Resolved

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And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been.  Rainer Maria Rilke.

Resolved by Lucy White, age 2, for the year 2012 –

1.  “Pink”

2.  “Princess of everything”

Resolved by Jack White, age 5, for the year 2012 –

1.  To play football

2.  To hold my breath underwater

3.  To save $10 in the bank

4.  To buy a costume or a toy with my own money

5.  To read through the Jesus Storybook Bible with Mommy

Resolved by Heidi White, age 32, for the year 2012 –

1.  Read through the Bible, chronologically, with Dreamy Scott

2.  To stay under (a specific number) pounds through healthy eating and exercising 3x/week

3.  To complete 2 one-week fasts for the purpose of spiritual and physical cleansing

4.  To read Getting Things Done by David Allen and implement its productivity system

5.  To update family/friend photos throughout our home

6.  To read one non-fiction book per month for the purpose of personal and professional growth

7.  To blog 2x/week (3 is better)

8.  To complete one professional development project (book proposal/manuscript/curriculum)

9.  To clean the house (bathrooms, vacuum/dust, kitchen) once a week

10.  To call (three specific out of state relationships) once per month

Scott has an extensive list of goals that I will not share.  As always, they reflect his high standards of excellence in personal and professional life.

Our story takes my breath away….

Space

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A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. Ecc.2:24.

Yesterday my hilariously lovely friend Rebecca posted this on my Facebook wall – Girrrrl, you are QUIET!  Now, since I am NOT quiet as a character trait, I remain confident that Rebecca refers to my recent social networking silence.  I have thrown up a few well-deserved Facebook LIKES in the last week, but mostly we have dwelled in a special nook of home-space for the following reasons:

1.  Dreamy Scott was home for TWO WHOLE WEEKS.  Boom.  Family time.

2.  Christmas is an epic extravaganza in the White family – and I love every complicated, busy, overwhelming, expensive minute of it.  Immanuel-God-With-Us envelopes us with an opportunity to worship through togetherness and tradition, both light-hearted and deep.  I get lost in the work and the joy of it.

Making a candy cane shaped pizza on Christmas Eve

Pinata at Scott's company Christmas party

Presents? For ME?!?!

SOMEBODY was a sheep in the church musical. Baaaaaa.

Five Advent candles. Immanuel.

Wrapping baby Jesus in swaddling clothes (get it??)

Riding a pony on our Family Christmas Date

Christmas breakfast

Jesus' birthday cake

3.  After Christmas, Dreamy Scott and I hunkered down, cleaned up the mess, channeled our excess holiday adrenaline and went into what I can only describe as a pathological productivity vortex.  I mean, I think we both expected to relax for a minute, but GEEZ.  We painted our home office, cleaned out the basement and garage, redecorated the kids’ rooms, sorted through every possession we own, reorganized our storage and deep cleaned the house.  GTD.

4.  Steig Larsson.  I read all 1,431 pages of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy.  Yep, I can firmly confirm that the books are addicting, if (emphatically) not edifying.  Also, I read a biography of Catherine the Great.  Reading is, like, my favorite.  I do not often have time to read, so I drank in some hours on my Nook like a thirsty sponge – while the boys played Skylanders, which is a super sweet new Wii game that was part of our Christmas magic.

So, now that the last gasps of 2011 have died away, our little family emerges from a precious internal space to welcome the newborn year and its yet-untamed challenges refreshed, thankful, zestful – and a bit tired.

Game on, 2012.

Eve

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Tonight’s the night the world begins again.  Goo Goo Dolls.

Everything changed when Mary heaved and strained that night.  She birthed Messiah in a rush of blood and water, delivering SomeOne entirely new, entirely transforming, into the brokenness.  Bethlehem was swollen with census travelers, so nobody noticed the young woman swollen with Christ-child.  She brought Him to us in the shadows of a humble stable, frightened and young, torn by birth pains, all alone but for farm animals and an exhausted fellow traveler, Joseph, certainly inept in the feminine wisdom of childbirth.

But then He came, sliding onto straw, held for the first time in human hands, beheld for the first time by human eyes.

In excelcis Deo.

 And everything changed forever.

So take these words and sing out loud
’cause everyone is forgiven now
’cause tonight’s the night the world begins again….

Light dawns.

The wait is over.

The heaviness lifts.

Advent is fulfilled.

He is here.

