Come, Lord Jesus: An Advent Prayer for 2016

“Come, long-expected Jesus. Excite in me a wonder at the wisdom and power of Your Father and ours. Receive my prayer as part of my service of the Lord who enlists me in God’s own work for justice.

Come, long-expected Jesus. Excite in me a hunger for peace: peace in the world, peace in my home, peace in myself.

Come, long-expected Jesus. Excite in me a joy responsive to the Father’s joy. I seek His will so I can serve with gladness, singing and love.

Come, long-expected Jesus. Excite in me the joy and love and peace it is right to bring to the manger of my Lord. Raise in me, too, sober reverence for the God who acted there, hearty gratitude for the life begun there, and spirited resolution to serve the Father and Son.

I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, whose advent I hail. Amen” (A Catholic Advent Prayer).

At this time of year, I’m always on the lookout for prayers and quotations that reflect the true heart of the Advent season. I found one just now.

The incarnation of Immanuel means so much more than my world getting put right. It’s about the entire world getting put right. It’s about God inviting me to be a part of the revolution that started not from a throne room and a king or a battlefield and a general but from a manger and an infant.

The question this advent: how can we show tangible love to those around us with whom we live and work and play? How can we be the visible body of Christ to those who have never seen or heard this gospel (or who have seen and heard a very distorted version of it)?

I’m praying that this Advent is about more than just me and my own serenity and fulfillment. I want it to be about more than buying and receiving presents. I want to see change in the world and I want it to start in me.

 

So I Have an Old Cat Now

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My cat Lucy turned 15 yesterday. It’s still hard to comprehend that she’s that old because she doesn’t act that old. And if you ask her, she’ll swear up and down that she’s only 9.

I remember picking her out of a litter of one-week old kittens at Vet Pets, a pet store/veterinary clinic, in 2000. I equally remember bringing her home in that hole-y cardboard box when she was five weeks old and how she cried all the way home.

I remember how she got lost when she was three and was gone for two days, the longest two days of my life. But we found her. Apparently, she went up to some strange lady’s door and essentially asked, “I’ve lost my person. Will you be my new person?” Thanks to some lost cat posters all over the neighborhood, the mailman recognized her as the missing cat and she came home to me on Christmas Eve.

Then there was the time she had cancer and it was 50/50 that surgery would get all of the tumor. I cried and prayed and even lit one of those prayer candles like they have in Roman Catholic churches for her. She got better. She’s still 100% cancer-free.

I hope she lives to be 30. That would be great. There’s a part of me that wishes that she’d at least outlive me. But realistically, I know that’s not possible. I know there will be a day when I’ll have to say a final goodbye to my little furry baby (and also to a little piece of my heart). I can’t focus on that but I can cherish every day I get to spend with her.

The same goes to the rest of those I love. I’m not guaranteed a tomorrow. Neither are they. That’s why I can only be thankful for each day that I get to spend with each one of them.

Don’t ever take the ones you love for granted. Don’t ever go to bed angry with a friend or a family member. You never know that you will get the chance in the morning to make it right. Always say the words “I love you” whenever you get the chance. Always.

On a Night Like This 2

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Guess where I am? No really . . . take a wild guess.

Downtown Franklin, you said? How ever did you guess that? It’s not like I go there at least once a week, right?

Oh wait. I do.

I had the new Court Yard Hounds album as the soundtrack to my trek from the Brenthood all the way to my favorite place on earth. And it’s not Disney World.

I had my favorite meal, corned beef and cabbage, at my favorite place to eat, McCreary’s Irish Pub. Just about everybody knows my name there, and I love it.

I detoured from my usual next step. Instead of shlepping over to Frothy Monkey, I hoofed it over to Sweet CeCe’s, where they did not, as usual, have my very favorite flavor– Southern Sweet Velvet a.k.a. Red Velvet. I nearly cried.

Not really. I just got Hershey’s Chocolate instead and managed to not fall over dead from extreme disappointment. Life goes on.

I got in my Quality Frothy Monkey Time, don’t you worry. I sipped on fruit tea and got caught up on my annual Bible reading plan.

This year, I’m reading through the New American Bible, a Catholic translation complete with all the deuterocanonical books. Or apocryphal, if you please. I read through most of Job, quite a bit of The Book of Wisdom, and a few chapters from Luke.

My lesson from Job? It’s better to keep quiet and make your friends wonder if you’re an idiot than to open up your mouth and prove it.

The Perfect Weather continues. It really feels like a sneak preview of fall, soon to arrive after another stint of hot stinky humid weather. And more rain. I’m eagerly anticipating the changing colors of leaves, crisp morning air, bon-fires, hayrides, corn mazes, good conversations with friends old and new, and– best of all– for Jesus to once again dazzle me with His love for me.

I may check out my favorite house to make sure the current tenants are taking good care of it for me. I may suddenly burst into a Dave Barnes song. You just never know with me.

I think the reason that I’m not filthy rich is that I’m already quite attractive, extremely witty, and brilliant. I would be most unfair for me to add immense wealth to that. So I stay broke as a kind of public service to all of you out there who would otherwise either die of mortal envy or perish from lusting after my hot bod.

