Advent Week 4 ~Love (Christmas, Actually)

 

Love 

                                                                                                                           

Today is December 25th – Christmas – and though I am all of five days past the official fourth Sunday in the Advent season, I just couldn’t bring myself to not close the circle with some thoughts on Love….

 

I’ve been thinking for days about love – about God’s love for us, about our response to that love, about how it impacts our love for one another ….on and on and on….so many thoughts!  But these have also been some of the most difficult days I’ve had in a long time, and thoughts are slippery critters just now.  I’ll catch a good one, and before I know it, thinking’s nemesis, big emotion swoops in, makes me feel very big feelings, and suddenly the thought I was thinking has vanished and I find myself back at the “drawing board”, wondering where all the good thoughts have gone!  So, if you’re adventurous enough to hang in there with me for what may be a bit of a mental / emotional roller coaster ride, strap yourself in, and let’s see where we end up.  =)

 

Christmas is such a special time of year – more than any other holiday, we prepare for this one day weeks, sometimes months in advance.  We decorate – we shop – we cook – we connect with one another in ways that we just don’t make time for during the other 364 days in the year.  I love Christmas!  One of my very favorite things about this day has been the sheer freedom it brings.  It’s always been the ultimate family day where we get to lavish one another with gifts (even if the extravagance is more sentimental than monetary), and for one day…..everything else seems to pause and give us permission to just enjoy our families, our homes, our friends and to fully experience….love.

 

This year, as we still haltingly attempt to maneuver these special holidays that bring the now familiar mixture of joy and sorrow, I couldn’t help but wonder what Heaven sees and thinks of our attempts at celebrating the birth of Jesus.  We sing “Joy to the Word” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” while at the same time, so many people are just hanging on, desperately trying to find joy somewhere in their sorrow-filled hearts.  And after some thinking (and lots of feeling…..remember the roller coaster we’re on!) this is what I’ve concluded for this Christmas, anyway…..

 

It’s all wrapped up in love….

 

The joy – the sorrow – the gifting – the remembrances – the pain – the laughter – the disappointment – the family traditions…..all of it – all of US – wrapped up in love.

 

I’ve seen it for myself.  I saw it in the stranger who inadvertently cut me off in the Starbuck’s line, then paid for my coffee ahead of me.  I saw it in the children who carefully and lovingly placed each piece of the nativity set in place throughout the Christmas Eve service.  I saw it in the pastor who put aside his own grief to bring joy to the precious people he serves.  I saw it in every possible way across social media as people shared joyful family photos, as well as their struggles with celebrating just now….and as I ask myself what Heaven sees, I know before the question even fully forms in my mind; Heaven sees love.

 

The same Jesus whose birth we pause to celebrate today didn’t just come so we could have an annual birthday bash in his honor! He came to save us from all that separates us from him, and he SO gets how hard a place this world can be.  He knows well the sting of death and separation.  He gets how lonely one can feel, even when trusting fully in God.  And he isn’t afraid of the hard questions, because his love for us isn’t based on our love for him – it never has been and it never will be.  His love is without conditions and without reserve, and just when we think we might find the depth of it, it plunges deeper still in mysteries that can’t be unraveled this side of eternity.

 

I love Christmas, and I think I’ve stumbled on one more reason why….it’s because He came for me.  Not just because “God so loved the world…”, but because He loves…..me.  Not the perfectly together, full of faith, always praying daughter of God that I so try to be, but the real me; the one who tries but so often fails, the one who struggles to understand what “the plan” is, the one whose faith is sometimes on the roller coaster along with intellect and emotion (it’s getting crowded on this ride!) but also the one who is clinging desperately to the savior whose love sent him to rescue her in the first place.

 

Today is Christmas, and it’s been a day spent with those I love most in the world.  It’s been a day filled with love, and you know what?  Even when the trees are down and the lights put away, long after the Christmas songs cease to fill the air and the last of the leftovers devoured…what remains of Christmas – the best part – is the love.

 

Peace and love to you, my roller coaster companions.  The holiday will soon be behind us, but remember to take all of the love….every ounce of it, and carry it deep inside where the cares of the world can’t reach it. Jesus loves us…..just take that in for a moment….the Savior of the World….deeply, perfectly, passionately, intimately….loves you; loves me.

