What Does God Think of Me?

Many of us are spending more time on the internet and on computers than we ever have before just trying to stay in touch with each other and communicate differently for our work. When I was on a Zoom call earlier this week with some members of our congregation and I asked them what were some of the good things that had come for them out of this time of isolation, a few of them said that they had learned a lot more about how to use things they had never used before. The internet and many tools available through the internet were less scary to them now because they had come to realize how useful they could be.

Indeed, it’s a whole new world. I’m learning things every day – and it is both exhilarating and exhausting. I feel like I walk around saying to myself, “Why am I so tired?” a lot lately – and I know I am not the only one. These are strange times and they take a different kind of energy and a different way of thinking and doing than we are used to. There’s the tiring stuff of having to figure out how to order your groceries online or how to play a game online with friends instead of getting together in person – but then the cool realizations you can do all that and once you know how, it is kind of fun. We had our Saint Peters Trivia night this past week and not only did Saint Peters people play but so did some of my family from over in New York Mills. And because of technology we’ve had our readers for Sunday morning sharing readings not just from Audubon but from Alabama and Arizona. It’s a wonderful thing how connected we still are – just in new ways.

I was talking to a pastor friend about preaching in this time after Easter during Covid-19 and we expressed how strange it is and how it’s hard to even know what to talk about that might be helpful. You know that in our church and many churches we have a certain set of scriptures that are set up beforehand that we know we will be preaching on and those scriptures are often the same at different churches – so if you visit a church in California or even Australia, they could very well be preaching on the same text on the same Sunday as your home church.

But sometimes we go rogue and leave behind the prescribed scriptures for a while to do something else. And we are going to be doing that for a few weeks now. Instead, I am going to be talking about what people most want to know.

How in the world do I know what people are wondering about the most? Well, through the wonders of modern technology, of course. Have you ever noticed how when you type something into google, there will come up options below it for finishing your sentence? That’s Google trying to guess what you want to know more about – and google’s guesses come up in order of what they are most searched for.

So I typed into Google, “What does God think of…”

And below it there was a whole list of options – all coming from what people have typed in the most. Top of the list? “What does God think of me?”

That surprised me at first. Further down the list were topics you might expect – forgiveness, marriage, divorce, anxiety, fear – but at the very top of the list, “What does God think of me.”

But then I thought about things we type into search engines. A lot of times we are looking for answers to the things we think about – maybe even things not everyone is always talking about. Because there is something safer about typing a question into a search engine rather than asking even your best friend.

Sure, we care about what God thinks about the things we talk about a lot – like forgiveness, marriage, divorce, worry, fear, etc – but late at night, when I am scared or sad or feeling “less than” or defeated? Maybe all I care about is what the God who made me thinks of me. Or if God even thinks of me at all.

So, we turn to scripture for wisdom – and when we do, we find some reassuring words.

The first is that we are God’s children, God’s family. We hear that in I John – “Behold what manner of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God. And that is what we are!” And in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians – “you are no longer strangers and aliens, but members of the household of God!” And not only are we loved by God for now – but for always – as we read in Joshua, “Be strong and courageous, the Lord is with you wherever you God.”

What does God think of you? God thinks of you as God’s own. Loved. A member of God’s family. So whether during this time of physical distancing from others you have been in a house full of people or mostly by yourself, God is there with you. God is always with you wherever you go or don’t go.

What else does scripture say about what God thinks of you? God apparently thinks you are pretty unique and capable because in Jeremiah it reads that God has plans for you. Not just any old plans – plans to give you future and hope! It’s a beautiful verse – but if we look at it in its’ context, we realize this passage is written to a whole group of people—an entire nation. And if we read the verses around it, we realize that this promise God is giving to the nation of Israel is something that would be fulfilled in 70 years time. So the blessing is not individual and it is not immediate – it’s a blessing that is different than the kind of blessing we often would like.

