Mutual Affirmation Society

As part of Lent this year, I am reading through the gospel accounts leading up to Holy Week. I began with Matthew 16, right before Jesus predicts his own death for the first time. I love this passage where Peter affirms that Jesus is the Messiah, Son of God. I love how thrilled and blessed Jesus was with Peter’s response. But today as I read on, I realized his next words were in response to Peter’s words about him.

“Who do people say I am? (Go ahead, I can take it!) But who do you say I am?”

And then seconds later, he offers this affirming response to Peter: “That’s awesome, Peter! I know that only God could have revealed this to you (thank you for your courage and honesty). And I tell you that you are Peter . . . ”

This just blessed me as I read this morning, a picture of two friends affirming one another. One asking for honest words from the other (that alone is huge: how often do we ask our friends to tell us truth). The other responding with truth. And being offered honest and affirming words in return. Of course, shortly thereafter, Jesus has some pretty harsh words for Peter, but based on their previous conversation, it seems that their relationship was grounded in honesty and truth and Peter was able to absorb even those hard words of rebuke from Jesus.

Honesty and affirmation. Aren’t these things we all are in deep need of? And aren’t we all equipped to offer these simple gifts to one another?

$26 Bucks Later . . . and I’m a Coffee Snob!

Those are two separate topics! The first and most important being that for a mere $26, my laptop is back in working order. It was indeed just a power supply. That Mac will have to wait a bit longer, I’m afraid. But oh how good it is to be working on a laptop again – my laptop.

I’m working on a book review and I’ll post that tomorrow. But first, I need to toss in my cap as a coffee snob. I’m blaming it on Jane. Every month or so, a few of us gather at her house for some dialogue around the topic of spiritual formation. I love this group of people and I so look forward to our meetings. But secretly, one of my favorite parts is the coffee. Jane uses a French press to make coffee (she herself is a diehard tea drinker). And I have simply fallen in love with French press coffee. And amazingly enough, one appeared under the Christmas tree this year! (Okay, I exaggerate – we didn’t have a tree!) After convincing my husband we could forever do away with paper filters, and there would be less danger of me leaving the coffee maker on in my haste to get out the door in the mornings, he researched (and when he starts to research something, look out!) and came up with this little number for me. (I did specify the kind with plastic, as it just seemed safer). coffeepress

I had to make a run to Starbucks this afternoon to get the coffee that came with it ground. I am kind of anti-appliance, and although I know that freshly ground beans are another key to fine coffee, I refuse to add another step – and appliance – to the process. Starbucks grind works just fine for me.

Anyways, I made my first cup tonight. Generally I like cream in my coffee but let me tell you, this is the most beautiful, mellow coffee you ever tasted and it may not be long before my tastebuds mature into drinking my coffee black. It’s hard to describe such a wonderful taste. It’s not something I’m proud of but I think I’m becoming a coffee snob! Oh well, there could be worse appellations, right? No filters, no appliance, just the right amount of coffee brewed perfectly each time and the most amazing coffee I ever had – it doesn’t get much better. Unless you toss in a few leftover Christmas cookies!

If You Send Me a Christmas Card . . .

I’ll open it and be glad. And I’ll put it with the others in the basket on top of my pantry cabinet until a few days after Christmas.

If you send me a Christmas card with a picture of your kids, I’ll open it and be glad. I’ll marvel at how the kids have grown. And I’ll put the picture on my fridge, for at least a few weeks after Christmas.

But if you’re my husband and you give me a Christmas card (and you always do), I’ll open it and be thrilled. I’ll read it carefully as you look on. And I’ll watch while you read the one I’ve chosen for you. Then we’ll flip them over and scan the back for silly little bonus messages and make sure the year is inscribed somewhere on it. Then I’ll tuck them away after Christmas with the other decorations, with every other Christmas card we’ve exchanged for eleven years of marriage. Then we’ll bring them out again next year, when it’s time to decorate. And we’ll sit and reminisce about Christmases past and be very, very glad.

Making Space

After Thanksgiving, I couldn’t find the motivation to take the leaf out of our dining room table. I mean, Christmas was only four weeks away. So in it stayed – taking up more room in our kitchen/dining room than I like but, oh well.

I’ve noticed something strange though. That huge table has done more than take up space and get in the way. Somehow I’ve found the space to be inviting. Not having much counter space in the kitchen, the big table has made baking much easier. And Saturday I had a niece and nephew over to bake cookies – the table was more than accommodating of their mess! It would be perfect for having a few friends over to play games over the holidays. It certainly makes sense to keep it extended for hosting the in laws on Christmas. I’m even tempted to drag out the sewing machine (okay, now I’m getting delusional!)

What a difference simple physical space has made. And, loving metaphors as I do, I’m wondering how I can transfer this idea over to other areas of my life.  What if I made better space for relationships (an area where I admittedly struggle)? What about allowing others the space – and grace – to grow, recognizing that we’re all on a journey? How do I make space for God to work in my heart and life?

Making space, I realize, is an act of trust on my part. I have no idea who or what will come and fill up that space. And when it comes to God, I have no idea what his work will look like. I’m learning though, that God is never intrusive. He works where there is room to do so. But the making of space is up to me.