 

I don’t know about you, but I needed to remember this tonight.  My attempt at offering Advent reflections may have been a bit messy this year, but it seems most fitting that we close the circle here with love.  =)

 

Merry Christmas.

 

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Romans 8:38,39 (NIV)

Love

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Advent Week 3 ~ Joy

(Reprinted from December 15, 2014)

 

Joy for the Brokenhearted

 

Advent Week 1:  Hope for the Brokenhearted   (Good place to start…)

 

Advent Week 2:  Peace for the Brokenhearted   (Little harder – dig deeper…)

 

Advent Week 3:  Joy for the Brokenhearted   (Seriously?  OK….but, seriously?!)

 

 

When I got this crazy idea to write Advent reflections I clearly had not reviewed the weekly themes!  All week I’ve wondered how I could begin to address something as….well….joyful….as JOY at a time when I am feeling such loss and sorrow.  I thought I was doing a decent job of stepping clear of most of the emotional holiday landmines, but I’m finding there are just too many, all reminders that my shopping list – my family list – is missing two names.  Tears well up frequently at the most inopportune times, and I scold myself for not focusing more on my abundant blessings – as though that will somehow satisfy the gaping holes that demand to be filled.  There are moments I can’t see a day into this future, let alone an entire lifetime.  Heart.  Seriously.  Broken.

 

So, tonight I went Christmas caroling with my church family.  This yearly tradition is one I truly enjoy; we drive around town and sing a few carols to people who don’t easily get out, bringing a little bit of Christmas to their door.  I went Christmas caroling…..but to be honest, I really didn’t want to.  I felt like a big fat faker – the idea of singing merrily through the night, all the while longing for quick retreat back into the comfort of my own personal sorrow seemed false and wrong somehow.  But the idea of staying home simply because I didn’t feel merry didn’t quite feel right either, so I said a quick prayer, threw on my scarf and went caroling.  I’m truly thankful I did…..

 

House after house, we found people hungry for connection.  Some too feeble to make it to the door listened from inner rooms, some shared personal needs and asked for prayer.  We witnessed miraculous moments of clarity and tearful gratitude from those just so thankful to not be forgotten.  It was beautiful….it was holy, and this time tears came not from sorrow, but in honor of these precious ones whose lives were touched so deeply with such a simple act of showing up on a doorstep and singing a few familiar songs.

 

Kay Warren says in her book, “Choosing Joy”, that joy is a choice we make day by day, and sometimes moment by moment.  I thought it was impossible to feel “joyful” this Christmas season; how can joy and pain possibly co-exist?  But I learned something tonight.  My choice of “showing up” when I was feeling anything but joyful was the portal through which God truly reminded me what joy felt like.  It didn’t take the pain away….but it showed me that doing something to bring others joy was a great way to begin to get there myself.

 

So tonight I caught a glimpse of joy, and that’s enough for now.  Jesus hasn’t forgotten the brokenhearted, in fact he’s especially close to us.  When we remember that – when we can truly embrace how well, how deeply and how completely we are loved, well……that’s cause for joy!

 

“…and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”                                                                                                                                                    

Isaiah 61:3

 Joy

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Advent Week Two ~ Peace

(Reprinted from December 15, 2014)

Peace for the Brokenhearted

“Be my prince of peace, the guardian of my heart. Let ancient striving cease, and patient trusting start. Be my prince of peace, in a world of pain and war. Come now gentle conqueror….rule my life once more. Come now, gentle conqueror….rule my life once more.” (Jeff Kennedy)

We sang these words in church this morning, as we have for the past several years on “Peace” Sunday, or the second Sunday in Advent. Last week I reflected on the idea of Hope and what that might mean to those struggling with pain and loss during this holiday season. As I was reminded of these beautiful words this morning, two things sprang to mind. The first was, “What was I thinking when I committed to writing Advent reflections?!” quickly followed by “I like the image of God being the “guardian of my heart…”

The irony isn’t lost on me that I am reflecting on Peace during the most violently painful time in my life. But as with so many other things that are being forced into redefinition these days, the idea of “peace” and what it looks like….what it feels like is also getting a second look. I mentioned last week that the presence of pain doesn’t mean the absence of Christ and if that is true, and if Jesus truly is the Prince of Peace, we can also say the presence of pain doesn’t have to mean the absence of peace. If the only peace that counts is that warm, content, everything in this moment is feeling just right kind of feeling, we won’t find it lasting very long. The times change – families change – tragedy strikes – and suddenly what we thought of as peace….the feeling of peace….is swept away by the waves of pain and loss.

