Limping Into Advent (guest post)

Limping Into Advent (guest post)

(Today’s post comes by way of Alicia Davis-Porterfield, writing in the Ministry and Motherhood Blog. I gladly share this with her permission.)

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

It was dark, in those days. Very dark. Rome ruled Israel, the latest in a long line of conquerors. David’s line seemed all dried up after a succession of useless kings who led a great people to ruin. Caesar had ordered a new census with an eye toward his coffers.

The more people he could account for, the more taxes he could raise; the more taxes he could raise, the more people he could conquer. And so on and so on.

There was no one to challenge him in those days, no one who could shake the grip of the Roman Empire. Israel was a conquered people doing the will of a Caesar they neither chose nor revered nor trusted.

And so it was that Joseph put Mary on that donkey to take the long trip to his ancestral home of Bethlehem. They were not going for a great family reunion, tables laden with favorite foods and local delicacies. They were not headed home for a religious celebration with its own time honored traditions and deep roots in their faith.

They were doing the bidding of Caesar, whose command had come at just the wrong time for their lives, just when Mary’s pregnancy was coming to an end. When she should have been home in Nazareth surrounded by relatives and neighbors who could help her through the trial of labor, she was far from home, alone with only Joseph to attend her.

There was nothing about this story that seemed right, nothing that felt warm and homey and comforting. Mary got pregnant too early and under circumstances no one could believe. Joseph, confused and angry, was ready to quietly un-engage her, until an angel intervened.

And if that wasn’t enough, Caesar interrupted the whole thing with his call for a census, requiring a trip to Bethlehem, a place far from the home and family they knew. They would travel all that way, endangering themselves and the baby, so their conquerors could collect more tax money. This is not a happy story. Not yet.

If you are hurting or angry or confused this Advent season, you are in good company, at least according to the actual Biblical story. If you are lonely or grieving this Advent season, your story is their story, a people who had been conquered for centuries, wondering if God had forgotten them. If you can’t be full of good cheer and cringe at the thought of crowded malls and gift extravaganzas and to-do lists longer than your arm, you are not being a Scrooge or a Grinch.

In fact, you may know better than most the real struggle in this story we know almost too well. Perhaps those with troubled hearts might just have the ears to hear the depth of pain and longing the “holly jolly” approach has written right out of the story. This is the quiet story, not the one of hustle and bustle and ringing cash registers.

This is the story that makes room for pregnant teenagers and confused husbands and people who wonder what God is up to—or even sometimes, if God is up to anything, but who go anyway. This is the true story, according to scripture, the story that has almost been drowned out by demands for good cheer and forced festivities that actually have little to do with the nativity.

The birth of Christ was as far from a Hallmark Christmas special as it possibly could be. Don’t be snowed by the hype. If you are hurting in any way, if your heart is troubled, if you are limping instead of leaping, this is your story.

Advent is a time to prepare for the light coming into the darkness, which means that there is indeed darkness in the story. It does not have the last word, praise be to God. But the darkness is there, the struggle, the loss, the grief, the disappointment and anger–no matter how hard the marketers push to convince us otherwise.

If you are searching for that light, longing for it amidst the darkness, limping into Advent, you are not alone. The Bible tells us so.

 

Alicia Davis Porterfield serves, mothers, and writes in Wilmington, NC. After the recent death of her adored and adoring father, she is definitely limping into Advent.

 

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“They’re not handling things well”

“They’re not handling things well”

pic-lossA client or friend tells me they’re concerned about someone whom they love, a family member, significant other or friend. “They’re not handling things well,” they tell me. Sometimes that person about whom they are concerned is their very selves. Because words mean different things to different people,  I ask them to explain.

Usually it comes down to this. The person has had a significant loss. They are sad. They are grieving. They may even be a bit depressed. I point out that such reactions are perfectly normal given the situation.

We have a skewed idea of what handling things well means. We praise people saying, “She did so well. she never cried during the funeral.” Excuse me, but aren’t most funerals at least little sad? You miss the person and your going to be missing the person the rest of your life.

Having a feeling doesn’t mean you’re not handling things well. Now if you cannot get out of bed or your anger is peeling the wallpaper off the walls, then we need to talk. But simply being sad because you’ve had a loss comes with the territory.


 

Losses come in all shapes and sizes. Join me on my free webinar (late January/early February) as we talk about other kinds of losses and why they matter.

If Nobody Died Why Am I Grieving? More info and registration here 

Change a life. Change the world.

Change a life. Change the world.

Most days as a part of my journaling I make a list of five things I’m grateful for from the previous day. This morning one of the my items was the opportunity to change lives.

Lest you think I’m being too grandiose, let me explain. I’ve just returned from staffing a grief workshop in Maine. Having witnessed and participated in this work (both as a staff member and workshop attender) for many years, I know that it has a capacity to make a profound difference in people’s lives. I’ve sen the changes that healing can bring.