God is whispering sweet nothings to me in the night air. I can feel His love and pleasure over me like a sort of comfy old blanket that keeps my heart warm. May you feel the same.

My you know fully the love your Abba has for you this and every night to come.

Things I Love 45: Sometimes You Just Gotta Walk Away

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“When bridges seem to give way, we fall into Christ’s safe arms, true bridge, and not into hopelessness. It is safe to trust! We can be too weak to go on because His strength is made perfect in utter brokenness and nail-pierced hands help up. It is safe to trust! We can give thanks in everything because there’s a good God leading, working all things into good. It is safe to trust! The million bridges behind us may seem flattened to the earthly eye, but all bridges ultimately hold, fastened by nails. It is safe to trust.” (Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are).

Well, it was a good day. Not because absolutely everything went exactly like I wanted it to, but because God was in it, orchestrating each and every individual event toward a grander purpose than I can imagine or foresee just yet. I only see the underside of the tapestry He’s weaving, seeing the dark threads intertwined with the lighter ones, not seeing the beautiful imagery being crafted on the other side. Even during the dark moments, I know that the contrast He’s creating will make the brightly threaded moments seem all the brighter and more precious.

1,401) Starting back to work on Monday in a new temp-to-hire position.

1,402) A perfectly blended Arnold Palmer (unsweet tea and lemonade) at the Williamson County Fair.

1,403) Another amazing sermon from Mike Glenn at Brentwood Baptist Church.

1,404) Knowing when to walk away rather than risk getting upset.

1,405) My current therapy session with my sleeping feline therapist, also known as Lucy.

1,406) The continuation of strangely mild temperatures in August.

1,407) Knowing that the start of school means that autumn and changing leaves are just around the proverbial corner.

1,408) Just about all the cheesy 80’s Chicago ballads.

1,409) Playing a friendly game of volleyball without getting overly caught up in winning or playing perfectly.

1,410) Playing Candy Crush Saga on my iPad 2.

1,411) Bare feet on summer grass in the evening.

1,412) Trying on a pair of Teva sandals that feel like heaven.

1,413) Reading about the cat named Lucy who reportedly lived to be 39.

1,414) Free downloads on iBooks on my iPad 2.

1,415) Knowing all (or most) of the words to the essential classic rock songs.

1,416) Trusting the Sovereignty of God above my feelings or my intuition or my gut feelings or my understanding.

1,417) Seeing another old landmark, Gray’s Pharmacy,  in downtown Franklin renovated and finding new life as a restaurant.

1,418) Having avoided just about every single episode of any reality TV show ever made.

1,419) Committing to read the old Catholic mystic writers such as St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross.

1,420) Finding a little book, The Little Flowers of Saint Francis of Assisi, that I didn’t even remember I had.

1,421) My cat, Lucy, licking my hand while I’m typing this on my laptop.

1,422) The infinite possibilities and opportunities that await me on August 5.

1,423) Calling those who share my love for Jesus and His grace displayed in salvation my brothers and sisters in Christ, regardless of denomination.

1,424) Not caring if I’m an extrovert or an introvert, but just loving being me in all my different moods and temperaments.

1,425) Almost three hours of volleyball this evening.

1,426) My collection of coasters that looks like a little dresser.

1,427) Labor Day being 4 weeks away.

1,428) Seeing diversity in the Body of Christ.

1,429) Remembering that I am the Hands and Feet of Christ and that He can still reach and love and embrace His children through me.

1,430) Finally starting season 4 of Lost after months of being stuck on the cliffhanger of season 3.

 

 

Things I Love 34: To Infinity and Beyond

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“Life is so urgent it necessitates living slow”  (Ann Voskamp).

“Thanksgiving-giving thanks in everything-prepares the way that God might show us His fullest salvation in Christ” (Ann VoskampOne Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are).

“At the last, this is what will determine a fulfilling, meaningful life, a life that, behind all the facades, every one of us longs to live: gratitude for the blessings that expresses itself by becoming the blessing” (Ann VoskampOne Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are).

I entertained thoughts about stretching this series to 2,000.  But then again, I’m much too lazy for that. Besides, I probably mentioned some things I love more than once, so these extras should compensate for my oversights. And I’m still having too much fun with it to stop now. So we pick up at #1,001.

1,001) Getting radically out of my comfort zone to serve at VBS with inner-city kids.

1,002) Any kind of a front or back porch swing.

1,003) Seeing videos and pictures of my Romanian friend’s wedding.

1,004) That I now have prayer books from three different faith aspects: Episcopalian (The Book of Common Prayer), Roman Catholic (The Liturgy of the Hours), and Jewish (Siddur: The  Traditional Prayer Book).

1,005) Packing school backpacks with school supplies and prayers to give to inner-city children.

1,006) That no one can make me feel anything. I choose my response and by the grace of God, I can respond to hate with love, anger with kindness, and mockery with respect.

1,007) Knowing that I’m not who I used to be or what I one day will be.

1,008) Walking through meadows filled with flowers.