So, what then? Are we to wait until “everything in this moment is feeling just right” before we are to know peace? That’s not the promise! Though my heart is broken and my faith tested, I still firmly believe there is a “guardian of my heart” that not only sees my pain, but who brings me peace – in whatever doses I’m able to receive it. It’s not an all or nothing offer. Sometimes peace is a process. It certainly was for Jesus…..

Dear one who may be struggling with finding peace in this season of Joy and Light and Celebrations……know that there is a guardian of your heart that offers not only the feeling of peace, but stays with us in the process of receiving it….no matter how long it takes. He sees us, He loves us and He waits patiently with us.

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7

Peace

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Advent Week One ~ Hope

(One year ago I wrote short devotionals for the four weeks of Advent.  When regarding the possibility of doing the same again this year, I found such great solace reading the words from last year I have decided to reprint them.  I do hope at least some of these words find those who need a healing touch just now and for whom this time of year brings the mingling of joy and sorrow.                                    God sees you…..God loves you…..you are not alone!)

 

Hope for the Brokenhearted

 

Today many Christians mark the arrival of the Advent season; the arrival of Christ into a lost and broken world.  His humble appearance quietly shattered every tradition – every expectation the Jews had for their messiah, and yet He came.  Every crèche or nativity scene I’ve ever seen displays a smiling, peacefully sleeping, or sometimes even haloed baby Jesus surrounded by his adoring parents, curious animals, visiting shepherds, and trumpeting angel, all under the glow of the radiantly beaming Christmas star.  We sing Silent Night and It Came Upon a Midnight Clear because they remind us of the gentle peace of Christ….and we so need His peace, don’t we?

The thing is, when Jesus arrives to “a lost and broken world”, the scene is seldom a peaceful one.  He comes into our brokenness.  He enters our grief.  He joins us in our anger, our confusion, our disappointment…..our humanity.  These are the things (and so many more) that Jesus came to love us through – and through – and through clear to the other side.  Absolutely, he brings joy, peace, salvation, light and life eternal, and we are so humbly grateful!  But to those who are still in need…..he comes again.  To those who once had, but now lack….he comes again.  To those whose memories need to be refreshed to the goodness and faithfulness of God not only thousands of years ago, but now, today…..he comes again.

I am thankful that Jesus knows where each of us is as we enter this season of Advent.  He knows where we are…..and He knows how to find us to come again to us bearing every good gift, not wrapped with a bow, but wrapped in the deep, sacrificial love that brought Him to us in the beginning – that brings Him still to us today.  If there is hope for the brokenhearted this Advent season, it is in the coming of the healer…the Messiah who sees us, loves us and hopes for us until we are able to embrace it once again.  Come, Lord Jesus…..come!

“I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.”

                                                                        Psalm 130:5 

Hope

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7000 Steps

A few months ago the school district I work for offered an opportunity to all employees to take up a walking challenge as part of an annual health and fitness campaign.  The idea is simple, really – just walk a minimum of 7000 steps a day, then every week, report your total steps.  Easy, right?  Noooo problem-o!  (Let me just mention here that I work at a desk….and had never actually counted my “total daily steps” before…..)  But ignorance notwithstanding, I signed up for the challenge, dusted off my trusty Fitbit and waited to begin.

Day 1:  Up at my usual 5:00 am to shower, dress, eat breakfast, water patio plants, pack lunch and jump in the car to head to work.  It all felt like a lot of steps….in fact when I got to work and settled at my desk I snuck a peak at the Fitbit, pretty sure I had cranked out at least 2000 or so, and was startled to see I had picked up a whopping….. 443 steps so far.  After a quick test of the Fitbit’s accuracy, (yes….it was working just fine) I got my first glimpse of what 7000 might look like in a day.  By lunch I’d walked around 1700, which was a true reality check….this was going to take a little more planning and a whole lot more effort than I’d bargained on!  I came home that afternoon with more than half my steps remaining and enlisted my husband to take a walk with me, already wondering how I was going to make it the two months that the challenge required.  But, though I may be a bit more sedentary than I’d imagined, I’m also a bit competitive, and I wasn’t about to quit!

