Finding the heartbeat of Christmas


In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind…….John 1:4

It’s easy to miss it, amidst the rush and clamor. But the magic is there, underneath it, around it and through it and all over it. It’s life, and that life is why He came.

It’s our life He values…….mine and yours. And it’s every big and little miracle moment of our lives that He was born for.

Those big moments of our lives we tend to capture pretty well. We have diplomas and wedding albums and birth certificates and baby showers. But it’s those small moments He came for too.

Like when I lit the little Christmas tree in the shop where I pray. I think He smiles at those too.

During Christmas, I always feel a pressing need to slow down and capture each moment, kind of like how kids capture fireflies in a jar. My thoughts, like those fireflies, are beating their wings against the glass, hoping to be set free. Sometimes there’s almost a sense of urgency to it.

An urgency born of the realization that all these moments matter.

They do.

Maybe deep within us all there is a fear of losing them forever. Maybe that’s what makes some of us write.

As I shift in my seat, I hear the crinkle of yellow sticky notes in my back pocket. My firefly thoughts.

Those little scribbles I leave all over the house, as well as those that spill out of the pockets of my clothes, are my way of pulling over to the side of the road of my own life in order to let all the rest hurry careen by.

Because this is important, this Advent, and it’s not so much making it magic, but letting it happen.

The magic happens when we let go of unrealistic expectations of what we think Christmas should be so we can make room for what it really is; when we free ourselves and others of things they could never live up to and events what they could never be.

When we realize we are all just imperfect people looking for our particular version of God.

But God usually shows up differently than what we expect, and He always exceeds our expectations.

Stop, and listen to your life. And let Him in this season. You will be amazed at what He does.

Thank you Lord, for the miracle. You know the one I’m talking about. I haven’t stop breathing thanks.


photo credit: creative commons images: flickr: by Wendy. Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License

Tell me…..


Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone—while the morning stars sang together and all the angelsshouted for joy? God speaks, Job 38:4-7

Sometimes in the quiet, I wonder how it would be to stand on the brink of the world, where it’s so cold, to cold even for a tree. To experience that terrible wonder. To observe the creatures that live there, to see how they do it. I think I would be even more in awe of God than I am now.

To see the Northern lights, now that would be some miracle. I think I am almost obsessed with seeing them. To see how God paints the sky that way would leave me dumbstruck with silence like the moon still leaves me sometimes when I see it rise over the Superstitions. I will never lose my capacity to love nature and the God who spoke it all into existence.

And when I went on the Alaskan cruise, the thing that made an indelible mark was not the buffet, though it was incredible. It was not the beauty of the ship, though it was breathtaking. And it wasn’t the luxury of the room or the entertainment on board.

It was going out on the veranda and seeing nothing but water as far as I could see……God was so big there.

It was the light at midnight and the glow on the water……the mysterious silence that took my breath away.

It was an unspoiled land, and eagles nests as big as Volkswagens.

Those are the things I will never forget. This Advent, as always. I will pretend I have a bit of the mystery of Mary. I will treasure all these things up in my heart like she did. Pregnant with God’s Spirit, sealed for the day of redemption, Oh God, may that one thought change everything I do.

Never let it get old. Embrace the miracle you are, and this Christmas season, wait with me.

Along with Mary. With Joseph.

Wait with me here.

God is speaking…….

“Where is the way to the dwelling of light?
And darkness, where is its place,
That you may take it to its territory
And that you may discern the paths to its home?
“You know, for you were born then,
And the number of your days is great!
“Have you entered the storehouses of the snow,
Or have you seen the storehouses of the hail,
Which I have reserved for the time of distress,
For the day of war and battle?
“Where is the way that the light is divided,
Or the east wind scattered on the earth?

Photo from creative commons, flickr: Morten Nelson some rights reserved.

Ushering in Advent

Lodi lake

It is December first and I wake early, in the dark. Still trying to shake off remnants of the work week, I get up for a couple of Advil and head back to bed, breathing a still prayer in the silence. The last three hours of work were stressful yesterday and the shadows of it still crouched in my mind, refusing to dislodge. And yet, I have three days off and I am aglow with the ushering in of Advent.

Be still my soul. Prepare ye the way of the Lord, for though He has already come, and gone and come again with the gift of His Spirit, (He never went away) I celebrate His coming all over again.