But that is also important to remember. Yes, God sees you and loves you – but God sees and loves all God’s children. We are connected to one another. If one member of our community hurts, we all hurt. If one member rejoices, we all rejoice. We are connected to one another. I think we have learned lessons in that even moreso in recent weeks. We stay home and isolate so that the most vulnerable in our midst can stay well. We sacrifice activities and events that mean so much to us because the health and welfare of the whole matter more than our events schedule.

What does God think of you? God thinks of you as valuable and someone through whom there is future and hope – but not just you, you and your neighbor, and that stranger down the road, and that person you disagree with on the news, and all God’s children.

And I’ll highlight one more thing God thinks about you. In Galatians 2:20 it reads, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” And in I Corinthians it reads, “If anyone is in Christ there is a new creation, the old has gone the new has come.”

In case you haven’t noticed it yet, let me highlight that our God is a God of new beginnings. Our God isn’t a God of death, but of resurrection. God doesn’t give us a word of staying exactly the same but of growth and renewal. God doesn’t leave us buried in sin, but alive in grace and mercy. The old has gone, the new has come.

So, what does God think of you? Well, precious enough to sacrifice God’s son for – but also always on the cusp of a new beginning – no matter what age we are. God can’t wait to see what is yet to be born in us and through us. What we might yet do to bring joy to a neighbor or how we might use our God-given talents to surprise and bless the world. I picture God chuckling with delight at the new things we create or think of or say. In the same way that we are delighted as we see our own children growing and becoming and evolving – God looks at us with love and pride and joy our whole lives long.

If you have ever wondered what God thinks of you, you aren’t alone. But rest assured that God sees you and loves you just as you are. God covers you with grace and mercy – you are forgiven. And God can’t wait to see what you will yet do with the life and breath you are given.

Listen to an abbreviated audio version of this sermon here: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1041448/3504592-saint-peter-s-sermon-highlights-april-26-2020

Thor and Loki: Children of Odin

Before they were cartoons, before they were part of the Marvel Universe they were part of Norse Mythology for centuries. Thor and Loki: Children of Odin is a lyrical introduction to the myths and epic legends of the ancient Scandinavians. Fusing the different mythic accounts of his medieval sources, Irish-American poet Padraic Colum fashions a powerful tale of the divine adventures of gods and humans, locked in an inexorable march of fate. Written in a style accessible to both children and adults, Colum’s work offers a haunting and evocative portrait of the mythic world of the Viking Age.Before time as we know it began, gods and goddesses lived in the city of Asgard. Odin crossed the Rainbow Bridge to walk among men in Midgard. Thor defended Asgard with his mighty hammer. Mischievous Loki was constantly getting into trouble with the other gods, and dragons and giants walked free. This collection of Norse sagas retold by author Padraic Colum gives us a sense of that magical time when the world was filled with powers and wonders we can hardly imagine.

Padraic Colum (8 December 1881 – 11 January 1972) was an Irish poet, novelist, dramatist, biographer, playwright, children’s author and collector of folklore. He was one of the leading figures of the Irish Literary Revival.

This collection of Norse Myths includes: Part I. The Dwellers in Asgard 1. Far Away and Long Ago 2. The Building of the Wall 3. Iduna and Her Apples: How Loki Put the Gods in Danger 4. Sif’s Golden Hair: How Loki Wrought Mischief in Asgard 5. How Brock Brought Judgment on Loki6. How Freya Gained Her Necklace and How Her Loved One was Lost to Her 7. How Frey Won Gerda, the Giant Maiden, and How He Lost His Magic Sword 8. Heimdall and Little Hnossa: How All Things Came to Be 9. The All-Father’s Forebodings: How He Leaves AsgardPart II. Odin the Wanderer 1. Odin Goes to Mimir’s Well: His Sacrifice for Wisdom 2. Odin Faces an Evil Man 3. Odin Wins for Men the Magic Mead 4. Odin Tells to Vidar, His Silent Son, the Secret of His Doings 5. Thor and Loki in the Giants’ City 6. How Thor and Loki Befooled Thrym the Giant 7. Aegir’s Feast: How Thor Triumphed 8. The Dwarfs Hoard, and the Curse that it Brought Part III: The Witch’s Heart 1. Foreboding in Asgard 2. Loki the Betrayer3. Loki Against the Aesir 4. The Valkyrie 5. The Children of Loki 6. Baldur’s Doom 7. Loki’s Punishment Part IV. The Sword of the Volsungs and the Twilight of the Gods 1. Sigurd’s Youth 2. The Sword Gram and the Dragon Fafnir 3. The Dragon’s Blood 3. The Story of Sigmund and Signy 4. The Story of Sigmund and Sinfiotli 5. The Story of the Vengeance of the Volsungs and of the Death of Sinfiotli 6. Brynhild in the House of Flame 7. Sigurd at the House of the Nibelungs 8. How Brynhild was Won for Gunnar 9. The Death of Sigurd 10. The Twilight of the Gods