Here’s the thing. That kind of opportunity isn’t just limited to those of us who have the privilege of doing this work. It’s available to everyone.

  • Extending kindness to a clerk who’s been getting chewed out by irate customers.
  • Holding the door for a mom struggling with a stroller.
  • Writing a note or sending a card just to say I care.

You may not feel like such things are big enough or matter enough, but let me tell you a story.

A woman who was going through a very bad time decided to kill herself. For some reason she had to wait a few days and went to the grocery store in the interim. The cashier smiled at her and treated her with lovely kindness.

The woman decided that if she was worth being treated so nicely that maybe she was worth something after all. Maybe a little something. Just enough of a something to keep going, to keep living.

You have no idea of what people are carrying inside of them. You have no idea of what power it may be for someone to be seen and welcomed as a person, as just another beloved child of God with the right to occupy a place on this planet.

As we change lives in these small hidden ways we are also a part of changing the world.

That’s good news enough for a Monday.


For more good news, visit me at my Better Deeper Life blog.

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Mat on Cats

Mat on Cats
cats
Pre-mat version of my cat

She purrs on my lap as I focus on one section of fur. Finding a sliver of space to slip the comb in, I slowly work the teeth of the cat comb back out.

My best guess is that as my cat’s blood sugar got out of control with her developing diabetes, my cat didn’t feel vey good and her grooming suffered. However it happened, she developed large mats of fur along each hip.

So now we work each day working them out. My job is to keep combing until we hit pay dirt – a section of matted fur pulling loose and getting free. Her job is to allow me to do it.

We’re making headway, the two of us. In some ways it’s become a meditative time, an exercise in mindfulness as I focus on the fur before me. I think it may also be a pretty good metaphor for the healing process.

1. We don’t always know our lives are getting matted up until after it’s done.

One day we realize that everything’s in a tangle. We have to do something different.

2. It can be a slow process and you’re not always sure you’re making progress.

Some mornings I work, not really sure if we’re making headway or not. The mat looks the same. Or, it’s become more disorganized with raggedy patches of fur now sticking straight out but still matted up. All I can do is keep working patiently, trusting that even the little bits of fur that are coming out are a step in the right direction.

Likewise, as I work on my life or help someone else work on theirs, there are stretches in which it feels like nothing is happening. We’re focusing on making different choices but everything feels the same. We’ve been working on our insides but our outsides look unchanged. All we can do is keep trusting the process, trusting that all of these small steps are yet leading us to better places.

3. When we least expect it, a big chunk breaks free all at once.

As I work on my cat, something starts loosening up. I pull gently with the comb, and suddenly a large chunk of fur breaks free. One more piece down.

Most of our journeys are travelled by one small step following another. But when we least expect it, a lightbulb moment breaks upon us. We find the one puzzle piece that fits everything together. In a moment of clarity, we realize that everything our therapist has been telling us is ACTUALLY TRUE – and we see that relationship, that job, or even ourselves in a whole different light. Something shifts inside and we know the ground has shifted beneath our feet, in all of the best ways.

So, as you consider the work of healing and change in your life, remember my cat and be patient with your own mats.



One of the ways lives get tangled up is with grief. Sometimes part of the tangle is not realizing that what we’re feeling is grief – or that we have a right to grieve. If that’s you (or someone you love), check out the recording of my webinar, Is My Grief Weird? Find it here.

For other webinars, visit www.BetterDeeperLife.com.

I went running

I had a bit of a break today at lunchtime so I grabbed the dogs and went running. Tuesday’s not a normal running day since I work out at the gym on Tuesdays. But today I needed to run.

Like you, I have been heartsick over the tragedy in Boston. I have all of the feelings that come hand in hand with tragedy like this. But with this one, there’s another layer.

While I know people who’ve run Boston, more than likely I never will. I’m still looking for that elusive first marathon to to hang on my wall. But I’m a runner all the same.

A marathoner on NPR said it well today. “Marathons are about the best of the human spirit. Total strangers cheer you on and give you orange slices and tell you they’re proud of you.” I love to do races because of that spirit and energy. When people tell me, at the end of a training program, “I don’t need to do the race because I’ve already run the distance” I tell them that they’re missing the best part.

Like you, I’m heartsick over this new Boston Massacre. I didn’t quite know what to do with it all so I went running. I ran to honor all of those who were there yesterday. I ran because when we feel a little lost we go back to those places that feel most like home.

I think that’s why Peter announced he was going fishing after the resurrection. Sure, Jesus was alive but it was probably still very confusing, even if less sad. Besides, Peter knew he’d let Jesus down when it mattered most, and that air had not been cleared between them. So he went fishing.

And  I went running. I packed the dogs into the car and took them to one of the places they love best, the trail around Salem Lake. We ran between the perfect combination of water on one side and woods on the other. Deep still waters. Tall, deeply rooted trees with the first vulnerable leaves of spring. Clouds drifting away, leaving behind a warm blue sky.