Living Grace, Incarnate Messiah, God wrapped in flesh, King of Kings, Lord of Lords.

Hallelujah.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given. Is.9:6.

Covered

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Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.  Ps.32:1.

Snow covers Colorado.  It started to fall soft and delicate last evening, while we celebrated our pre-Christmas with Grandma and Grandpa.  Tiny snowflakes swirled their way through the gathering dusk.  We watched them dance from under Christmas tree warmth.  Then we slept deep as the flakes swelled thicker and stronger, mounding heavy white upon the surfaces of our city.

Snow washes fresh and clean.  Snow covers soft and still.

Snow is a covering.  It strips away the grunge of daily grime.  It falls soft, dusting a blanket of icy cleansing, transforming neighborhood into wonderland.

Covering and cleansing.  That is what our dark stains cry for.  That is how Incarnation reached down for us – by covering us, cleansing us, causing the redeemed to dazzle with the purity of driven snow.

The Covering and Cleansing of Incarnate Grace falls down to grimy earth through Advent. He falls upon us, soft and still, unobtrusive, yet transforming everything that has ever been or ever will be, all at once, for all time –

White Christmas.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Ps.51:7.

Emmanuel

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The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. John 1:14.

Frederick Buechner –

“Christmas is not just Scrooge waking up the next morning a changed man. It is not just the spirit of giving abroad in the land with a white beard and reindeer. It is not just the most famous birthday of them all and not just the annual reaffirmation of Peace on Earth that it is often reduced to so that people of many faiths or no faith can exchange Christmas cards without a qualm. 

On the contrary,

if you do not hear in the message of Christmas something that must strike some as blasphemy and others as sheer fantasy, the chances are you have not heard the message for what it is.

Emmanuel is the message in a nutshell.

Emmanuel, which is Hebrew for “God with us.” That’s where the problem lies.

The claim that Christianity makes for Christmas is that at a particular time and place “the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity” came to be with us himself. When Quirinius was governor of Syria, in a town called Bethlehem, a child was born who, beyond the power of anyone to account for, was the high and lofty One made low and helpless. The One whom none can look upon and live is delivered in a stable under the soft, indifferent gaze of cattle. The Father of all mercies puts himself at our mercy.

Year after year the ancient tale of what happened is told raw, preposterous, holy and year after year –

the world in some measure stops to listen.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. A dream as old as time. If it is true, it is the chief of all truths.

If it is not true, it is of all truths the one that people would most have be true if they could make it so. 

Maybe it is that longing to have it be true that is at the bottom even of the whole vast Christmas industry the tons of cards and presents and fancy food, the plastic figures kneeling on the floodlit lawns of poorly attended churches. The world speaks of holy things in the only language it knows, which is a worldly language.

Emmanuel. We all must decide for ourselves whether it is true.

Certainly the grounds on which to dismiss it are not hard to find.

  • Christmas is commercialism.
  • It is a pain in the neck.
  • It is sentimentality.
  • It is wishful thinking.
  • The shepherds. The star. The three wise men. Make believe.

Yet it is never as easy to get rid of as all this makes it sound. To dismiss Christmas is for most of us to dismiss part of ourselves. It is to dismiss one of the most fragile yet enduring visions of our own childhood and of the child that continues to exist in all of us. The sense of mystery and wonderment. The sense that on this one day each year two plus two adds up not to four but to a million.

What keeps the wild hope of Christmas alive year after year in a world notorious for dashing all hopes is the haunting dream that the child who was born that day may yet be born again even in us. 

Emmanuel. Emmanuel.”

Emmanuel.

God                    With                 Us

A neverending kiss of endless Incarnate Grace.

Hallelujah

Joy

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Many generations ago, simple shepherds watched over their sheep on a hillside on just another night.  Suddenly, the light of impending Joy dazzled their humble lives – and lit up all of history.

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” Luke 2:9-11.

Yesterday we returned from a snow trip to Vail. We are tired, but we hold a new collection of white-dusted memories.  Tonight we light the candle of Joy.  It is a pink candle.  In advent tradition, purple is a somber color, pregnant with heavy meaning.  But pink is exuberant, overflowing with life.

Joy to the world.  The Lord is come…

…Let earth receive her King…

…Let every heart prepare Him room…

…And heaven and nature sing…

…And heaven and nature sing…

…And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.