1,009) That I finally grew out of eating ketchup sandwiches.

1,010) Being very nonlinear and random.

1,011) Hot showers in the morning to help me wake up.

1,012) Groupon deals.

1,013) Not having to worry about living anyone’s life but my own.

1,014) Those rare couples who stay pure in the midst of dating and don’t move in together until after they’re married.

1,015) Stopping my car at twilight to catch a family of deer running across the road.

1,016) Free books that the library gives away.

1,017) Free anything.

1,018) Finally figuring out how to do a screen capture on my iPhone.

1,019) Tiny flower pots. What do you plant in those?

1,020)  Fans blowing on me while I sleep.

1,021) The way the sunlight reflects off of Radnor Lake in the summer time.

1,022) Fallen pine needles strewn across the ground on an autumn afternoon.

1,023) The crunching sound of walking through dead leaves in the fall.

1,024) That you can’t say the word “rural” and not sound like you’ve had one too many.

1,025) Adele Live at Royal Albert Hall on blu ray.

1,026) The Amplified Bible.

1,027) Getting lost in a good book.

1,028) Model trains.

1,029) All the amazing people I’m going to see in heaven one day.

1,030) Spring reminding me of the hope that the Resurrection brings.

1,031) The scent of vanilla.

1,032) The clean feeling after I’ve just brushed my teeth.

1,033) The music of Duke Ellington.

1,034)Mechanical pencils.

1,035) That if I were to list every single thing in my life that I’m thankful for and that is really a gift, I’d have to blog until I’m as old as Methuselah to get everything down (and then I’d still leave something out).

Why I Am a Fan of Henri Nouwen

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“In solitude we can slowly unmask the illusion of our possessiveness and discover in the center of our own self that we are not what we can conquer, but what is given to us. In solitude we can listen to the voice of him who spoke to us before we could speak a word, who healed us before we could make any gesture to help, who set us free long before we could free others, and who loved us long before we could give love to anyone. It is in this solitude that we discover that being is more important than having, and that we are worth more than the result of our efforts. In solitude we discover that our life is not a possession to be defended, but a gift to be shared. It’s there we recognize that the healing words we speak are not just our own, but are given to us; that the love we can express is part of a greater love; and that the new life we bring forth is not a property to cling to, but a gift to be received” (Henri J.M. Nouwen).

Henri Nouwen wrote that every single person ever born deals with aloneness, because every single one of us is unique and no one else will ever have our exact problems and issues and hang-ups and phobias.

He said we can either see our aloneness as a wound and thus turn it into loneliness or view it as a gift, where it becomes solitude. In solitude is where we can learn to be still and quiet and know that in truth, we are never really alone. God is with us.

Solitude makes us better people, better neighbors, better friends, better spouses, better lovers, and better disciples. We’re not clinging to each other out of a desparate need to not be lonely, but because we are finally comfortable with who we are in the times when we are alone with no noise to drown out our own thoughts.

That is my own wording of what I’ve been reading in The Only Necessary Thing, a compilation of Nouwen’s thoughts on living a prayerful life. Seriously, if you don’t read another one of my blogs, but read one of his books, I will be supremely happy. He’s that good.

That’s all for tonight. Let me know what you are reading that touches you deeply at the soul level. Maybe it’s a book that will do the same for me. And may the God of the earthquake and the God of the thunder also be the God of your silence and the God of your solitude. Amen.

Taken, Blessed, Broken, Given

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“During the meal, Jesus took and blessed the bread, broke it, and gave it to his disciples: Take, eat. This is my body” (Matthew 26:26).

I’m in the middle of another Henri Nouwen book and I am loving it. He more than any other writer (except for maybe Brennan Manning) always seems to speak to where I am right here and now.

He says, “To identify the movements of the Spirit in our lives, I have found it helpful to use four words: ‘taken,’ ‘blessed,’ broken,’ and ‘given.'”

I had never thought about it that way before. I never looked at Jesus breaking the bread at Passover and made an analogy to my own life.

We are taken (or chosen) by God who loved us from the start. We are blessed by Him with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms. We are broken by our own sin and the broken and marred world we live in with so much poverty, injustice, and inhumanity. We are given to be God’s hands and feet to bring healing and justice and compassion into the world.

I read somewhere that my life is loaves and fishes. Remember the ones that Jesus used to feed the 5,000? In and of myself, I can’t do much. But if I am blessed and broken and poured out, God can bless so many more through me.

News flash: God takes and uses broken lives, scarred hearts, screwed-up pasts, and promises left unfulfilled. He can use anybody. In fact, He more often than not prefers the outcasts and nobodies and failures to be the ones to turn the world upside down (see the 12 disciples for examples).

Lord, may I be taken by You, Who chose me before I was born and gave me the name Beloved, and blessed with as much of You as I can stand. Break my heart for the things that break Yours and then give me out to those in need.

PS The book I’m reading is Life of the Beloved. Expect more blogs to come out of this. I’m not even halfway through. And, to throw in yet another shameless plug, go buy or download or pilfer or ingest this book as soon as humanly possible. It’s that good.