Advent’s Peace

It was the big bang. No theory here when it feels as if the very cosmos is bumping and smashing and whirling into itself. From Middle America to Australia to our very Center for care. Everywhere something hurling at us threatening to knock us down or at least suck the very air out of our lungs.

“What’s the theme this Sunday?” Peace, I say. Peace.

The air is thick with the irony of this. He half smiles and says, “That’s perfect. That’s perfect for our Advent theme: All this Glory.”

His voice held the slightest trace of sarcasm but more of him said this in convinced truth.

In the middle of our mess there is majesty

It has been a trying week and it’s like God, isn’t it, to prepare us for what’s to come. To allow us turmoil before a message of Peace? As if he’s asking us, really? Do you really know my peace?

We have struggled to feel this peace, the one that brings calm to our soul and spirit. But his words are true and He is Peace in the midst of this mess. He is the reason we say, All This Glory.

We made a tree of pictures this year. Past years we’ve taken photo’s of the men and hung them on the tree but we had a different idea. The kind that I throw out to Randal and he makes it better, makes it work.

xmas tree of photos

He painted the outline of a Christmas tree on the glass wall separating the main activity room from the dining room. A place where everyone would see. We took photo’s of the men and staff. Just casually walking around one day snapping them on my phone. We missed a few I’m sure and some staff declined. Then we filled in the tree with their faces.

men pg 13

page 10

Perry JOY

 

I took a picture of our tree of pictures and posted it to Facebook. A few of the men commented but it was Carlos who wrote, “All we got there are miracles and dreams come true.” Carlos knows because he’s one of those miracles. Over three years clean and sober, an encouragement to many.

Others joined in agreeing this is the Miracle Tree and so it is.

men's pics page 2

Because chaos and noise and friction and anger and fear can try to stop peace, they can try to prevent miracles, but the Rescuer has come. In the middle of a messy stable or messy heart, there are miracles and where there are miracles, there is Peace.

The Prince of Peace. Immanuel, God with us. Because, of course, He is.

Check out some of our activities during Advent season on our YouTube channel.


Five-Minute Friday {adore}

 

It is not an often used word. It doesn’t fit into my daily conversations but finds its best fit nestled between “us” and “him”.

O Come All Ye Faithful

O Come Let Us Adore Him

I have found an expression, a look, a child, our granddaughter, our babies, I’ve found them adorable at times. Is that akin to adore? Or just an external appearance or act that brings a smile and warms some spot within?

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Christmas decorations

I think of the first visitors, ones who were guided by angels or followed a star, those travelers who went to the place where the Christ Child lay. I picture them bowing or in some fashion lowering themselves to the baby because this is how we receive a child. We bend over and reach down, we kneel beside their bed, lean over their crib, we posture ourselves to enter their presence.

And this is how he meets us. He bends down to reach me in my mess and brokeness. He stoops low into dark places to reach our hearts, to lean into our lives.

At times, at the end of this great carol that calls for our adoration, we sing the other words, the ones telling us why we give him our love, our worship:

For He alone is worthy….Christ the Lord.

Linking up with Kate Motaung and a cheery group of bloggers for the last Five-Minute Friday of the year! Join in with our Merry group.


Throwback Thursday {the Christmas Pageant}

I don’t know when or who decided that the best thing to do when we’re already busier than ever, is have a Christmas pageant, but they did.

Ours were too small to call a pageant. We just called them musicals. We’d round-up all the kids, teach them songs over endless rehearsals, then costume them all and, voilà! we have a Merry Christmas to all and to All a Good Night (now go home!).

It amazes me we were able to get some of these kids, especially teenagers, to take part in these plays but that’s the importance of community. The church gave us belonging.

Our two with friend Rachel (on right)

Our two with friend Rachel (on right)

1983

1983

There was the time I got roped into directing and the other, more surprising time, I got duped?, guilted? tricked?(I contend to being tricked!) into performing in it. The things we do for friends.