In these still hours, my mind feels close to You.

Heal it Lord, wrap it in Your balm of peace.

Erase the cares and worries of the week

with Your healing touch.

Prepare me for Your Advent…….

It’s God with us, still.

Always and forever.

Behold, I show you a mystery: We shall not all sleep; but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 1 Corinthians 15:51

Today is a gift. Let the celebrations begin, for it’s time to light the house, play Handel’s Messiah, and do all the things we only do this time of year. For He is worthy of a party. And the miracle just never, ever gets old.

Brothers and sisters


My eyes graze over it, and then rest on it for a while. It’s the book my brother got me this past Christmas. I am taking down the last bit of decoration, the little tree that has graced my antique dresser for so many years. We adults stopped exchanging gifts years back, but he cheated this year. It was a book on digital photography because we both have the same camera. He also got me a Seinfeld T-shirt and two beautiful ornaments, hand painted cats from a local shop. He is a good gift-giver, my brother.

My memory traced a line back in time and it was tethered to a snapshot taken of us in the driveway, long ago.

When we were in school, he would always look out for me on the playground. He used to let me ride on the front bar of his bike, before I got my own, and never hesitated to hold my hand on the way to my classroom. I wanted to be like him when I was 4. I even insisted on my own pair of black high top sneakers and to my parents credit, they bought me a pair and let me wear them.

In middle school and high school we passed like two ships in the night, both at home and school. He was the popular jock, and I was the nerdy girl in choir. He teased me for leaving a permanent imprint on the couch and I got mad at him for eating my Taco Bell leftovers when he came in late. And yet, he came to my concerts and I went to his swim meets.

Then we went our separate ways. For years I think I was invisible to him. I wanted a relationship…….for him to see me as a person, not just a little sister, yet I always knew that if I needed him he would be there.

I remember the fender bender I had one year on Christmas Eve, how he was first to show up on the scene, driving in from a neighboring town.

Years later, thick in the battle of recovering from anorexia there came a letter from him. I can still see it resting, fluttering, on top of the bicycle basket where it rode on my way back to work……..tangible hope when I needed it most.

As years passed, every now and again I would get another letter and it would be pages long……..letting me know what was going on in his life. Somewhere I still have them.

And then there was that very worst of times. I still remember him having to climb 14 floors to reach me in the stifling heat of Mexico after my husband died. He was soaked with sweat and red in the face, but he was there. I was never so relieved to see anyone.

Nightmare Days passed with me in a fog. I would be okay and then with no warning I would collapse with grief. And one time he broke down, this big grown man sobbing tears I had never seen him cry, and in a voice choked with emotion he said, “All I wanted to do was take him fishing.”

That was June 1987. In February of 1998 he would face his own shadow of death when he would lose his wife of 12 years to ovarian cancer.

Years have flown by and its hard to believe they have been singing with the angels for so long already.

Life and grief has left its mark on both of us as it does everyone. No one gets out of this life without some battle scars. But we have emerged stronger, and it’s amazing but sometimes I think that pain and grief have a way of eclipsing differences in a way nothing else can.

As I sit here at the keyboard I get a text message…..the first one says, “Rsuctxjcwxvc” and it’s from my brother’s phone, and I smile.

The second one says simply, “Lauryn.” I smile again because what better way to punctuate the end of my story. She misses her Auntie.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 8:37-39


My brother and me, (and Thunder) circa 1965 or so

Unwrapping Christmas

Lodi lake

Each year at Christmastime we exchange things……… Excitement builds as we eagerly present them to those we love in anticipation of their joy in receiving what we have so carefully and thoughtfully chosen.

Just for them.

But I believe, the real unwrapping doesn’t end, until every last memory is opened and reopened once again.

Those that memory leaves behind are what we take out through the years and cherish. Long after each purchased gift is worn out. So today, in the quiet of year’s end. This is what I do. As these I hold dear take their own gifts out as we all hold them up to the Light.

A walk by the lake with my Dad. Enjoying the nature and the snap of morning’s cold. Talking about this flower another walker guided us to…….and the detail hidden within, and about the God who loves detail, even in a little flower. We never would have found it hidden along the fence from our path. We were turned away at the gate because the nature trail was closed that day. But we found nature anyway, because we were looking.