Check out this phenomenal book here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B086G4JQ7L

The Man in the Brown Suit

I just finished reading this wonderful Agatha Christie book: The Man in the Brown Suit. Adventure-seeking Anne Beddingfeld is in London when she sees a stranger fall to his electrifying death in the Tube. A dreadful accident? If so, who is the man in the brown suit fleeing from the scene? Curiosity, and one cryptic clue, leads Anne aboard a cruise ship to Cape Town and into the confidence of Colonel Race, counterintelligence officer for MI5. Drawn into a dangerous conspiracy, Anne’s found the adventure she wanted. And as she’s chased across continents, all she must do now is survive it.

Agatha Christie (15 September 1890 – 12 January 1976) was an English writer of crime and romantic novels. She is best remembered for her detective stories including the two diverse characters of Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. She is considered to be the best selling writer of all time. Only the Bible is known to have outstripped her collected sales of roughly four billion worldwide copies. Her works have been translated into more languages than any other individual writer.Agatha Christie was first published in 1920. Her first book was The Mysterious Affair at Styles, (1920) which featured the detective – Hercule Poirot, who at the time was portrayed as a Belgian refugee from the Great War. Poirot is one of the most recognised fictional characters in English with his mixture of personal pride, broken English and immaculate appearance and moustache. The book sold reasonably well and helped meet the public’s great appetite for detective novels. It was a genre that had been popularised through Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories at the turn of the century. In 1926, she made her big breakthrough with the publication of “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.” This became a best-seller and made Christie famous as a writer.The plot of Agatha Christies novels could be described as formulaic. Murders were committed by ingenious methods – often involving poison, which Agatha Christie had great knowledge of. After interrogating all the main suspects, the detective would bring all the participants into some drawing-room before explaining who was the murderer. Her writing was quite clear and it is easy to get absorbed in the flow of the story. It also gave readers the chance to try and work out who the murderer was before it was revealed at the end.Agatha Christie enjoyed writing. For her there was great satisfaction in creating plots and stories. She also wrote six novels in the genre of romance and suspense under a pseudonym – Mary Westmacott.During the Second World War, Christie worked in the pharmacy of the University College London, which gave her ideas for some of her murder methods. After the war, her books continued to grow in international popularity. In 1952, her play The Mousetrap was debuted at the Ambassador’s Theatre in London and has been performed without a break ever since. Her success led to her being honoured in the New Year’s honour list. In 1971 she was appointed Dame Commander of the British Empire.Agatha Christie loved embroidery, travelling and gardening – she won various horticultural prizes. She expressed a dislike of alcohol, smoking and the gramophone. She preferred to avoid the limelight and rarely gave public interviews. To some extent she hankered after the more idyllic days of Edwardian England she experienced in her childhood and was dubious about aspects of modern life.“The quality of agreeableness is not much stressed nowadays. People tend to ask if a man is clever, industrious, if he contributes to the well-being of the community, if he ‘counts’ in the scheme of things.” -A. Christie, Part I of Autobiography

You can get this book for only $0.99 on Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/Man-Brown-Suit-Large-Print-ebook/dp/B086BZS7BZ/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=the+man+in+the+brown+suit+agatha+christie+large+print&qid=1585267843&s=books&sr=1-1

Mother Mason

One of my favorite books was “Song of Years” by Bess Streeter Aldrich. My mom had loved it when she was growing up and told me about it. Our library in our hometown had a copy and according to the library card my mom and I were the only ones who ever checked it out. That was a shame because it is such a well-written, lovely book.

