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I wrote and shared this a few years ago. I’m reading through Tanya Marlow’s beautiful Those Who Wait for Advent this year and thus dealing with some things I had buried. Maybe you are, too, this season.

“I will make you a great nation.  Sarah will bear you a son!”

The Visitor always did like to make an entrance.

None of the standards –

No, “How have you been?”

Or, “Friend, that was a long journey!”

Only a big announcement would do.

She heard while she was minding the supper dishes.

And Sarah laughed.

The Visitor was perplexed.

“Why is Sarah laughing? What – does she think I can’t?!”

Abraham, sweet man, tried

To act like it was nothing

To deflect the sound coming from the other room

“Probably just thinking about something funny that happened today.”

She stood in the kitchen, listening to men make plans,

And Sarah laughed.

Wouldn’t this have made more sense, Sarah wondered,

To have told me this Himself?

Abraham’s a good husband,

But there’s only so much even a good husband can do to bring a child.

I guess I should be flattered, she thought.

They’re throwing me a surprise party.

In my womb.

And Sarah laughed.

She remembered elusive promises and hopes stirred.

How long had the story been told?

Around tables and fires, shrouded in wonder and awe.

Descendants outnumbering the sand.

It need only start with one.

But the one was nowhere to be found.

She had been told of His perfect timing,

So Sarah laughed.

She remembered elusive sleep and garments rent.

How many tears had she shed?

Surrounded by a sea of children, but always on the other side of the door.

Skinned knee unbandaged, wedding unattended, grandchildren unheld.

Age showing her what it was capable of

As the bleeding stopped, and the book closed.

She had already cried,

So Sarah laughed.

Is this how promises are fulfilled?

To wait until all hope, desire, and ability are gone?

To finally bring her what she always wanted

But only after it was too late for her to enjoy it fully?

Just to make Himself look more special than everyone already knew He was.

Maybe what she wanted to do was punch Him

But she couldn’t

So Sarah laughed.

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The Advent/Christmas tree is up. It has pockets.

Advent started yesterday, and as is my (recent…within the last few years) custom, I put my Christmas tree up on the evening of the first day. All those little knitted pockets are pieces of a deconstructed Advent calendar, and each will hold a small task for each day (which I will distribute among them tonight). I love the practice of daily calendar, whether the surprise inside is a memory, a quote, a fun task, or a chocolate.

But there are other things I’m skipping this year.

I seem to get worked up over how busy this season is. I’m worried that I won’t have enough time to do the things I want to do (i.e., drive around and see Christmas lights, go to parties, etc.) and also still do the things I need to do (i.e., jobs, shower, etc.). My calendar is overloaded from the excess. I can’t look at it too long (which is sad, because you know how much I love my planner), or I get anxious.

None of that this year. I’m skipping the worry. Yesterday, our pastor preached a sermon on the foreboding apocalyptic text for the first Sunday of Advent, and the point he made was that this is a season not of either/or but both/and. The world is awful and everything is bleak and ending and there is joy and love and hope and peace. I love that. I’m embracing that this month, and that leave no room for worry. I’m going to do what I must and what I want, and at the end of the month, chances are good that I’ll still be standing despite (or possibly even because) all of it.

The trick is this: I’m also skipping anything that doesn’t fall into those two categories. If I neither need nor want to do something, I’m not gonna. I’m skipping obligation. I know – the holidays are a dangerous season for that. But yesterday, I also skipped our congregational meeting. I didn’t mean to. I meant to go – set my alarm and everything. But when I woke up, I was so hungry. I knew there would be donuts at the church, but donuts are only nourishing for the soul, not the body. I knew if I didn’t eat real food, it would affect the rest of the day. So I stayed home a little longer and did just that. Nothing bad happened, and I got to start the day right.

More of that this season, please. The expected busyness with a few cracks where the light can get in.

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This month went by super fast! There was one tree at the beginning of the month in the lot where I park at work that had shed all its leaves (as if to say, “Come on, you guys – it’s time! Don’t be late!” I feel like that tree understands me.), but now they’re all turning/shedding. And I love it.

November has been busy, but happy busy. I had a minor writing delay when my laptop crashed, but my sister and brother-in-law gave me one of theirs, so I’m back on a roll, and just in time for the holidays! Here’s how the month went.

