advent meditation

We are waiting for so many things, aren’t we? For healing. For joy. For peace. For heaven. Whether it’s right on the surface or deep in our souls, we feel the longing for all to be really, truly well.

My family has been in a season of expectation and waiting. But the beautiful side effect has been fully embracing Advent for the first time.

All we’re waiting for is to be able to move into our new home. We’ve been saying any day now for a month, and we’ve discovered we’re not good at waiting.

There are no signs of Christmas at our house but the wreath, candles and a lovely table cloth my sister just gave me. We haven’t even bought gifts.

But night after night we light a candle, we read and we pray, preparing our hearts for Christmas. It’s so freeing, we may have to do it again.

I am mesmerized by Advent. By the poetic blend of prophecy and symbolism. By the way Revelation echoes Isaiah. By the waiting.

So I took a picture. And I wrote a poem. (Free verse, of course.)

* * * * *

Do you feel the waiting?

The knowing it will be, in time . . .

Something significant, life-changing is certain to happen, but the precisely when is elusive . . .

Days and weeks pass. Months and years, and the thing you held onto as imminent has not yet happened, and while you watch and you pray, you wonder, you doubt, you fret and still . . . nothing.

A promise?

You are not the first to question. How long is long expected?

Death, injustice, grief weave a tragic plot . . .

You are not the first to wonder if the deus ex machina will miss his entrance.

And you are not the first to hope it’s soon because this world is a knotted mess and the harder you pull the tighter the knot gets and you know it will take a God to sort it all out. Until he does you cut the tangled strings and keep cutting until there’s nothing left to cut.

Silence.

Silence as you tread water in the tears of the world that overflowed their bottles long ago. Deep calls to deep but the waterfall is white noise and it drowns the longing, numbs the wait.

Darkness.

The way once seemed right to you, but now it feels as though you’ve been walking a very long time and you wonder if maybe, just maybe, you missed the turn somewhere. A little light and you could be certain. Sight of something with your own eyes would recharge your waning hope.

Waiting.

You’ve been holding your breath through the drama, through the silence, through the darkness. Holding it til you are weak and helpless. And the exhale of four and two thousand years of waiting passes through your lungs as you gasp for air:

Come quickly.

* * * * *

Light!

Spark ignites bent wick and flickers.

We cannot see beyond ourselves, gathered together. Shadow looms beyond table, beyond reach of flame. But we are comforted; we do not wait alone.

 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.                                                                                                                                           Isaiah 9:2

Generations, generations wait in breathless expectation of the God who heals! the God who restores! the God who brings justice!

He will reign on David’s throne, and over His kingdom, establishing and upholding
it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.  
                                                                           Isaiah 9:7

He will destroy the oppressor, gather the scattered, He will be the King, reign forever and ever . . .

He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord . . . and they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be their peace.
Micah 5:4-5

I wonder . . .

How do we, who wait so expectantly, miss the signs?

We look for salvation in flourish, in victory, in power, in brilliance and in blazing sunshine.

But He is found, so unexpected, so humble, so poor, so small beneath the light of a single star. He comes to us, not in a box, but as a gift. But thou, Bethlehem. 

He is there. In the mess. In the silence. In the darkness.

* * * * *

The hero enters. Riding on a donkey. Greeted by children. Followed by no one special. Beaten. Crucified.

. . . we had hoped that He was the one who was going to redeem Israel.
                                                                                 Luke 24:21

All the years of waiting, only to wait again?

The Light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.                                                                                                                                          John 1:5

A promise!

healing of the nations

no more death

no more sorrow

no more night

They will not need the light of the lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever. 
Amen, come Lord Jesus.
                                                                            Revelation 22:5

* * * * *

Light!

Spark ignites.

Tongues of fire.

And we are comforted.

We do not wait alone.

* * * * *

* * * * *

We are waiting for so many things, aren’t we? For healing. For joy. For peace. For heaven. Whether it’s right on the surface or deep in our souls, we feel the longing for all to be really, truly well.

We fight to see beyond the circle of the candle light. We beg to know ahead. Of all things, we cannot bear the silence of God.

There is no short cut through waiting.

But Hope is the precious spark of light that keeps us going.
Deb's signature for blog

The gift of gratitude

I know Thanksgiving is supposed to be our holiday of gratitude. But for me, Christmas is much more so.

I think perhaps it’s because I don’t struggle to farm and harvest the food for the feast like our ancestors did. The Thanksgiving meal is just a family get together these days. The celebration of gratitude for the harvest isn’t quite as tangible as it once was.

But Christmas has that feeling for me. Because all of the best Christmases of my life have been seasoned with gratitude . . .

When my parents were living in San Francisco forty years ago, they were far from their families in Colorado for Christmas. I don’t remember those days — I was just a baby. But they didn’t have much — my dad was going to seminary and working full time to feed and shelter his young family.  All they could afford for a Christmas meal was frozen pizza — the kind you can get at the grocery store today for ninety-nine cents.

