Thursday, November 20, 2014

Christmas is Coming

Do you, like me, have special red socks that are reserved for December?

Or a pretty Christmas sweater that gets taken out only one wintery month?

Do you, like me, have a special recipe box filled with the family Christmas favorites?

Do you, like me, have special books that are saved for Christmas reading and re-reading?

Even this blog takes on a Christmas theme during Advent. Sneak peak … this year I’m sharing some thoughts from three very familiar lines in the gospel accounts. I hope you’ll stop by each week.

I LOVE Christmas!

Our row of Christmas books grows each year. This year I’ve added two (so far). 

Touching Wonder, (I love the title) is a journey through the Christmas story mostly from Luke’s perspective. The author, John Blase, closes each short reflection with a prayer. In his words, “The heart of each prayer is personal, but I’ve found that what is most personal is most general”.  (Page 16) I concur.

I’ve been mulling over these words in his prayer after the story of Elizabeth. “Contentment that cancels out hope is merely a mask for resignation”. (Page 33)

Yup, I’ve jump-started Christmas this year.

This beauty is changing my quiet times next month. Not one who usually reads from a devotional book, this December will be different. Ann Voskamp’s Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, is truly an early Christmas present. The scripture readings from the old and new testaments, her provoking thoughts and questions, the wonderful art picturing each entry all draw me to a new place. (I’ve only scanned a few entries, but I know this is going to be a rich time of enjoying the presence of God.)

Jan Karon is one of my favorite novelists. She “writes to give readers an extended family and to applaud the extraordinary beauty of ordinary lives.” Her 2003 Christmas novel is one I enjoy reading over and over. The down-home wisdom spoken through her characters always leaves me with something to ponder. 

Like this conversation between Father Tim and his wife Cynthia as he is thinking back to his fear of retirement, “I never knew how to rest or take a break, or how to refuel. I think God is at last teaching me something about that.” (Page 100) Simple and profound. I stopped to think, what has helped me learn about re-fueling?

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! dates back to 1957. Although I don’t remember reading it as a child, I’ve read it many times to our sons and our GRANDS. I can’t wait for the GRANDS to arrive this Christmas and I’ll read it aloud once again. Dr. Seuss captures the treasure of the season with the Grinch’s conclusion about Christmas, “Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store. “Maybe Christmas … perhaps … means a little bit more!” And yes, it certainly does mean a little bit—no, a LOT more. It will start a good conversation.

What are your favorite Christmas reads (besides the Bible, of course)? What is it about them that have captured your heart?

An early Merry Christmas to you all!  Sue

"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Isaiah 9:6

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Holy in the Ordinary

The well-worn book, A Tree Full of Angels, resting on my nightstand invited me to turn back the cover once again and listen to its now familiar message.

It was the sub-title that first captured my attention, Seeing the Holy in the Ordinary. A few pages in and I was mesmerized.
Penned by a Catholic nun, some of the language—unfamiliar to my Protestant ears—resonated with my child-of-God heart, my identity free of denominational ties. It quickly earned a spot on my 2014 list of favorite reads. I often return to my underlines and again hear the whisper of God through faded ink.

The holy in the ordinary, our holy God shining through ordinary humans like me -- and you. How encouraging! What an honor!

Experiencing the holy (or perhaps believing I’m experiencing it) in my ordinary days hasn’t always been my story. For many years my ordinariness mocked my heart for holiness, the desire dangling just beyond my grasp. I kind-of knew something was there; others recognized it in me too, but my head couldn’t grasp what simmered in my heart. My hope dulled.

But the God of hope who fills us with all joy and peace in believing (Romans 15:13) took me by the hand and gently led me on a path that allowed truth to flow upward, from my heart to my head. My believer started believing. And the gospel of grace shone more brightly. I began to recognize God’s holy in my ordinaries. 

Some of my 2014 favorites
Funny -- it didn’t happen with my initial decision that fall evening during my college days—as necessary as that decision was. It wasn’t the years of professional ministry—although they continued to clarify my heart.

