The Whistler's Dream

Everybody needs a dream...
Mine is to go to Oklahoma and play whistles for The Pioneer Woman. (Having been invited, not in a "creepy stalker" kind of way, for the record.) Heck, I'd play in a pup tent in the backyard for the joy of the cows and critters. What can I say? I'm a fan.
Everybody needs a dream...

Random Fluffy Foto!

Random Fluffy Foto!
Writing in bed, and Beka editing by ear. Really. The ear typed some letters. Really.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Advent Writings, Day 14: Ammirationis

Ammirationis: wonder, surprise, astonishment; admiration, veneration, regard; marvel.
(Source: William Whitaker's Words)

"Edward Magorium - Toy Impresario, Wonder Aficionado, Avid Shoe Wearer"

(Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium - one of my all-time favorite movies. When it comes to adult taste in movies, I just say "no.")

(The list also includes both Nanny McPhee movies, both Cars movies, and absolutely both Kung Fu Panda movies. Insert the Vicki mantra here - refer to previous installments to find that reference.)

(Oh - and "UP." Loved it.)

(Not so much "Finding Nemo," for which opinion the Eldest Niecelet has written me out of her will. Just for that, I'm going to make good on my threat to have myself stuffed, and force the Niecelets to pass me around year after year like a sport trophy. That'll show her, especially when the other two realize it's all her fault. Hah.)

Anyway, Mr. Magorium, Wonder Aficionado. I loved that phrase as soon as I heard it. It's in the movie twice, and I won't reveal where, since it would give away part of the plot, but the words stuck with me - Wonder Aficionado.

Is that me? Shouldn't that be me? Or us?

Sometimes, I think we see adulthood as the opposite of wonder. One comes in, the other goes out, as if someplace there's a rule that both can't exist in the same space. You're either filled with (childlike) wonder, or you're an adult. Pick one - you can't have both.

If you're an adult filled with wonder, it's because people wonder about you. They smile tolerantly as you stroll by, wearing a cape or a beret, smiling and laughing way too loud, perhaps dancing a bit as you walk, doing a few Tai Chi moves in the aisle at the store, or busting out some of your best (worst) moves every time the "Save Big Money" song plays at Menard's. You dance around as you play the bass, proving that a certain white boy ain't got no game, or make all kinds of other odd gyrations as you play any other instrument. They call you eccentric, they laugh and smile, and make the "few fries short of a happy meal" sign behind your back. (That last you don't know for certain, since, of course, it's behind your back. But having a fertile imagination, you can certainly see it happening.)

Is all this sounding a touch auto-biographical? Have you ever SEEN me shake what my momma gave me during the "Save Big Money" song? You have?

Oops. Busted.

Alright, so we've established that I'm a wonder that you wonder about. Wonderful. Riddle me this, Bat Friends...

Where is it along the way that we dump wonder? What's the point where we lose the ability to cut loose in public? How do we go from "not a care in the world" to "stop it - people will stare!"?

When does the opinion of people we'll never know trump inner joy and outward expression?

Ah, my dear ones, the advantage of being reborn is this - the second time around, you simply don't care what others think.

Now, I don't mean that in a "I can make inappropriate comments and noises in public because I don't care what people think" kind of way, not a "my way or the highway, bow before my needs, or I'll flatten you like a steamroller because I don't care about what you think" kind of way, and certainly not a "I can't possibly live up to your expectations, so I'll go the other way to be as obnoxious and contrary as possible and prove to you that I don't care what you think" kind of way.

No, the view of the reborn is that of seeing the world as it really is, free of the baggage we all place upon it. And, my dear ones, I'll say it right out loud, crystal clear with no doubt about my meaning:

I've been reborn.

In your second life, the superficial seems to have no hold upon you, because on the path to being reborn, you shed a lot of the garbage you've built around yourself over the years. If you are reborn later in life, as I was, there's no time for status, opinion, or shallow expectation - the time you have left is so precious that to spend any of it on the mundane seems wasteful and wrong.

"Cal, isn't it a little lofty and extreme to say you've been 'reborn?' I mean, sure, you've been through quite a change, but using that term? I'm not sure I'm comfortable with that claim..."

Let me refocus a bit, and see if it becomes clearer...

When I say I've been reborn, understand, dear ones, that I'm not the one who did the reborning. I've been in the back seat, along for the ride, a willing participant, but not the one driving the car. Our Father God asked me to take one step on the path, to simply say "yes," and He put the pedal to the metal.

I've been reborn because He gave me my second life. I'm a miracle because He made me one. I see the world with eyes of wonder; because I see it with new eyes. I've told this story many, many times, and will continue to do so:

The very first words I heard when waking up in my hospital room after the surgery that started my journey to rebirth, either in a voice speaking to me or in my own thoughts but not of my own making, I don't know which, were these: "My chains are gone, I've been set free."

I've been reborn.

There's no other way I can put it - believe me, I've been flailing around for the right word picture to explain what's happened to me since March 30, 2010. Weight lost, health gained, and those are the tiniest parts of it. When you see it all together, see the gestalt, the whole that's greater than the sum of the parts, there's only one way to capture it in one phrase:

I've been reborn.

And wonder is now my native tongue.

To put it any less extravagantly would be a lie, and would diminish the miracle my Father has done. (Ok - it would attempt to diminish it - God's work can't be added to or diminished by my tiny words...) Were I claiming that I did this on my own, that I've made this great achievement, then that declaration would deny His provision and negate my claim. If you grit your way through by your own strength and are standing on your own merit, you haven't been reborn.

Sorry - just callin' 'em like I sees 'em.

"Um, Cal, oh he who claims to be reborn, who I suspect has just taken an overdose of his happy pills today, where are you going with this?"

I'm going to the best part... I'm no different than anyone else. I yam what I yam and that's all that I yam. And so's you.


Dear friends, in Jesus Christ, the Babe of Bethlehem, we are all reborn! We are all living, breathing, walking miracles. We have come from darkness into His marvelous light! Sure, my rebirth has been dramatic, one that you can see and understand. I'm a mobile picture of walking from death to life, but that picture fits all who call on His name! The reason I've been given so much light, so much wonder is this -

Look at me, look at HIM!

The same God who parted the sea is the same God who raised our Lord from death to life. He's the same God who spoke through the prophets, healed the sick, restored sight and wholeness, brought sanity out of madness, and empowered believers in a rushing wind. He's the same God who took me from 480 pounds in January 2009, to around 440 in February 2010 to around 220 presently. From death to life.

And guess what? He didn't go covert. He's not undercover. He still moves in a mighty, dramatic way. His hand still does the impossible; He still rescues and saves, comforts and heals, restores and empowers.

Look at me, look at HIM!

Where, along the way, do we decide it's time to dump wonder and "grow up?" Why can't wonder and adulthood exist in the same person? It can, it does, and it's wonderful, because He continues to move. He is wonderful, and we are filled with wonder.

In Jesus, we are all reborn. So enter your second life, leave behind all the stiff trappings of being "adult," and celebrate in childlike wonder. Be reborn. Shed the darkness of the mundane and become the luminous beings we are in Him - to shine like stars in the universe. Embrace the wonderful, absurd, amazing, puzzling, breathtaking, inexplicable truth of the Good News: in Christ, we are new!

Welcome to the promise of Advent that we carry through all our days. Welcome to your second life. Care to join me in the "Save Big Money" happy dance?


No worries - when you're ready, I'll be here. And so will He.

Ammirationis: wonder, surprise, astonishment; admiration, veneration, regard; marvel.

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!"
2 Corinthians 5:17 (TNIV)

The Advent Writings, Day 13: Exoletus

Exoletus: grow up, become adult; grow stale, deteriorate; die out/fade away; be forgotten.
(Source: William Whitaker's Words)

Anybody else out there forgetful?



Ah - I see. Just me, then. Alrighty.

And no, my forgetful thing isn't just a result of having pushed the boulder up the hill for 50 years, and now it's rolling down the other side and I can't keep up with it. Ok, that might be some of it, but not da whole ting... We, as human beans, are forgetful.

It's not just for fun or grins that the Bible tells us over and over to "remember," to "forget not," to place the stones and recall what God has done, to talk with our children about God's law and to teach them, which results in us learning it well ourselves, truthfully. We forget. We forget the basics, we forget the wonderful, we forget the astonishing...

