Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Christmas Story

I have a Christmas story to tell you. It's a story about light and love shining into dark places, a story about following the lead when Spirit nudges, a story about bringing hope into someone's world.

Photo by Alex Dram via Flickr
It was December of 1990, or possibly late November, but the point is, it was the Christmas season. The fall had not been good to me, and maybe that's a play on words because it wasn't just autumn, it was me falling with no one to catch me and I was raw from a relationship gone all twisted and wrong, and in my pain I made decisions that were probably the right decisions but who can say with all this time gone by? I dropped out of school in my last semester. Yes, the very last one, with only my student teaching to go to make me a full-fledged English teacher. I quit it all and walked away, and I have no regrets now because God can redeem the most broken of situations, but at that time I was lost.

Going home wasn't an option for me, although it would have made more sense then living off the dwindling resource of my last student loan, trying to find a job for which I was neither overqualified nor under-qualified. As my account dwindled there were groceries delivered anonymously to my door, and there were friends who took me shopping when they found out I had no food. And they were their own little bits of light and love, so they are a part of this story.

When the Christmas season hit I finally found a job, just a seasonal job, working in the mall at the bookstore. I could tell you stories about the characters I met, so many of them their own kind of broken and wounded. I was down to my last dollars. Literally. Seven dollars in my bank account, and a gas tank that was threatening empty. I told myself I could make it until my first payday.

Payday arrived. I worked my shift and collected my check, leaving the mall in late afternoon to head for the bank and then the gas station. I never made it out of the parking lot. Well, to be precise, I made it out of the parking lot and on to the mall loop road and up to a stop sign. And then nothing. I sat there in my completely out of gas car as holiday shoppers pulled around me and went on their way, cars loaded down with bags of gifts. I'd like to say I was strong and knew exactly what to do, rising to the occasion with grit and determination. But I had no grit left and my determination, well...I'd spent a lifetime having it drilled out of me. So I did the only thing I had left to do. I cried.

And then a knock on my window and a woman asked "Are you ok?" And I probably sobbed out something about 'out of gas' and 'first payday' and 'thought I could make it to the gas station' and...and...and...

A man stopped and helped us move the car into a parking space. And then this woman, this complete stranger, loaded me into her station wagon (because those were still kind of a thing), drove me to the gas station and bought me some gas. She wasn't going to stop, she said, but she felt a nudge and she looked and saw my tears. And in that moment she chose to be light to me.

I'm not going to say that my world was instantly better because someone was kind. I didn't ride off into a sunset of joy and plenty. There were still struggles, there was still healing to be done. But I will tell you that I have NEVER forgotten that little flicker of hope that was lit that day. A hope that maybe I wasn't forgotten, wasn't beyond God's notice, wasn't finished yet.

And isn't that what Christmas is? That reminder that in the midst of our darkness, light came in. And that light started small but the darkness didn't overcome it and that light was the hope and the promise that we weren't beyond God's notice, that he wasn't finished with his plan yet, that salvation was near.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Advent III - Waiting

This isn't the poem I wanted to write, but in the midst of work craziness and a sick child and now the sudden (if not entirely unexpected) passing of Mike's grandmother it's all I've got...unedited because life in this in-between time, this waiting for another advent, another coming...well, this life just has to be lived unedited in all of the high points and the low points. So we wait with the world, groaning through the low points and rejoicing in the triumphs for that day when there will be no more low points, no more sickness, no more stress, no more worry, no more death.

Photo by Isolino Ferreira via Flickr

This is life
The whole mess of it
The sickness
And the dying
And the laundry
And the laughter.
In the middle of the pain.
We just keep on turning, turning
As we wait for redemption
Wait for God in that one brilliant moment
To explain the whole plan,
End the waiting,
The wanting.
Conquer death,
Moth and rust.
We are waiting,
Living in the middle
Steeped in mess
But touched by glory.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

When God says 'wait'

Have I ever told you the story about how I got my job? My wonderful job that I do from the comfort of my home, sometimes in my pajamas and fuzzy slippers if it's just that kind of day. The job that has let me be present for my children in the ways that I want to be present.


It all began with an accounting job, working long hours as a CPA for a public accounting firm, not really loving what I was doing, certain there was something 'more' out there. My heart ached to be home with my boys, to find some sort of better balance between my work and parenting, to reclaim some sense of being myself. But the timing felt wrong, and none of my interviews for other jobs panned out, and so I waited. And then a client sought me out for a job that would take me out of public accounting...and I turned it down. I turned it down because something inside whispered that it was only a step sideways, not forward, and that the time for moving forward would come.