Are you familiar with Bess Streeter Aldrich? Here is some information about this wonderful author: Bess Genevra Streeter was an American fiction writer born in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Attending high-school in the town of her birth, she was the winner of two magazine fiction writing contests prior to graduating at the age of seventeen. She was the last of the eight children of James Wareham and Mary Wilson Anderson Streeter] After graduating from Iowa State Normal School with a teaching certificate, she taught school at several locations in Utah, later returning to Cedar Falls to earn an advanced degree in education.In 1907, she married Charles Sweetzer Aldrich, who had graduated with a law degree from Iowa State University and had been one of the youngest captains in the Spanish–American War. Following the war, he served for years as a U.S. Commissioner in Alaska. They had four children—Mary, Robert, Charles and James. In 1909, they moved with their children and Bess’s widowed mother to Elmwood, Nebraska, where Charles, Bess, and Bess’s sister and brother-in-law Clara and John Cobb purchased the American Exchange Bank. Elmwood became the location for many of her stories, albeit called by different names. Aldrich began writing more regularly in 1911 when the Ladies’ Home Journal advertised a fiction contest, which she entered and won $175 for her story entitled “The Little House Next Door”. After this success she continued to write and submit work to publications such as McCall’s, Harper’s Weekly, and The American Magazine where she was generally paid between one and one-hundred dollars for her work. Prior to 1918 she wrote under her pen name, Margaret Dean Stephens. She went on to become one of the highest-paid women writers of the period. Her stories often concerned the Heartland/Plains pioneer history and were very popular with teenage girls and young women.Aldrich’s first novel, Mother Mason, was published in 1924. When Charles died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1925 at the age of 52 Aldrich took up writing as a means of supporting her family. She was the author of about 200 short stories, including “The Woman Who Was Forgotten”, and thirteen novels, including Miss Bishop. The latter novel was made into a movie Cheers for Miss Bishop (1941), which starred Martha Scott and Edmund Gwenn and premiered in Lincoln, Nebraska.Aldrich received an honorary Doctor of Letters degree in literature from the University of Nebraska in 1934 and was named into the Nebraska Hall of Fame in 1973. In 1946 Aldrich moved to Lincoln, Nebraska to be closer to her daughter and her writing slowed to just one story per year as age began to take its toll. She died of cancer on August 3, 1954 and was buried next to her husband in Elmwood, Nebraska.Aldrich’s papers are held at the Nebraska State Historical Society in Lincoln, Nebraska. Books by Bess Streeter Aldrich are among the many fine books written by Nebraskan authors. (source: wikipedia)

So, I decided to spend some time during this social-distancing period reading some of her other books. I started with her first book, Mother Mason, published in 1924. Such a good book! Molly Mason is fifty-two and the loving wife of the bank president, mother of four fun-loving Masons, and she is active in helping with the library board, missionary society, and the women’s clubs. She is involved in nearly everything that happens in her midwestern town. In fact, Mother Mason never has any time to do just as she likes. Finally, she makes a break for freedom! Aldrich published stories about the Masons in a magazine during World War I. Americans demanded more, and in 1924 the same family became the subject of Mother Mason. Aldrich is known for writing strong female characters and this story is no different.

I highly recommend you check it out! Here is a link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0851LL36N

#28 – Eat Ten Different Kinds of Ice Cream

#28 – Eat Ten Different Kinds of Ice Cream

I know, ambitious, right?