The Gift of Hope

Here’s an excellent quote from the Advent devotional I’m using:

Hope opens something in the human heart. Like shutters slowly parting to admit a winter dawn, hope permits strands of light to make their way to us, even when we still stand in cold darkness; but home also reveals a landscape beyond us into which we can live and move and have our being. With hope, closely held interior thoughts are gently turned outward; deep desires, long hidden in secret corners of our heart, might be lifted up to the light. At times, hope peels back the edges of our imagination to free what waits underneath – a changed life, a new resolve, a yes pregnant with possibility. In other moments hope dates us to unfold a layer of desire – for relationship, for clarity, for courage.

In the stories and season of Advent, God opens up everything to us through hope born of expectation – expectation that Christ is coming to make all things new. And in the coming of Christ we find the coming of hope, made real in time, space and flesh.

In the midst of a season burdened with misplaced expectations, God still holds out to us that crack of light, the glimmer of dawn – the expectation that never disappoints. The Christ that came to redeem mankind wants to step into our individual life situations. He still longs to restore relationships, heal hearts and meet needs.

What a gift God has given to us in this thing called Hope! And what a gift we can offer to others. There is no better time to offer hope to people than when we celebrate the coming of Hope.

And yet as I thought about all this, it sounded – well, a bit too pie-in-the-sky or something. Hope. How in the world do we offer hope to someone? I think sometimes we overlook the obvious.

Hope is an encouraging word or prayer.

Hope is helping someone envision the life God has for them.

Hope is taking the time to look someone in the eye and ask how their day is going.

Hope is a few coins dropped in the Salvation Army guy’s bucket.

Hope is a shoebox filled with school supplies for a child you’ll never meet.

Hope is a blanket or coat for someone who lives on the street.

To us, these gifts may be insignificant, almost too mundane or easy. To the recipients, it may be an open door, a first glimpse of light. Don’t underestimate those simple gifts of hope we have opportunity to give this season.

Anticipation and an Advent Listen

I’m going through a great little Advent devotional this year entitled Simply Wait: Cultivating Stillness in the Season of Advent. Actually, I ordered it last year but got it too late to enjoy much of it. For this first week, the focus is on the word anticipation, a sense of expectant waiting.

So what I’m wondering is: what do you do to get into the spirit – the waiting spirit that is? Is there anything you do that helps you settle down and get past the commercial fluff and angst, and be reminded of what this season is to be about?

And another Advent question: is it just me late to the party (as usual) or are you finding an increased interest in the celebration of Advent as a major focus of the holiday season? Until about four years ago, I don’t ever remember hearing of such a thing. Do you think (as I do) that it’s a reaction to the emptiness many people are coming to acknowledge that has overshadowed Christmas? Or have you always celebrated Advent?

Anyways, here’s my one thing: I found this CD by City on a Hill several years ago and it’s the first and only Christmas music I listen to until around December 15th, which is when I get around to decorating. Actually it was the artwork that first drew me to it, and the music, a selection of songs by Christian artists Sara Groves, Caedmon’s Call and others, never fails to satisfy.
cityonahill
If you have an MP3 player, you could easily download these tunes from Amazon or iTunes. There will be plenty of time for the traditional holiday tunes and carols; I think you’d find this a heart-stirring and delightfully uplifting change of pace.

Christmas, Surreptitiously

For years we’ve battled, Father Christmas and I, each trying to get a jump on the other. Some years I’ve beaten him to the chase, compiling Christmas lists and plans in January and February (yes, I can be a bit crazy-proactive at times!). Shopping and crafting in June, July and August. Wrapping in October and November. And feeling free to decorate, bake and hide out in December.

Other years, he’s had me and he knows it. He starts with that crazy Christmas-in-July stuff. He picks up steam in October, slipping bits of red and green amidst the peaceful calming colors of fall and peeking out from behind the Halloween costumes. (In fact, I suspect that may be why those Jack-o-Lanterns grin at me so eerily). The day after Halloween, he goes full throttle with the Christmas ads, commercials, and cheesy holiday donkey songs. The Salvation Army guys, bless their hearts, don’t help much, what with their tinny-sounding trumpets belting out Christmas tunes in wacky syncopation with their bell-ringing. It’s enough to make me want to hide out for the duration.

This year, I confess, I’m further behind than ever, if being ready for Christmas is measured by the number of cookies baked and presents bought and wrapped. And yet, I feel surprisingly more prepared than ever. Not ready as in ” gotta-get-my-house-in-perfect-order – company’s-coming.” Not hardly. But ready, as in willing to turn my eyes to the mystery of Immanuel. Ready, as in anticipating the season. Ready to embrace the One who came to save us from our sins. Ready to be reminded of the joys of giving – not things, but self.

Last year our church challenged us to approach the season differently, with a series entitled Advent Conspiracy, based on some suggestions presented by this organization. This year we’re doing the same. I peeked at the website and have been totally taken with this year’s theme: Give Presence. When it’s all said and done, isn’t that what matters most? That the Holy One of God came to dwell in us and among us. And really, what better gift can we offer others than the gift of our presence? Something in me loves the idea of conspiring against the status quo (take that, you sneering Jack-O-Lantern!) No, I won’t do Christmas perfectly. But in my heart I can honestly say “bring it on!” Or better yet – Come Lord Jesus!

(Disclaimer: the Father Christmas image is used here merely in jest – I’m a firm believer in St. Nick actually! Oh, and I like to think I got a jump on the old geezer by posting this prior to Black Friday!)