Winding Down 2018

annual-reviewOn Sunday, many Christians start a new liturgical year. I begin a new journal and a new planner. The reflection and preparation for the new year that most people start the last week of December or the first week of the new year I started last week and and will be winding down this week.
2018 has been up and down for me. There have been significant loses and struggles, but there have also been some positive changes that have set me up beautifully for 2019.
My word for 2018 was Shalom. I didn’t know everything that word meant when I started the year, but I came to understand that it was much more than peace. Shalom is the peace Christ has and spread. Shalom is a peace that passes understanding, a peace that springs from wholeness.
As I look back on the year, that is exactly what I found: wholeness.
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Struggling to Find the Light

I’ve always struggled in the winter. Not only does the cold slow me down, but the shorter, darker days leave me depressed and unmotivated. I’m normally a health nut, eating right and exercising every day, but this time of year, I indulge in cookies and donuts and am lucky if I hit 5,000 steps on my Fitbit Alta HR. The farm chores seem harder and less rewarding.
To add to the depression, I’m put off by the obligations of parties and gift exchanges that have so very little to do with the season of Advent. I enjoy the quiet contemplation that fits so well with Advent, but I live in a world that calls people to shop until they drop and to attend one party after another.  Instead of preparing the way for the Lord, the world around me consumes and consumes and consumes some more.
For me, Christmas existed to remind me of how much I wasn’t like others. As a kid, I hated opening box after box of things I didn’t really want, pretending to love each one.  As a mother, I hated the ridicule I received because I taught my daughter the stories of Saint Nicolas rather than following along with American traditions of Santa Claus. As a Christian, I resent being told to celebrate the season when it isn’t here yet and being expected to prep for the next holiday when for me it’s still Christmas. Continue reading

Preparing the Way

More and more, I pull back from the traditional American Christmas. We haven’t had a Christmas tree in years. I used to let the kids pick out the tree and make all our decorations. When they stopped being interested, I stopped decorating. I no longer make a Christmas card list and diligently send out all my cards by the second Sunday in Advent. I no longer make a list of everyone I need to shop for and/or bake for.
Instead, I have been focused throughout the year on letting the people I love know that they matter to me. I don’t wait for a holiday to send a card or a gift. Every day is a day for Hope, Peace, Joy, & Love, and the 4 weeks before Christmas have truly become a celebration of Advent.
In my daily email from dotMagis, I found a lovely reminder of what Advent is:

Advent DoorWhereas the spirit of Lent is penitential, Advent has a gentler way of getting us ready for the Lord. A friend once described it as a time when God tenderly breaks through all of our defenses. Advent is a time of slow surrender to the Lord.
My family and I enjoy hiking, and for longer trips, I like clearly marked trails. A compass and a good map are handy, too. But our Advent journeys are much more like going “off road.” In Advent, God is inviting us to explore the interior forest of our own hearts with God: places that are light, and shadowy and dark spots, sweet smelling pine beds and thorny thickets. It’s a season to deepen intimacy with the Lord by allowing him to walk with us into all of our interior spaces.

Author Marina McCoy perfectly summarizes the journey I make each Advent. Every year, I work on deepening my connection to God, which inevitably deepens my connection with the people in my life in the coming year. I do that by focusing time each day on contemplating where I am and where God is taking me. There are days when I spend time writing reflectively, sorting through my feelings and through what is God’s will and what is my own. Other days, I read from my Ignatian Book of Days and sit in contemplative silence. Some days result in an action item; others result in waiting. The goal is always the same–break down the barriers that keep me from a deep personal relationship with God.

We’re having a door decorating contest at work. I’m no artist, so I’m not in it to win it! But I did take the opportunity to share the messages of Advent. As I decorated the door, I read the Advent prayers and spent some thinking about Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.

  • How do I experience Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love in my life?
  • How often do I pray for those Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love?
  • What do I do in my day life to be an instrument of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love in the world around me?
  • How do experiencing Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love bring me closer to God?

PeaceWhen I think about where my life was 5 years ago or a year ago or even 6 months ago, I know that I have purposefully made choices that have increased the Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love in my life. I am certainly a work in progress, but I have made a considerable difference in my quality of living. I’ve gone from high stress working environments to a high-performing but intentionally fun, low-stress working environment. I have eliminated toxic relationships. I have improved and deepened the remaining relationships. The majority of my time is devoted to those things that bring me closer to God. Hope and Peace have certainly become constants in my life.

What I’m praying for most this Advent is to open my heart to greater Love and to learn how to experience Joy more fully. I still struggle with both. At the moment, I am actively focused on loving more fully, reaching out to those I love, and taking every opportunity I have to connect with others. As an introvert, I find this very challenging, but as I pray for guidance, I am finding that even an introvert can find ways to reach out to others.
What are you experiencing this Advent season? What do you need most in your life?

Who Am I?

I receive a daily message from dotMagis, the blog for Ignatian Spirituality.  Most days, I read and contemplate, taking with me a little nugget of wisdom.  Every now and again, I find myself knocked over by a simple but profound question.  Today was one of those days:

When the priests and Levites questioned John the Baptist in the wilderness, they asked him “Who are you?” John responded by testifying “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’” (John 1:19–23)
As we labor in these weeks of Advent, we have the opportunity to face that same question and give our own testimony. Who are you? What is your voice, your life, crying out in the wilderness to proclaim?
This is the desert experience when all our trappings of ego and image are dropped.
Each of us has our own calling, our own message of love to be expressed with our lives. Who are you? What is your voice crying out in the wilderness to proclaim?
John captured his answer in 18 words. Can you capture yours in Facebook post? In a blog comment? In a tweet? In a Christmas card? In a moment of prayer?
Before this message of love can be fully realized at Christmas, we must be able to articulate it at least for ourselves. Who are you? What is your voice crying out in the wilderness to proclaim?

This simple message from author Lisa Kelly left me uncomfortable, squirming in my seat a little.  Lisa’s bio gave her roughly 75 words to describe herself.  I can do that.  But am I as clear as John about who I am?  And is the person I claim to be the person God wants me to be?
This was an interesting follow-up to my discovery of a new song this morning.  I regularly listen to Google Play Music radio stations to discover new favorite songs.  Four songs into a new station, and I found myself deeply moved by the lyrics of Keep Making Me by Sidewalk Prophets:
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AwYv6yMuPaA]
I found myself asking, “Am I still full of my will?”  A question I ask often.  I find that I am most happy and most fulfilled when I submit to God’s will and have faith in the plans he has for me.  Only when I take back control does my life fly off the rails.  Lately, I have also been asking myself, “Who am I?”  I deeply desire to be the person God made me to be, so I ask God every day to strip away the persona I created and to reveal the person I was before the world shaped me, the person he intended me to be.
So…  Here is my attempt at describing myself in 18 words or less:

I am a Christian Leader called to evangelize for the Episcopal Church through service, education, and servant leadership.

How did I do?  Give it a shot yourself, and if you’re comfortable enough…  Share!