What I’m into reading or listening to:

  • Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram is a gem of a book. I love the perspective and the sweet friendship he forges when he goes to see his family.
  • I’m getting through Anna Karenina. I recognize that I’m in no position to critique a translation from Russian, as I do not know a lick of Russian, but I’m going to critique it anyway. I’m liking the story line and character development, but I frequently run across a passage where I think, “I bet that was beautiful in Russian. Too bad this phrasing is awkward and awful.” I may check a copy out of the library and see if that goes better.
  • I attending the UNT Jazz Singers’ fall concert/CD release party and picked up their new collection called A Thousand Nights. Highly recommend.

a thousand nights

What I’m into doing:

  • A Club Pilates location opened in Denton, and I am obsessed. I love Pilates on the reformer machines! If you’re in or near Denton, and you’re curious, you can take a free, 30-minute intro session.
  • Our Housing holiday party was fantastic. It was beautiful, the food was awesome, and they gifted everyone with a free ham or turkey. As you can see in the picture at the top, I couldn’t decide what to drink. So many choices. I made them all.
  • I enjoyed Thanksgiving with my family. We only made four kinds of candy this year (one didn’t make it into buckets because it was only a small batch). I only suffered a minor burn, which is better than I usually do. I think my family actually enjoys the chocolate-covered salted peanut or pecan clusters I make to use up the excess chocolate more than they like the actual candy.
  • Speaking of chocolates, I refreshed our fair trade stash at church and put out a table with samples of chocolate, coffee, and tea. Hopefully the information I collected there can help guide our purchases better so that the products get bought before they go stale.

What I’m looking forward to:

  • There is a coffee crawl scheduled next weekend, and I’m very excited about it. It’s a fundraiser for the Explorium (a children’s museum in Denton), and I am happy to drink coffee to support them.
  • I’m also very excited about Christmas break. I am looking forward to having that time off.

What are you into these days?

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inspired

“They say art should afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. I think the same is true for Scripture.” – Rachel Held Evans

Rachel Held Evans grew up in a conservative Christian church where her passion for God was encouraged. Her questions, however, often were not. But that didn’t mean the questions went away. In Inspired, she engages the Bible, not as the facts-and-figures literal account she was always taught it was nor as the everything-is-relative figurative interpretations popular with many progressives, but as stories, told in a specific context and powerful enough to unlock truth and hope.

“We may wish for answers, but God rarely gives us answers. Instead, God gathers us up into soft, familiar arms and says, ‘Let me tell you a story.'”

This book would be most useful for Christians who want to love God with their whole hearts, souls, and minds, which probably means not having to switch any of them off when reading scripture. The Bible is full of stories of heroism and kindness and love. The Bible is also full of stories of cowardice and greed and hate. And if you’re reading literally, God doesn’t always end up on what one might consider the right side of the stories.

Take the book of Job, for example. When I was young, Job was my least favorite book. The God in Job is a real jerk, especially if you take a strictly literal reading. God allows this man’s life to be destroyed and completely ignores the pain of Job’s wife who lost everything and everyone he did, just so he can prove he’s better than Satan.

But when read not as an actual retelling of what God did but rather through the lens of instruction – and yes, even hope – it can read more like this:

“…it’s not the learned theologians who get the peek at glory, but the man who said, with candor and courage, ‘I desire to argue with God.'”

I didn’t expect to like this book as much as I did. I expected it to sit heavier on me, but the effect was just the opposite. I enjoyed the descriptions of the different types of stories (my favorites being the resistance stories and the wisdom stories), and the organization into these categories made it easy to follow. I also enjoyed snippets like this:

“…from Proverbs 27:14: ‘If anyone loudly blesses their neighbor early in the morning, it will be taken as a curse.’ As we say in the Episcopal Church, this is the Word of the Lord.

Although it took me a while to get started and to finish, the slow reading is more indicative of the challenges of wrestling with Scripture rather than with Inspired itself. I recommend for anyone who would like to refresh their approach to the Bible.

 

I received a copy of Inspired from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for an honest review.

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What I’m always into is the book stack on my bedside table.

This month is the last month Leigh Kramer will be hosting her What I’m Into link-up. I missed the deadline for linking up, but I wanted to take a moment to mention how much I have enjoyed this community of bloggers. Even on the months I didn’t post, I would read through the posts linked there. I love reading about what other people love. This group has multiplied my to-read list, improved my skin care regimen (whoever recommended Acure’s Brilliantly Brightening Day Cream? I am forever indebted.), added to my recipe repertoire, improved my taste in wine, and given me more movie and television recommendations than I could ever finish in three lifetimes. I’m going to miss it, but I’ll still post monthly(ish) updates on what I’m into and, since I follow a lot of the people who were a part of it, perhaps I will link to their posts so you can reap the same benefits I have (albeit on a smaller scale). I’m so grateful to Leigh for hosting for so long!

