The Wednesday Writers: Jennifer Hoffer

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (3)

Gentle Reader,

It’s The Wednesday Writers!

No idea what I’m talking about? Read this.

Today we hear from my friend Jen Hoffer, who lives across the street. (Post written in December 2017).

O Chrismakwanzukkah, O Chrismakwanzukkah!

My family and I were watching the live version of A Christmas Carol last night, which is based on a small Midwest town’s Christmas celebrations.  My other half turned to me and asked, “When you were growing up near Los Angeles, you didn’t get to experience things like a grand opening of a Christmas display in department store windows, did you?”

“Nope”, I replied, “but I’m pretty sure you didn’t have Kosher pickles and matzah ball soup alongside the Christmas ham!”

We all have our holiday traditions, each one as unique and different as the people who represent them.  We watch movies and shows, seeing Hollywood’s take on the “traditional” holiday setting, with it’s perfectly decorated trees and perfectly wrapped presents.  But the reality is that our holiday celebrations are more than that.  They are messy, loud, frustrating, quiet, quirky, happy, sad, and busy.  The holidays bring about memories and remind us of stories from long ago.

I come from a family with many different cultures that have melted together over the years.  My mother’s side of the family is Jewish, my father’s side of the family is Catholic/Protestant.  We have a mix of Irish, German, English, Norwegian, and Mexican family members who have added their own twist to things over the years.  Our family LOVES food, and some of my earliest memories of the holiday season involves unique foods people may not associate with the season.  One of my favorites is bagels and cream cheese with lox, onions, and capers (tastes WAY better than it smells) on Christmas morning while opening presents.  We also would make latkes (potato pancakes) with a little bit of butter and sugar on top (don’t knock it till you try it).  I remember visiting my paternal grandmother’s house and smelling the spicy scent of “Happiness Punch” (apple cider, Captain Morgan’s spiced rum, orange slices and cloves in a crock pot for the adults), and receiving a box of homemade tamales from my Aunt Mary.  After I got married, I learned about homemade Orange Julius, scotch eggs, and the amazing Krumkake (cookies in a conical shape filled with yogurt and whipped cream).  If I haven’t made you hungry by now, you have amazing willpower!

But the holidays aren’t always about the food.  It’s about the stories and the history of such traditions.  One of the traditions that we celebrate in my little household each year is Hanukkah.  I jest with my friends when I say it’s eight crazy nights filled with fried food, gambling, and fire.  It is so much more than that.

In truth, Hanukkah is a minor festival in the Jewish calendar.  Our most sacred days land in the September/October with Yom Kippur and Rosh Hoshanna.  But it gets a lot more attention due to its proximity to Christmas.

But what is Hanukkah?  Why is it important?

The story goes that a group of rebel fighters called the Maccabee were standing up for their religious freedom from a tyrannical ruler named Antiochus IV Epiphanes circa 200 B.C.  Antiochus had desecrated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem by building statues of other gods within the temple and slaughtering pigs in the sanctuary (BIG kosher no-no).  Over several years, the Maccabees took back the Temple and took on the task of cleansing it, worthy of being a place of Jewish worship again.  Once completed, the Temple had to be rededicated in a special ceremony, but there was only enough untainted holy lamp oil to light the temple for 1 night.  I took just over a week to prepare and deliver more oil for the temple, and the lamps needed to remain lit in order for the rededication to be valid.  The miracle witnessed was that one night of oil lasted for eight nights, just long enough for more oil to be prepared.  This miracle was a blessing after so many years of turmoil.  Hence, the word Hanukkah means “dedication.”

But what does it really mean to us?  In my family, at least, it reminds us that God is present in even the smallest miracles.  We use this time to prepare for the Christmas holiday by thinking of ways to help others.  Next to our Menorah that we light each night is a little metal piggy bank to donate money to the needy.  We go through our possessions and look for things to donate to food banks and churches.  In a season where the mass media focuses so much on the materialistic aspect of the holidays, we try to hold on to the meaning of our traditions.

