Miraculous, commonplace grace

img_20170130_132901157This morning, I had the best intentions. I woke up, ready to tackle this Monday. Then, as I contemplated my day, things began to go downhill.

Task #1: Laundry. Due to a septic malfunction last week, my dirty laundry pile, instead of just being the terribly difficult but scaleable Mt. Everest, was instead an all out, mid-eruption Mt. Vesuvius.

Task #2: Breakfast. Well, we have eggs. So that’s what’s for breakfast.

Task #3: Homeschool two over-tired children while wrangling one over-tired preschooler. Needless to say, I did not accomplish all that I had set out for today.

In the midst of working with Little Red, who was putting up a pretty good fight against schoolwork, I realized that I needed a mommy break. As I walked out of the room, I uttered a little prayer. “God help me have grace with them.” I took my break and went back, and we resumed our work. While we are working through the spelling of “think”, Little Man trots into the school room. As I turn toward him, ready to ask him to leave so that we can work, he presents me with a hand-full of daffodils – my favorite. And I had to stop and smile. Commonplace flowers, full of miraculous grace.

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Lunch was on the table, little people were happy. Lunchtime conversations are always interesting in our house, and today’s was no different.

“What kind of pet do you want?”

“I want a monkey.”

“They like to throw poop at you.”

Whole table dissolves into laughter.

We hear a knock on the door and look up to see a surprise friend visit. We are now a table full of smiles. We pull up chairs and enjoy chatting while we finish lunch. As the kids go off to play, it’s adult conversation time. As I talk with my friend, I dig into my surprise that came along with the visit, a cupcake from my favorite restaurant piled with a mountain of creamy white icing topped with a raspberry and two blueberries. A commonplace visit from friends, full of miraculous grace.

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Today was a rough day for everyone in our house. We were all tired. We all wanted to throw to-do lists out the window. So I relied on the only thing I could think of – grace. I prayed to be able to shower it on my family, but I got so much more than that. The grace was showered on me, more than I ever expected. Or maybe, my eyes were opened to grace that I usually miss. Either way, grace was the air I breathed today. Instead of just answering my prayer of being able to give grace to others, God filled me with grace, and now I can pour grace out of my fullness. What a miraculous, commonplace day.

 

Eyes open

It is a feast for the eyes. Everywhere – all the surfaces, walls, tabletops, even chairs – are covered with Christmas. All the memories, all the treasures, all the gifts – all of it is known and loved by a woman who my children fondly refer to as “the puppet lady.” She earned this name because she has a puppet ministry that travels to the ends of this great earth to tell people about Jesus’ love for them.

Each year, The Puppet Lady opens her home up to our church, our community, early in December for Jesus’ Birthday Party. We have gone every year since we moved to the farm. Each year, no matter what, my kid’s eyes, and even mine too, light up at all the Christmas decorations. All the beauty, all the sparkle, all the love contained in these things.

With all of the people and music and food at the birthday party, it is hard to notice everything – it becomes sensory overload for me. There is so much to see, so much to drink in, that it feels impossible. But today, we were treated to a tour with a few other homeschooling families. It was wonderful to be able to just look, to notice, to take more of it in – and in our few hours, I only took in the tip of the iceberg.

It would take hours, maybe even days, to see it all. Multiple Christmas trees – each with hundreds of ornaments, as well as it’s own theme and related book, Santa figurines from cultures all over the world, hand-painted, framed Bible verses and quotes from books on the walls, glittery snowflakes, lights of all different colors, and, the kids favorite – handmade toys from around the world.

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Not a tree from the Puppet Lady’s house, but it would fit in nicely.

One could say that she was a bit over the top and leave it at that. And at first, that’s what I thought. But then I got to know The Puppet Lady, and saw her heart. All of this – the lights, the music, each tree, each stocking, each ornament – she does it all to celebrate the joy of the season. The joy of Christmas. The joy of God with us. And that adds a beauty to the whole thing that none of the teddy bears from Germany or elephant ornaments from India would have on their own. For her, all of this glorious excess points to and celebrates how amazing it is that Christ came into this dark and dreary place to bring the light – to rescue us.

As I walked through the house today, I took the time to look, to really see. I wanted to drink it all in. I had my eyes open. I realized that if you look and see, even though you can’t see it all, you walk away blessed. And that’s the point. When you look for God, you see him. Every day, everywhere. Not just at Christmas. Not just on perfect days, but on dreary days and hard days too. And when you do that, you walk through life blessed.

I wish it was as easy to see God in our world as it is at The Puppet Lady’s. I wish I saw him in sparkling snowflake beauty and Christmas lights and shining eyes of kids playing with toys every day. It’s harder to see him when I am surrounded by this hurting, hard world. But I know that when I actually remember to look for him, I will see him and then all will be transformed into the beauty of Christmas. God with us, every day.

