A Different Path through Advent

Advent begins on Sunday, November 27th, unleashing a “tradition” of holiday chaos in households across America. Will you join in? Or will you join me in taking a different path through the season of Advent this year?

Trek to the Manger is a daily devotional guide for busy women during the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Each chapter is bite-sized, giving women who are hungry for meaning and purpose plenty of food-for-thought without adding too much weight to your already jam-packed holiday schedule.

Check it out here! You’ll find a downloadable reading schedule, as well as a Small Group Discussion Guide to use with friends – near and far – who Trek with you.

So… invite a few friends, visit Amazon for your books, and gear up for a journey to the manger that just might birth something new in you!

 

I Love You, Tomonnow

It was a talent show in my parents’ living room, and the actors had taken the “stage.” The a capella version of Annie’s signature song began as a duet, but it quickly became my daughter’s moment to shine – or so she thought. Britton wore the crescendo on her face as she sang, building toward that moment when “tomorrow” would break through into right here and right now; only what broke through was her little brother’s voice, passion-full and louder-than-life…

Tomonnow! Tomonnow! I love you, tomonnow! You’re only a day away.

hawaii-sedona-boise-softball-baseball-09-466

Tomonnow, my little boy will be eighteen years old. So today I am letting the memory-reel run (completely out-of-order, I might add), pausing at eighteen of my favorite yesterdays with Joffrey, so grateful for every single day I have been blessed to be your Mom.