But somehow we have amazing recall when it comes to the bad, the painful, the insults, the disappointments, the hurt. 20/20 memory right there, baby. Ask me about being embarrassed in front of the whole school at an assembly in 3rd grade, and it's right there. Ask me what I did yesterday? Um... ah... nope. Nuttin'.

Now, taking my usual left turn from "wander mode" into "wander into something else mode," how does it feel to BE forgotten? It's less painful to be the one forgetting - after all, you don't remember it. But to be forgotten? I imagine that's one of those things that gets filed along with the other disappointments and letdowns in total recall memory. So it's there to stay. Lovely.

I thought it was really interesting to look at this word from my (and your) trusty source, William Whitaker's Words:

Exoletus: grow up, become adult; grow stale, deteriorate; die out/fade away; be forgotten

I've never claimed to know the least thing about Latin... Oh, except for the "correct" pronunciation of Gloria In Excelsis Deo - that one I got. (Side note - of course, like all geeky music kids, singing it "Gloria in Ex-Shellfish Deo" during a Sunday service has been known to happen in my past. I'm not proud of it, and less proud of the fact that I still sing it that way on occasion, but usually not in church. I've matured...)

Anyway, I found the progression in the definition of exoletus really fascinating - grow up, become adult, grow stale, deteriorate, die out/fade away, be forgotten. I know - these aren't really supposed to go together. The semi-colon divides them in the definition, but when I use commas, doesn't it look like a picture of the human journey? Grow up, become adult. THEN, grow stale, deteriorate. FINALLY, die out/fade away, be forgotten.

Wow. Once again, the holiday cheer that radiates from these musings leaves one breathless. Gasping, as it were.

How does it feel to be forgotten? Are you one of the many, many folks who finds very little joy in Advent? There's a lot of dark in this season of light. Memories of disappointments, of loved ones who are gone, taking with them some of the only happiness we ever felt in Christmas, of promises never kept, of gatherings never invited to, of loneliness so thick that it chokes us - and all stored in perfect recall memory, to be remembered at a moment's notice, augmented with extra bitterness from the erosion of time. Things will never be THAT good again, the pain will NEVER ease, the hurt will never be LESS deep.

My dear one, you're what God had in mind when He invented Advent. It's about hope.

And now, this just in from the "God has a great sense of irony" department...

I had just written those words about hope when my phone rang. I answered it, got the news that a job I was being considered for went to the other person, hung up, and re-read what I had written...

My dear one, you're what God had in mind when He invented Advent. It's about hope.

And God says, "so, big boy, do you believe that stuff you spout off? Do you really see hope? Or do you only remember the hurts, the failures, the disappointments? You put in the job application because you were being obedient to Me, and you knew that the outcome was and is in My hands, so what will you choose to do now?"

Of course, I went on my merry way, wagging my tail, smiling and humming a lovely carol.


This application had been a lesson in obedience - take the step, then leave it ALL completely in God's hands. No thinking about it, no dwelling on it, no considering the scenarios, no planning and scheming and dreaming - hands and mind OFF! Knowing that, resting in my Father's will, learning the lesson and moving on went pretty well... until last night when I went completely ape-crazy for a while.

My Father patiently watched my ranting and doubting, my very, very human reactions, my out- of-control emotions, and then He watched over me as I slept.

And in the morning, I returned to these words, my words, His words, and said, "Yes. I do believe them. And I'm trying, imperfectly, to live them."

My dear one, you're what God had in mind when He invented Advent. It's about hope.

I'm not forgotten. All the failures and disappointments I can summon in perfect recall, even the most recent ones, even the last twenty-four hours, have no power to diminish what Advent means. The One who came to this world came to bring light, and that light overcomes our darkest corners. It banishes shadows. It conquers all.

He IS the light.

So now, you know that I'm not just writing these little pithy phrases to tickle our Advent ears. I'm not sitting on a lofty seat, dispensing jewels of wisdom to the masses. (The mental picture of me sitting on a lofty seat, dispensing wisdom is sufficient to make me laugh so loud I snort... And usually the Eldest Niecelet is the only one that gets away with that sort of thing... the snorting, I mean. She does dispense wisdom, but the snorting is really her trademark. If it ever gets on YouTube, she'll be set for life. I'm just sayin'.)

I'm just a garden variety dufus, trying to work out my faith with fear and trembling, as the Word tells me to do. Ok, I'm much, much more than that - and so are you.

What I am NOT, is forgotten. I'm not any of those failures or disappointments that I can recall so vividly. I'm not lost in darkness, I'm not wandering with no path, and I am not hopeless. Not now, not ever. And, for the record, neither are you. How do I know that?...

"For a child has been born—for us!
the gift of a son—for us!
He'll take over the running of the world. His names will be: Amazing Counselor, Strong God, Eternal Father, Prince of Wholeness.
His ruling authority will grow, and there'll be no limits to the wholeness He brings...The zeal of GOD-of-the-Angel-Armies will do all this."
Isaiah 9:6-7 (MSG)

So as we grow up, we don't have to grow stale. As we fade away, we won't be forgotten.

If this season is more about sadness than celebration for you, if you've taken too many hits from a falling economy or a broken family, if this present darkness seems to be covering your eyes, look up! See the Light, the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth! He knows you, He loves you, and He NEVER forgets you. Never.

Advent is all about hope!

Exoletus: grow up, become adult; grow stale, deteriorate; die out/fade away; be forgotten

"In Him was life, and that life was the light of men."
John 1:4 (NIV)

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Advent Writings, Day 12: Meditare

Meditare: meditate, think about; reflect on

I think meditation has gotten a bum rap. Of course, I'm a child of the 70's, where transcendental meditation became a "thing." So all of a sudden something that we're told to do with scripture became Eastern mysticism, and we had to avoid it like the plague.

By "we," of course, I'm referring to the semi-conservative but still great and excellent way I was raised in the faith. So I guess I'm saying "me" instead of "we." Hee hee hee. Whee.

So instead of meditating on scripture, we were "thinking on" scripture, "focusing on" scripture, "keeping your mind on" scripture, "spending time with," "dwelling on," "pondering," "contemplating," "considering," etc.

That's an awful lot of baggage that could be simply replaced with "meditate." So I shall. And frankly, when I think of meditation, I don't get an image of someone in the lotus position, fingers in the "okey dokey" position on their knees, blissed-out expression on their face, and the melodious sound of "ooohhhmmm..." coming from their lips.

If that image does come to mind, it's usually to the sound of joints cracking and "oooooowwwwwwcccccchhhhhhh!!!!" coming from their lips. "Bwwaaahhh haaahhh haaaahhh" is the sound coming from my lips. Strange looks from those nearby are usually the results.

What then, I asks myself, are we talking about when we say meditate? And myself responds, "Well, dufus..." Then a fight breaks out 'cause I know that myself shouldn't call I dufus, and we've discussed this time and again, but apparently someone in this conflicted being hasn't gotten the memo and insists on continuing this naughty behavior.

And this is certainly not the season to be on the naughty list.

Meditate, in my unlearned and non-scholarly opinion, is something like watering a tomato plant. It's not just splashing a few drops of liquid on the parched soil, then going on your merry way, expecting to see a thriving and flourishing plant when next we check in, but rather giving the plant what it needs. Meditating is like giving the plant sufficient water, not just a few drops, and having that essential nourishment soak in, going all through the soil to reach the roots, to be taken in and spread throughout the plant.

When we meditate on something, we're allowing time for it to sink in, to reach the roots and spread through us.

This can apply to a big and difficult decision - we can't just take a look at it, kick into decision mode, and have at it. We have to take some time, whatever time we have, to let it roll around in our heads, look at it from different angles, and make the connections that allow us to finally make a good decision.

Meditation (or something like it) can be how we think of friends and family, letting their places in our lives replay in our minds, enriching our heart's response to them, making us better able to extend love, grace and patience not only to them, but to others as well.

I guess we're talking about deep and mindful consideration here. Let's take this over to Advent, shall we?