After all the years I spent declining dessert while on some diet or another, I have some make-up work to do when it comes to consuming sweets. From around 1985-2010, if you asked me if I would like some ice cream, I probably said, “no.” I opted for the yogurt, or the fresh fruit, or a diet coke, or nothing at all. Either that, or I ate ice cream while alone, usually while on a food binge after some extensive period of dieting. It was tragic.

Because that’s how dieting works – you find some rules to follow that are guaranteed to slim you down, and you follow those rules for a period of time, and then one day you get so weary of following the rules that you eat everything in sight.

I was an excellent dieter. I was very, very good at following the rules of whatever diet I was on at the time. Over the course of twenty-five years I lost small amounts of weight and I lost large amounts of weight. Every time, I gained the weight back.

It always came to a point where the rules made my world seem so very small. Dieting made it so that eventually all I seemed to think or talk about was how much weight I had lost or what clothes I was going to buy when I hit that next milestone of weight loss. I would bask in the success and compliments and then cower under shame every time I needed to go off the carefully prescribed dieting course and eat.

One of the best things I have done is stop dieting. I stopped telling myself certain foods were “good” and others were “bad.” I stopped deciding I was beautiful only if I could fit into my smaller-size clothing. I stopped making anything off-limits. I started saying “yes” to the damn ice cream.

So, it wasn’t hard to try ten different kinds of ice cream. I’ll probably try at least ten more before my fiftieth birthday. But in the spirit of my Fifty Things I Want to do Before my Fiftieth Birthday task, here are the ten I have had in the last few weeks:

  1. Cookies and Cream
  2. Bunny Tracks
  3. Caramel Cashew
  4. Peanut Butter Core
  5. Scotcheroo
  6. Monster Cookie
  7. Goldmine
  8. Tonight Dough
  9. White Chocolate Raspberry
  10. Juneberry

For the Next Fifty: Eat ice cream like it is my job.

# 20 – Try a Cortado

I’ve always been a black coffee kind of person. It’s what I have first thing in the morning, it’s what I drink if I go out with friends. I never needed or even really thought about having other drinks with all sorts of added milk and sugar and flavor.

But why NOT try all the other drinks that are on the menu? Or even ones that aren’t on the menu?

A friend mentioned on a Facebook post how the Cortado was his favorite coffee drink. I hadn’t even heard of this drink before much less tried one – so as I was making my list of things I want to do before I turn 50, I added it to the list.

Except I remembered the name wrong and wrote down, “Cordero.” So you can understand the puzzled look on my barista’s face when I asked if she could make one. Bless her heart, she even looked up the recipe online and said it was some kind of lamb dish. I apologized and said I must have the name wrong and ordered some black coffee instead.

Then I did some more research and got the name right and went back to her. I drank it on a Sunday morning after attending a church service at the United Methodist Church. If you want to know more about how to make one, you can find information here: https://www.northstarroast.com/cortado-coffee/

It’s good. It’s not as bitter as my usual black coffee. I’m glad I know what it is and now I order it frequently.

So many things about life get on autopilot, don’t they? I simply got used to drinking black coffee every day – it was warm, it didn’t have calories, it was inexpensive, my friends drank it – there were lots of reasons why it became the default drink in my life. But I might have gone my whole life without trying a cortado. That could have easily happened. Would my life have been less because of it? Maybe not – but nevertheless, I’m glad that it is now part of my repertoire of beverages I consume.

And it makes me think about how so much of what we do every day happens just because that’s how we always do things. Most days I get up and within the first hour or two, I hop on my treadmill – walking or jogging. I love my treadmill. I first got one 13 years ago when our first child was born and I knew my chances of getting a workout in would increase if I didn’t have to try to make it to the gym. For me, my treadmill has never collected dust or been a place to pile stuff as it becomes for some people. I use it every day. Every. Day. Anyway, my dear treadmill recently broke and now I feel entirely out of sorts without my faithful treadmill friend as part of my day.

But I know that I don’t have to have a treadmill in order to exercise. I mean, I will miss it until it is fixed, but in the meantime I get to try some other things. Today I dug out some old workout videos and tomorrow I can go for a hike. I’ve been meaning to take a yoga class for about the last 15 years, so maybe I can do that soon. The options are endless.