What are some of the traditions you celebrate with your family?  Think of the some of the silliest or even the most somber celebrations you share with your loved ones.  Ask your relatives or Google the history behind such celebrations.  You might find some new reasons for the season.

********

JenJennifer Hoffer lives in Post Falls, Idaho with her spouse of 12 years and her family.  She has a 19-year-old stepson in college and a 7-year-old daughter, along with 3 dogs and 3 parakeets.  Jennifer holds a Master’s Degree in Healthcare Administration and Communication and works for a local healthcare system.  Jennifer is also the Social Media Director for LYDIA Inc. (a non-profit organization to help families with counseling and services, based in Santa Fe, New Mexico).  When she isn’t working, she spends much of her time geeking out on fandoms with her friends (such as Star Trek, Star Wars, Star Gate, Doctor Who, and all things Disney) and getting beaten at video games by her kids.  Jennifer is also the creator of the Healthy Hobbit.

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Content Yo Self

Along theWay @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

I love Parks and Recreation.

Chris and I watched the show as it aired live. We’ve watched it completely through several times on Netflix. We can quote entire scenes word-for-word. Chris shares Ron Swanson’s love of woodworking and breakfast foods. At any given time I can be heard singing Jean-Ralphio’s classic, “Technically I’m homeless!” Both of us appreciate the beauty that is the Knope/Wyatt relationship. If we believed in spirit animals, mine would be April Ludgate and his would be Andy Dwyer. Chris Traeger and Ann Perkins are amazing land mermaids. Tammy 1, Tammy 2, Jeremy Jamm, Bobby Newport, Lil’ Sebastian…

Don’t worry – I didn’t forget the joy of Tom and Donna:

We are lit-er-ally P&R super-fans.

“Treat yo self” is a wonderful idea. In a culture that’s all about work, work and more work, as well as remaining constantly connected through social media and smartphones, it’s important to build a little space in our lives for relaxation. Eat a cupcake, see a movie, buy an expensive pair of shoes (that you’ve saved money for. Hashtag Dave Ramsey). In moderation, there’s nothing wrong with “treat yo self.”

But you know humans.

We just can’t seem to do anything in moderation.

In our Western, industrialized, competitive context, we swing from frenetic labor to “I’m going to go into major debt because I want that boat” without much thought. We are always striving, in work and in play, to keep up with…someone. Something. It’s rather ill-defined. We know for certain, however, that we are always and inevitably coming up short. Nothing is ever good enough. We are never good enough.

So onto the next deadline so we can get the next iPhone that we’ll have to make payments on by logging more hours.

Strangely, despite all the overtime and the missed vacation days, we lack discipline.

Really, we do. It’s not good that 40 hours a week is often understood to actually be 60, with little to no overtime pay. Or, if overtime is given, a tongue-lashing from the numbers guy comes along with it. “Yes, we need you to do this project that requires 87 hours of work but you have to get it done in 39.5. Kthanksbye.” There is no satisfaction accompanying a job well done, because the job is never done.

No discipline Monday-Friday equals no discipline on the weekends. Stay up too late, sleep too long, spend too much, drink too much, eat too much, shop too much. Hungover, emotionally or physically, we head back into the workweek, the ever-revolving hamster wheel of tasks and expectations.

On and on it goes.

Paul wrote:

…I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

– Philippians 4:11b-12 (NKJV)

We don’t know how to do any of that. We don’t know how to be content in plenty. We don’t know how to be content in leanness. We don’t know how to be content, period.

Because we’re looking at the wrong things.

The big house isn’t going to silence the soul-gnawing sense of desperation. The corner office isn’t going to make the sacrifice of family and friends worthwhile. The string of letters on the parchment paper won’t bring peace. The money in the bank won’t achieve security.

Paul goes on:

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

– 4:13 (NKJV)

We quote this verse out of context all the time. I know I have.