It's so easy to keep the Christmas story on the shallow level. After all, the decorations, the parties and events, the music, the lights and candles and tons of goodies - they all rush in and seem to fill all the empty spaces. Their sheer momentum sweeps us along, making enough noise to silence our questions, providing enough sights to keep us from truly seeing, and making us think that all the dark spaces are truly and wonderfully lit. We hear the stories, we keep the traditions, we follow along with what we've done before. It's familiar, comfortable, warm and fuzzy, and totally alright, even wonderful in and of itself.

But it's not meditation. It's not reaching a deeper level, getting to the roots and penetrating our beings.

"Dude, lighten UP! It's CHRISTMAS, man! Can't you just relax and have some holly jolly yourself? Does your fruitcakephobia have to bring out your grinch in philosopher's clothing? Can't you keep your pondering a little more upbeat?"


For Christmas, the answer is yes. I'm just as capable of having wild, merry, excited, warm and fuzzy Yule as anyone else. Actually, sans 200 or so pounds, I'm more capable this year than any other of getting my jingle on. The former fat man will bring it on Christmas day. (Not sure what "it" is, but I've still got a few days to figure that out...)

But we're not talking about Christmas - we're talking about Advent. And that's where I take a sharp left turn internally. For many, many years, I went through the motions with none of the substance. So much so that when my mom died, I really wasn't sure what Christmas looked like anymore. Much of the joy went away for me.

(This is not to say that it became a train wreck - lovely times were had, my family is still there, some things changed, but much {very much} remains. I am blessed, I am thankful, I am touched by love and grace.)

I was wandering through the season blind and deaf. The few drops of water never reached the roots. And I never took in enough to grow and be nourished. I lived, but I didn't thrive. I moved, but I wandered. I saw and heard but I didn't feel. Last year, with all the physical and mental changes happening so quickly, Advent was madness.

Which brings us to this year. These writings. And the reason I seem to have gone from holly jolly to bah, humbug!... I'm trying, imperfectly, to mindfully appreciate Advent, to walk slowly through it and see the details with my new eyes, to hear the songs and story as if for the first time.

(If you think I'm way serious in this happy holiday season, you ain't seen nothing yet - Lent is coming...)

For me, I see the need to meditate on Advent, to allow these days of focusing on our King, His arrival, and His presence to permeate my whole being. The outward trappings - lights, decorations, parties, even some of the traditions - they seem to be moving to the background, while the message - prepare a way for the Lord! - is coming to the foreground. As I take it in, slowly, mindfully, I'm becoming aware of His presence in my life, and how He is preparing me for this new year. I know there are changes coming, challenges and blessings, questions and (hopefully) some answers, joy and sadness, and now is the time to get grounded and planted, so that everything to come will be with my hand in His.

It's not that I'm taking things too seriously, becoming a grinch, or turning my back on Christmas joy. I'm simply taking a longer path to get there. When we get to the big day, which is coming up all too quickly, I'll have arrived with the others, ready to celebrate with a full and happy heart. Until then, I remain aware, mindful, slowly considering what this all means, now and in the days to come.

I meditate on the timeless story of redemption and the wonder of it all. Holly jolly? Perhaps not. Deeply joyful? Definitely.

Meditare: meditate, think about; reflect on

"but Mary quietly treasured these things in her heart and thought about them often."
Luke 2:19 (NLT)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Advent Writings, Day 11: Aversionis

Aversionis: distraction (of attention / from the point)
(Source: William Whitaker's Words)

My Beloved can tell you about hamster mode. And she's very patient about hamster mode.

(Repeat the Vicki mantra here - if you see my wife today, give her a hug. She needs extra hugs...)

Shauna Niequist, in her book Cold Tangerines, which in spite of being a "girl" book (if it really is a "girl" book - I'm not sure it is...) taught me a ton about how I look at life, inspired me to consider writing as a way to express myself, and made me believe that a creative life is worth pursuing, describes what I have come to call "hamster mode." She tells how sometimes at night, her brain starts whirring around like a hamster on a wheel, and that writing is where she lets the hamster out of the cage and allows him to run around the desk for a while, to see where he goes.

Dang, I wish I had written that.

So, hamster mode, for me, is where my brain is jumping from idea to idea, thought to thought, without much room between jumps. The ideas and thoughts kind of pile up, spill over, and randomly emerge from my mouth, without any sort of order or relation to each other. Writing is where my hamster gets out of the cage, dances around the table at Biggby for a bit, sticks his tongue out at me, shakes his tail in my face, and runs away, laughing as he goes, leaving little blessings in his wake. I have a mean hamster.

I really should name the hamster. Maybe I'll call him "Steve." Why Steve? It's a pretty name. "Oh great and powerful Steve - Whaddya WANT?"

(Captain Cal's Reader's Theatre presents a scene based on Over The Hedge. Thank you for your support.)

Now, a person with a bit of order and discipline in their nature would realize that, mixed in with the aforementioned thoughts, ideas and poopy, is some stuff that really should be remembered, so they would take the time to either write it down as it comes or at least use a little recorder (or their phone) to grab voice memos to refer to later. They would know this about themselves, so they would be prepared at unusual times to grab these fleeting inspirations, since you never know when the hamster is going to kick you in the frontal lobe. (Or wherever it is that such doo doo comes from - Eldest Niecelet knows that sort of thing... I don't.)

TGeorge is this type of person. I love her for this. I wish I was her for this. Greg is glad that I'm not.

I, of course, am not a person with a bit of order and discipline. I can't even spell discipline. The reason you see it correctly spelled here is because a) the spell checker on the ol' iPad keeps marking it as if to say, "Dude, didn't I just TELL you about this?"; and b) The Proofreader is faithful in all her ways and, under her gentle hand, much that is incomprehensible and jumbled becomes smooth and straight.

Insert the Vicki mantra here...

So, hamster mode kicks in, random thoughts and ideas pop out, most of which get left in the ether someplace, and I wander about, not really knowing what just happened.

No, I'm not ADD, for the record. I was tested, I do have some of those tendencies, but I'm really not AD... OOH! A Squirrel!!!

What was I saying?

(The preceding was a shout out to my brother Ludge who understands that joke better than most.)

Yeah, I get distracted. A lot. I use some tricks here and there to try and keep focused when I really need to - the operative word here being "try."

I have a purple notebook that contains many, many random things in no order. The theory is that things get noted in there, since writing them down is faster than getting out the device, turning it on, opening some sort of memo app, and typing it in. (Who has that kind of time when a small rodent is nibbling at your cerebral cortex? "Get thee behind me, STEVE!" Oh great - guess what he's nibbling now? Ewwww...)

The reality is that either I forget to get the thing out; I totally blow past the fact that stuff is in there to be acted on, and the notebook stays happily (or not) in my backpack; or I scrawl things down so quickly that when I refer to it later, it comes out something like "get rizzleflap out are bongo day home urp!!!" Oh, and add a few stars to make sure I notice this very important... something.

I even have a cool name for the notebook: the RIGA (Remote Information Gathering Apparatus). If you're going to be a train wreck, organizationally speaking, you at least have to have cool acronyms.

(Amusing side note... if I start a list, leave it out where I'll remember to see it and use it, magically, things get added to the list, in a completely different handwriting than mine. Odd how that happens - every time. Someone in my house LOVES lists, and I ain't talking about Ezzie the Wonder Dog...)

(Amusing side note 2... I have a tab marker thingie to find my place in the notebook marked "Wonderwall." As in, "Today is gonna be the day that they're gonna throw it back to you." I wouldn't even know those words if it wasn't for Jeremy Hoekstra. Thanks, Jer.)

Another trick I use for focus: loom knitting. Some of my First Cov peeps will notice that when I have a Sunday off from worship team, I can be found sitting upstairs in the balcony, and am usually knitting for the whole service. Here, then, are the reasons for that: 1) I sit upstairs because my beloved NEVER takes a Sunday off from the tech team, so this way we sit "together" once in a while; 2) as I'm knitting, my ears are wide open. I'm actually hearing and retaining much more than if I was just sitting listening, even if I was reading along on the iPad;

(Yes, I do have a Bible app on my iPad, and I LOVE it! PocketBible for iPad ROCKS!)

3) if I'm knitting during the service, I'm not standing or sitting there getting twitchy and antsy because I don't have some instrument in my hands, and not thinking that I wish I was up there playing along. Keeping my hands busy and my mind engaged keeps me from wanting to be bass boy (or keyboard boy or wind controller boy or whistle boy or... you get the idea) for the morning. I can actually be off for a week, instead of spazzing out over not playing.

