Christmas Snapshots

This Christmas has been very restful and I’m very glad.  For the last several years I felt like I could not fully “enter” into Christmas because I was so exhausted.  I could physically show up, but that was about it.

This year, I got to attend Handel’s Messiah with several people from the Dwelling Place.

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My roommate Chelsea, was the master chef behind these meals:

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We decorated our apartment simply.

 

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I spent time with my sister, with my parents, with other friends from church.  I gave gifts and I received gifts.

 

And Cash the dog actually posed for a picture underneath his stocking!

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Advent and Reflection

On Friday, I went to Sustainable Faith Indy (SFI) for a 4 hour silent Advent retreat.

SFI holds snapshots of my healing process.  The first time I took a silent retreat was two years ago during Advent.  I had just quit my job at the Oaks Academy, and I wasn’t yet diagnosed with Hashimoto’s.  I had no job, was moving out of my apartment the next month, and I had no idea what to do to help myself.  I was desperate, anxious, and yet too exhausted to feel those emotions that strongly. Numb was a better description.

On these retreats, Advent guides are prepared for each participant.  As I looked through my guide from two years ago, I found in its pages a poem that reveals the depth of my sadness, of my desire for healing:

When Sickness Prevails

Fatigue helps me to befriend stillness

even when I scream into its void.

Silence reveals who I really am:

my fears, doubts, joys, and thoughts

and in that rest I know I am sick.

 

When sickness prevails, rest doesn’t satisfy.

Emotions run rampant, loneliness sucks me dry.

Fear overtakes my mind. I feel stuck.

Stuck in this moment, in this depressing hour

Never to get out.

 

When sickness prevails, friends are few.

I ask for what I need, but I am shut-in,

unable to do much activity outside my apartment

and then largely forgotten.

Forgotten because busyness reigns and words are cheap.

 

When sickness prevails and I am alone,

I try to distract myself and not feel.

Eventually I am still enough to cry

and those tears are held by those

acquainted with grief,

when sickness prevails.

 

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As I read this poem now, I am sad as I think back to that time, and yet simply grateful that two years later reflects a much different story.  As I sat down at the lunch table at SFI before my afternoon retreat started, I thought,

“I am among friends.”

Two years ago, I also wrote down a few longings I had, that are now a part of my every day life.

  • I wanted adult friendships, not mentors.  I wanted people who could handle walking with me in my story, yet saw me as valuable, and were willing to learn from me as well.
  • I wanted to feel like I could be included in the life of the church, not just as someone to help, but one with a vibrant story to share, even if I broached uncomfortable territory.
  • I wanted to journey with a few friends dealing or had dealt with sickness.  I wanted to feel like I wasn’t alone.

And this Christmas, all of these longings have been given to me.  I have several adult friendships, who walk with me in my story, and seek my healing right alongside me.  I have been lovingly included at Dwelling Place, and I have several friends with sickness, who help keep me grounded when I’m becoming fearful again or coming unglued, or want to give up.

In the midst of profound struggle, I have been given many gifts.

What are you reflecting on this Christmas?  What gifts have you been given? 

 

 

Advent and Vulnerability

I’ve approached Advent this year with my fists clenched, if I’m honest.

It seems like too much of a risk to be vulnerable.  I’m teary-eyed, but don’t exactly know what I need.

Dependence seems scary.

Yet as I pay attention to my fear, my anxiety, and my tears, I know that I’m being invited to trust, to let my guard down just a little bit more, to let myself feel what I need.

It’s been a brutal three years of loss.  Loss of health, jobs, friendships, a stable place to call home.

I found deep resources within myself as I learned to survive, as I learned to rely on the help of strangers.  There is a strength and a bravery in me that I didn’t know I had.

Yet as I’ve slowly been piecing my life back together, I’m coming to terms that I experienced deep wounds of isolation-and it will take time to heal.

I wasn’t made just to be strong, but also vulnerable.  I wasn’t made just to survive, but to heal and pay attention to my life.

I’m made to be deeply dependent, even as I risk my fears of being a burden, of being misunderstood, of being ignored, of not being believed.