  1. Havoc! You had earned your nickname by age two, and you had the scars to prove it! I remember the first ER trip for stitches in your forehead – the result of our playtime gone awry. Thank goodness for your Dad, because I was a sobbing mess as I stood in the hallway while you screamed from the treatment room. Apparently I’ve blocked many of your nickname confirmations – like the Olympic season when you found an empty kiddie pool in the laundry room and decided to be a diver – from the top of the washing machine. You can thank Nana Bea for that crisis averted (I know I do)!
  2. Green marker in hand, green ink from head to toe – I found you coloring yourself when we should have been in the car and on our way five minutes ago. I was not happy. I think I made that pretty clear. You cried. And you told me, through your tears, “I just wanted to be like Larry Boy, Mommy.” I love that cucumber, too. How could I argue with that?
  3. Ebay was brand-spanking-new and I loved shopping there just a little too much. I found a “lot” of Power Ranger action figures (about 100 of them, to be exact), and I bought it and kept the box high on a shelf, taking out one at a time to give to you over the course of many, many months. Every single time a new guy came out of the box, you grabbed it and hugged it and said “Red Power Ranger! Red Power Ranger!” Eventually you realized that some of them were other colors, and you corrected yourself: “Blue Red Power Ranger! Green Red Power Ranger!” There really is no end to the Red Power Ranger stories we could tell… Don’t get me started!
  4. One morning in the kitchen, as we were getting ready for school, you said something that prompted me to say “that’s an oxymoron.” “Mom! Are you calling me a moron?” Things quickly got out of control and a song was born; the melody still rings in my ears: “When I was nine years old, my Mom used to say: Joffrey, you’re a moron!” Geesh!
  5. Did I mention Stinky Friday?
  6. And that Robin Hood costume that you wore, red feather in your cap and all, until the thing just could not be safely pulled over your head anymore…
  7. How many times can a person watch “Cats” before they grow whiskers and start purring? Even now as I type, I’m looking at your picture – Tigger suit and cat makeup – from your birthday fifteen years ago. Band-aid across your forehead, covering the stitches from incident #2. It’s still on my shelf. It still makes me smile.britton-joffrey-halloween-2
  8. You have often complained, sometimes bitterly, that we don’t have as many pictures and videos of you as we do of your sister. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that every time I hear your three year old voice on a home video, I can’t help but laugh and smile and fight back happy tears. No one has ever had a voice like that but you.
  9. We were buddies, you and I, when you were three and four and five and I was a stay-at-home Mom. From playgroup to the Muffin Shop to Kindermusik, we sang and danced and ate and played together every day. Someday you’ll have a little person to love like that – and you will.
  10. By the time you reached Confirmation age at church, you had been to so many classes with me that people said you could probably teach it! Obviously, I didn’t let you do that. But your Faith Chest is full and you’ll never stop learning. Don’t ever stop learning!
  11. Pride bubbled over in me as I watched you play Beethoven’s Fifth at your first piano recital! NO WAY is this my kid! You actually played better under pressure, which totally blew me away. Today your fingers move across piano keys and over the strings of your guitar so skillfully that you make it look easy. You make it sound amazing. Music really, really, really looks good on you!photo_120509_001
  12. We all cried buckets of tears when Sue went back to Germany. That next summer, she came for a visit, and we decided to surprise you and Britton. I picked Sue up in L.A. and we got home late at night. She fell asleep in her bed, in her bedroom, and when you woke up the next morning, Dad told you there was a surprise in Sue’s room for you. I’m sure you were thinking “toy” (after all, you were four), but when you realized Sue was in her bed, you climbed up and climbed in without missing a beat. You knew she was home.
  13. The fall we went to Williamsburg, you were SO EXCITED about riding the rollercoasters at Busch Gardens! You had been watching the videos of the coasters online, you knew all their names and you were more than ready to ride! You also knew the height requirements. For weeks before we left, you had us measure you, and it was going to be close… You wore your tallest sneakers that day, and we all held our breath as the gate attendant stood you beside the ruler – JOY!img_0927
  14. When we went to Germany for Sue’s wedding, you weren’t a little kid anymore. On our last day there, knowing how much you like soccer, Sue and Max suggested we tour the professional soccer stadium nearby. I could see your disappointment, because more than anything else that trip, you had looked forward to playing soccer with Sue. Of course, that’s what we did! The pictures from that day are beautiful.
  15. Remember when you whined and cried because you were cold and tired and didn’t want to listen to this loud music anymore (at Castles & Coasters, while I was jamming out to Red)? Every now and then I get a glimpse of you in me, when you’re testing out your DJ equipment and adding speakers to your wall…
  16. This list is incomplete if I don’t mention River Dance – right?
  17. The first time we put you on a plane to Wyoming by yourself, I’m pretty sure I didn’t breathe again until you came home. It gets a little easier, each time you get on a plane – or in a car – by yourself, but only a little. Easier. Just thought you should know.
  18. Last week your Dad and I sat and watched your last high school soccer game; bittersweet. I remember watching your first soccer game, as you spun around in circles and studied bugs in the grass. Oblivious to the game going on around you. Content to be yourself, where you stood. I watched as you stood as team captain this time, engaged in the game, but still content to be the creative, funny, sensitive, thoughtful, intelligent and strong young man you are today.joffrey-soccer

And tomorrow – tomonnow – you will be eighteen! And I will be the luckiest Mom in the world for having spent these eighteen wonderful years with you.
joffrey-smile

Welcome to “Life in the Zone!”

We are ALL a work-in-progress! Whether you feel like someone who is “under construction,” “being remodeled,” or “a renovation project,” each one of us is a piece of work (isn’t that the truth)! God’s workmanship, to be precise (Ephesians 2:10).

Having just spent an amazing retreat weekend with the lovely women of Mt. Vernon Presbyterian Church, perhaps a picture is actually worth a thousand words…

May your own Life in the Zone be filled with blessings this week and always!

 

Interested in bringing a Pink Shoes Ministries women’s retreat to your church? Contact Brita for details: brita@pinkshoesministries.me

 

Keeping the World at Arm’s Length

It’s good to get away by yourself now and then, if only to remember why you chose the life you live.

From my chair under the pines I had a bird’s-eye view of Willow Creek as it gently flowed over smooth rocks into a tiny pond beyond an outcropping of granite. A bench sat empty at water’s edge, save for the sole man and his Golden who visited the spot once – two days ago.

