Introspective Insights

Introspective - adj: Examining sensory and perceptual experiences. Insight - n: The capacity to discern the true nature of a situation.

Seeking the Light

I recently wrote a post for my church’s blog. Read the introduction here and click on over to check out the full post.

There is a mourning, a fog of sadness that covers me when I take down the Christmas decorations. For five weeks the sparkling silver, red, and green have overtaken our house. Lights twinkling in the darkness, glowing, guiding me during my early morning reading. But today, it will all be put away. The white cold, stark days begin. Days of waiting until we can decorate again. And as much as a dread the undoing, I crave the cool, clean crispness of January unfolding forward into spring, summer, and beyond. [read more…]

Halloween Decorations

Halloween decorations, I don’t get it, I don’t understand. The tombstones, gore, skeletons – what is this celebrating, really? It seems natural to compare Halloween decorations to Christmas decorations. It seems that if you decorate for Halloween, you should do an equally awesome Christmas display, right? Well, that doesn’t always seem to be the case. Does that mean we have officially crossed over to the dark side by focusing on Halloween more than Christmas?

Halloween decorations glorify death, dismemberment, gore and evil. For what purpose? Why do you want symbols of death and horror on your lawn, in your house, on your body? Really, someone, somewhere, please explain this to me, because I just.don’t.get.it. Are you doing it because it’s “fun”, “silly”, “everyone’s doing it”, “I never really thought about it”. Yes, that’s what I’m getting at.

Have you thought about it? What you are doing, why you are doing it, what it represents? We all want to deny the spiritual unless it’s convenient, but the truth remains that there is a spiritual world around us. What are you glorifying or unwittingly supporting? Do you want death, dismemberment and gore? It seems that decorating this way invites this into your life. Maybe I’m going too far, getting too deep into something that isn’t your intent. OK, maybe, but how do you feel when you see tombstones and gore in front of someone’s house? Does it seem “frighteningly inviting”?

Maybe it’s time to ask questions about what the decorations represent and how they are perceived by others. What are the consequences and thought behind the display? Do they glorify depravity or a twisted sense of values? Do they represent a lack of respect for the dead or dying? Do they disregard the sensitive nature of children?

Know More, Love More


Tonight I co-hosted a table at our church’s Advent by
Candlelight event – a time to focus on Jesus, the true meaning of the
season.  As I looked around the table at
the women – some I had just met tonight – others I have had the honor of
getting to know over the last several months – I was impressed with God’s love
for them moving through me. 
 

As we went through the activities of the night, we shared
family traditions.  One woman’s family started
asking each other “what does God want for Christmas?”  Another shared about the delicious egg strata
her mother made each Christmas morning. 
One spoke of her family’s traditions – originating from Eastern Europe.  The women spent hours cooking – learning the customary
dishes for Christmas.  Each girl
initiated into the traditions – it was “woman talk” – a place where you heard
the family stories, laughed, hands full of sticky dough.  It was hard work, but significant.

I looked at each woman thinking that as I learned more about
them, I had the opportunity to love them more. 
When we share ourselves, our story, our true self – where we’ve come
from, the depth of who we are becomes rich and beautiful.  To know more is to love more.

I believe that at times God has given me a spiritual love
for people as I need it – at times suddenly and almost overwhelmingly.  But more often in life, this sharing of who
we are over time is what brings me to that complex, indescribable bond.  Conversely, if a person is guarded and not
willing to reveal even a glimpse of herself, I often cannot find love.  I find fault and annoyance and struggle
greatly to connect.

Tonight, I looked into each face and found that supernatural
love, a gift to my worn soul.  I can’t
help but praise God at the gifts of community and love he has given me –
something I have prayed for a long time. 

The Afterward


Christmas is over…New Year’s ball is dark…kids are
sleeping.  The hoopla and preparation of
the last several weeks has drawn to a close. 
Every year I look forward to this time of year and when it is here and
gone the inevitable sadness creeps up on me.
 
I thought I was smart this year by resisting the buildup – avoiding the
hype…letting myself believe that it was really just “another day”.  But in my quest to avoid the pain, I almost
missed out on the joy and peace and hope that Christmas brings.

I have a cross stitch with Jesus in the manger that says “Gift
of Love”. 
I stare at it and try to
really absorb the message – try to comprehend what really happened that night
over two thousand years ago.  The truth
is that I don’t really get it – I’m not sure that anyone really does, but we
find glimpses of it when tragedy strikes and we pray and mourn and wish that it
was one of us instead of a child struck down in a senseless act.  We realize that we would sacrifice ourselves
and in that sacrifice offer the ultimate gift of love.  

Christmas…it is just one day…one day that we do silly things
preparing for – cutting down an evergreen and adorning it with lights and
ornaments, sending cards, baking obscene amounts of baked good, filling our
homes with bright lights, candles, and other shiny decorations.  We give gifts to remember that gift that came
to us then.  Yet, the day is gone in a
flash of light.  We see the cookie
crumbs, the lights gone dark, the clutter absent and the stark, cold, white
winter lies before us – icy and quiet. 
Maybe this quiet is time for reflection. 
I can’t quite figure it out…how to grasp sadness and embrace it and
grieve for what has passed by.  But maybe
that is the trouble.  Looking back is so
easy when the pain is fresh and looking forward so hard when the view is misplaced. 