As tiny snowflakes dance over Vail, we abide under the jagged nearness of the Colorado Rockies.  We eat, sleep, play, rest, connect under its untamed shelter.  Nothing sings God’s glory like a wild mountain range coated with falling snow.  Nothing invites childish glee like an expanse of fresh powder.  Heaven and nature sing.  In the midst of Advent season, we roll away together for the simple purpose of enjoying the sweet wonder glowing in a snowy day.  Let every heart prepare Him room.  Snowball fight, flying intertubes, snow angels, hot cocoa, gondola, hot tub.  Joy to the world.

Immanuel-God-With-Us sought us in our heaviness and lifted us into freedom. The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. Mt.4:16.  He burst through His own grave to save us from ours.  It is a gift too great, too infinite, to bear on fragile shoulders.  Why, O why do we not crumble back to dust under the weight of it?  Always and only because the Gift is wrapped in Grace.  The proper response to Incarnation is infinite, overflowing, staggering, explosive, rollicking JOY JOY JOY JOY.

…Joy, unspeakable Joy, an overflowing well, no tongue can tell…

We are human, and therefore composed of dust and breath.  We cannot live on the high plane of Joy to which the gift of Incarnation forever beckons.  But we can, and ought, to revel in earthly Joys.  We should pursue them wholeheartedly in God’s name and to His glory.  (Snowball fight, flying intertubes, snow angels, hot cocoa, gondola, hot tub.)  Simple family laughter is a profound form of worship.

…Joy, unspeakable joy, rises in my soul, never lets me go…

What do you do to light the candle of advent Joy?

Martha

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But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. Luke 10:40.

We leave for Vail on a ski trip tomorrow.  Today we made these Christmas tree cakes…

…made and delivered several of these Christmas cocoa mixes…

…sorted, washed and folded a lot of these…

…fetched my dog’s vaccination records from the veterinary clinic, shopped at Walmart (a feat of desperate courage during the holidays), packed for three of the four members of our family, washed approximately seven thousand dishes, sat in on Jack’s Christmas program rehearsal.  I ruined a double batch of banana bread.  It was undercooked in the center when the timer beeped, so I put it back and and forgot to set the timer as I scooted out of sight, out of mind in order to discipline a wayward child.  When I finally remembered the neglected loaves, they were tough in the middle and black on the edges.  Bummer.  I just love that recipe. 

The hours of my day slip away in a whirlwind as I strain to check off the list.  I snap at Jack after dinner.

“Do NOT touch that suitcase.  Mommy worked super hard to get that ready; please keep it organized. ” 

“Mommy, you hurt my feelings.  You are kind of grumpy with me.”

Pause.  I want to escalate, to blame.  I force my mind to see the priorities we choose to live.  Relationship over productivity.

“You are right, Jack.  I am so sorry.  I feel grumpy because I have a lot to do right now, but that is not your fault.  I did not make a good choice with my words.  I should speak with kindness to you.  I’m so sorry.  Will you forgive me?”

Competence should not require forgiveness.  I lose my sight when I choose a mere series of tasks to guide my hours.

After the day fades into night, the house settles into the peace of sleeping children and finished projects.  When I look at my list, I rest in a successful day.  But when I look at my heart and the hearts of my children, I feel the loss of missed opportunity.

Lord, I almost completely slipped past who they are today.  My little ones were a distraction instead of a priority.  I spent my day annoyed at their child-longing for my value and attention.  I feel ashamed.  I am sorry.

As I sit here typing, tears well up as my eyes lock on the Jesse tree standing strong on the kitchen counter.  Every day of Advent, we read a Bible story. Together we weave the ancient truths throughout history, tying the threads of Old Testament foreshadows into the profound glory of Incarnation.  After the day’s story, we hang an ornament that represents the daily fragment of grace we just experienced.  Every day, we add another simple laminated square onto a growing representation of God’s unfolding redemption story.

The sight of the Jesse tree slays me.

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

It is not that the crossed out list does not matter.  But the list should always and only be a means to an end.  The means is productivity; the end is ever increasing faith and joy embedded into the culture of our family.

Advent is a season of waiting and preparing.  It can be a hard season, because waiting and preparing are hard for fragile souls.  Today I did not attune my heart to the echoing call of Incarnation – the why of this precious season.

Tomorrow is a new day.  I will spend most of it in the car on windy winter roads with a beloved friend and five (likely maniacal) children.  Two mommies, five preschoolers, one car, three hours.  You do the math. But…..