Generally, anyplace where I'm trying to listen and focus, and think I can get away with it without offending someone, I'll be loom knitting. If you were to come across me at Biggby some morning, you might find me listening to the Daily Audio Bible on the iPod while knitting. Same deal.

I have issues. And they are deep and wide ranging.

So, I'm now at around 1100 words and climbing, and haven't gotten to the point. Ain't hamster mode neat?

The point is, I'm sure I'm not the only one who gets distracted. Can I get a witness, brethren and sistern? Hallelujah! Amen! Get ye down!

Normal life is distracting. Then dump a few weeks of holiday happenings on top of it, set the blender to "Whip it! Whip it GOOD!" and what do you get? A primordial ooze that would make Carl Sagan drool with joy, were he still around to do so. No wonder we can't see our way through it - no scuba mask in the world is gonna keep our vision clear in that, not even if you spit on it and wipe it around to keep the mask from fogging up.

Or am I the only one who ever did that?

How in the name of Fats Waller are we expected to mindfully find our way through Advent, coming out the other side with hearts and heads ready for the King to take His throne? How do we walk into the new year with our focus on Him, following Him in the adventure He has for us?

In the words of Master Oogway (Kung Fu Panda 1), "I don't know."

The great news is this: We aren't being graded on neatness (as my beloved would put it, "this isn't a 4-H project!"). We don't have to reach a certain grade in Advent 101 to pass. No final exam (not yet, anyway), no 10,000 word essay on the cultural significance of fruitcake (ba-dum-DUM!), no more school room, no more books, no more teacher's dirty looks.

Hmm... that sounds familiar for some reason.

Our Father God who sent His Son knows us and loves us, in all our quirks and issues, in all our frailty and distractions, in our striving to keep our heads clear and our eyes focused. He cheers when we take baby steps forward, and holds out His arms to catch us when we stumble. He sees our sincere attempts to make space for Him, and it touches His Father's heart. He smiles when His kiddos sing the songs of Christmas, when the little ones put on the costumes and tell the stories, when the organ cranks up to the final verse and we all belt out,

"Yea Lord, we greet Thee on this happy morning! Jesus, to Thee be all glory given! Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing..."

So, our Advent is hectic, imperfect, distracted, and not as pure and focused as we hoped it would be a couple of weeks ago? That's okey dokey. Our Father knows who we are, He knows how we sincerely try, and He meets us where we are with love and grace, as we keep moving toward Him. The point is, keep moving. Keep trying. Keep looking, watching, wondering, praising, loving and living for the King. Then room will be found for Him, and other things will find their place under His feet. Keep moving Him back to the center, setting the other stuff aside, and when things shuffle and quake, move them around again and bring Him back to where He always should be - at the center of our hearts and lives.

That's Advent.

Aversionis: distraction (of attention / from the point)

"Oh come, let us adore Him. Oh come, let us adore Him. Oh come, let us adore Him...

Christ the Lord!"
(O Come All Ye Faithful, John Wade / trans. Frederick Oakley)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Advent Writings, Day 10: Magnificat

Magnificat: esteem greatly; praise, extol
(Source: William Whitaker's Words)

How often do you use extravagant language? I know I don't hear a lot of it, except in commercials or spam emails. The words we tend to use in daily life seem to be of a smaller scale, don't they? "And I was, like, really? And she was all like, yeah. And I was like, whoa. And she was like, yeah."

Thus endeth the deep conversation. And yes, I've found myself saying "like" in that context. I've also taken to using the word "dude," which no self-respecting 52 year old should be caught uttering.

But, as I totally lack self-respect, I guess it's fair game for me.

Just kidding. At least, in this present life, I mean.

Texting seems to be leaking into our conversation and condensing everything into the correct length for a Twitter feed or a Facebook status and making it seem to be the norm. We pare back, we consolidate, we boil down, we cut to the chase, get to the bottom line, cut out the middle man, and damn the torpedoes - full speed ahead! We git 'er DONE, dude!

Uff da.

Extravagant language becomes suspicious - trying to truly praise someone is saved for an awards presentation or is considered flattering or buttering them up.

"Buttering them up." Sounds like the prep for Christmas dinner. Or Christmas baking. Or Christmas breakfast.

Can you tell I'm a little hungry?

When Mary comes to visit Elizabeth, there's a passage we call the Magnificat, or the Song of Mary (Luke 1:46-55). And you won't find any economy of language there, no pulling back, no wondering what Elizabeth will think, no attempt to preserve dignity. When Mary lets loose with praise, she brings it!

Sorry... Mary brought it. I dump it.

The sad thing is when our language conservation extends to the One who truly deserves all the extravagance we can muster. He is worthy of all of the depth and breadth the limits of language can push against, and He deserves every bit of honor and praise we can wring out of mere words. Yet, as with much of our daily conversation, we dial it back. If we ever do let fly with the kind of praise our soul would bring forth, people look at us as if either we just stepped out of the Way Back Machine from the distant past, or as if our elevator no longer reaches the top floor.

("And the things that he said made the people assume there wasn't too much left in the upper room." - my favorite line from Jesus Freak, DC Talk)

We were watching a DVD with our worship team at church, featuring an interview with Bob Kauflin, when, as he was talking about worship, he said this about our God:

"He is exquisite."

Bob said this short phrase with such love, such passion, that it stopped me in my tracks. When have I ever used that kind of language to describe my Lord? When have I ever heard that kind of language outside of a diamond commercial, thus producing feelings of guilt that I've never actually given my beloved the gift that she really desires, the one that shows I really do care, the one that every kiss begins with?

Why doesn't that kind of language come immediately to my lips when speaking of my Father? What happened to me that dialed my expression back to zip, so that to try and communicate the depth of my love for Him in deep, deep language seems clumsy, archaic, or just plain dumb? I mean, if I were to stand up in church Sunday morning, and start shouting "Holy, holy holy is the Lord God Almighty! The whole earth is full of His glory!", well, just imagine the kind of response that would bring.





As you might imagine, I have mixed emotions about it. (And for the record, my dear First Cov family, no amount of double- or triple-dog daring is going to persuade me to give it a go.) But in Isaiah's vision, we're told of the beings that spend night and day crying that to each other in the presence of God. In Revelation, we're told that the living creatures cry something similar and, when they do, the 24 elders drop to the ground and worship, laying their crowns at His feet.

And we're not talking an old English language thing here... Read some of those passages in The Message or the NLT, and you get the same sense of no-holds-barred, full-tilt, all-in, total-access, no-punches-pulled, full-contact praiseapalooza.

Go here with me for a bit, kids...

Imagine your gang from Sunday morning busting out in the sky over a bunch of guys in flannel bathrobes holding sticks and hanging out with sheep. And the mighty host of your own congregation bursts out in:

"Glo, o-o-o-o-o, o-o-o-o-o, o-o-o-o-o, ri-a, in excelsis Deo!"

Did the shepherds fall down at that mighty wall of sound? Or did they stand there, checking their watches? Um... sundials.

Is our praise extravagant? Do we launch into it with all our hearts, with our whole beings, and with all the resources and language we can muster? Do we let fly with everything, holding nothing back for the sake of what the people next to us might think or (more correctly) what we think or imagine the people next to us might think?

(Cal's honest response: I am guilty of sometimes not putting my whole heart and being into worship. At other times, I make the folks at First Cov grin from ear to ear, as the artist formerly known as the Fat Man dances with his bass, grooving with all groovedness.)

He IS exquisite. He IS worthy. And when He came to this world in human form, the praise that burst forth from the angels put the shepherds on their faces. But it didn't stop there. They went, they saw the child, they worshiped. And I'm quite sure their worship wasn't limited to "Whoa, dude." The Magi, when they arrived, worshiped the child. Again, I don't think we're talking about some basic King James phrases here - I think that when they saw God incarnate, deep and heartfelt worship was the only response they could make.

And nothing has changed between now and then. Except, of course, our level of distraction has gone way up, while our level of comfort with expression has gone way down. Our concern of status and what people will think has hit critical mass, while our level of abandon to love and praise is in the basement. We've drawn back, closed up, shut down, toughened up, and somewhere along the way lost our sense of wonder when we consider our Father God.