Paul is grateful, and in spite of periods of difficulty, he has learned to be content (v. 11). Note that he learned this! He did not rely on favorable circumstances for his joy and strength. He found these in a higher source: in Christ (v. 13).

Asbury Bible Commentary

Doing “all things” isn’t about achievement. It’s about facing whatever the day holds in the knowledge that Chris is always present. Does that mean we deny problems? No. Force ourselves to shun treats? Of course not. Put simply, “all things,” for the believer, are mere things. Seasons. Times. Moments that pass. Christ is the end-goal, the treasure.

Knowing this is the only way that we can be content, and out of that contentment arises the ability to set boundaries. I don’t have to do the work of three people. I can say “no.” I don’t have to buy this thing that I don’t have money for. I can enjoy what I already have. Understanding that Jesus is King and that we are His children means that we don’t have to strive. We don’t have to get caught in the rat race or possess all that is shiny.

Of course, we cannot attain this perspective on our own. We’re not amazing like that. The only way we can conclude that this life, this world is not all there is and that something else matters a whole lot more is through the power of the Holy Spirit. We have to ask for His eyes. We have to ask Him for faith.

So, yes, work hard. And treat yo self. Just remember, neither in the working nor the treating does contentment lie.

Find it in the arms of Jesus.

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Photo Credit: Kaylah Otto
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Five Minute Friday: Why

Stars

Gentle Reader,

I stumbled into the world of teenage YouTube today.

Thankful I am that the platform didn’t exist when I was younger. The videos that I and my friends would have posted… #drama

Please, young people: Don’t share anything and everything.

Kate says: why.

Go.

Pause the nature documentary and Google: Why does this frog do that?

Watch the Olympics and wonder: Why did anyone ever think that cross-country skiing and shooting at clay targets should get together and have the baby that is the biathlon?

Scroll through my news feed and ask: Why another school shooting?

“Why” is an odd word. We use it in the context of gathering information. We use it sarcastically. We sigh it and scream it in the face of tragedy that has no answer.

The fundamental human question.

Animals don’t seek. They operate on instinct. They don’t want or need to know.

We do. We’re haunted by the want and the need. The answers we find lead to more questions. We long for the fullness of knowledge, but it remains just beyond our reach. That, I think, is a sign of the aching for eternity that the wise man tells us God placed in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11). We can’t fit it all neatly in a box.

We desperately need the One who can.

Stop.

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Simmer Down

Cry

Gentle Reader,

I’ve avoided IF: Gathering for a couple of years. The direction the group was headed at the time wasn’t one that I could follow. Gather ye pitchforks while ye may, but I’m just not “progressive,” theologically-speaking. I actually believe that God is real and Satan is real and there is a spiritual war going on and that the things recorded in the Bible happened and that the commands on the pages are necessary to life and salvation. I believe in terms and concepts like Sin, Incarnation, Atonement and Resurrection. While I certainly don’t believe that people who don’t claim the title “Christian” can or should live as if they are, I do believe that those who call themselves followers of Christ have to completely, fully buy into the fact that He gets to make the rules.

(That’s all without nuance, because I also believe in interpretation, historical context and the proper, responsible handling of Scripture).

Some of the speakers/teachers associated with IF in the past have been people with whom I don’t align. And that’s fine. I’m not saying that only people I agree with have a right to speak or teach. I just chose not to tune in. Not a big deal.

Then I heard the buzzing of Twitter last Friday night.

Rebekah Lyons: made some remarks about anxiety and pooh-phoo’ed #MeToo.

Christine Caine: joked about schizophrenia.

Overall: “conservative” theology, which is just so backward.

Everyone was very upset.

I thought, “Huh. Interesting. I should look into this.” Because I’m curious. I like to know things.