And we forget that. No matter how much I like black coffee, not every day has to be a black coffee day – it could be a macchiato or a flat white day or even green tea! No matter how much I love my treadmill, my body can enjoy all sorts of activity. Some of these new things might open up brand new doors into my new favorite stuff and some of it might just make me miss black coffee and treadmills all the more. Either way, I’ve learned something.

So, yeah – try the Cortado. I recommend it.

For the Next Fifty: Keep trying new things. Every day if you can – a new recipe, a fresh perspective, a different route to work, ask unusual questions. There’s only so much time on this beautiful blue planet – find out as much as you can about it while you can.

#3 Learn to make savory pies

#3 – Learn to make savory pies – when we were in New Zealand, every morning we enjoyed going to the bakery and trying different baked goods. It was fun to see not just donuts and muffins but other cakes and pies. We liked the lamingtons – which were square chocolate cakes covered with coconut; but we adored the savory pies. Oftentimes they were meat pies – pastry shells filled with meats and spices, or there were vegetarian ones with cheese and vegetables, and also egg/ham varieties. In Rotorua, there was a shop just down the street that only sold varieties of pies and it was busy all day.

So, we decided that we needed to have more of these pies in our lives even after we returned from New Zealand. In the past I have made quiches, but I wanted to broaden my horizons.

I’m not a big meat-eater, but my family is, and so the first recipe I chose was for a cheeseburger pie. I know that when we have had cheeseburger pizza it disappears quickly, so I was confident that the pie variation would be a hit. You can find the recipe I chose here: https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/15708/cheeseburger-pie/

I didn’t have all the ingredients on hand but I was able to modify and the end result was eaten up quickly by my family.

In addition, my husband has made several variations of the small egg/cheese pies. He loves them when the eggs are not scrambled but rather cracked whole into the pie shell and then they cook that way. So good! If you would like to try – here’s a good place to start: https://timetocookonline.com/?s=egg+pie My favorite variation is egg, cheese, and spinach – but the sky is really the limit as far as what you might want to put in your pie.

For the Next Fifty years I want to make time to cook and eat the things I enjoy. Food is such a wonderful, joyful, nourishing thing in so many ways. In my career as a pastor I have visited so many people who are sick or enduring treatments of all kinds. They are rail thin, food tastes awful. So while we are able, let’s not waste precious time on weight-loss endeavors – let’s eat the delicious food, let’s gather around tables with the faces we love, and celebrate living! As I like to say: more living, less dieting!

If you click on the picture you will go to my Amazon affiliate link and see some little pie tins perfect for making the small, savory pies. 

#42 Learn a New Salad Recipe

I love vegetables but especially when I am traveling, I tend to eat mostly bread in some way, shape, or form. Scones, bagels, crackers – I love the carbs. So, now that we are back, I want to swing the pendulum back toward regularly eating vegetables. I went looking on the internet for some good recipes and then I was reminded of this foolproof formula:

Base:

  • romaine/ green or red leaf lettuce
  • spinach
  • mixed baby greens
  • kale

Vegetables:

  • carrots
  • cucumbers
  • tomatoes
  • bell peppers
  • mushrooms
  • sprouts
  • radishes

Cook things like:

  • squash
  • zucchini
  • onions
  • mushrooms (sometimes I prefer them cooked)
  • kale (same)
  • asparagus
  • brussel sprouts

Add-Ons:

These are the ingredients that make this process fun.

You can add things like:

  • nuts (walnuts, almonds, pecans, etc)
  • seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, etc)
  • chickpeas
  • grains (quinoa, pasta, brown rice)
  • hard boiled eggs (ONLY certified free range from the local farmer’s market)
  • raisins/craisins
  • strawberries/blueberries/cooked apples or pears, or other fruits

It’s a great reminder for how to mix and match tastes that you like. I bought some spinach, nuts, blue cheese, cherry tomatoes, and made a homemade salad dressing and I was all set. If you want to read the whole article that inspired me and got me back on the salad track – check it out here: https://medium.com/@MrsDeeGee/make-a-kick-ass-salad-that-wont-bore-the-shit-out-of-you-827d9781bdc7

Then I bought this book to keep my love affair with salads going strong. Click on the picture to see the link. 