Grace All Around

Expectations. I am full of them. I have expectations about how my children behave, expectations regarding the cleanliness level of my home (although some of my friends probably don’t believe that one), and everyday, I have expectations about how my day will go. And, really, some expectations are good and necessary – they help us make sense of and navigate this crazy world.

Around Christmas, though, my expectations can sometimes go into overdrive. I have a picture in my head about how I want things to go – how we need to be a cozy little family every night reading a Christmas book or watching a Christmas movie, or even having a harmonious family game night where people don’t end up getting frustrated that they lost. In my picture, there is no fighting, there is no complaining, there are no bad days AT ALL between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The littles all listen intently to every one of our Advent readings and are totally immersed in the reason for the season and not the prospect of gifts, and I am gentle and calm everyday.

Doesn’t that all sound amazing?  What better way to celebrate Jesus’ birth, his coming to be the sacrifice for our sins, than to be perfect?

I forget that just like Jesus came into an imperfect, struggling, dying, frustrated world – with stinky farm animals, nonetheless – Christmas comes into my messy, broken, thirsty soul. Into my house where people get angry, siblings fight, and we aren’t always kind. Into a place where our plans don’t always work. Into my assumption strangled Christmas season. The season where, when the world doesn’t meet my expectation, I get frustrated and lose all the joy that I am supposed to be celebrating.

Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. What is more amazing than that? But put up against my failed expectations, I lose sight of the beauty, the miracle.

Somehow, this year, so far, has been different. The past few months, I have prayed that the Holy Spirit open my eyes to seeing God in my life, every day. It wasn’t specifically related to Christmas, just for life in general, and I didn’t realize how drastically that little prayer would change my Christmas season. Instead of planning out how my day will go, how my Christmas will look, I am looking for God. I have my eyes open to see Jesus, God with us – to see the real gift of Christmas.

Instead of finding the joy of the season in remaining calm, patient, and loving for a complete 24 hours, I see it in my littles impromptu living room dance number to Harry Connick Jr.’s “Frosty the Snowman.” Instead of making sure we attend every Christmas event that occurs, I delight in the glowing, colored Christmas tree lights (because that’s what the littles like – I am white light person, myself) reflected in the glass cabinet doors in my living room. I am filled with joy by something as simple as seeing my old man dog, my first baby, running in the frosty morning hay field with his neighbor dog like he is a little puppy again. It’s taking Little Red to buy presents for her brothers, and drinking in her contagious, bubbly anticipation of the giving.

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All of this, all of these little God signs throughout my days, throughout my Christmas season, really, they are just a picture of grace all around. Grace that came down to earth as a little baby. Grace that bled on a cross for my sins. Grace that comes into my messy, into the world’s messy, and loves anyway. Grace that draws us in, closer to our family, closer to the baby in the manger, closer to God with us.

 

 

Life

It’s dark now. We are waiting. There is no light, no life. But, just wait, it’s coming! Life, where there should be death. Life, in a manger, brand new. And that brand new life will come, and bring the light, will come and give all so that we can experience forever life.

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Participation

She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. Matthew 1:21

“Blessed is everyone through whom God reaches into the world to love others, for we are partners in the Gospel from this day until the day of Jesus, when God shall bring our good work to completion.” Preparing for Jesus, Walter Wangerin

While we are waiting, remembering God’s ultimate outstretched hand into this world through a tiny baby, we can also be partners in his greater plan. What began in a stable, we are continuing through the love we show to our family, our friends, and even strangers on the sidewalk or in the store. In this time of waiting, this advent, our acts of love can point people to those outstretched hands.

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Faithfulness

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people
and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we should be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us;
to show the mercy promised to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1:68-79

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Poor Zechariah. He was old. He had long since given up praying for a baby. He was face to face with an angel. And in the midst of all that, he questioned – asked if it could be true, if God could give him a child. And for his questions, his lack of trust, he lost the ability to share the amazing miracle with anyone and everyone he could get to listen. His tongue was bound – there was no sharing the good news.

But then, when that baby was born, and when his tongue was loosed again, his first words were to praise the Lord for his faithfulness. And that, that faithfulness is what we rely on now, even as we wait. It has been prophesied – there is a rescuer coming “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death and to guide our feet in the way of peace.” All we have to do is wait and trust – trust in the faithfulness of God to fulfill his promises.

Path

“And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” John 1:17

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Before there was Jesus, there was John. John, whose job it was to prepare the way for Jesus, for the meeting of heaven and earth. John was a prayer answered, a miracle, an unlikely baby, who pointed the way to an even greater prayer answered, and even greater miracle, an even more unlikely baby. One that would rescue the world. And the world needed to be ready.