Wild-looking, pointy-eared squirrels darted from tree to tree and across the large rocks between which the water flowed, along with something like a large rodent – which I was more than happy to observe from a distance.

A chorus of birds sang overhead, some of which I can say sounded less bird-like than the sounds on my son’s electronic keyboard at home – who knew those sounds actually originated in nature?

A gentle breeze played with my hair, which tickled my face while I sat smelling grass and moist soil and breathing deeply out and in and out again. I closed my eyes and wondered what it would be like to stay right here, under my blanket on this canvas chair in the woods, where the only sound of human life was the distant hum of a jet in transit.

The life of a hermit has its appeal, where the only drama in the past three days was caused by the mouse who got into my food bag overnight. An easy routine of eating, sleeping, writing, praying could make for a peaceful “normal” out here, where keeping the world at arm’s length is much, much simpler to do.

No TV. No internet. Poor cell coverage. Distant neighbors.

No coffee with friends. No spur of the moment conversations. No shared laughter – or tears. No one but bugs and cobwebs and God to hear me when I open my mouth to speak.

Part of me argues: What a perfect scenario for a world-weary woman who is pulled this way and that from the moment the alarm signals morning! But the part of me whose bags are already packed and ready to load into the waiting car says, “Nah!”

 

Hair Gel in the Holy Water

Last week I sat across a (very short) table in the church nursery from a mother and her son. As the staff member who is tasked with preparing families for baptism, this meeting was unique by virtue of the child’s age: Justus is eleven.

Of course, for many of you, this is not unexpected; but for those who worship in denominational churches like mine – you understand. Most of the time, when the baptismal waters part in our congregations, the candidate for baptism is an infant – presented by faithful parents with a future Confirmation class in mind. Sitting with me at the table, however, was a mischievous middle-schooler with an infectious enthusiasm for life and a smile that cannot easily be described but which most certainly takes place not at the lips, but at the cellular level.

Our “splash class” proceeded as you might expect, with myself and mom doing most of the talking while Justus’ eyes danced with anticipation. We talked about what to expect at the baptism. We discussed our understanding of what “happens” in the water, when the Spirit of God hovers over the face of the deep and resurrection-life springs forth. We wondered out loud about how much of this baptism was a profession of faith by Justus in God, and how much was God’s own pronouncement that Justus belongs to Him.

I described the upcoming event in detail so as to dispel any possible trepidation on the part of either mother or son, but the look Justus gave me when I described how the water would be splashed onto his head made it abundantly clear that this guy wasn’t nervous about baptism day; instead, he seemed ready to take on some water, and something told me that Justus had never met a puddle or swimming pool he didn’t like.

Sunday came, prayers were offered, and water was poured over Justus’ bowed head in triplicate, “in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.” A candle was lit, a faith chest presented, and the family of God cheered him on.

After the service, I ran into Justus, whose grin betrayed his feelings about the day. Even as I write this now, I’m not sure what I expected to hear when I told him what a great morning it had been. “Yeah,” he chuckled easily, as he reached up with one hand to pat the hair on the top of his head, “and I got hair gel in the holy water!” He was giggling (and so was I) as he turned toward his friends and walked away.

Hair gel in the holy water.

Isn’t it just like God to meet us where we are? For Justus on his baptism day, a holy transaction took place in the water; something human met Someone holy in the process, leaving a swirling residue as proof in the baptismal font. God made His mark on Justus, and the hair gel in the holy water goes to show that God is ready to deal with the consequences of calling imperfect, mischievous, in-progress people to life in the community of His Son; He can handle the messes we make. In fact, He expects them.

Of course, Justus may not have realized all of this at the time, but that doesn’t make it any less so – or any less perfectly beautiful.

The end of one road (and the start of another)

Friends! We arrive at the manger tonight, but our adventure is not over! May the light you have absorbed during our Advent Trek to the Manger continue to leak out through your life in the coming New Year! 