Mostly it was about our kids and our kids learning the Christmas story. The story of the baby whose birth gave and gives us reason to celebrate.

The school pageant when our daughter was in 4th grade and cast as Mary and the background track completely stopped in the middle of her solo. You could hear the collective breaths of all the parents catch in horror and slowly exhale as Heather kept on singing as though nothing was amiss. This kid has always been composed.

school program GBCS

Our son’s first grade duet with a girl in his class. The pastor’s daughter. The one he’d find a little mischief with from time to time. Isn’t that always the one ;) He sang a line and she sang a line and then their voices combined for the duet, the surprise being his voice going to the high part and hers to the low. Too cute. So precious.

I wish I had more photo’s of those grand events. Grand in our memories and stories retold.

It seems we’re always searching for a new way to share this simple story. The story of a baby being born, but not just any baby. The baby who would be called Prince of Peace. God with us. Because he is.

“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.” Isaiah 9, the Message


Our Right Jolly-old Selves

The countdown is on and pace is stepped up. The weekend was a whirl of busyness and it’s Monday already.

I’d like to say, “Stop. Just for a moment. Deep breath in, hold for 7, out for 8. Be still.” 

But I know better because I know me and I’d think, “Are you crazy?

So go ahead and get your rush on. Start your day feeling behind and plunge headfirst into a week that will spin faster and faster because, ’tis the season.

to you from me

JOY wreath

Before you do, bookmark this page because I’m going to share some jolly with you. Yes, jolly. The word only used at Christmas and most often when reading The Night Before Christmas.

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employee xmas luncheon

Randall and Jenny

Tree topper made by Randall

Tree topper made by Randall

 

Here in our palm tree decorated part of the world, in our community of men trying to sort out life and understand what this season is really about, in the midst of life, we’ve been jolly. And we want to share some of it with you. Most of it in pictures.

Our nostalgia tree complete with working train

Our nostalgia tree complete with working train

Randall completed our program over 5 years ago. He works for us with the title of “Special Projects” which, in large part, means he’s my right hand man. He is responsible for all the decorations. A florist by training, he puts great care into all he does. He adds a lot of jolly along the way.

"My sweater's uglier." No, my sweater is uglier!

“My sweater’s uglier.” No, my sweater is uglier!

employee xmas luncheon

 

This year’s ugly sweater party looked a little like an explosion in the Christmas department at Michael’s. Then there was the After Party when I took leave of my senses or succumbed to peer pressure or just wanted to show I can be fun (when I choose and on my terms ;)) All I know is our store supervisor walked in with a box of new shoes that had been donated, shoved them in front of me and said, “Here, try them on” and a chorus of voices sang out in unison “Put them on, put them on!” So, yeah, I did that.

red platforms

Trying to keep my balance

Trying to keep my balance

Sitting seems safer.

Sitting seems safer.

And then Sunday, when we celebrated JOY in our Advent service and it filled the room and our hearts and we knew this Christ Child came to show us joy is what stays when happy is fickle, playing hide and seek with our emotions.

I want you to know joy can be found. Sometimes it’s jolly and silly and sings horribly off-key while touching the hearts of old people bed ridden in a nursing home. Sometimes joy is found among the animals in a smelly stable. And sometimes it’s found in a rehabilitation program at The Salvation Army.

Joy.

Jolly ol’ joy for all who believe.

For a look at some of our celebration, check out our YouTube videos. I promise, it’s all joy.


Five-Minute Friday {prepare}

It’s today. Our employee Christmas luncheon. The halls have been decked and our version of figgy pudding, whatever that is, will be delivered soon.

Ugly sweaters, Santa hats and festive frocks will be donned. All in preparation for celebration. In the middle of our day we will step aside from the work for something more. More than our usual brown bag sandwich or Tupperware leftovers. More than what the kitchen is serving.

Employee luncheon

Participating in the employee Christmas party ugly Christmas sweater

Employee luncheon

 

Some will take off their aprons and check the mirror one more time before walking into the room. The room that has been rearranged to prepare for more.

retro tree edit

train tree

More laughter. More decorations. More food. More friends, together. More is the American way.