I started walking during my lunch hour, just to get some pesky steps off my to-do list, and then making up the rest every evening after dinner.  I somehow managed to make the 7000 steps a day (just barely!) and proudly entered my first entry in the Walking Challenge log.  One week down, eight to go – OK, harder than I thought, but I’d just have to power through, then think again before signing up for any more “challenges!”

So…..a funny thing happened on the way to 7000 steps a day.  Quite unexpectedly, it became less and less about walking and more and more about…..healing.  See, there’s not really much to DO while you’re walking….well, except the walking part, but I guess I mean there’s not much ELSE to do while walking, but walk.  So to beat the boredom, I began arming myself with headphones and Pandora stations on my phone to let music help me pass the time.  And I found myself flipping through lots of other music I loved to over and over again land on music that spoke to my heart; more specifically, songs of worship.  I filled my ears, head and heart with sounds from artists such as Hillsong United, Jesus Culture, Passion, Gateway Worship, Chris Tomlin, Kari Jobe…..and somewhere around week three I actually started looking forward to walking.  (If you know me, stop laughing…..people change!)

It’s been a rough few years.  This past year, in particular there have been times I honestly didn’t know if I could make it another day – my heart has been smashed into such tiny pieces, it’s seemed impossible to hope for any part of it to be gathered up and mended together again.  But there are many steps throughout the grieving process, and also, I’m finding….many steps to healing.  And lately a large part of healing has been quite unexpectedly found in the form of 7000 steps a day.  I’ve spent literally hours alone with my thoughts, but most importantly, in prayer – with God.  I’ve had a lot to say to Him, many things I’ve been afraid to say.  After all…..He’s God….and I haven’t been too happy with how my life has played out lately.  But do you know what my walks have shown me?  He can take it.  And not only can take it, but He longs for me to give it to Him.  All of it.  The questions, the pain, the disappointment, the despair, the grief, the anger, the desperate longing for things to be different…..all the broken pieces.

I share these words, not just to record this period in our lives, but to hopefully remind those who may be reading whose hearts are also broken that they aren’t alone.  God is near to the broken hearted, and He knows we don’t – we can’t always understand why pain comes our way, especially when we love Him so.  But please take heart, and whatever you do….don’t give up!  Weeping may consume these nights….but joy comes in the morning.  I know it’s dark….but morning will come, and I want to be there to see that sunrise!

I only have a couple of weeks left of the walking challenge, but I don’t think I’ll be stopping any time soon.  Healing truly is beginning to take place in my broken heart, and God and I have much more to talk about.  So, I’ll pack up my headphones, listen to worship music that leads me into the very presence of the One who loves me most, cry and pray and pursue healing…..7000 steps at a time.

Carried by Love,

Shellie

“Anchor”  By Hillsong United

I have this hope
As an anchor for my soul
Through every storm
I will hold to YouWith endless love
All my fear is swept away
In everything
I will trust in YouThere is hope in the promise of the cross
You gave everything to save the world You love
And this hope is an anchor for my soul
Our God will stand
Unshakeable

Unchanging One
You who was and is to come
Your promise sure
You will not let go

Your Name is higher
Your Name is greater
All my hope is in You

Your word unfailing
Your promise unshaken
All my hope is in You

Image result for god heals verses
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Ten Months Later…

It’s been more than 10 months since my last post here, and much has happened in those months.  I’ve continued to write (you can find links below), just not here.  It’s proven to be more difficult than I even imagined finding words to communicate the pain of losing a child far too soon.  And when words do come, I’ve questioned whether it’s fair or useful to anyone to share that pain.    But the last 10 months have also produced the beginnings of good fruit – the promise of hope and healing, so it’s with this fledgling faith that I come back to “Mourning Mercies”, praying that we find a way to discover mercy even through the mourning.  It’s there – I’ve seen it.  I’ve felt it.  I’ve experienced the stirring of new life, if only in brief moments, but that’s what hope is about, isn’t it?  We hope in things we don’t yet know or see.

I will never….ever “get over” the loss of my son, Brett.  But it is my continuing hope that I can somehow transition from mourning his absence to celebrating not only his life, but the goodness of God, who continues to pour the oil of mercy and healing, slowly and deeply into our hearts.