Only One Thing is necessary.

Yes.

Preparation

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Prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Is.40:3.

I work fast and furious at the end of a long clamor of day hours.  My shoulders clench at what is still undone.  I mix gingerbread pancake batter, stir coconut milk hot cocoa, google advent verses, clean a bathroom that is simply too gross for me to have in my home for one more moment, tidy what feels like swamps of clutter, handwash dishes because my dishwasher is kaput (again. first world problems.)  My phone and computer blink as my inbox and voicemail bloat, unaddressed.  Unwrapped presents sit in piles downstairs.  Lucy needs a new winter coat before we leave for Vail.  The dog has not had a walk in days, and I neglect my writing.

I place the advent wreath in the center, the heart, of the dinner table.  I trace my fingers over the tiny porcelain baby Jesus. “Remember to remember Incarnation,” He whispers to me,”I AM the source of this season of swirling preparation.”

Jack and Lucy bounce at the garage door in anticipation of Daddy’s arrival.

The garage door finally rumbles.  The joy of Daddy’s homecoming lives daily triumphant in our home, resulting in a rousing game of CHASE.  Dreamy Scott kisses me hello, smiles into my eyes, but I see the creeping fatigue, the reckoning of endless hours. I recognize my story, too, in those weary eyes. This decade should be called the Tired 30s,” I remember sweet friend Kristen saying one night.  Yes.  We all live so tired from the effort of building a life worth rejoicing in.  It is hard work creating a safe place, beating back this fallen world.

CHASE reigns for a loud era of the evening.  Finally, we sit around the table, preparation finished, dinner hot and inviting. We eat and laugh.  Our shoulders relax; the tangled knots of stress fall away in the warmth of happy voices.

We light the Candle of Hope with a flare of fire.  We review our prayers of Hope from last week.  Then I hold steady the Candle of Hope while Jack tips the waiting wick of the new candle, Preparation, into the flame.  The Candle of Preparation – ignited by Hope.  We sit in silence for just a moment as we gaze at the glimmers.

“Do you know what preparation means?  It means getting ready for something.  What are we getting ready for right now?  Yes, right, Christmas!  Advent is when we remember to wait for God.  He is already here, of course, but Advent reminds us of waiting for the very best gift in all of history – baby Jesus.  Tonight we celebrate preparation, getting ready for Jesus.  We remember that is is valuable to work hard for something that has not yet happened, but will certainly come.” 

The candles gleam a circle of golden light dancing on the faces of the Three I love.  My heart turns over in the candlelight. I remember why I spend my days in constant movement.  I do it for them.  I look at Scott, reach out to touch his fingers.  He does it for us.  We are so tired from the busy preparation for the sake of worthy goals.  

We need the warm blaze of hope to redeem cold preparation. The fallen core of this world will not repair until the end of days.  Until then, we spin in endless cycles of renewal and dying. We live tired because all that is worth fighting for costs the best of who we are.  

My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. 
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun. Ecc.2:10-11.

But Hope ignites Preparation.  I whirl, exhausted but happy, in ever-circling revolutions of entropy because I lift my eyes to the Hope of Incarnation. Immanuel-God-With-Us transforms our tired stories into a preparation for eternity, for everlasting worship, for celestial reward.  Christmas is a vortex of busy-ness, yes, and that will always be.  Beyond this season, simply living a faithful life on this side of eternity wears our souls ragged.  But living zealously is worth the effort, since our dead souls have been resurrected by Immanuel’s flame of hope.

A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? 

 To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness. Ecc.2:24-26.

Roots

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Blessed is the one whose delight is in the law of the Lord.  He will be like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season, and whose leaf does not wither. excerpts from Psalm 1.

A man tours an orange orchard in the midst of a drought.  The sky is endlessly dry. An irrigation line is broken, so the heavy limbs crack under the relentless sun.  The thirsty roots wither.  The trees are dying, the tour guide explains.  The drought has drained them dry.

The man asks many questions about the dying trees.  In response, the tour guide takes the man to his own orchard many miles away.  The trees grow sturdy and sweet in spite of the blaze of the fiery sky.  The man asks the tour guide what irrigation system he uses to conquer the drought’s power.

None, the tour guide responds.

How can that be?  Why are your trees so healthy? The man asks in wonder.