I watched the entirely of the first session, which is over 4 hours long. (Full disclosure: I took many breaks and did it over a two-day span). Whatever joke Caine made, I didn’t hear. (That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen; I probably missed it). I’m not the biggest fan of hers, but her message was rock-solid. Nothing Lyons said bothered me in the slightest; not once did she say that anyone who suffers from anxiety (or, by extension, other mental illnesses) shouldn’t take medication or see a therapist. Additionally, the fact that she pointed out that women don’t rise in order to stomp on men – as men have so often done to women – didn’t cause me to twitch with anger.

Listen: I nearly committed suicide. I take Zoloft every night. I’ve been in therapy three times for myself, totaling roughly 2.5 years, and am currently in couple’s counseling with my husband as we wrestle out what God has for us since our lives look nothing like the lives around us (i.e., I can’t have children). Anxiety constantly buzzes in the back of my mind. I’m part of #MeToo and #ChurchToo. I wake up every morning with the knowledge that, at any moment, my liver can (and will certainly eventually) go to crap; words like “cancer” and “transplant” are never far away. My joints always hurt. My head throbs with migraines on a regular basis. Not a day goes by that I am not nauseated and exhausted.

Without doubt, I am hyper-vigilant for any mushy, gushy, false, prosperity garbage teaching. I am the enemy of the “health-and-wealth” preacher. I will without hesitation do battle with anyone who tells me to “pray it away.” For 10 years I have openly, publicly, shared about my suffering and how, in the upside-down way of the Kingdom, it has brought me closer to the Lord.

Do I believe that the church has to learn how to have difficult conversations? That we need to stop assuming that the “American Dream” is God’s plan? That we need to wise up to the fact that pain is, in fact, promised to those who follow Christ? That the hurting people who sit in the pews every Sunday need to know that there is a place for them?

Yes.

I also believe that, sometimes, we are sensitive in unproductive ways.

That we go looking for something over which to be offended.

That, because we do not fully pursue healing, because we remain in a place of victim-hood, we read into (hear into?) messages things that simply aren’t there.

If I got upset every time someone made a joke or said something idiotic about anxiety, depression, OCD, infertility or suicide, I would literally never leave my house and I would definitely never go online.

There’s a difference between consistent, ongoing abuse and something said without consideration. Were Lyons and Caine flippant at points? Perhaps. It is important for communicators to choose their words carefully. Do they need to issue apologies and submit themselves to a social media flogging? No. Look at the entirety of their ministries, their teachings. Is there an ongoing pattern of idiocy or simple, isolated, human moments that we all experience?

Do not mistake me. Leaders are not immune to needing correction. But we cannot go around assigning beliefs and motivations to people just because others in our lives have had those beliefs or motivations at one point or another. That is not fair to those others and, in so doing, we set ourselves up to be re-victimized over and over again. What kind of life is that? Where is the room for trust, for grace, for relationship?

I know that some of you reading this are real mad right about now. You want to tell me that I don’t understand. You want to dismiss me as not being “woke.” So let me just go ahead and smash the last little bit of your toes: At some point, we have to move forward. We have to press through. We have to square our shoulders and decide, by the mercy and empowerment of Christ, that we are stronger and tougher than all the hurts of the past, present and future. We stand, bruised, bloody and sweaty, believing that our God is with us, come what may. We don’t slink around like invertebrates and we don’t continuously, obsessively claw off the scabs so that we can keep on bleeding. We have to stop indiscriminately demanding heads on platters in an effort to make ourselves feel better.

Pain is real. Jesus is also real. Choose Jesus in the midst of pain, keeping your eyes fixed on Him. That’s the message I heard during the first session of IF: Gathering. It’s a message we need to sit with. We have to learn to shun the extremes of both denial and dwelling. Jesus is in neither of those. He is instead in the middle, in the muscle-burning, soul-stretching work of one foot in front of the other, throwing off the things that would weigh us down and take us out.

Because, you see, people are dying out there. They need to see, to hear, the hope in our lives, the hope that gets us out of bed each morning. That will only happen if we are willing to go where they are, beyond ourselves, to the places God calls us. We can only do that if we are willing to submit to His healing work, a work of transformation that leaves the scar but heals the wounds.

It’s time.

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