Here is the opportunity to start a new journey…to lay down
what has built us up to this moment and find a fresh perspective.  What if the process of getting to Christmas
was the joy?
  What if each day we could
live in anticipation and gratitude and peace? 
Christmas would be a continuation a fulfillment of that joy – a day set
aside to remember and reflect and comprehend this incomprehensible gift. 

I’ll be honest – I don’t know if I can do it.  Dark days lie ahead and light absent unless
we strike the match.  But I have to try –
pushing it all aside – looking at this year, stretched
out before me…anticipating its joys and secrets…putting last year behind me.

My Christmas Gift


With Christmas still around us in our eyes, ears, and mouths
and the hope of Epiphany looming ahead, I present a guest post along those
themes from my sister, Rachel Miller.
 

Like years past I spent the last several weeks planning and
plotting and watching for sales and shipping deals in order to find the perfect
gifts for my kids: three deliciously beautiful blonde boys ages 5 months, 2
years, and 5 years old.  All of the fretting and sweating and logistical
maneuvering was all worth it to see their eyes light up when they tore back the
wrapping paper and saw their new favorite toy/game/shirt/whatever.  Also
as in years past, my husband and I agreed to not buy each other Christmas gifts
to wrap and place under the tree.  I truly am OK with that decision, but
this year I am especially thankful for it.  I think if I had a gift under
the tree to unwrap, I might have missed the completely perfect gift that God
gave me this Christmas.  God allowed me to clearly see his own son, Jesus
Christ, in each of my children for the first time.

First Sebastian, my sweet chubby 5 month old.  As we rested
and nursed quietly this afternoon I thought about the fact that this is how
Mary and Jesus spent the first Christmas.  Mary, exhausted from travel and
childbirth, probably spent most if not all of Christmas Day resting, cuddling,
and nursing God’s own son as best she could in a barn. I’m sure we both
kissed chubby fingers, traced the curve of an ear, gently rubbed a tiny back.

 What a beautiful reminder of Jesus’ humble beginnings and Sebastian’s
potential to be an extraordinary force in this world.  Thank you, God.

Then Nathan, my crazy intense 2 year old.  Our pastor
spoke of the Magi at the Christmas Eve service.  He stated that, while
most nativity scenes show the three kings offering their lavish gifts to a
newborn Jesus in the manger, it’s more likely that it took them several months,
if not over a year, to follow the star and find Jesus.  He asked us to
imagine the chaos it would have caused in the streets of Bethlehem when this
caravan of wealthy VIPs entered the city in search of Jesus, all to find a
toddler not so different from the ones squirming in the pews that night.
 I could see it in my mind’s eye.  I could see the look of surprise,
yet quiet understanding in Nathan’s enormous eyes as the wise men presented
their gifts.
 I could see his heart-melting dimpled smile, and even hear
him trying out some of the new words describing his gifts: gold … muh …
frank-a-tents, all the while giggling.  A reminder of how God will use my
seemingly ordinary Nathan to do remarkable things for his kingdom.  Thank
you, God.

Finally Kameron, my firstborn.  Five years ago at this
time I really identified with Mary as I was only days away from becoming a
mother for the first time as well!  As I listened to Kameron have an in
depth conversation with his aunt about Thomas the Tank Engine and all of his
railway friends, I thought of Jesus as a young boy in the temple.  I
specifically had a vision of a boy not much older than Kameron surrounded by
the elders in the temple, speaking to them with authority about theological and
spiritual matters.  Ok, clearly Thomas the Tank Engine is not as deep of a
subject, but I had never seen him speak with such passion and authority about
the name, number, size, color, and unique characteristics of an impressive
number of engines.  I could picture Kameron in the midst of a spirited
debate with the elders, educating them on the attributes of God the Father in
his sweet yet matter-of-fact voice.
 A reminder of how God uses the mouths
of even children like my Kameron to speak his truth to the world. Thank you,
God.

Gifts under the Christmas tree are nice, and I still enjoy
the thrill of hunting the perfect present, but nothing compares to the
gift of clearly seeing Christ in your kids for the first time.
 I pray
that all Christians experience similar revelations in their journey of faith.

When
Rachel is not working her day job wielding her red tape machete or pushing
beer-leavened baked goods on the side, she is home with her three boys ages 5
years, 2 years, and 5 months eating homemade pizza and ice cream made by her
culinary gifted husband, Kal.