Pastrgrrl Press

I’ve been keeping journals since I was in second grade – back when my handwriting was barely legible. For me, a great day consists of a cup of coffee, a good pen, and blank pages. Thus, it’s only natural that over time I felt the desire to create some beautiful journals to share with others who also enjoy the joy and therapeutic properties of writing. “A Month of Hymns: A Journal for Prayer and Reflection” uses hymn lyrics as prompts for each day. Read the classic lyrics, reflect on your own life and the leading of the spirit, and write. There’s room to draw as well on the 8X10 pages. Order today at:

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=pastrgrrl+press&crid=1U55EFAKOW8N&sprefix=pastrgrrl%2Caps%2C240&ref=nb_sb_ss_i_1_9

Keep up with new projects on Facebook:  Pastrgrrl Press

In the Bleak Midwinter

Reflections on Shuffle-Play

So far, what have I done that has made this Advent season different than any other?  Let’s see, I have been slowly feeding my “piggy bank” for ELCA World Hunger.  I found a five-dollar bill in the cemetery the other day and put it in the piggy bank instead of using it to buy myself a latte – so that felt like a step in the right direction.  However, we entirely forgot to light our home advent wreath this past Sunday. Plus, even though I vowed to myself to keep things simple and worry-free this year, I’m already stressing out a little bit about upcoming Christmas services at church and cooking for extended family on Christmas Day. So far, Advent is looking a lot like every other church season – a season of stops and starts, a time of victories and failures.  It turns out that I prepare about as well for the birth of Jesus as I prepare for anything – kind of last minute and haphazard – and please don’t look in my closet or under the beds because who knows the clutter and disarray you will find.

It is an imperfect Advent, an imperfect life.  I can’t take comfort in that because I wish I could always fully complete all the grand plans and sacred endeavors I begin.  If I could, I would have written five books by now (all bestsellers).  And yet, I do take comfort in this:  there is some One greater at work in my life than me.  There is a greater plan that has been devised than any I could dream.  In some mystical and miraculous way, God has chosen me and you to participate in this plan, God’s plan.  We won’t often understand how or why life unfolds as it does, and yet there are times we catch glimpses of the beauty and blessedness of it all.  Maybe that will happen for you sometime this Advent season, maybe it won’t.  Maybe Christmas morning will dawn with a fresh peace and renewed strength in your heart, or maybe you’ll wake up with the stomach flu and stay in bed all day.  Either way, all is well, because this story we live is about more than you and me, what we do or don’t do, rather, it is about God’s story. We are part of it – and it is an immense gift.  Our greatest task appears to be that we simply must open our eyes and see it.

Most afternoons these days I spend a little time sitting with a parishioner who is now on Hospice care.  His remaining time on earth appears short.  There is nothing fun about these days for him as his body and mind slowly fade.  I don’t even know if he hears me when I read the scripture to him anymore – but I still read it and I pray out loud for him.  It seems so stark and strange to walk past the festive lights and trees that are adorning the Sunset home these days and often the sound of cheerful carols coming from the chapel, to go into his quiet room where death is drawing near.  Yet it strikes me that it is precisely in these moments of stark contrasts that we often sense the Spirit’s presence more closely than ever.  Actually, I’ve come to realize that sitting in that room next to Joe and listening to him breathe with the sounds of the world going on outside has become what will set this Advent apart for me as blessed.  It wasn’t the ritual I planned or expected, but in it, I have felt God’s presence.  I’m so thankful for that.

Has God surprised you lately?

Jeremiah 29:11

11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.

In the Bleak Midwinter

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, Whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, Whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him… give my heart.