Do you, like me, need to get that wonder back? This is a great season to find it. Look at all the children around you, wide-eyed and eager. See the lights, hear the music, remember the story. Wonder surrounds us during the Christmas season so what a great time to start seeing the rest of the year with the eyes of a child!

Advent is about preparation - preparing for the arrival of the King. For me, it's also about preparing to walk with Him every day of this new year and beyond. And I think part of that preparation has to be about praise - learning to worship Him with my whole being. Just as people will bust out in Christmas songs with total abandon, praise should flow out of me just as readily, anytime, any season. No holding back, no worries about what others will think, no other thought than offering myself to my Father.

In short, I ought to be ready at all times to knock a bunch of shepherds off their feet. With praise. Just so we're clear.

Magnificat: esteem greatly; praise, extol

"Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and worship Him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:
'You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for You created all things,
and by Your will they were created
and have their being.'"
Revelation 4:8-11 (NIV)

The Advent Writings, Day 9: Deus ex Machina

Deus ex Machina - "god out of the machine"

"A deus ex machina (plural: dei ex machina) is a plot device whereby a seemingly inextricable problem is suddenly and abruptly solved with the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability, or object."
(Source: Wikipedia)

I've admitted elsewhere in my blog that one of my "guilty pleasures" in this world is RiffTrax. Created by some of the minds behind Mystery Science Theatre 3000, they're a narrative track that you play along with a movie, providing pretty darn funny commentary (or riffs) on the movie.

**full disclosure - the humor is sometimes a tad bawdy, sometimes downright offensive, making me respond in disgust, "come on guys!" only because these folks are very clever, too clever to go for the cheap shot frequently. Funny? Yeah, but... **

WARNING: Gratuitous LOTR references follow:

In the RiffTrax for The Lord Of The Rings, I heard two references to deus ex machina - the first is when Merry and Pippin are being held by the orcs, and suddenly the riders of Rohan show up to save the day. (One of the commentators says, "and it's the 42nd Deus ex Machina division!") The other is when the eagles are flying to Mt. Doom to rescue Frodo and Sam, and the RiffTrax says, "we've got a flock of deus ex machina incoming!"

So I was curious, and Wiki'ed it. And I then backed up to hear it again, and laughed loudly.

Further reading tells me that it began as a Greek play plot device, and sometimes was represented in a golden couch being lowered to the stage, so that the hero/heroine could just hop on, and be lifted to safety in a miraculous manner.

The deus ex machina plot device isn't regarded as a great way to go. Sudden, unexplainable rescue doesn't seem to go over well in our literal rational world. Reminds me of a cartoon with two professors where one has written out his equation in numbered steps, and step 12 says "then a miracle occurs." The other professor says, "I think you have a problem with step 12..."

The Advent story tells us something different. Evidently, God (capital G) is totally fine with Deus ex machina as a plot device. As a matter of fact, the Bible would seem to indicate that Deus ex machina is on God's resume.

Sorry if that bordered on irreverent - just trying to paint a picture, and I'm really bad at paint by numbers. Or crayons, for that matter. And you don't even want to know about the "oil painting set for Christmas" incident one year... ends with a scrawl in a diary that said "I shall NEVER paint again." That line gave my mom loads of laughs over the years. Me, not so much...

- Adam and Eve; disobeyed, sin entered, banishment.

Deus ex machina: there will be redemption!

- Abraham and Sarah; no son, no legacy, no great nation.

Deus ex machina: there will be a great nation!

- Moses; slow of speech, old, hesitant, unsure.

Deus ex machina: the rod of God, signs and wonders, plagues, exodus, Red Sea, cloud and fire, manna, quail, water from rock, Promised Land.

- People; repeating the same cycle of disobedience and punishment.

Deus ex machina: judges, rescue, times of obedience.

- "We want a KING!" Ooops - that wasn't what we REALLY wanted, was it?

Deus ex machina: a young man, who wasn't even recognized by his own family, called in from the sheep and marked as a king, a man after God's own heart.

All through the long years, God continued to warn and correct, to punish while pleading, "return to Me. I will be your God, you will be My people." The Faithful One, with arms wide open, longing for His beloved ones to return to Him. And He continued His work, to provide redemption for His creation.

And in the fullness of time, we saw Deus ex machina in living, breathing form. God out of the machine and into our world. No golden couch - "Jump on! Vanish into the clouds and be rescued!" Instead, God's redemption came in a living man we could see and touch and listen to and learn from. God incarnate - Emmanuel.

Unexplainable rescue? Absolutely.

Bad plot device? I suppose so, if you're a literary critic. If you're a fallen creature in need of redemption, however, it's the best news you could ever hear... the kind that leaves you on your feet, applauding until your hands are red and sore, whistling and cheering and shouting "BRAVO!" until your throat is raw.

God out of the machine; God out of the heavens; God out of the invisible; God made real in our reality.

And not just a little of God - not an angelic messenger, not a prophet as was of old, not a sign saying "this way to our representation of what God would be like if He was here." Not even the separation of the Holy of Holies - God behind the veil, at the mercy seat - His presence. Fully God, fully human, here in our world; One like us sent from the Father, so we could see how much He loves each of us. Get that firmly in mind - so we, with our human, unbelieving, doubting, rational, logical, unexplainable-rescue-is-a-bad-plot-device eyes could see Him. And know Him. And know that He knows us - completely.

How's that for deus ex machina? Didn't see that one coming, did ya? And yet we should have.

God promised; He foretold; He spoke through the prophets; He sent the forerunner; He painted the picture; He set the stage; He posted all appropriate signs and pointers; He had the cast all in the right place at the right time. If God were a director, He'd have so many little gold statues that there'd be no curio cabinet big enough or strong enough to hold them all. And whoever was hosting the awards show would, about halfway through, just say, "let's cut to the chase - the award for everything, all of 'em, every last one goes to... wait for it... wait for it... the Lord God Almighty!" And everybody who blogged about it in the 5 minutes afterward saying that it was rigged and how those awards don't really mean anything would look like an idiot, since it would be obvious to all that the awards went to exactly the right choice.

Oi. That was a rabbit trail of epic proportions.

There is no logical explanation for Advent. There's no nice and tidy recap that shows us all of the breadcrumb trail that explains in a rational manner how this all got resolved perfectly. (Oh, the trail was there, but didn't lead anywhere anyone was expecting.) Advent leaves the world scratching its head, going, "Wha?..."

Deus ex machina, meet Emmanuel, "God with us." God's expression; God's reality; God's answer to the conflict; God's love letter to us all. Don't try to explain it, don't try to do the CSI thing and decipher it; no code, no secret decoder ring or clues hidden in public monuments. The almighty, inexplicable God doing what He does best - the miraculous. He redeems us by Himself.

No explanations, just grateful hearts. Thank you, Lord, that, in our darkness, You provide Light. In our fallenness, You provide a way. In our loneliness, You come Yourself to heal our hearts.

Thank you for Advent. And for staying with us through all the days to come.

Deus ex Machina - "god out of the machine"

"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth."
John 1:14 (NIV)

Friday, December 09, 2011

The Advent Writings, Day 8: Reformationis

Reformationis: transformation; reformation;
(Source: William Whitaker's Words)

What creates lasting change?

You'd think I'd know that. Since being changed literally from the inside out over the last 21 months, I should think I'd have a good handle on lasting change. After all, the redecorating of my innards wasn't done with Velcro - there's no going back, baby.

But that doesn't keep me from trying.

Old habits creep in when I'm not mindful. An attachment to food that I thought was long dead will insidiously rear its ugly head, and I'm mindlessly snacking without realizing it.

Although my new frame and form are capable of doing an astonishing (to me) amount of things in a single day, I can easily find myself slipping into veg mode at the drop of a knitting loom. Or numbing out in front of a movie. Or letting hours pass while surfing the web. Or doing anything but moving forward on the many, many things that are worth my interest and attention. Mindlessness.

I'm finding that the same vigilance I've had to use to even start to make habits of my new way of living continues to be required to make my new life stick.

Excuse me for a moment - need to take my mid-morning calcium, vitamins, and such...

