michelle10


final_advent_cover5.jpgAnd a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Matthew 3: 17 (NIV)

I have a reputation as the over-the-top birthday party girl. Last year, my son turned two, and we had a petting zoo, crafts, face painting, Chik-fil-a, and of course ice cream. I know that I should simplify, and I feel guilty about not, but I have given in. I love it. I love making a huge deal out of his big day. I don’t mind blowing my budget or even decorating fifty cupcakes. I have already started planning for next year’s party, and it is only nine months away.

We make a pretty big deal out of Christ’s birthday too. Stores start putting out decorations right after Halloween. We blow our budgets, we decorate, we send out cards, we cook, we shop, and we overbook our calendars. Sometimes I worry that all the presents and commercialization has cheapened this holiday. That we are so busy that we forget that it is indeed a birth we are celebrating and not that crazy-looking bearded man in a red suit. Every year, I tell myself that I am going to simplify: spend less, commit to less, and rest more. These are valiant resolutions, and occasionally I even keep a few of them. (more…)

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final_advent_cover4.jpgThe kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Luke 13:44 (NIV)

As a teacher and a mother, I love to see when kids get it. That light-bulb moment when they understand a concept or when my son discovers something new. You can literally see their minds work, and then their faces light up with excitement. What a joy to discover something new!

One of the most popular and well-known Christmas carols is “Joy to the World.” If you can remember the second line, you realize that the source of that joy is “the Lord has come.” There are several Scripture verses that relate joy to some discovery of Christ. Even before Christ was born, John the Baptist “leaped for joy” in his mother’s womb upon Mary’s greeting (Luke 1:44). The angels revealed the great joy of Christ’s birth to the shepherds (Luke 2:10). Finally, Mary and the disciples were filled with joy upon the discovery of His resurrection (Matthew 28:8 and Luke 10:21). (more…)

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So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. Luke 1: 16-19 (NIV)

Christmas is supposed to be about the birth of Christ. I mean if you can get around all the Santas, lights, parties, and packages. Just a few years ago, I gave birth to a son. I took a packed bag, received an epidural, and I think the hospital room even had cable, although I never thought to turn it on. I had an abundance of doctors, nurses, pillows, and morphine. All my friends and family showed up. A few friends even waited all night behind the door for that first cry. Afterwards, I received flowers, presents, ice chips, and of course, a beautiful little boy swaddled tightly in his hospital blanket. (more…)

final_advent_cover1.jpgTake my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matthew 12:29-30 (NIV)

To be honest, Christmas isn’t my favorite holiday. The season brings too much pressure. Too many things to buy, do, and bake. Not to mention all the family pressure, like whose house we will be celebrating at this year. I tend to get overwhelmed and tired and forget what I am celebrating.

I think the Hebrew people understood this to some degree. They had over 600 laws that they were supposed to follow. Even when they celebrated or worshiped they had to be very careful to follow all those specific laws. It must have felt like an overwhelming and impossible task. They probably couldn’t really follow every single one of them, or even half of them. (more…)

prepare.jpgI will hasten and not delay to obey your commands. Psalm 119:60 (NIV)

Webster’s Dictionary defines “prepare” as
1 a : to make ready beforehand for some purpose, use, or activity b : to put in a proper state of mind; 2 : to work out the details of : plan in advance; 3 a : to put together : b : to put into written form.

I think all three are applicable to the season.

Let’s start with 1a: “to make ready beforehand for some purpose.” This is what all the cleaning, shopping, and cooking is about. I teach high school, and every day I am expected to stand before 100 kids with a prepared lesson. Most days I do, but honestly sometimes I have to wing it. I think they learn either way, but the difference is how I feel. When I am prepared, I am less stressed. That tight little knot in my stomach isn’t there. I am focused on them, rather than how to fill the next ninety minutes. I ask them how they are as they walk in the room, rather than frantically looking for papers or supplies. I notice if they are “getting it,” rather than trying to think of what to say next. (more…)

When Jesus was asked to clear up the whole “who is your neighbor” question.  He answered in true Jesus fashion.  With a story.  The Good Samaratian.  A tale of an expected enemy caring for an injured man.  I have heard lots of takes and sermon on this parable but all of them are about loving not just the person across the street, or your friends, or the people the same color as you, or the people that believe what you believe but love that is bigger and broader than any of the labels we like to put on people.  Love that doesn’t always come naturally.