As I acknowledge my humanity, of what I can’t handle on my own, I will feel free.  I will honor who I truly am, and honor those I meet.

Part of why this journey is so hard is because many people are not vulnerable.  I haven’t had many models of ongoing healthy vulnerability.  I know that I need to receive help, and have the relationship be more one-sided.  And yet many times I long for mutual vulnerability.

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As I turn my thoughts toward Advent, I thought of a phrase I grew up hearing,

“Jesus doesn’t need you, but he wants you.”

While I understand what this phrase is trying to say, we often make light of Christ’s humanity.  We are scared of Christ as baby, because we feel more safe it He’s powerful.

Christ did need people, born as a baby, completely dependent.  He would have died without the safety and nourishment of his family.

Maybe when he said, “The kingdom of heaven belongs to little children,” he knew what he was saying.

As adults, it’s our journey to return to a place of unwavering trust, like a child.  To be free.  To be unashamed. To give because we have no reason not to.

Advent is an invitation to vulnerability and dependence-to echo Christ’s first cries of “I need help.”

Moments of vulnerability are simple, yet profound.

Terrifying, yet peaceful.

Tear-filled, yet silent.

I know this journey is worthwhile, and yet I need to remember again.

The Longing of Advent

When we commit to resting during Advent, some of our longings arise.  When we move more slowly and are more observant, we may also come into contact with the longings of others.

Post-election, and into Advent I have been reading African-American poetry.  These poems are beautiful and gritty and they demand an emotional response.  Below are two in particular that have grabbed my attention:

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Frederick Douglass

Written by Robert Hayden

When it is finally ours; this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful

and terrible thing, needful to man as air,

usable as earth; when it belongs at last to all,

when it is truly instinct, brain matter, diastole, systole,

reflex action: when it is finally won; when it is more

than the gaudy mumbo jumbo of politicians:

this man, this Douglass, this former slave, this Negro

beaten to his knees, exiled, visioning a world

where none is lonely, none hunted, alien,

this man, superb in love and logic, this man

shall be remembered. Oh, not with statues’ rhetoric,

not with legends and poems and wreaths of bronze alone,

but with the lives grown out of his life, the lives

fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing.

Tomorrow

Written by E. Ethelbert Miller

tomorrow

i will take the

journey back

sail

the

middle passage

it

would be better

to be packed

like spoons again

than to continue to

live among

knives and forks

In these days, there is still so much hate, and that hate starts with me.  It starts with my ignorance, my fear of another,  my unwillingness to grow and change, my fear of vulnerability.  In this very hate, Christ was born.  People weren’t paying attention.  Divisions existed.

To some, Christ is born so commonly, without recognition.  And in his birth, he asks us to give up power and to embrace a life of listening and quiet, so we might start to hear the voices we have been ignoring.

To others, Christ is the balm of relief, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.  He is brother and friend.  He is the one who has been oppressed, who has been misunderstood, ignored, hated, shunned and abused.  He has come to bring solidarity and comfort.  To those weeping, He says, “I’m sorry and I’m here.”

As many of us are still grieving post-election, and trying to hope for better tomorrows, you are in good company.  Yet, as Robert Hayden says, politics are the not the true means of achieving freedom.  Freedom must truly start with my own heart, with making eye contact with a stranger, with desiring a diversity of friendships.

Advent’s message of freedom comes in the form of a baby, a vulnerable baby in need of protection, comfort and love.  Freedom sounds like vulnerability:

  • “I don’t know what your suffering is like, but I want to listen and hear your story.”
  • “Could you help me see my own blind spots, where hatred and prejudice linger?”
  • “I’ve never told anyone this before, but could you listen to some hard parts of my life?”
  • “Help me! I don’t know how to help myself.”

As we rest, slow down, and linger, may we realize both how much we are loved, and how much division there exists in this world.  We all on some level desire freedom, and in diverse relationships may we discover that we all need and are needed.  Advent in so many ways, actually teaches us that we think too much of our own importance, and we really just need help.