Somewhere over the years, Christmas Eve pizza became a tradition for the Barrick family. Homemade, take out, gourmet — a remembrance of when my parents had nothing. My brothers, my sister and I have carried on that tradition and our children know why. The pizza means something to us. And it means far more to me than a turkey. Because we do it to remember that God took care of my parents and their babies with a simple meal, and He never let us starve.

* * * * *

On Christmas Eve, after devouring our calzones — this year’s variation on the pizza theme — Dave and I and our children sat around the twinkle-lighted living room remembering our own Christmases past.

There is one in particular that we remember with deep emotion. And I wish all of you who were a part of this story could have been in our house that night to see how powerfully your generosity impacts our children still.

Four years ago, in mid-November, Dave had lost his job which also meant we had to leave the home which had been provided at the camp. It exhausts me now to think of how quickly we had to pack while searching for jobs and a new place to live. Just six weeks from the time he was asked to resign to the day we had to be out. And Christmas was a week before move out.

The organization Dave had worked for docked his final paychecks to recoup money he owed them. They even took the three weeks of vacation/comp time he hadn’t had time to use (a painful irony) and charged us rent for the month of grace I’d pleaded for when they told us to be out of our house by December 1st. (I know they were within their rights to do so and indeed could have been far less gracious, but at the time, it felt cold and callous to me.)

We were in debt.  No savings to bail us out. And we fell through every crack in the unemployment/social services system for one reason or another (painful memories for a later post). Everything — literally everything — we received during that time was a gift from someone else. We had absolutely nothing.

We were utterly dependent on God and the generosity of others.

Many of our friends and family and even the staff of our kids’ schools helped us with food and paying our regular bills and our church helped us with the rent. Still, we were deeply depressed and discouraged by our circumstances. Dave was in withdrawals and I was barely hanging on by a thread.

Desperate for hope, we started writing on a poster board in our living room every blessing we received. It was a daily reminder to me during those gloomy winter weeks that God still really did care about us.

I forget now where Dave’s parents were that Christmas. Perhaps Brazil to visit Dave’s sister. I think we were supposed to have gone to California to spend the holiday with my extended family, but our current crisis prevented that. At any rate, somehow, we ended up being far away from family for Christmas that year, scraping together some sort of celebration in our sad, packed-up house at the cold, empty camp.

I think I bought one gift for each child that Christmas. Our lovely tree — the nicest we’d ever had and which Dave’s parents had gotten for us — was going to be rather lonely.

The children remember details of that night better than I do. They reminded me this Christmas Eve of things I’d forgotten. We’d gone out someplace, they said, I think maybe Christmas Eve service at our church . . . and when we came home, there were black garbage bags on our darkened front porch.

“Mom, you were so mad,” they said. “You thought someone had put their trash on our porch!” They laughed about my irritation and muttering. And that I would think someone would do something so mean to us on Christmas Eve.

“But when you got close to the pile of bags, you started crying and we didn’t know why” . . . and that’s when we all lost it. Tears — remembering the sight.

The bags were heavy — filled with presents. Some from friends, some from strangers.

The children’s theater group we’d been a part of for a few years had already been so generous to us. Many monetary gifts and gifts of food had come from them already. But now it seemed that they had also bought us presents. There were several gifts from the Director and her family and others. And one of the girls from the theater, Lauren who was a 6th grader at the time, had even gotten her class at school to buy Christmas presents for each of the kids. There were dozens of gifts! So much generosity — it was overwhelming.

Christmas morning was absolutely delightful. So many surprises. So many sweet gifts. The list fills fifty lines of my journal. It was a Christmas my children will never forget. And remembering it, all of us together this Christmas Eve, was a gift in itself.

* * * * *

I know that it is more blessed to give than to receive. And I feel it when I watch the delight in the faces of my kids when they open presents. But there’s something about receiving a gift you never, ever could have obtained for yourself — and would never have received had not God intervened. I believe it produces real gratitude.

I see this gift of gratitude in my children who so freely spent their own money to buy gifts for each other this Christmas. Who say things like, Why does Great-Grandma send us money for Christmas? We should be sending HER money! They are contented and pleased with their three Christmas gifts from their parents because they remember so very clearly what it was like to be poor and we could give them nothing.

* * * * *

Sometimes I forget. To my shame. I get caught up in wishing things were other than what they are. Like wishing I had nicer furniture and perusing Craigslist for the-couch-that-will-bring-me-joy. Or dreaming of not having to work, but having the perfect house, the perfect car. And then I get crabby and discontent with my life. It’s so easy to slip into discouragement if I compare my life with others.

The thing that pulls me out of that pit of self-centeredness is the gift that God has given to me many times over. A gift I would never understand if I had not known what it was like to be totally inadequate.  I have to be reminded of what was and what could have been.

I have to remember the past. I have to remember how God has provided. And I have to see the blessings in my life today and be thankful for each one. Gratitude is a great healer.

Katie, Calvin, George and Henry. Christmas 2007.

Please, Lord, teach us to laugh again; but, God, don’t ever let us forget that we cried. — Bill Wilson, Co-Founder of Alcoholics Anonymous