It was truly in the laying down of my striving and learning to listen and enjoy the friendship of God that created space for me to embrace the gospel and begin to experience the holy in my ordinary. 

As I pondered this post and sharing these words, it dawned … every book I’ve enjoyed this year was the story of holy in ordinary. Whether fiction or non-fiction, memoirs or biographies, novels or short stories, that holy thread in ordinary days was the theme stitching the book together. No wonder they resonated so strongly.

What about you -- how are you experiencing God in your life? How does the holy in your ordinary show up? What have been some of your favorite reads of 2014?

(To be continued next week with some of my favorite Christmas reads.)

“What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we’re called the children of God (holy)! That’s who we really are”. I John 3:1, The Message (parentheses mine).

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Scruffy Hospitality and Friendship

When I read Jack's blog last May, his words resonated with my heart. I asked his permission to share them with you. What does hospitality look like for you?

Why Scruffy Hospitality Creates Space for Friendship

Photo by Amit Gupta via; Creative Commons 2.0
After seven years of marriage, my wife and I have welcomed numerous friends into our home. Once we decide to host friends for an evening, we usually kick into get ready mode, a fast and furious sprint in the days and hours before our friends arrive. We divide and conquer the to-do list: select a menu, complete grocery shopping, mow the lawn, sweep the floors, run the vacuum, clean the playroom, wipe the bird crap off our lawn chairs (we have lots of trees), set the table, clean the playroom (again), and somehow, someway, pray all that happens before the doorbell rings.
Over the years, that to-do list has prepared us for hosting company, but it has also prevented us from welcoming friends in our home. Unwritten Southern rules of offering hospitality with excellence have affected how often we invite people in our home. ‘We should have the __________s over sometime.’ And then we delay or postpone the invitation. Why? Because the to-do list is always there, the gap between our day-to-day home and the presentable, acceptable-for-hospitality version of our home.
But over the past several months, Emily and I are learning to lay those conventions aside. Why? Because inviting friends into our lives when we are only ‘excellent’ isn’t friendship. Sure, there are still times we like to go all out, spruce up the house and cook a huge, Jamie Oliver style meal. It can be fun and it’s enjoyable to do things well. But that standard of excellence is rarely possible with two children under the age of 3. Friendship isn’t about always being ‘excellent’ with one another. Friendship is about preparing a space for authentic conversation. And sometimes authenticity happens when everything is a bit scruffy.

Learning Scruffy Hospitality in this Scruffy Little City

It’s interesting how wrestling with friendship and hospitality is taking place for us in Knoxville, this place which was called a ‘scruffy little city on the Tennessee River’ in the Wall Street Journal before the opening of the 1982 World’s Fair. Knoxville has always had a chip on its shoulder, being slighted by outsiders, but something interesting happened in the years after this article snubbed K-town. We owned it. The World’s Fair was a success. We inverted the insult and made it a welcoming motto. ‘Keep Knoxville Scruffy’ is a movement in our city that welcomes people into a fun, vibrant city scene without airs of pretension and exclusion.
I’ve begun to think about what it means to embrace scruffy hospitality in this scruffy little city and how that creates space for friendship. I preached on this subject earlier this month, a sermon you can read here. In that sermon, I described scruffy hospitality in this way:
Scruffy hospitality means you’re not waiting for everything in your house to be in order before you host and serve friends in your home. Scruffy hospitality means you hunger more for good conversation and serving a simple meal of what you have, not what you don’t have. Scruffy hospitality means you’re more interested in quality conversation than the impression your home or lawn makes. If we only share meals with friends when we’re excellent, we aren’t truly sharing life together.
Don’t allow a to-do list disqualify you from an evening with people you’re called to love in friendship. Scheduling is hard enough in our world. If it’s eating with kind, welcoming people in a less than perfect house versus eating alone, what do you think someone would choose? We tell our guests ‘come as you are,’ perhaps we should tell ourselves ‘host as you are.’
Hospitality is not a house inspection, it’s friendship. In an age of ever-increasing loneliness, in a time when Americans eat 40% of their meals by themselves, can I allow myself to value tidiness over community? Sadly, I’m sensing there’s pride lurking across the threshold of my welcoming mat.
So here’s the way of repentance for us. For me and my house,  we’re trying to eliminate complications, not add to them. We aren’t going to host people every night of the week (after all, I’m still an introvert), but I want more memories with friends new and old than I’ve had over the past 7 years.
So I begin to ask this question, a good question: what does it look like to welcome people into my humility rather than my standard of excellence? The playroom may not be tidy. Our kids, who are lovely and enjoyable, may become noisy and cranky around 7pm. Dinners may be sponsored entirely by Trader Joe’s frozen section rather than a handmade Jamie Oliver recipe. I might serve Crane Lake wine. Well, maybe not. Pepperwood Grove is still a low budget wine for a few bucks more and so much better.  But why would I withhold an invitation simply because I can’t make dinner from scratch?