Thanksgiving Is


When I was growing up, Thanksgiving was that quiet
go-to-grandmas-eat-lots-of-food-and-be-bored-the-rest-of-the-day holiday.  Compared to Christmas, Thanksgiving was just
a halfhearted warm up act.
  Sure, it was
nice to be with family and share a big, hearty meal, but it was not a big deal
to me.
Over the years, my perspective has changed.  We first started hosting Thanksgiving nine
years ago.  We had just bought our house that
summer and I said offhandedly that it would be great to host a holiday, but
not this year because it was just too soon. 
We hosted anyway – hectic, learning, and chaotic, but I’m glad we did
it.  
The next year, I was pregnant with our first child.  The idea of being thankful seemed so important,
so integral to how life should be that I was grateful that this was our holiday
to host.
  I made handmade card
invitations, started to buy Thanksgiving décor, looked for ways to make this
OUR holiday.  We started speaking out our
thankfulness before the prayer and I was brought to tears nearly every time.  
Each year that passes, I am overwhelmed by all that I have
to be thankful for.  It seems to me that
over time this holiday – Thanksgiving – is what should matter most.  
Thanksgiving is:

  • Friends and family together sharing and loving
    each other – even when we don’t understand or like each other all the time.
  • Reminiscing, laughing, storytelling, traditions.
  • Food, warmth, pumpkins, turkey, and stuffing.
  • Brokenness…realizing that all we have – life,
    health, shelter, food, breath is a gift from God – grace for this moment –
    undeserved favor.

How can we not bow before God and offer thanks for each
moment?  How can we forget that each
moment of life is a gift?
  I don’t live
this thankfulness as I should – today being a prime example of my irritation
and anger and shaking of my fist at all that annoys and inconveniences me –
even the people that should matter the most. 
So come Thanksgiving, come to us broken ones – so that we can
weigh down time with grace and peace and a bit of joy to move us forward. 

We Celebrate Anyway

The last several weeks have been really trying for our family and extended family. We’ve suffered through illness, untimely death, and other stressful situations. Over this past weekend, I felt as if I were at my breaking point, but I found that keeping up with my thankfulness journal really helped me keep perspective on everything.

Today on Valentine’s Day, I’m reminded of the most important things to celebrate – love, family, and the decision to celebrate.

We celebrate by giving each other cards, candy, hearts, flowers, and small gifts. But it is not the gifts that matter – it’s the people giving those gifts that we hold near to our hearts. If I chose to look at the circumstances around me, there would be no reason to celebrate – I could easily be depressed or exhausted, or just look for the simplest way to get through the day. But instead we celebrate anyway – in the midst of the pain, fear, illness, waiting, and sorrow. We choose to take a different path – to choose joy in the simple act of giving paper hearts, homemade cards, and cookies.

I wear a cross around my neck occasionally. It took me a long time to decide if I wanted to wear one because I didn’t want to dishonor what it stood for or disrespect Jesus’ sacrifice by my bad behavior while wearing it. The cross – the symbol of ultimate suffering during Jesus’ time becomes a symbol of our salvation – a treasured and honored reminder of new life from horrible suffering and death. We choose to make this awful thing represent eternal life.

Ultimately I believe we have made it through these last several weeks by choosing to believe and have hope that this is not the way it should be, has to be or will be forever. We don’t always get it right, but I believe that God if faithful. He has shown his face to us during this trying time.

We choose to celebrate anyway and welcome the joy of this love He has given us.

Traditions

With the holidays right around the corner, this time of year is ripe with traditions of all kinds. While there are the “biggies” – the turkey at Thanksgiving and the tree for Christmas, there are many small traditions this time of year that just warm my heart.

Even though we are in a large metro area, the town next to us has a small town feel to it with a park in the city center. Every year they put up a lit Menorah, lights on the big pine tree, play Christmas music, and put up a near life size nativity set. What is so great about this nativity set is that they have a set of wise men that travel through the park to see baby Jesus. The set went up yesterday and as they are every year, the wise men are set far back in the park away from the nativity set. Every week or so they travel to see the baby Jesus. Our kids love this – we drive past the park every few days to see if the “wise guys” have moved. This is such a simple thing that me makes me happy deep inside.

Some other simple traditions we love:

  • Enjoying a warm, wood burning fire and watching the parade on Thanksgiving day. That last few years it has snowed the day before Thanksgiving. There is nothing like coming inside from the cold to the warmth of family and friends in front of a fire.
  • Cutting down our Christmas tree on a farm. We always do this the first weekend in December. Some years it has been sunny and 40 degrees. One year it was 20 degrees and a blizzard. We take the kids and they help pick the tree. One year, Kayla ate icicles the whole time.
  • Eating the largest cheese pizza we can find as our Christmas Eve dinner with wine of course. The last few years we’ve had a 24 inch pizza that barely fits on the table. The local pizza place we go to knows us and our tradition which for some reason makes it more special.
  • Arranging a snack and cookie fest on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. This tradition has evolved over the years. It started at my parent’s house where we would cook appetizers and cookies and load up the table. We went to church on Christmas Eve and then we came back and ate and opened presents and stayed up until obnoxious hours of the morning. Nowadays we usually hold the feast on Christmas Day in the afternoon where Jerry’s family (and whoever else is in town from my family) comes over and we graze all day.

What simple traditions are you looking forward to this season?