The tour guide explains.  When my trees were saplings, I periodically withheld moisture from them.  To survive, their roots grew deep and strong. The healthy roots sought the moisture they needed in the rich soil of deep earth. 

 It was a risk, the tour guide mused.  But now my orchard grows the deepest-rooted trees in the region.  Other orchards die in the drought, but mine have found nourishment in the depths of the earth, and they thrive.

What has God withheld from you?

Many years ago, God thundered a calling over me.  In the years after, life dried up.  Miscarriage, failure, loss, conflict, attack – my story withered and cracked.

Now, as God rains benedictions, my eyes widen in awe as I see the lush fruit of a mighty grace.  My roots have not failed.  I still stand.  Not because I am strong; I am only an orange tree under a sweltering sun.  But only, only because of amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.  This mysterious grace has one source – the God who offers the cool waters of truth and life for those who will stretch strong to receive.

Are you an orange tree in a dying orchard?  Does your life drain away under the oppressive heat of a withering story?  Me too.  There is only one way to thrive in a drought – through the roots.  O, beloved, do not let yourself die under the blaze of suffering.  Oppressive sun cannot kill a tree with roots entwined deep into the endless well of Life.  Drought protection comes from within, from the strength of well-watered roots that feed life into limbs and leaves.  Stretch your roots down, down, down into the Word, into prayer, into community, into an intentional battle against the lies that scorch you. Wrap yourself around Truth and Life – they will course through your veins and strengthen you through your dry season.  

Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, 
   whose confidence is in him. 
They will be like a tree planted by the water 
   that sends out its roots by the stream. 
It does not fear when heat comes; 
   its leaves are always green. 
It has no worries in a year of drought 
   and never fails to bear fruit.

Jeremiah 17:7-8.

Hope

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It is good to wait silently for the salvation of the Lord. Lam.3:26.

Tonight we welcome advent as a family.  Advent is defined by purposeful waiting for a sure Salvation, certain but not yet grasped.  Advent is hope promised but still deferred. In Advent tradition, the Christ-child, the Savior, is nearly come, but He is not here yet.

Jack lights the Candle of Hope, his posture strong yet shy as he navigates the flame.  He catches Daddy’s eye in awe as the blaze licks the wick, catches, flares, then settles – Hope newly aflame.  

This week God ignites a fresh flame of hope.  My past four years were a crucible, characterized by crushing failure, aching loss, relentless opposition, piercing judgment, intervening rescue and infinite grace upon grace.  My life became a long season of Advent, of hope-certain-but-not-yet.  My fragile humanity crumbles to fragments, but I am safe, upheld by divine mercy.  I lived in dust, waiting, hoping, for my God to someday lift me out.

It is good for a man to bear the yoke 
   while he is young.

 Let him sit alone in silence, 
   for the Lord has laid it on him. 
Let him bury his face in the dust— 
   there may yet be hope. 

Lam.3:27-29.

Today is a step into Hope.  It is my first day officially back on the women’s ministry leadership team at church, the same church that released me four years ago.  The enemy of our souls snarls and snaps, but Living Grace is my everlasting Hope and I am undone by His neverending cascades of loving favor.  My role on leadership is quiet writing for a season as the Lord builds a new vision in the women of our church.  God is birthing a dream within in our team for a deeper teaching ministry to women, so I will create a Bible study curriculum scheduled at this point to launch in Fall 2012 at Vanguard Church.

My heart brims over as I watch the Candle of Hope flicker on the faces of my favorite Three.  I rest in the glow of Advent, the long arriving redemption.  I remember the long trail of brokenness behind us.  I remember the bloody, battered talons we inserted into the Hope of God-promises through that long season of bitter gall.  I remember the joy of steadily dawning freedom shining over our recovery path.  Bless the Lord, O my soul, O my soul, worship His Holy Name.  Sing like never before, O my soul, and worship His holy name.  Matt Redman. 10,000 Reasons.

I exult that the Lord keeps His promises, that our Hope is eternally sure.  I revel in the grace of family in the glow of candlelight. I rejoice that God gives me a new voice to proclaim His brilliant glory to His beloved.

What do you hope for from the Lord right now? we ask each other in the Light of hope.

Lucy says, Blue and Pink.

Daddy & Mommy say, we hope that the Lord will alleviate personal and professional pressure & attack at work.

Jack, the little theologian, says this, I hope for faith, hope and love.

YES. And Amen.