Like I said, vigilance. (And yes, I really did pause right then, take some pills, and am chewing away on the first of two calcium chews for this time around.)

Transformation doesn't always equal change.

Imagine someone who loses a leg to some sad occurrence. They are truly transformed, permanently and irrevocably, but are they changed? Perhaps, since the reality is that they will have to learn to accommodate what is now their reality. They will have to adjust, to relearn, but the change is forced upon them. How deep it goes, and what results from it is up to them.

How my body processes food is permanently changed and, if I don't live that way, it can result in some mild discomfort all the way to serious malnutrition and a St. Mary's vacation. Not a great way to "make the Yuletide gay." But how deep the change goes is up to me. I can follow the new requirements, I can "mostly" follow them, or I can go ape-crazy sometimes and totally blow them off.

That last one not only results in major discomfort, but large protests from the other members of my household. Yes, even Ezzie the Wonder Dog looks at me as if to say, "Dude, I'm a DOG, and that's still a bit much for me to handle." Don't believe me? Spend 24 hours with me after I drink a 20 oz soda - especially a Diet Coke. You'll be cryin' for yo mama in eight.

And how do I know these things? Because I HAVE gone ape-crazy, and I have danced around the edges of obedience, and I have had days where I didn't take care of the basics. After everything I've learned and everything I've been through, I'll still do the dumb and shrug off the new while returning to that which is bad for me.

Sometimes, transformation doesn't go deep enough into change. Sometimes, transformation remains external, and change never penetrates below the surface.

With all the trappings of Christmas surrounding us, focusing on Advent and the reason we celebrate seems a no-brainer. We see it all around us, our hearts are moved by the story once again, and we find ourselves turning toward the One who was always there, all the time, waiting. Transformation - our vision realigned; our hearts refocused; our resolve renewed.

Then the other shoe drops in January, and we learn that transformation does not equal change. Are you inclined toward New Year resolutions? Things that you will accomplish/change/address in the year to come? And how many of those goals/dreams/hopes/resolutions have gotten laid by the wayside, victims of change that hit the surface and bounced off?

(Cal's honest admission: I've got a long, l-o-n-g list of 'em, and enough regrets to repaint the White House a lovely shade of grey.)

Something worth noting: We KNOW it's coming. Every year, we know that the joy of the holidays is followed by the deep plummet into the valley of the shadow of the new year. Like the light on an oncoming locomotive, we see it coming down the track, and turn into Bambi in the headlight - frozen stiff. The holidays fly through, leaving light and joy and fuzzy stuff and some tinsel in their wake. (Because no matter how carefully you clean, there's ALWAYS some rogue tinsel left. Always. Oh, and fruitcake. That always gets left behind too.)

("But deadly for 10,000 years is carbon-14." - Sting, We Work The Black Seam Together)

("And fruitcake. Seriously." - Cal)

(Cal's honest admission: As much as I use the recurring fruitcake gag, I do like the stuff. And even in my altered state, I usually find a way to get some fruitcake - usually too much, which results in the aforementioned dire consequences.)

What the heck was I talking about?... Oh yeah - Bambi in the headlights eating fruitcake. Not really - he'd never touch the stuff.

We know that the new year approaches, and that we'll always try and buckle down to make this the year that the change sticks, the resolve remains firm, the dreams are realized, and the fruitcake disposed of. (That's enough of the recurring gag for this installment...) But change, real lasting change only comes from habits, real lasting habits carefully learned and constantly renewed.

So now is the time to be working toward habits that lead to change in the new year, which brings us to the whole "Advent is a season of preparation" thing. What if the point isn't preparing for the arrival of the King, but preparing to walk with Him every day in this and every year? To place Him in His proper place, at the head of all things, and to live life this and every year acknowledging His sovereign Lordship? What if we turn the daily Advent calendar into daily time hearing His word? What if Advent family devotions become daily family devotions? What if the reminders of the tree and the nativity scene turn into daily reminders that our lives are well-spent when they begin and end each day with Him?

What if the best, most worthy resolution we can make is a daily walk with God? So simple and wonderful! From that, all sorts of amazing things can follow because He can and will lead us there.

(Cal's honest, fruitcake-free admission: My habit of listening to the Daily Audio Bible, which is a podcast that I highly recommend, is not perfect. I sometimes get a week or two behind. And what results is not guilt from failing at my resolve, but rather a sadness, a missing piece from not having a daily reminder that God walks with me, each day. He is always there and always will be but if I am not careful, I'll walk away and wander. I'll turn away, even though He's right there, and there will be a hole left behind. I am made less when I fail to turn to Him daily, hourly, minute-by-minute.)

Behaviors lead to habits. Habits can lead to change. And change can lead to lasting, deep transformation. We can be reformed, reborn, renewed, but only in daily behavior, daily habit, daily resolve to walk with Him and follow hard after Him.

And so, we prepare. We celebrate. We wait for the coming King. And personally, I want to use this time to remember where I walk. To refocus my vision. To follow the Christ. I follow... failingly, imperfectly, falteringly, hesitantly... but I follow.

Reformationis: transformation; reformation

"Out of my sorrow, bondage and night, Jesus I come, Jesus I come..."
- William T. Sleeper

The Advent Writings, Day 7: Memoratus

Memoratus - remember; be mindful; mention/recount/relate, remind/speak of.
(Source: William Whitaker's Words)

I'm a firm believer in raising stones. Actually, I'm a firm everything - my beloved refers to me as "bony" these days. Folks give me a pat on the shoulder, and hit skeleton. I look at my upper chest and can see ribbage. It ain't pretty.

Where was I? Oh yes - stones.

There's a tag on this here blog called "The Stones" made up of things that I need to remember; to keep in front of me; to hold in; to use today's word, memoratus. Things that I must not forget, that I must be mindful of. Signposts of God's faithfulness, reminders of where I've been and pointers to where I am heading.

What does this have to do with Advent? Not a thing - I'm running dry here.

Just kidding.

In this season of preparation, of getting ready, knowing where we are, where we have come from, and where we are heading is important if the King is to be given His proper place in all things.

Sorry - that had overtones of "A Christmas Carol" in it... The Ghost of Advent Past will not be making an appearance, rest assured.

Where have you been? Has the King been on the throne this year in your life? Did situations, feelings, responses, thoughts all find their right perspective under His just rule?

(Cal's totally honest response: Nope. Things have been shifting in the last few months, to His praise, but I ain't there yet. At least I'm in the same area code.

Which one?

906 of course - everyone knows God lives in the 906 area code.)

Where are you now? Is it the same old same old, another hectic holiday haul, go here, do that, buy those, wrap them, watch this, listen to that, all the usual trappings that so obscure what it's really all about?

Do you find yourself empty, longing, unsettled, bitter, disillusioned, or just generally feeling blue? Are you so extreme that you'd gladly be the one driving the sleigh and running grandma over with the reindeer?

(I had the um... joy... of working at a little bitty station in da U.P. when that song started getting airplay. Lovely. I know my life will never be the same...)

Do you bury yourself deep, so that all the jolly and jingle bounce right off? Keeping the holiday at bay, because it's been bad for so long that you have to import daylight?

(Cal's honest response: My mom was the heart of our Christmas celebration, so when she was gone in 2003, Christmas kind of went too. There have been good times, dark times, and numb times. Stay tuned for current conditions...)

Where are you going? Has everything felt perfect on the outside, with a yawning emptiness inside, leading you to decide that this year the King returns to the center, His rightful place? Has Advent opened your eyes to making Him central every day? Are you sweeping the house, cleaning the dirt away so when the King arrives, you can welcome Him with joy and open arms?

(For the record, He will enter in anywhere, even if your house looks like the result of the last freight tornado to Oz. Trust me - I'm an expert in this.)

So what stones will you raise to help you remember?

What will remind you of the past, the places where you slipped and fell, and of where He gently lifted you up and carried you? Where His light shone so brightly all around you that you felt sure your eyes would never recover? What will make you take notice of the darkness, to help your resolve to live in the light?

Where will you place reminders of your present, of either a steadfast steady walk, or a rough path that reached a crossroads in 2011 and took a sharp turn toward the light? What will remind you of an Advent that opened your eyes and rocked your world with its gentle presence?