And then God asked me to do something terrifying. Just as strongly as I had felt the 'not yet' of waiting, I felt the 'now'. And the Now was frightening. Quit my job, find some clients and do bookkeeping from home. It sounded fabulous except for that 'find some clients' part because when I tell you that I am an introvert who could not sell my services to anyone I mean INTROVERT and I mean NOT A SALESPERSON! Capitals, exclamation points, full emphatic declaration.

But I listened, and Mike supported (because he's awesome like that), and I turned in my notice at the firm. And then, about two weeks before my last day, I panicked. Because this was REAL and it was REALLY HAPPENING and oh-my-goodness-I-needed-clients. And a computer. And accounting software. I was scared, but when Mike and I talked about this we knew, deep down in the part that hears God whispering, that this was still the right move. It was only a few days later when one of the firm's clients asked the receptionist if she knew anyone who was looking to do bookkeeping part-time, maybe even from home. She gave them my name.

Can I tell you how wonderful it has been to work for them? They met my salary request, they provided every bit of hardware and software I needed, they paid for phone and fax lines to be installed in my home, they had exactly the number of hours that I needed to work. And they have been wonderful people to work for.

I thought I would do this job forever.

Then things changed. Out of the blue, their main client and the source of most of my hours was sold. I was facing the reality that in a matter of months when the sale was final I would essentially be out of a job. Yes, we would still have Mike's income. We wouldn't starve or lose the house or anything, but we'd need another small source of income just to close the gap. I was crushed. In my mind I envisioned myself working in an office again, feeling out of balance again, the boys coming home to an empty house and how on EARTH would I manage their activities now that they are older?

And what about that dream I had to be a writer? The dream that was just starting to gain momentum, the words and stories that were taking hazy shape in my mind? Was it dead before it even started?

I started making tentative plans for where to look. Substitute teaching? Contact my old firm to establish professional contacts that could lead to a similar job? And then on Monday, God said 'wait'. And the word was so peaceful that I listened. I told my small group about it, and the doubts I had that said "Is this really God? Or just my wishful thinking?" I resolved to listen and wait.

On Tuesday my boss told me that the sale was being pushed up to year end. THIS year end. As in 'three weeks away and not two months'. I told a friend that the waiting just got harder. But still I felt 'wait'. And I prepared to dig in and wait, with gritted teeth if I had to. Because although I haven't always felt that God and I are on speaking terms, and sometimes I've questioned everything that I think I know about him, there just really isn't a whole lot else I can do when he gives peace about something that would normally have me scrambling to Fix This NOW!

On Wednesday I went to my step class as usual, and I may have been a little extra distracted and its probably a good thing I didn't twist my ankle because most of that class was a silent prayer to help me wait, help me wait, help me wait. And then I came home and showered and sat down to work. I popped off a quick email to my boss about some paperwork, and then the phone rang.

I thought my boss was calling about the paperwork. He wasn't. He was calling to tell me about a bonus they would be getting from proceeds of the sale; a bonus that they wanted to share with me. And while I won't tell you the specific amount, I will tell you that it is enough to give me a few months of working at this dream of writing, without worrying about finding a job right away. Yes, we'll still have to be cautious with our money. But it is ENOUGH. Enough to dream a little, enough to see where God is taking me.

I called Mike and cried. I emailed my friends and cried some more. My friend called me and we rejoiced together and I hung up the phone and the doorbell rang. It was the mail carrier, with the package I'd ordered from Amazon a week ago. Kyle's Christmas present, and a book that I'd just tossed in because it was on my wish list and I needed to make up the amount to qualify for free shipping.

Do you see that? Uncover the art you were made to live. It felt like a confirmation and a promise all in one.

But that's not quite the end, because on a blog that tells me what the free Kindle deals are for the day, THIS was the very first book listed. And I will just tell you that it is my first research book for the story I want to tell. And it could be coincidence, or it could just be that God has a sense of humor, because when God says 'wait' and you listen, and all of these things happen at once, really all you can do is sit down with God and laugh together at how much More he is than you could ever expect.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Advent II - Silence

Photo by Eustaquio Santimano via Flickr

Hush now.
Hold these seconds precious in your hands
Breathing in the stillness.
Shut the door on all the noise
And the hurrying
The rustle of bags
And the endless, endless rush and chatter
Of all the wanting and the doing.
Sit down and in the praying and the silence
Let the darkness be at bay.
Because it’s a weary world out there,
And the cold creeps in around the edges.
So let us wrap ourselves with silence
Just for these moments.
And hush.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Advent I - Desolation

Photo by D. Munoz-Santos via Flickr

Lost within bleak wastelands of our wanting,
And each one drunk on bitter wine of self
We stagger on.
With empty hands and hearts
We search alone in darkness,
While wind batters and ice bites,
We stumble over the trash heap
Of our desires.
But all the things that glittered
Have lost their shine
And we fall shattered in their midst,
Still grasping at the pieces.