I would love to hear about your Trek! Email me at: 

brita@pinkshoesministries.me

Watch for Brita’s second devotional book – Want What You’ve Got! – which will be available in 2016 on Amazon.

Merry Christmas, my friends!

the Call

Ezekiel Saw the Wheel, ca. 1944-1945

Ezekiel Saw the Wheel, ca. 1944-1945 (Photo credit: americanartmuseum)

 

“Stand up, son of man,” said the voice. “I want to speak with you.” The Spirit came into me as he spoke, and he set me on my feet. I listened carefully to his words. “Son of man,” he said, “I am sending you to the nation of Israel, a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me. They and their ancestors have been rebelling against me to this very day. They are a stubborn and hard-hearted people. But I am sending you to say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says!’ And whether they listen or refuse to listen—for remember, they are rebels—at least they will know they have had a prophet among them.”
Ezekiel 2:1-5 (New Living Translation)

There is a big message in this small text…

When God asks something of us, He gives us the means to do it!

Our callings are not to show God – or anyone else, for that matter – how well we can come through for God, but to show others how well God can come through in us.

Ezekiel is asked to stand up, but God doesn’t wait for him to gather up the strength to do it on his own. Instead, God puts His Spirit into Ezekiel and that Spirit puts him on his feet!

As God speaks words of calling/sending/purpose over you and me, His Spirit inside of us is already equipping us to follow through! He is the momentum and energy needed for us to start down the dusty road of ministry, and He will be the One to keep us going when the going gets rough (and believe me, the going is going to get rough).

What this short text says to us is this:

God’s call on my life isn’t about me – it’s all about God.

God’s  STRENGTH.

God’s  PLAN.

God’s  POWER.

God’s call on the lives of His people doesn’t require us to be anything other than fully human. Our flaws, our weaknesses, even what we might call our failures, somehow become irrelevant when we are filled with His Spirit and set on our feet to answer His call.

In this prophecy and call on Ezekiel’s life, the phrase ‘son of man’ or ‘mortal’ is used 95 times. According to Wesley’s Notes, this was done intentionally to keep Ezekiel humble. After all, he was standing in the presence of the glory of God, experiencing fantastic revelations connected to the work God was preparing him to do. If that had been me, I admit that I could easily have been thinking – WOW! I must be pretty special for God to choose me to experience this!

But Ezekiel wasn’t chosen by God for this great calling because he was superhuman or something awfully special. Ezekiel wasn’t chosen by God in spite of his humanity; he was usable because of it.

And his success, according to God, wouldn’t be measured by whether or not Ezekiel got the Israelites to listen to him and change their ways, but simply by letting them know that a prophet had been there, among them.

And what is a prophet? Someone who is so filled with the Spirit of God that when he opens his mouth, God speaks. And when she reaches out to help others, God’s touch is felt.

Let’s go and be prophets today!

Want What You’ve Got! (bunk)

Homeless

Homeless (Photo credit: Hanibaael)

This post is from Brita’s devotional series, entitled “Want What You’ve Got!” Well… do you? Want what you’ve got?

This re-post is dedicated to those who are trekking toward the manger and who may or may not be (spiritually) homeless.

I spent two nights last weekend sleeping on a bunk bed at camp. Squeaky, slippery, plastic-covered mattress. Solid wood bed frame with absolutely no give. Piles of blankets and extra pillows from home. Three roommates with different sleeping habits, body-clocks, and anxiety levels. Down the hall – twelve more ladies. Great event! Less than ideal sleep. Bunk.

Today I’m on my way to visit my daughter at school. For the next couple of nights I will be sleeping on her lofted dorm bed on the tenth floor while she sleeps on a mat on the floor (at least, that’s what I’m anticipating I will be in the bed, right, Peanut?!). Crunchy plastic mattress covered in layers of down-alternative mattress pads in an effort to make this temporary sleep-space feel a bit more like home. Down the hall in both directions – dozens of students. Can’t wait to see my daughter! Exhaustion ought to help me sleep. Dorm.