(Cal's honest response: You're looking at my signposts right now. I place "the stones" here on the blog, so that I can look forward and back and remember. My beloved looks here too, and we walk the journey hand in hand.)

The stones help those we love too. They see where we were, where we are, and the mindful journey we are on. The stones give our family and friends tangible reminders of our path, our choices, our resolve, and help them understand more fully. And perhaps to join us on the journey.

We are forgetful critters. It's that simple. Nothing evil in that statement, no declaration of the frailty and fallenness of peoplekind, no loud shouting of the deceitful wickedness of the heart.

(Those are all true, for the record... I'm just not the shout and declare type of dude, at least not in my new life.)

Without real, physical, tangible reminders of Immortal Invisible God only wise (to quote the hymn), we will let slip the most important things. I've said it before - the presence of the mundane clouds our eyes, stops our ears, captures our senses and pushes God to the background. For me, wrapped up in the stones is this phrase:

"As He has been, so He shall be."

He does not change. The same God who put stars in place is the same God who spared Abraham's son; is the same God who moved ahead in fire and cloud; is the same God who keeps His promises through all generations; is the same God who sent His beloved to be born and live and breathe and die and rise...

and is the same God who said He will continue His good work, and will complete it.

We put up our tree, then decorate it with ornaments. Some have a short history with us - on sale 50% off last year the day after Christmas, picked up at a yard sale in July, that sort of thing. Some have a long history, full of memories and family and Christmases long, long ago. And the act of putting them on the tree brings back those past jewels, or past shadows. We remember, sometimes in delight, sometimes in gratitude for how far we have come, and usually in joy for it all.

And there, in a nutshell (a chestnut roasting on an open fire, if you will), are "the stones." The things we collect and hang on our days to keep us mindful of things we need to remember. As we unpack (or have unpacked - I'm usually weeks behind...) the Christmas treasures, hang them for all to see and recall their stories, let's take that with us into the new year, placing the stones and recalling their stories as we walk with the King, listening to His voice and learning His ways.

Memoratus - remember; be mindful; mention/recount/relate, remind/speak of.

" At the right time, God wrote Himself into the story. 'For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.' And that's the reason that All is Well. Remember?"
- Frank Peretti, "All Is Well"

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The Advent Writings, Day 6: Temporis

Temporis - time, condition, right time; season, occasion; necessity.
(Source: William Whitaker's Words)

We are a time-conscious people. Clocks in our vehicles, on our cell phones, in our computers. Places that we spend time or just hang out, we're always aware of the clock, and we keep an eye on it. Alarms, reminders, beeps, blips, or cool ringtones - we find all sorts of ways to be mindful of time. If you use it efficiently, that's good, but if you're watching the clock, you're just killing time until you get to split, and that's bad. Planners, Palms, PDAs, smartphones, apps, tablets, netbooks, calendars - all sorts of ways to divide time, to account for it, to "spend" it, as if we had the ability to hold it like currency or control where it goes like a budget.

Or lack thereof.

So from our limited temporal view, trying so valiantly to corral time, to break it and domesticate it, God's abundance of eternity seems like... well... actually, we don't have any way to even begin to comprehend it. Our whole existence is made up of start and stop, of beginning and end, green for go and yellow for punch it, 'cause it's gonna turn RED!

So no wonder God's schedule eludes us. I mean, just thinking of asking God to check His calendar? Forget about it - a Day Timer the likes of which we'd never be able to lift. To understand His view of how sometimes it takes an entire human life for one lonely soul to finally turn to Jesus? Or how a faith begun at 5 years old can grow so beautifully through teen and young adult years, only to turn cold and bitter near the end, just at the doorstep of "faith made sight?" A young man, heart set on ministry with youth, steps into eternity the night before spring semester of his freshman year of college?

(And yes, that last young man was a friend of mine... we were freshmen together at GR Baptist College in 1977.)

Why do some lives, filled with such hope and promise, seem to get shortchanged on number of days, yet some lives, filled with bitterness and regrets, go on and on?

How can we understand God's timetable? We can't.

Think of the centuries of waiting, the looking and hoping for the deliverer. Seeing (or hoping that we are seeing) signs of His appearing, only to remain alone. Believing that things can't possibly get worse, and this must be the time when the redeemer will arrive, only to see things indeed get worse, and no relief in sight.

"O come, O come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lowly exile here until the Son of God appears..."

Now, maybe like me your longing hasn't lasted for centuries, or even decades. Maybe your season of suffering, of change, of upheaval, of uncertainty has been relatively short in the scheme of things. Yet the depth of that season is just as deep for you as it ever was for the ones who waited long and weary years for the promise to be fulfilled.

To you, as to them, He gives Advent. Advent isn't just longing, not just preparation - Advent is hope of a promise fulfilled, and remembering that He who kept His promise by sending the Messiah is the One who promises that He will wipe away all tears, that death and sorrow will be no more, that He is coming and will make all things new.

Advent is the sure and certain hope that the One who gave His Son as a gift to us all keeps His word; that He remains faithful and true; that He understands us in all our sorrow and hardship; He understands us in our joy and delight; He knows how to laugh and He knows how to weep. He knows fellowship with friends and He knows how to endure loneliness, the kind of deep loneliness that we can't begin to understand.

And He knows the proper time for all of them. He not only knows the "what," He knows the "when," the perfect "when," the time when the season or event or trial or blessing or joy or sorrow will accomplish exactly what He intends. There's never an interruption, never a delay, never a little glitch, never the blue screen of death. (Of course not - God uses a Mac.)

** Sorry - couldn't resist a little Microsoft baiting. Besides, the Linux folks are smugly saying to themselves, "we KNOW what operating system is the OS of the Throne..." **

** Wouldn't it be funny if when we tour the IT department of Heaven, that all we see are the names Atari and Commodore? Hee hee hee... **

At the right time, God spoke to Abraham.
At the right time, God spoke to Moses.
At the right time, God introduced Ruth to Boaz.
At the right time, God raised up David.
At the right time, God spoke through Isaiah.
At the right time, John was born.
At the right time, Joseph met Mary.

In the fullness of time, God sent His Son.

So as we count down time to the holidays, as we struggle to find enough time for all the preparations we think we need, when we run out of time for last-minute shopping, when we wish for more time to spend around the tree or table, when we hope for more time with loved ones, or wish we had spent more time while they were here...

As we try to slice and dice time like a crazed Japanese steakhouse chef to make everything fit; as we stuff and cram and juggle to fit in all the celebrating with as much wild abandon as our overburdened lives will allow; as we work hours upon hours to have minutes upon minutes to spend on Christmas day...

And when we get to January 2nd and wonder where it all went...

It's good to remember that He who sent His son has all of time in His grasp. None of it escapes or eludes Him. He gives us exactly as many days, years, hours, minutes as we need for what He has in mind. If our lives are cut short, it's no shock to Him - they lasted as long as He intended. We react with human emotion, with dismay and sadness, but He remains in control. When a dear saint finally says goodbye, and closes their eyes here in this world, they open their eyes before Him exactly at the time He knew they would.

Perhaps this Christmas season, it would be a good thing to let our fast-paced plans go for a while, and adopt a bit of God's view of time. To slow down, mindfully approach the season with a sense of longing, quit trying to fill every nook and cranny of the calendar and instead thin out the thundering holiday herd to have some significant time and memories for the days / months / years ahead. To have time to allow Advent to grow, to see it bloom in its arrival on Christmas, and to enjoy its beauty into the new year.

Yeah, it might make us feel like we're missing out on things. It might drive the kids batty to see so much going on around them only to be doing less at home. Maybe comparing a meager, reduced Advent season to all the hyper-jingling-jangling-multidimensional-overstimulating-flashy-shiny-impact-of-a-bullet-train festivities we see in media will make some feel like they got robbed. Maybe you thrive on the full-impact assault that is your major holiday celebration - maybe the only way to get your jingle on is to hit it full throttle, take no prisoners, go big or go home, and wring every drop of jolly out of every day, so a reduced calorie Advent ain't how you roll, baby.

Fair enough. It was just a suggestion.