Somewhere in all of this we will slow for a moment and we will pray. Pray for the only One who can fill our need for more. Pray for His more to be our less. Less fear, less worry, less hate, less me.

The carol sings “let every heart prepare Him room” but I know he takes hearts just as they are. No need to clean things up for this King. He does all the work in one simple word: grace.

Linking up with Kate Motaung for a weekly blog party on the word prompt Kate provides. Check in at Kate’s for other posts.


Repeat the Sounding Joy

It was as if someone pressed the repeat button. “fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la…..”, “We wishhhhh you a Merry Christmas, we wishhhh you…” over and over they sang, warbled, mouthed the words to those holiday favorites . They held words to four more songs in their hands but these were their comfort spots (words, not the tunes).

caroling

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The men didn’t go because they are singers. They aren’t and Miss Shirley will tell you.

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Ms Shirley

She was in her wheelchair at the end of the hall. The men had been caroling in rooms and she sat at the other end watching. John saw her and went to talk with her. “Would you like them to sing for you?”, he asked. “No. I’ve heard them. They’re not good.” We couldn’t help but smile, laugh a little. At 85 you get away with bold truth and it was true.

Still, they gathered around her and we exchanged spoken words rather than sung (to be respectful of Ms. Shirley, of course.) “What’s been your best Christmas?” we asked. “Oh, I’ve had so many I couldn’t say just one. Many good ones, some bad ones but the good outweigh the others. I’ve had a good year.”

She didn’t know her audience was men who have had a bad year or ten. She didn’t know the power her words held in their lives.

“Your smile is a gift to us, Miss Shirley”, we said. “You can’t go around like a sour puss!” she said and the men roared in laughter, heads nodding affirmation. They live in a dormitory jockeying for space in line to the showers, to meals, mandatory meetings and curfews. Sour puss faces? They know them. Smiles? Always a gift of joy.

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Chris C caroling

“Spanish….he only speaks Spanish” the activity director told us. Ramon, Wilburt, Chris…front and center. “Feliz Navidad…..” they sang and all joined in on the English words, hands waving in the air a smile coming across the face of the man. He made his way up from his bed, grasping the hands of the men surrounding him. Does he know the joy he’s given? The broken hearts he’s mending?

There is so much more but just one more, one more story of a night spent hanging out with a bunch of guys living at the Salvation Army looking for a new kind of celebration this year.

Ramon caroling

caroling group framed

We were led into her room, her small self layered with blankets while quietly she began to sing. The tune familiar but words were Spanish, was it the national anthem? Ramon leaned down to listen closer and then he sang to her, again words we didn’t understand until the end when he said, “I love you, I love you…” and we all stood quiet watching this exchange between strangers whose hearts had connected brought together by this love God shares with us. Another smile, another gift we take away with our treasures of this night.

We bow our hearts to this Christ Child, thanking him for this joy, for filling us to the point it overflows and spills on to others and we ask, we plead, Lord, keep us filled with your joy. Let every smile be a gift of your love that settles in our soul. And let us return to others gifts of forgiveness and grace as you generously give to us. Let our lives repeat the sounding joy of Emmanuel, God with us. 


Ring-a-ling

She looked like the perfect Santa’s helper; sweet smile and a blush of color on her cheeks. The bell at her side a polite tinkling complimenting the cheer on her face.

I’d forgotten I was wearing a staff shirt that day but she spied the shield on my shirt as I approached. “Do you do this to?”, she brightly asked? “No, no, I’m in the office,” the easiest answer I could give her without going through the explanations of being a separate branch of the same group.