Speaking of wine

In the corner of our dining room, we keep a basket of wine corks. On those corks is my Sharpie script recording the date, the guests, and any special event that bottle of wine represents. It’s kind of like an album of hospitality. Memories of first meals with friends with whom we have known now for 7 years. New corks from this year’s new memories. Memories of celebrating major life events. Memories of mourning sad losses.
I hope when I look at the cork basket in a few years, there won’t be so many long intervals between guests. I hope there will be more new friendships written there. I hope there will be more Pepperwood Grove corks.
One thing I can expect…I probably won’t remember how accurately I trimmed the grass on our driveway on any given night we host guests. But I will remember the people who put their feet under our table.

What about you?

So it’s Thursday when I published this post. Go ahead and invite someone for tomorrow night. Keep your to-do list short. Take ten minutes to pick up the house and throw something together for dinner, even if it’s from Trader Joe’s. You’re more ready than you think. And we’re all hungry for genuine conversation more than we realize.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Pink October

Pink pushes it way among vibrant golds, rusts, and red of our October landscape. Breast cancer survivor stories and fundraisers abound. It is good.

My young friend, Kara, continues to do battle with breast cancer; her stage 4 disease has found its way to her blood, her bones, her brain. She confronts the reality of her days numbered and lives in the beauty of this day.
courtesy of Jen Lints Photography

I love this dear woman.
I hurt for her.
I hurt with her family.

And with the many I pray big, bold prayers.

I do my bit. Scripture love flies through cyberspace. I stop at the grocery store, bring flowers and other small gifts, and sometimes prepare a meal. Like lots and lots and lots of her friends do.

Others have loved in their ways. Texting wisdom, speaking truth, ironing, babysitting and much much more.

As I’ve watched Kara’s hard story unfold, as I’ve watched how she lives it, and as I’ve watched the love of her community, three lessons emerge.

First about Kara. Kara lives authentically. She is not afraid to be human. She invites Jesus to speak into her reality. She knows his presence and allows his peace. 

She lives out-loud. Through her blog, Mundane Faithfulness, and her best-selling book, The HardestPeace she welcomes us to journey with her. As my friend Trisha said, “I love her book. I feel like she has invited me into her living room and we’re having a chat”. And indeed through her words, she has.

Her cancer story fuels her writing, but her writing is not all about cancer … and it is not all about Kara. It is about Jesus and how he meets her on her worst day, at the edges, and in the impossible. And in her writing she is sharing grace and is discipling her readers. My picture of Jesus is bigger because Kara doesn’t keep her story to herself. Thank you, my friend.

Secondly, my 30-something friend has lots of other 30-something friends. They love her up-close. The massage her feet, they drive her to treatments and stay with her. Literally they climb in bed with her and talk, and laugh, and listen to music, and scheme like mommas do. And sometimes they just listen to the soft breath of her sleeping form.

I’ve learned that sometimes it’s a good thing to be brave enough to crawl into bed with your friend who has cancer.

Lastly, it’s also okay to sit on the edge of her bed, to love from a bit of a distance. It’s okay to love in the way God created you to love. Indeed, it is good.

Kara loves all of us well who are following her story. And we get to love her well too in multitudes of ways, up close or from a distance—what a gift. 

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends”. John 15:13