Monday, December 5, 2016


It is now December, and with this month of the year often comes many unexpected and even unwanted things, events or people.  It can be a very stressful and overwhelming time of year.  For many, though it is typically a time of celebration, it can be a time of increased pain, anxiety, depression or a host of other undesirables.  While families and friends gather together to eat, drink and be merry, people can be silently suffering, afraid of what may or may not happen, afraid to let anyone around them know what is going on, afraid to be found out. To be the one to spoil the party.

But I want to tell you today what else can be a part of this month.  It is something you may have heard about from others or something you have incorporated into your own December routine.  It is a celebration of sorts, called "Advent", which means "coming".  According to Wikipedia, it means the arrival of a notable person, thing or event.  Practiced in many Western Christian churches, Advent is marked in a variety of ways all of which are focused on expectation, anticipation, preparation, and longing.

As a young girl growing up in the Catholic church, what I remember most of Advent is the tradition of lighting candles, one on each Sunday in the four weeks prior to Christmas.  At home and at church, we had a wreath which held each of the five candles.  That circle represented God, whom as we were taught, has no beginning and no end.  And the green of the pine boughs it was made of, exclaimed hope.  Hope of newness, renewal, and of eternal life.

The light of the candles was a visual reminder of the light of the Christ child, whose birth we would soon celebrate.  Though the color of the candles used in churches or homes today may differ, the general theme of each is the same, beginning with the 1st candle lit as a reminder that in our time of waiting, we can have hope.....without fear, with people...without desperation, with the darkest places of our individual lives and in our common struggles as a people in a world darkened by pain and suffering.  A hope not just in a change of our present circumstances, but in something newness, restoration, and redemption.  We have hope in God who sees and hears, who has saved, is saving, and will come again to make all things new.

The second, third and fourth candles are lit as symbols of love, joy, and peace, all of which are weaved intricately into the story of the nativity.  The story of that same God, coming to earth in the form of an infant, to show his people how much he loved them, even in their unbelief.  The story of angels proclaiming with joy the birth of a Messiah, to lowly shepherds on a dark and cold night, the joy of the kings who traveled in hope of seeing and worshiping the newborn king.  The story of people living in oppression under the rule of wicked and abusive kings, and their longing for a new ruler who could lead them back to God.

The fifth candle, called the "Christ Candle", lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day is a reminder that at the heart of the season, despite any of the unwanted and unpleasant circumstances that can overwhelm us, is Jesus, the light of the world. He came once, is present now, and will come again.

Throughout our lives,  we all have experienced times of waiting.  Though the details vary, the common threads of pain, fear, despair, and loneliness run through each and every story.  But I believe that there is a God and that He is a God of hope and restoration.  I also believe that we, as his people, different in many ways, in our individual and unique circumstances, can light our candles as a steady and bright reminder to each other, that we are not alone.  That even when it seems as though all is lost and there is no earthly reason for having hope, we can trust in Him.  In our fear, we can have peace.  In the midst of pain and sorrow, joy is possible.  In the dark, there is a light that shines brighter and will guide us through it all.

So as I light my candles this Advent season, I pray that in your waiting you will be filled with expectation, and experience joy.  That as in the flame of each lit candle, you will be able to see and know that something new and different is happening, and that more is yet to come....something brighter and better than I or you or we could ever imagine.

Monday, November 7, 2016

In the eye of the storm

As the silence of night begins to settle in, the brazen noises of my mind quickly take over and soon, despite all else around me remaining quiet and calm, become as deafening and incessant as the ocean tide in the midst of hurricane force winds.

At first they are but a whisper of an event of my past days, or a reminder of something I need to do in the days to come.  Then, despite all efforts I make to quiet them and be at peace, they keep coming, faster, louder, stronger, like a run-away train on tracks that have no end.

"Stop!", I say..."leave me be!"  But still they come.  I write, I read, I distract myself with a game of Scrabble or Solitaire on my Kindle.  For brief moments I think they've given up.  I turn out the light and settle into the warmth and comfort of my bed, my sanctuary, and before my eyes even fully close, again they invade me, and again I try without success to make them go away.  Again I struggle to be still, but as I do, the noise is accompanied by pain, and anxiety, each increasing in strength with each unwanted thought until I feel as though I'm drowning, silently screaming for help, with no one at all to hear my cries or see my struggles.

I know I have to take matters into my own hands.  The choices I have are usually quite clear and easy to make, but at other times are muddled with confusion and uncertainty, and I freeze, unable to do anything but continue in my torment until exhaustion takes over and forces the noise to stop, at least for a while.

When peace returns by whatever means I choose or have chosen for me, I thank God, and pray for the courage and strength to begin again, to keep breathing and keep living, trusting that as I try again to let go of all my pain, He will hold me up, and never let go.  He will show me how to turn it all into something good for the sake of helping someone else, and to bring Him glory that only He deserves.