So…. from time to time I’ll share stories, songs, videos, words of others….anything that might encourage us to keep inching forward.  Forward is good.  And my hope is, that whether you keep me company every step of the way, or just check in from time to time as your own heart allows, we can journey together.  If there is anything I have learned in this unexpected and most unwelcome season of grief, it is that we are absolutely not meant to do life alone.   So, for the wounded and hurting, fall into a big, comfy chair and rest awhile here.  For those who better want to understand the heart of one who deeply mourns, you are also welcome.  And for the one who might not be sure where God is in the midst of your pain – you, my dear friend, are especially welcome….let’s travel this road together!

Much love,

Shellie

http://discoverlentwithme.com/2015/02/19/rediscovering-lent/

https://www.facebook.com/notes/shellie-warren/advent-1-hope-for-the-brokenhearted/1005350529491101

https://www.facebook.com/notes/shellie-warren/advent-2-peace-for-the-brokenhearted/1010308255661995

https://www.facebook.com/notes/shellie-warren/advent-3-joy-for-the-brokenhearted/1015092665183554

https://www.facebook.com/notes/shellie-warren/advent-4-love-for-the-brokenhearted/1021093504583470

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The Last Big Thing

I’m sitting here, waiting for the sounds of a large truck due any minute to deliver my son’s car from New York.   For weeks I’ve thought of this event as “the last big thing.”  I actually went to work this morning thinking I could stay busy and just run home for the unloading then return to work.  Then it hit me with all the force of a freight train that this really is the

Last    Big    Thing….

There are so many steps – tasks, really following the death of a loved one.  There are people to contact, service arrangements, travel arrangements, accounts to settle….on and on they go like metal rollers on a conveyor belt of grief-life.  So many details and decisions to tend to – in a way it keeps you moving forward, which is good.  Though there is pain, there is also form, and for a person who likes to keep lists (like me) it has given me a sense of comfort, in a way, to tend to what have really become our responsibilities as though they are still our son’s….and we’re just helping him.  His apartment is closed, final bills paid, belongings shipped to our hometown and placed in a newly rented storage facility, services planned, attended, and memorial paraphernalia (pictures, mementos, programs, etc.) neatly stacked in a corner of our bedroom, along with those of my mother who passed just three weeks before Brett…..

What needs to be done today?  Who do we call to take care of that?  When do you you think we’ll get word on ____? Tasks….jobs….details….all propelling us along to the next day.  Some days have gotten easier as there are less and less things to tend to.  Most of the paperwork has been handled, no more daily texts and calls with Navy personnel; in fact, all affairs seem to be in order.  There’s just the Last Big Thing:  Brett’s car.

The sporty little black Nissan Sentra is Brett’s first “real” car.  It’s the first one he bought on his own, with his own money.  In fact, after getting some advice from his Dad, he decided that, though he had enough in savings to purchase it outright, this would be a great opportunity to establish come credit, so he took out a loan and set up automatic payments so he would never be late.  He loved that car!  He kept jumper cables and a gas can in the trunk and a fluffy blanket in the backseat for the spur-of-the-moment road trips he was so fond of.  It took him from South Carolina to New York where he learned to drive in snow and ice for the first time.  He and the Nissan picked up and dropped off countless sailors who either didn’t have rides or needed a DD to get home safely.  And it took him to and from work at all crazy hours of the day and night – something I frequently prayed about!

We wanted – we needed that car.  It was important to him and that made it so very important to us, not only as Brett’s property, but as a part of him.  Finally having it home, here in CA has been the last surge on the conveyor belt.  As long as it was “out there” somewhere, we still weren’t done.  And you would probably think that would be a good thing, right?  Being done?

It’s so not.  As long as there has been something still unfinished – as long as the conveyor belt was still moving – there was propulsion…something to keep us moving forward.  But after today all of the “things” will be done.  And we will somehow have to learn to take more steps on our own to keep breathing and keep living.  I’m sure we will…..I just don’t know how yet.

Hey, remember in my first post when I said I couldn’t promise this blog would always be uplifting, but would always be real?  Ummm…..this is one of those days.  It hurts in every crevice of my body and soul.  I’m homesick for my son.  And I would do, say, give anything to have one more big hug from him.  I so want to save him.  I really do.  But instead tonight I will sit in his car and once again try to feel his presence and love him as best I can from so far away.

Take Care,

Shellie

My Heart’s Lament and Psalm

Oh God – with such deep love has come such deep sorrow.  I know your love is never away from me.  Please hold me close and let me hope of joyful days again.  I choose to trust in you, and I choose to believe that I will see “the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”  Selah20130908_165910

 

 

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