Lodi Lake 3

All these moments held in the grip of eternity. To be shared by each other, and the Lord. Each and every one I count as jewels……..and as we walked along, it looked like others wanted to do the same. A little table arrangement left behind for someone else to find…….we are all creators.

Lodi Lake 4

Just like our Father…..

This year, as I unwrap Christmas again.

Count some more memories with me won’t you? And then add your own…………

Last year the baby Jesus flickered and went out, and this year the whole scene went dark, so Mom and Dad let one of Lauryn’s spare dolls stand in for Jesus and put a spotlight on the whole scene. My Mom said it was more beautiful than ever.

Everyone I hold most dear together on Christmas Eve, that was my best gift.

Playing rounds of Candy Land with Lauryn and seeing her so excited to see me.

Elaine, Heather and Me at breakfast at Denny’s Christmas morning before we all went our separate ways for the week.

My brother and I baking in the kitchen for the first time ever.

Mom and I bunking together and giggling like teenagers before we went to sleep, then later hearing her whispered prayers when she couldn’t sleep. I heard her say, “Jesus” about 10 times.

The road trip from Arizona to California, where Elaine and I talked all the way and didn’t miss any turns.

And this one is bittersweet, Elaine’s Mom last road trip before she goes into a care home.

The last is what I will hold onto for the coming year…….Mom combining both of her Nativity’s together on the coffee table like one big happy family. And of those, one lamb had a broken leg and one had a missing ear, but they were both still standing. And like those sheep, we all come to Jesus with all of our baggage and missing limbs dragging behind.

We bring them to the stable, and He heals every wound, every heartache, wipes every tear.

Every Christmas brings its own unique challenges and this year was no exception, yet when we have Jesus, we have everything.

Merry Christmas and a very Happy and Hopeful New Year from my Prayercloset to yours!

Nativity missing leg 2


Gratitude tips the scales

O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good: for his mercy endures for ever. Psalm
We had our gift exchange last night, Elaine and I. It was our little window of opportunity for some Christmas quiet time and we took it.  Her Mom had gone to bed early, as she has done ever since winter has brought early darkness. It was a touch and go day yesterday, the Alzheimer’s was kicking in and she was a bit combative.  
At one point, Elaine peeked in the door and found that she had taken every last pair of pants out of her closet and piled them on the bed. Then she opened Elaine’s jewelry box and had the contents spread all over the bed. She said, “I don’t know where all this came from.”
And she has been going through other things in the house.  I guess that is common at certain stages of the disease, along with not wanting to bathe and the rocking and pacing.
It has been a very challenging year no doubt about it, and yet last night Christmas came there in our little island of peace by the tree. And all I kept saying over and over…”This is just too much, this is too good…..I don’t deserve it” and I was feeling it on the inside as well as the outside.
And it wasn’t just the gifts, it was everything that went behind the gifts. Because I know the giver. I know her heart, and I have never stopped seeing it give giving this whole year. That’s why it matters. 
And when you know the Giver of that most perfect gift the world has ever seen?
Only Endless gratitude can be the heart’s right response, no matter what the world throws your way. Gratitude tips the scales when you know God has already given you everything He has to give.
Today, I drove on an almost deserted freeway to put in my last day of work, but  in my heart, I am bearing treasures too many to count.
Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! 2 Corinthians 9:15

When the soul quiets

Small Miracles
A life is either all spiritual or not spiritual at all. No man can serve two masters. Your life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire. Thomas Merton
By this time in December you are in one of two places. You are either madly scrambling around because you just realized that Christmas is less than one week away, or you have conceded that whatever has not been done up to this point will not get done and you can begin to relax and really enjoy pre-Christmas.
I am at the latter stage.  True Christmas can only be ushered in when the soul quiets. The world is outside and it continues to spin wildly out of control, but I try to back off. I try not to call people on the freeway names, although this time of the year it is increasingly difficult, even with the Jesus sticker deterrent on the back window.
This falls under the: “I am a Christian, but I am still human category.”
I daydream by the tree before the light of dawn creeps over the Superstitions. I realize it will soon be packed away along with the nativity scenes, but Jesus will stay.
In the quiet of my soul I imagine sitting by a window with big, fat flakes of snow falling outside and a fire on the hearth inside and the peace that happens when all the clamour and noise of life is far away.
That’s when you can hear God.
I look around and I realize how much I dearly value the people in my life, here once more with me at the close of another year. When you can look in their eyes and see eternity reflected back it’s not just a silly jewelry commercial, it’s why God came to this earth.
It’s the seeking and saving of that which was lost, all of us, and not only us, the whole creation. 
Just imagine if you will, alongside myriads of angels and us bowing before the Throne, the giant redwood and the smallest of woodland creatures doing the same. And why shouldn’t they? They will once again know a world without fear. The one Sin stole.
And all around us, while we see evidence of the brokenness of creation, we also see its mending. People who will not give up. People who will continue to risk their own lives for the poor, the broken, the weak.
The defenseless. The ones too weak and powerless to do anything about their own condition.
It’s God paying ransom with His very own Son. 