The Salvation Army red kettles are out, manned by volunteers or paid seasonal workers. I suspect this cheery person was earning a little extra in her retirement years. It comes as a surprise to some that the Salvation Army uses paid workers but volunteers are hard to come by at 8 – 10 hours a day, six days a week. Civic groups and clubs who provide volunteer hours are important to this seasonal campaign but most places couldn’t do it without some paid workers.

kettle

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The history of the red kettle dates to 1891 in San Francisco. The local Salvation Army officer was burdened by the thought of the poor not having Christmas dinner. He found this unacceptable and set out red kettles on street corners to collect money to be used to feed those in need. Over one hundred years later, these red kettles continue to provide a source for collecting money to help provide more than Christmas in many communities.

All monies collected stay in the local community. They provide food and toys for families as well as other assistance into the year where funds are available.

Over the years The Salvation Army has seen businesses reluctant to allow the red kettles to be placed on their property. Target stores have prohibited the red kettles for several years and some Wal-Mart locations greatly limit the number of days the kettles are allowed.

With locations being harder to secure, the Army has turned to more modern methods with its Online Red Kettle. Here, anyone can ring a virtual bell and raise money from online contributions to support the Army’s efforts.

kettle_chart

Growing up in the Salvation Army church I felt like ringing bells was a rite of passage. I was 13 when I received instructions on bell ringing etiquette: smile, say Merry Christmas and God Bless You. Never let someone give you money, ask them to put it in the kettle.  There were no chairs and breaks were taken every two hours. No instructions were given on what to do if a someone from your Jr. High school saw you ringing bells. Especially if you were in uniform. You were on your own. ;)

my grandmother (left) as a lay member of the Salvation Army

my grandmother (left) as a lay member of the Salvation Army (Ft. Smith, AR)

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My brother-in-law volunteers for 12 days

 

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One of our men volunteering

 

The money raised in the kettles aren’t part of financial support for the ARC. That’s done through the resale of goods in our stores. But our men have stepped up to volunteer knowing that giving back is important to their recovery and their testimony of faith.

I’ve heard the complaints while standing at the kettle but, mostly, I’ve heard stories of how families were helped, how the first doll a little girl received was from the Salvation Army’s Christmas program.

I’ve seen the delight on faces of givers and receivers and in the end, we are both.

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play
And mild and sweet their songs repeat
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men

And the bells are ringing
(Peace on earth)
Like a choir they’re singing
(Peace on earth) “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”, Casting Crowns


Advent Week 2: When Love Comes to Town

nativity when love comes to town

We talk about childbirth, the hours in labor, the pain that is soon forgotten for most. We share our stories of being 3 weeks overdue or a month early. Of how unprepared we were and the wonders an automatic baby swing can do to induce sleep.

We are filled with questions the books don’t seem to answer and can we trust the advice of an earlier generation?

What we do know, is that in the midst of sleep deprivation, smells you thought impossible from someone so little and cute, and the 5th time you’ve wiped spit up off your shirt in one day, in the midst of all this chaos and mess, love has come.

You are smitten beyond words. There aren’t enough synonyms to describe the deep feelings you have when you look at the, sleeping, face. The eyelashes that are as delicate as snowflakes. The skin softer than any silk you’ve run your hands across and those fingers….especially the crooked pinky fingers like your dad had. Those. The visible sign she’s mine. Ours. Love has come and won’t let go.

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neighborhood

Neighbors have wrapped palm trees in lights. Inflatable Santa’s and Snowmen list in the wind. A few have nativity figures on their lawns. A display is advancing down our street. Signs of a season begging for signs of love.

It’s been a tough week in our country. Violence, protests, sadness and grief and questions of why. Love seems silent.

At times, the silence is closer. Grief and loss, unanswered questions that strike deep in our lives. Cancer, addiction, divorce, Alzheimer’s, death, financial devastation, job loss. Our hurts scream louder than love. We want a Jesus, a Savior who will save. “Save us from our hurt and pain and disappointment!”, we cry.

We want that magical love that grips our hearts like the way our baby took hold and never let go. The love that could kiss away the tears and scrapes and make it all better. That’s what we want from this babe, this Christ child on that silent and holy night.