The dogs grinned and sniffed and grinned some more. They’ll sleep better tonight for having exercised their full dogginess. Perhaps I will too. For there was healing in the running and healing in the creation and healing in hearing all of the stories on the radio, today not stories of mayhem and confusion but stories of compassion and caring.

ImageThe marathon is about the best of the human spirit, she said, and it was so yesterday as well. Restaurants offered whatever they had, free of charge if you didn’t have your wallet on you. A “pet hotel” offered to keep the pets of stranded people. People opened their homes to complete strangers. A man somewhere in the south called his tax preparer and said he wanted to donate $100 of his return to injured marathoners. 

As more stories emerge, our hearts will break again and again. If we are wise, we’ll care for our hearts by doing whatever it is that we do… running, fishing, caring for one another, allowing our broken hearts to open to the world.

We weren’t able to stop the bombs from going off.

But that bomber cannot stop our tide of love.

 

Response from Colorado: Love Back

Someone just sent me these words from Colorado state senator Mike Johnston, and I wanted to share them with you:

Love Back

Yesterday, four million Coloradans went to work and played football in their front yard; strangers opened doors for each other; people gave blood, offered shelter, served hot meals, held grandkids, played pick-up basketball and committed unnumbered acts of kindness and gentleness. One Coloradan dressed up like a villain and believed that by showing up at the site of America’s mythical hero he could slay our actual heroes.

It’s true there was no Batman sitting in the theater to fly down and tackle James Holmes, as he hoped there might be. He had tactical assault gear covering his whole body, ready for America to fight back.

But love is more organized than that. Love has cellphones and ambulances, nurses and doctors, complete strangers and policemen and emergency responders always at the ready. Love has nurses who will jump out of bed in the middle of the night and get family members to watch their children so they can rush to the hospital and save the life of someone they’ve never met. Love has first responders who will walk into a booby-trapped building to save the lives of neighbors they will never meet.

It must be lonely being James Holmes, spending the first part of your life planning alone for an act that will leave you sitting alone for the rest of your life. For the rest of us, life is crowded. Love is always only three numbers and one movie seat away.

We have lived our country’s history as a chapter of wars, and many of those wars we have been blessed to win. We are a team that loves each other and will fight for each other, and if you punch us in the mouth, we will fight back.

That is one of our obvious strengths, but it is not our greatest strength. America’s awesome strength to fight is overwhelmed by its irrepressible strength to love. James Holmes took twelve lives last night. Love saved fifty-nine lives. Policemen on the scene in minutes, strangers carrying strangers, nurses and doctors activated all over the city.

But we didn’t stop there. Love saved the 700 other people who walked out of the Aurora movie theater unhurt.

But we didn’t stop there. Love saved the 5,000 who went to see Batman all over Colorado, and the 1.2 million who saw it all over the country, who walked in and out safely with their friends, arm in arm.

But we didn’t stop there. Love claimed the four million other Coloradans who went to bed peacefully last night, ad who woke up this morning committed to loving each other a little deeper.

The awe of last night is not that a man full of hate can take twelve people’s lives; it is that a nation full of love can save 300 million lives every day.

I sat this morning wondering what I could do to help: give blood, support victims, raise money, stop violence. How could we start to fight back?

My friends were texting me that they had plans to take their kids to Batman tonight but were now afraid to go. Others who were going to play pick-up basketball or go out to dinner were now afraid to leave home. They thought they would bunker down in their home and wonder, “How do we fight back?”

The answer is we love back. We live back. We deepen our commitments to all the unnumbered acts of kindness that make America an unrendable fabric. We respond by showing that we will play harder, and longer. We will serve more meals, play more games, eat more food, listen to more jazz, go to more movies, give more hugs, and say more “thank yous” and “I love yous” than ever before.

So while James Holmes settles into the cell where he will spend the rest of his life, wondering what we will do to fight back, we will love back. We will go to a park this afternoon and play soccer, we will go to the playground and restaurants and movie theaters of our city all weekend and all year.

He should know not only that he failed in his demented attempt to be the villain, but that Batman didn’t have to leap off the screen to stop him, because we had a far more organized and powerful force than any superhero could ever have. Even the twelve lives that he took, this nation will love so strongly and so deeply that we will ensure they get a lifetime full of love out of a life he tried to cut short.

And the fifty-nine lives we took back will be so overrun with love that they will live their lives feeling blessed every day, and everyone who ever meets them will pass on in an instant a love they never knew they earned but we will never let them forget.

In a movie theatre in aurora 50 years from now, one of last night’s survivors will be waiting in the popcorn line and mention that he was in Theatre 9 on that terrible summer night in 2012. And inexplicably, with an arm full of popcorn, a total stranger will reach out and give that old man a huge hug and say, “I’m so glad you made it.”