Of missed Messiahs and plans that don’t gel

Christmas 2011 011


The mouse hovered over rental car sites but as yet no reservation has been made for the Christmas trip.  She hovered over an ad for the Messiah and I said, “Let’s go……..Friday night it’s at the Mesa Arts Center.” She said, “You can just meet me there after work.” It’s one of our favorite things to do around Christmas.

“But what about your Mom, would she be okay here after dark?”

“Probably not,” she said. And as 29 seconds were left on the timer, she unclicked the button that would have reserved our seats in the mezzanine, right on the end. We sighed again for one more thing we missed out on this year.

The truth is, sometimes Christmas is made up of “missed Messiah’s” and “plans not set.” But Christmas has a way of coming anyway. So we find joy in the little moments of the season. Sitting by the tree in the mornings, listening to Christmas music, ushers in peace before the clatter and commotion of the day. Watching the cats play around under it………Seeing angels and bells and stars take shape in the oven as the smell fills the house.

And one day after Christmas, all this rushing around will cease to matter. I was reminded yesterday what does matter. The cross is what matters.

We look to His birth and resurrection and while those are wonderful miraculous events, what really speaks to us is His suffering on the cross. We look at Jesus pain and can no longer ignore the fact that He sees our pain too.

It is only at the cross that we see the great magnitude and depth of His love for us. You can hardly ignore a naked, dying man on a cross. And as Louie Giglio said in his message yesterday, our own pain is the megaphone through which the world learns about Christ.

And while we celebrate His birth, the cross is what continues to speak the loudest. And when we compare our pain to His all of our arguments fall silent.

When we gaze at Jesus on the cross, we can no longer say that we have a God who is unwilling or un able to enter into our greatest pain.

He is and He does, every single day.

A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
    and all flesh shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Isaiah 40:3-5

The Visitation


The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.” John 4:6

It was in December and the needle had just touched down on the album I was playing……that’s how you know this was years ago. It was albums and cassette tapes back then, not CDs. I remember looking out the window and seeing the ghostly white  fog as it enveloped the street. I felt cloaked in it, safe almost. The neighborhood seemed hushed, shrouded.

As the first strains to O Holy Night filled the air, I may have been praying or I may not have, I really don’t remember. All I do remember was that one minute I was listening to the song, and the next minute the Presence of the Holy Spirit appeared in that room. The words to that song were like hammer blows to my heart.

My soul was pierced. I didn’t see Jesus on the cross, but somehow I felt the magnitude of what He did and the depth and weight of His love was overwhelming. It was the deepest sense of humility I have ever felt before or since, and all I could do was bow my head to the ground and weep.

I thought about all the times in the Bible when angels revealed themselves and all the people could do was fall at their feet. I wept and cried from a place deeper than I ever thought possible. It was confusing, it was beautiful, and it was agony in the Spirit all at once because I felt the sorrow of God like an offering.

Wave upon wave it engulfed me. And it could have lasted 5 minutes or it may have been an hour. I lost track of time.

I remember the song ending  and I desperately didn’t want that Presence to leave so I played it again, and He stayed for a little while but then like a vapor He was gone. Like the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, He came and went like the wind.

And sometimes I still try to figure out why.

Why that particular day, why me?

And then I accept it once again for what it was……..a gracious gift from a God who loves me. If I ever doubted His presence before, I never did after that day. It remains a pure and untarnished moment as clear now as when it first happened all those years ago when Heaven came down.

How about you? Do you have a similar story of a time in your life when God came near? I would love to hear about it.