Right now, I’m getting back into the swing of things as the regular schedule picks back up. Church is busier because all my groups (choir, writer’s group, book club, etc.) are meeting again and also because this year is our 50th anniversary, so we’re planning shenanigans for that. Our service project got rained out last Saturday, but maybe we’ll reschedule on a weekend I’m free.

Speaking of book clubs, I’ve joined yet another one, this time at work. Tomorrow is our first meeting, and we’re discussing Evicted by Matthew Desmond and Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson. I have read Housekeeping before but Evicted is newer. I recommend both, and I’m excited to talk about them tomorrow.

August at work is super busy, but it’s slowing down now. We got the residents moved in and are shuffling them around as we find spaces that aren’t booked and are able to accommodate requests and fill in some off our waitlist. We should be pretty full by the end of September.

I hosted my annual Hemingway party (where the food is good yet simple, like his prose, and the party is alcohol-laden, like the author himself) late this year, so the crowd was smaller. We still had a good time. It’s always fun to catch up with people.

This month, I’m looking forward to the Denton Blues Festival (this weekend!) and having a little time off from work.

 

What are you into these days?

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Not Friday Five

My most recent newsletter (click to subscribe) outlines a little bit about my reasons for being quiet around these parts lately. I’m restructuring some priorities, to put it mildly.

It’s no wonder then that the links in my inbox that catch my eye talk about change and restlessness and anxiety (also, that’s just pretty much the nature of my inbox in general, but I digress).

The words that have resonated recently:

  1. What if the work we see to do isn’t a burden but the way we were meant to be in the world? What If by Austin Channing Brown.
  2. Jenny Lawson is one of my favorite people on the planet. This post makes me out-of-my-mind happy. I want this so bad for her (and the rest of us).
  3. Maybe you’re going through (or thinking about initiating) a major life change. Adjustment disorder is not so rare. Consider talking to someone about it.
  4. The only business plan that matters? Keep going – from Over the Rhine.
  5. Wil Gafney’s sermon on Michal is exactly what I needed to hear. Maybe you do, too.

24in48 is coming up next weekend, so I’ll see you again then, if not before. I hope you’ve had a great weekend!

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perfect

I expected to either love or hate this book. I like good satire, but it is an art. It’s hard to land in that sweet spot between utterly unfunny and abrasively condescending. And when the book is billed as being reminiscent of The Onion, my skepticism kicks in. I’ll be the judge of that, book.

So I was surprised when my general response to The Babylon Bee’s How To Be a Perfect Christian was, “Heh. That was kinda funny.” I expected a more extreme reaction.

Throughout the book, the authors give updates on how you are doing on your journey to become the perfect (tongue-firmly-in-cheek) Christian. It was mildly humorous. I get that continuity is the bedrock of good storytelling, but unless you have somewhere new to go with a joke at every turn, it’s really only funny the first time.

There were a few snarky sucker punches that, in the context of their chapters, were well timed. Of course, I lol-ed at this one:

“The church cafe is like an inferior version of Starbucks, which is already an inferior version of real coffee shops.”

And how many of us who have attended a charismatic missions conference have not at least once thought something like this (if you have been to such a conference and swear this never crossed your mind, I direct you to Revelation 21:8):

“Is the backup singer speaking in tongues or is she just improvising absolute gibberish? That’s between her and Jesus.”

My favorite section was the part on deciphering Christianese:

  • “I’m just waiting on the Lord right now,” is code for “I am still living with my parents.”
  • “I really feel like this is God’s will for my life,” means “I’m sick of people pointing out the glaringly obvious flaws in my life plan, so I’ll just slap the handy ‘God’s will’ label on it to silence the wisdom of my critics.”
  • And my personal favorite – “We just invite your presence into this place now, Father God,” as a subtle message to the congregation: “None of you heathens were clapping during that last song. Get it together, people.”

Overall, this was an enjoyable read for someone whose experience in the Christian church has been mostly not terrible. If you know (and more importantly, have been hurt by) too many people who proselytize the works-based righteousness satirized within, I recommend passing this book by. It’s probably too soon for this to be funny to you now (or maybe ever). I also do not recommend it for those who equate praying with talking to an imaginary friend, because (spoiler alert) the wrap-up at the end might be too Christian-y for you.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review from Blogging for Books.

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