A few days ago one of the families in our faith family group had the children make a utility tarp to send to typhoon victims in the Philippines. They cut the handles off of hundreds of plastic grocery sacks, layered them three thick, and ironed them together as if they were quilt squares. Once the tarp reaches its desired size and a plastic drop cloth is ironed on to make it waterproof, the edges will be finished off with duct tape and grommets put into place. This incredibly resourceful cover can then be used to make a tent or windbreak for a family… Or it can be folded up and used on the ground as a mattress. Tarp.

Not all of us are going to lay our heads down on a soft, specialty pillow atop a pillow-top mattress tonight, but all of us will (try to) sleep. Even under less-than-ideal conditions, even under a makeshift-grocery-bag-quilt, people will rest their eyes, recount their day, perhaps count their blessings, and maybe even… Want What They’ve Got.

It’s one thing, though, to lay-me-down-to-sleep on a piece of furniture – an investment – and quite another to settle in for the night at tent city, under starry or stormy skies. On top of rocky or muddy ground.

If you find yourself today among those who Want What They’ve Got, maybe you can find a way to extend the gift of rest to another whose sleeping (and waking) situation is closer to nightmare than dream.

Daily Questions: Think about the worst night’s sleep you have ever had… What conditions were you in? Who was with you? What got you through it? What made it bearable? If you knew that someone was suffering as you did, night after night, what would you want to do for him or her? Will you do it?

Construction Zone

Even those on a Trek to the Manger can expect to encounter a Construction Zone now and then…

I know all about Construction Zones. As the wife of a road builder, I have been to and through all sorts of highway and bridge Construction Zones over the years.

I know the difference between concrete and cement, and I can tell whether a road has been paved in concrete or bituminous asphalt.

I’ve seen road surfaces being milled and bridge decks being poured.

I recognize a core sample when I see one and I know that when testing with a nuclear density machine, you’re supposed to wear a radiation-detection badge (I know, because a few of those have ended up in the laundry by mistake).

I’ve seen roads and bridges in various stages of a contract, and when it comes to Construction Zones, well… you might say I know just enough to be dangerous.

In Bible study today we agreed that our group gatherings look pretty much like a Construction Zone. In various stages of construction, each one of us is a distinctly unfinished project (some of us might even say we’re a real piece of work).

Some of us are entering uncharted territory. The road God is building in us doesn’t even exist yet! We might be able to see the bright paint sprays of the utility companies who have marked what’s hidden underground, but where we’re going, there have been no roads before.

Some of us are freshly graded earth, ready for the Paver to make us into a usable roadway.

Some of us are being resurfaced – getting a face-lift, you might say – because the years have left their mark, but there is so much more life left for us to live.

Some of us are all rebar and concrete forms – not looking so much like a road just yet, but being equipped with a solid foundation so that when the deck is poured, we’ll be able to handle any load God might bring our way.

Some of us are being signed and striped. We’re looking pretty darn good, but there are directions we still need and pavement markings that we require in order to continue safely down the road God has put us on.

The thing about Construction Zones is that, with very few exceptions, no one likes them.

Seriously.

It’s messy. It’s bumpy. And it’s really, really slow.

I suppose those doing the work itself would disagree, but for those who just want to pass on through, Construction Zones stink.

This is not unlike what happens in our Bible study group, or in any group of those whose lives are perpetually under construction. With very few exceptions, watching the construction of others is like driving through the Zone…

It’s messy. It’s bumpy. And it’s really, really slow!

Sometimes we get impatient and take a detour, to avoid the construction (and those being constructed) altogether.

Sometimes we wait for what seems like forever in order to move past the Zone that others are in, because when one life gets messy in a community of believers, everyone feels it.