As for me and my beloved, a quiet Christmas is a better one. A mindful Advent is the way to make sure that I'm very aware of what God did when He showed us what giving is really all about. Personal, intimate connections in this season remind us that God made the most intimate, personal contact of all - Himself. So I think I'll follow, ever so slightly and imperfectly, His example. I want my Advent to be one of connection, of intimacy, of contact. And in that way, I can establish a pattern that can continue into the new year, walking with Him each day.

Temporis - time, condition, right time; season, occasion; necessity.

"A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices. For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn..."

Sunday, December 04, 2011

The Advent Writings, Day 5: Deliratio

Deliratio - delirium/madness
Source: Oxford Latin Dictionary, 1982

When the Lord used a friend to nudge me into blogging, He made it pretty clear that I wasn't supposed to hold a lot back. Graphic and unlovely details, yeah. But things that might be embarrassing or deeply personal? No. Sometimes I look at what I've written and think, "holy cow - do I really want this out there?" I consult with the Master, I think, I re-read, and most of the time it stays. He doesn't let me hide a lot.

And yes, sometimes my beloved (the Proofreader) reads the words and thinks, "why in the world did he have to write that? Why do people have to know that about us?" And yet, they don't get edited out. She understands the need for transparency that God has laid before me.

As always, give her a hug today if you see her, or send her one via email or Facebook - she always needs extra hugs. :-D

These are two very personal stories from my life, so I beg those who know of what I speak to not take offense. The stories relate to my own mental workings, and not anything about the events they reference. It's my issue, not anything external. And as always, there's a point to this wandering.

Ok, "always" might be a stretch. How about "usually" or "sometimes" or "even a broken clock is right twice a day." That's probably more like it.

When madness invades Advent, scene 1:

There is a yearly event, a holiday tradition, and something that many would consider an essential part of their Christmas celebration. It's a biggie (for the folks involved or with personal interest therein) and is always a labor of time, sweat, effort and love.

And no, it is not egg nog, fruitcake, the Fifth Third Holiday Pops, or the annual playing of "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer."

This event drove me nuts every year. I'm ashamed of that - it speaks about many layers of me and how I used to view the world. My part in it was very, very small, very easy (for one with my particular gifts), and not a big deal. Yet the mental angst and stress over it would smolder through the rest of the holidays. In short, my issues with this particular event would yank the rug right out from under Advent for me, every year.

For a number of years, it was related (as were most things) to my weight and self-image. My world was pretty pathetic, my response to most things selfish and impatient, and my field of vision limited to what I could see around my ponderous bulk. So this particular event would bring out EvilCal in the most profound way, and it would take the rest of the season to jam EvilCal back into the box.

If he ever actually got stuffed away at all.

It was madness, to get that worked up about something so small, yet I did. Every year. Why didn't I just stop participating? Not sure - I could try and peel back the layers to explore that, but there's no point.

Last year, well on my way to my present size, you would think that things would finally change. That I'd react with grace and patience, with all that newfound energy running around in me. You'd think that NewCal would triumph, that all would be well and jolly, and that angels would sing joyfully as peace and harmony ruled within my mortal frame.

And you'd be oh so very wrong.

Same piddly little stresses. Same overreactions. Same lack of patience and kindness. Same madness.

Sometimes kids, you hit a wall you just can't ride around. You can't go over it, you can't dig under it, you can't rewire how you perceive it, and you can't sort out why it summons your inner beast.

And that's when it has to go. Not just for the sake of your own happy little world, but more for the sake of those around you who receive the poison of your fractured heart.

Why relate this to Advent? Because I think there's so many more of these opportunities for an express train to madness in this season than other times. So many activities, so much stuff, so many expectations piled on one little holiday, and so many ways to experience madness on a personal level.

If you're a happy soul, well-adjusted and stable in all your ways, you have no grid on which to reference this. It's a foreign concept, one you simply can't wrap your head around. If that's you, bless your heart. Go forth, celebrate with your entire being, and don't get stuck with the fruitcake.

But if any of this rings a chord of familiarity in your heart, read on...

When madness invades Advent, scene 2:

In the last few years of my mom's life, we spent each Christmas in Oscoda, never knowing if this was going to be "the one," the last one ever.

Stressful? Oh yeah, you might say that.

Know this about my mom - she was the heart of Christmas for my family. I didn't realize this until she was gone. She was the one who made our season bright.

I remember one year, the one before the real "last" one, when mom was so sick. She'd always make stockings for each of us. Not just a few little things stuffed in a sock (not, for the record, that there is ANYTHING wrong with that - she just took it way over the top... and sides... and bottom... and everything...), but all kinds of things - toiletries, goodies, useful stuff, fun stuff, all individually wrapped, and put into something unique. Tupperware. Rubbermaid. A hand-woven basket. A garbage bag. My stocking has been in all of these. The rule was, if there was a picture of a stocking on it, it was a stocking.

This year, Mom had been trying very hard to do the stockings, but had no strength to shop for things as she would do every year. She ended up ordering some things (gotta love QVC), picking up others the rare times when she could get out, and had piled them all in bags in the spare bedroom. I remember helping her look through it all, and the sadness and confusion on her face. She had no idea what she had bought, how much she had, or who it was supposed to go to. This tradition, this fun thing that always brought us so much joy was so far beyond what she was physically capable of, and that came crashing down on her. I remember helping her sort through it, separating it into bags, no wrapping, just going through the motions, and I wished that I had understood just what this meant to her, so that I could have helped her more.


That was the year that we all tried so very hard to make it "the" Christmas - the one to remember. We honestly thought it would be our last together, and that desperation took hold big time. I was sick with a cold, we were all exhausted, and so we bustled around, trying to do the things we always do to make it feel more like how we all remembered or thought it should feel. I remember baking sugar cookies and decorating them at midnight Christmas day - because it wasn't Christmas without sugar cookies, so we HAD to have them so we HAD to get them done. We all tried so hard that we ended up with one of the most miserable holidays we'd ever had.

And on the way home from that sad time, Ezri ate the two cookies Vicki had especially decorated and saved for herself. I took over driving, as Vicki wept. The cookies were the last straw, and we felt broken. My most vivid memories of Christmas with my mom are the year when we tried so hard to make it Christmas, and we left brokenhearted.


"Gee, Cal - just when I thought you couldn't put much more 'blue' in a 'Blue Christmas,' well, you proved me wrong. Well done, Grinch."

My dear ones, this season of joy can turn to a season of madness in so many ways. We can pile up expectations, we can bury ourselves in activities, we can spend well beyond our means to try and use stuff to create meaning, we can numb up and dive under work or obligations to keep away the lonely...

Or we can recognize it for what it is: madness.

We can choose to set some things aside, to close the door to madness - activities that cause us nothing but angst. Demands that place the weight of the world on our shoulders. Expectations that no sane person would try and meet. Schedules that rob us of time and strength and meaning.

And we can choose to embrace the only thing about the season that matters: the gift of God. We can restore Him to His right place, as the only One who gives meaning and clarity to this world.

As I said, if in your happy world, everything fits and makes your season bright, blessings to you. Enjoy your celebrations with a glad heart, cherish your loved ones, and celebrate Jesus.

But if the season brings too much stress, too much busy, too much excess without enough meaning, consider lightening your load.

The event that causes EvilCal to take over? I'm typing this as it's going on, staying away from it. For my heart's sake and for the sake of my beloved and my dear friends, I have to step away.

All the memories of Christmas as my mom declined toward eternity? Or the gleaming ones that proceeded them? Those shadows have to be set aside as well. Nothing will ever be like that again, no Christmas will ever feel like that, and I can't live my future shackled to that past, no matter how wonderful or horrible they were.

This year, I'm working toward a clean house, using the preparation time of Advent to sweep the floor of old dust and memories, and taking some things away, getting rid of them because they just shouldn't be here anymore. Polishing and cherishing some things from the past, while realizing that I'll never see their kind again, and that it's madness to try and make my present live up to their real or imagined memory. Raising my vision from the distractions all around me to the One who it's all about, and rearranging my celebration around Him. I lay down the past, the good and bad, the bitter and sweet, the treasured and the stressful, and realize that it was never about any of that in the first place.

Away from madness, into clarity.

Away from stress, into peace.

Away from unfocused busyness, into single-minded purpose.

Away from everything being about me, and making it all about Him.

"For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father...

Prince of Peace."

Isaiah 9:6 (TNIV)