferry to Whidbey Island.  I was excited, exhausted, sick (stupid cold!) and curious as to what I might discover at the beginning of this new chapter. Friendships. Insights.  Reflections. Heart-stirrings.  God did not disappoint.  I missed my son’s first day of kindergarten and husbands 34th birthday but in the midst of a very full week for my family God remained present.

I spent this month working, helping kids adjust to a new school schedule, reading and I did a lot of writing.  Reading, writing. Reading, writing.  More reading and more writing.

A magical transformation is taking place.

My basement office has become an early morning refuge and sanctorum (I use this latin term for Holy of Holies rather loosely).  I pray and meet God for my day in that sanctified space (if you know me, you know I have a thing about space and place to call my own!).  I have cried and lamented and been confused and frustrated and exhausted and happy and thankful and amused in this space.

I want to write more about what God is teaching me and what I am hearing from the people around me, but I don’t know when to write. How much to write. How much to process out loud and how much to keep between God and I.  As new ideas and thoughts are stirring within me, there is much that is swirling around me.  Painful stories of broken relationships, and financial hardship, racism in the U.S., divisiveness in the church, evil in the Middle East, atrocities to believers and young children. Earthquakes, starvation, lack of clean water, children running for their lives from Central America only to be detained in the US and labeled as “unwanted illegal immigrants”. Oh the pain.  As my heart is stirred with joy for new beginnings, my heart is also broken.

My mind and heart of full of many, many things, but one in particular stands out like a crack of light through a long dark tunnel.

Mercy. The word mercy.  I am a theologian because I study God’s word, but I feel like a beginner, and sometimes like a poser. But with courage I share my thoughts anyway.  Growing up in the church I always understood the word mercy as God’s forgiveness.  It was like grace, but a little different (I didn’t always know what made it different).  Sometimes described as not getting what I do deserve (i.e. punishment).  Whereas grace was getting something I didn’t deserve (forgiveness).  But mercy means so much more.

In Hebrew the word mercy is hesed.  It can be basically translated as steadfast, loving kindness.  Ah, a breath of fresh air. Steadfast. Loving. Kindness.  This word hesed has been rocking my world for two years (I first learned of it in the book, The Gospel of Ruth by Carolyn Curtis James) and it’s breathing life into me right now.

It shifts the way I say: Lord, in your mercy hear my prayer.

It deepens my understanding of Micah 6:8 to love mercy and act justly.

It enlightens my understanding of what it means to show mercy to the people around me.

It transforms how think about God’s mercy extended to me.

I am sad for the state of the world we live in. I am impassioned to discern how God is calling me to respond to the pain and brokenness in the world.  I acknowledge my fears and yet embrace courage as a way of being- daily.  I cling to the hope of God’s mercy promised.

Luke 1:78-79
Because of God’s tender mercy,
    the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
  and to guide us to the path of peace.

God that your steadfast, loving kindness would break through our hardened, fearful, doubting hearts.  To transform the way we see ourselves, our friends, our enemies, the poor, the marginalized, the hurting.  We cannot say it better than the prophet Zechariah, that you would ‘give light to those who sit in darkness and guide us to the path of peace.’  This is my prayer. Lord, in your mercy