“Jesus didn’t come to fix it all. He came to be with us in it all.”Jamie Wright

Love is here. Quiet, in hushed tones, begging our cries to soften so we can hear love’s presence. Immanuel. God with us. 

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We will celebrate this with our men today. Another candle will be lit and words read. John will make his offering as he rat-a-tat-tats  on Little Drummer Boy.

This is our worship, our ushering in Love not just in the decorations but in our lives. Right into the chaos and pain we will pause to still ourselves and welcome Love, Immanuel, God with us.

 


Five-Minute Friday {dear}

Funny how a word that is used to describe a special affection is also used as a polite introduction to complete strangers.

Dear Sir/Madam

I think of the letters I’d eagerly open, the ones in granny’s familiar scrawl, the ones where the word Dear held that meaning of affection. From her to me and sometimes she even wrote dearest. She was my pen pal connecting our hearts from states divide.

Social media connects the divide with family and friends flung farther than states to countries round the world. We don’t use salutations when addressing one another but at times perhaps we should.

This prompt brought my mind first to granny’s letters and then to season we’re in. The time of year when my motivation for dragging the boxes, and boxes!, of decorations out is the meaning held in so many of these figures.

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Christmas decorations

Me looking a bit scared of this jolly old man 1959

Me looking a bit scared of this jolly old man 1959

The tree looks random in its shiny orbs next to glittery words and crochet snowflakes.

Shelves are lined with memories: a hand carved Santa by a friend, a messy haired angel proclaiming Rejoice!, childhood pictures with Santa.

These hold full the meaning of dear. They are precious. In their worn, aged-yellow state they become more meaningful with each year.

Christmas decorations

 

Christmas decorations

Maybe it’s a picture of us. Ragged, worn, a bit messy at times. Simple, a few sparkles have fallen and we’re in need of glue in places. Yet we remain precious and dear to this babe who we celebrate in our, sometimes, busy ways. We pause to light a candle and rush out the door to do more.

I bring my raggedness to Him again. My tattered pieces and worn heart at his straw filled manger. My little for his all-knowing it’s enough.

Linking up for Five-Minute Friday hosted by Kate Motaung so a free writing frenzy. Join the party.


When hope is hard

You think it’s just the way you are, the way you don’t have big dreams and hide behind calling yourself a realist. It’s been years since things fell apart and you tell yourself, year after year you keep telling yourself it shouldn’t matter now. When are you going to get over it? When are you going to quit hiding behind that excuse?

What feels worse is it feels silly. Silly to carry scars and shame from the action of others. Silly that 40 years later their divorce still fractures your world.

You hate to admit it but it makes hope hard.

So you carry on and it doesn’t get mentioned much these many years later but it’s always there. Always there how the family was ripped apart from one end of the country to another and ripped apart in ways teenagers can’t understand, even 40 years later.

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We lit the hope candle this week. The first week of Advent is about hope, the hope that appeared in a baby whose birth ripped apart expectations and split open the darkness with His light. Of hope.

Ann Voskamp writes: “No matter how we’re hurting — it’s only when we lose hope that the real horror happens.”

It’s hard to cling to something that seems too good to be true. It’s hard to cling to things unseen when you’ve been crushed by what was in front of you. It feels safer to curl up in the cocoon of cynicism that has protected you so long. Even when you failed to see the cocoon was a thin veneer made of fear.

xmas tree hope

Hope. Real Hope in the person of Jesus. Hope who came from his safety to a world that would crush his body but never His spirit. Hope that is real because His love is real and He is love.

Save me, Lord, from my fears to know your hopes for me are greater than I can imagine. Save me from the past that is my shadow and split the darkness with the light of Hope. In You.

“Look at my Servant.
See my Chosen One.
He is my Beloved, in whom my soul delights.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
And he will judge the nations.

He does not fight nor shout;
He does not raise his voice!

He does not crush the weak,
Or quench the smallest hope;
He will end all conflict with his final victory,

And his name shall be the hope
Of all the world.” Matthew 12:18-21 Living Bible


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