Lately, I have been reading a few books that are fleshing out some of the conflicts going on across the globe.   Last week it was, A Long Way Gone: memoirs of a boy soldier  by Ishmael Beah.  It is a firsthand account of an orphaned boy struggling for survival amidst the recent conflicts in Sierre Leone.  Although the civil conflict has been officially declared over, there are still unspeakable things going on in Africa and millions of residents whose lives will never return back to “normal”.  Currently I am wrapping up Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. Greg is working in Pakistan and Afganistan to build schools, especially for young girls.  He is single handedly fighting terrorism with books instead of bombs.  Reading these accounts has made me question what contributions am I making? 

Ironically, I am supposed to post this week about “loving my neighbor”.  Most weeks I would think Jesus was trying to tell me that these stories going on across the globe aren’t quite as far removed as I might think.  These are my neighbors and now that I know their stories I can’t ignore them. 

I won’t ignore that conviction, or at least that won’t be my intentions but a stronger conviction resonates within me when I try to come up with a blog posting about loving my neighbor.  I don’t know them.  You know, my real across-the-street neighbors.  I think God wants me to tackle my own street before/or in addition to becoming an activist for a cause across the globe.

Growing up I knew everyone’s name on my street.  Sadly, most or them were older and didn’t have kids my own age but that didn’t stop me from slipping into their house for a snack and knocking on their door trying to sell them my girl scout cookies.  Even in college there were probably 20+ girls on my dorm hall and I knew almost every one of them. I could have told you all where they were from. The brand of shampoo they left in the showers and most of their majors, who was in what sorority and who had boyfriends back home.

In comparison, I have lived in my current house for almost 6 years.  There are only 9 houses on my cul-de-sac and I have only stepped foot in 3 of them.  I know less than half of their names.  I know only what my immediate next door neighbors do for a living.  I have occasionally asked to borrow an egg.  I have babysat a time or two in a pinch.  I have a picked up mail once or twice.  But I am worlds away from community.  Somehow the task of getting to know my neighbors seems harder than sending a check to Pakistan.  It is more impressive to tell my friends or people at my church about my passion for children in Africa, than it is to pause to chat with my neighbors while my hands are full of groceries and trying to chase my three year old out of the street. 

A question that should be paired with “who is my neighbor?” is “do you know them?”.  Whether they are across the street or across the globe.  What are their needs?  What is their story? I can’t begin to love my neighbors until I know them.

Lately my blog has been pretty blank.  I can make plenty of excuses for it and most of them are even valid.  I have been sick and tired and busy, but mostly I am just out of habit.  You know like when you skip 2 days at the gym and suddenly you don’t go back for weeks.

It isn’t quite like riding a bike. It is more like math or playing the violin. If you are out of practice – it shows.  The notes (or words) don’t come as easily.  Mistakes abound.  And the worst part I stop looking at the world as a writer.  I don’t think back to an event, conversation or experience and put it into words.  It is mostly lost. 

There are dozens of things I was going to blog about over the last 6 weeks.  Trips, conversations, realizations but 90% of them did not find their way onto paper and now never will. Those profound moments I wanted to document are already forgotten.

 

People always say that bad habits are hard to break, but I think good habits are even harder to keep.

 

It is weird to talk about good positive creative things as habit.  Shouldn’t creative processes be spontaneous?  But the truth is…..it all gets better with practice.  I see and process the world differently when I am writing about it. When I am not it just seems to slip by.

 

So a few questions to leave you with….How do you get back on the bike after an extended break?  How do you maintain good writing practices without making your writing sound too routine?

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