Sometimes the Construction Zones of others keep us from doing things we want to do, on a timeline of our own choosing. This can frustrate, anger and disappoint us, no matter how understanding we try to be.

Today, try to think about those whose work is the Construction Zone… What they do while we’re feeling inconvenienced is to create something new.

Something better. Something more efficient. Something safe.

God Himself is in the Construction Zones of our lives, making something better. Something more beautiful. Something He can use. Something others need.

Yes, the Zone irritates those who navigate it during construction, but for those who are hands-on in the mess, the progress being made is measurable and significant.

We are becoming more and more like Jesus with every pass of the Paver, with every passing day.

No matter how you feel about what God is constructing in and around you, rest assured – the finished product will be well worth the wait.

Resolving to MAKE ROOM

“Sprinkles” (Trek to the Manger, chapter 12) may look lovely on cupcakes, but they can be a real obstacle to peace and faithfulness for the follower of Christ.

Typical America 'Two-car Garage' (detached type)

Image via Wikipedia

In one gloriously productive day, my husband and I succeeded at clearing out one stall in our garage. It wasn’t the first time we had spent hours in pursuit of empty space, but we were thrilled to finally be able to park a car INSIDE the garage (it did help that we finally have a car small enough for our modest space)!

We hauled away a van load of cast-offs to Goodwill that day – things which we had accumulated over the years that had long since either lost their usefulness or had simply been outgrown. Some of what we gave away hadn’t done time outside of the garage in an embarrassingly long period of time.

We piled up a lot of trash during our cleaning frenzy. Some we can recycle. Some cardboard boxes we gave away to a friend who needs them for an upcoming move. Tomorrow a whole bunch of bags and boxes will find their way to the curb for the garbage truck to haul them away. Some of the things that have taken up space in our garage for years are good for nothing but the trash heap.

We filled up one box with items that should have been in the house, being put to good use. I brought in a collection of home videos filmed over the past 17 years that had been quietly collecting dust, some office supplies that will save a trip to the store, a few books worth adding to the keepers on the shelf and some brand new toys that we had never given as gifts. Some of what we hold onto gets lost in the graveyard of useless things when we amass large quantities of stuff that we just can’t keep track of.

More isn’t always more. Sometimes more is just too much.

I don’t always subscribe to the tradition of making promises to myself in the New Year. Resolutions, in my limited experience, tend to guilt me within weeks of making them rather than spurring me on to good works.

I had no intention of falling into that trap again – that is, until I pulled my car into the garage for the first time last week. The timing was incredible! Our work day was terrifically warm for December, and dry so that we could spill out into the driveway as we sorted and stacked and separated our excesses. But even as we turned the key in the ignition, snow began to fall – softly at first, but eventually resulting in an uncharacteristically messy winter storm. A winter storm that my little car didn’t have to endure because we had made room for it in the space where it belongs.

So I’ve decided that there really is just one thing tugging at me as the New Year looms again. I’m tired of seeing so much stuff crammed into places where it simply does not belong.

Trash and junk and outgrown toys in the garage, where the car ought to be.

Unworn and poorly fitting clothing in the closet, where the things I actually will wear ought to be.

Calendars and schedule books littered with tedious meetings and pointless commitments, where satisfying and rewarding activities ought to be.

Worries and stressors and disturbing emotions taking up head and heart space, where joy and direction and clarity most definitely ought to be.

This year, I’m resolving to pass along to others the things that I have that they need.

This year, I’m resolving to throw away those things that are not worth keeping and are not worth giving away.

This year, I’m resolving to put to good use those things that I knew I would need someday.

This year, I’m resolving to MAKE ROOM in my house, in my head, in my life for that which really ought to be there instead.

And who knows? Maybe God has been patiently waiting on me to do just that.

After all, how can He pour new life and living water into the space within when it’s already jam-packed-full of something other than His very best for me?

A car belongs in its garage. That’s what the space is for.

I can’t wait to see what God has in mind for the space we’re about to create… in me!