The Wednesday Writers: Lisa Brittain

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

It’s The Wednesday Writers!

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

Today we hear from my friend Lisa Brittain. (Post written in December 2017).

Welcome to Our Real

I didn’t feel like decorating the house for Christmas.  In fact, without all the exterior cues – store shelves stocked with Christmas, houses lit up, and city light poles decked in festive notifications – I would have barely noticed the season was upon me.  It was the sudden recognition I would soon be on Thanksgiving vacation, which squarely slapped me into reality. Christmas is almost here and it would happen with or without me.

The weekend after Thanksgiving I began dutifully pulling boxes up out of the basement.  It was simply time management.  Do it now or don’t do it at all.  Along the way, I opened each tote to peek at the contents.  My intent was to look for the bare essentials.  “There’s nothing wrong with a minimalist Christmas,” I continually assured myself.  My husband agreed, “Just enough so no one thinks we’re ‘skipping Christmas” – a reference to one of our favorite holiday movies, Christmas With The Kranks.

Please don’t leave… This isn’t an indictment of Christmas or the American way.  It’s not a judgment on those who are enjoying a festive season.  Please don’t feel or receive any condemnation for your choice to love Santa and display the Nativity.  

The peeking led to digging through and pulling up thirty years of Christmas memories.  Our walk down memory lane felt like an extension of Thanksgiving.  Both my husband and I benefitted from the activity.  Each uncovered item testified to the wealth we possess in family relationships, the full variety of life seasons and rich experiences of our past.

Though I had not the enthusiasm for producing a traditional Hallmark kind of Christmas around our house, I also had no intention of pretending Christmas was a figment of everyone’s imagination.  My heart yearned for the celebration of The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  The tug of war was and still is, real and intense.  I wonder, in a Charlie Brown kind of way, is this really all there is – commercialism, Pinterest worthy presentations and perfect pictures posted on social media, even giving to every conceivable cause known to man?

I would love to feel festive right about now.  It would be a relief to my soul to feel a sudden urge to don a pair of Christmas socks and gaudy Christmas sweater as official garb for baking Christmas cookies for our entire neighborhood.  Perhaps if I could feel the giddy joy of doing the stuff, it would signify a much-desired change of life seasons – out of the desert and into a lush meadow.

For this moment in time though, it would be fake.  In fact, our precious neighbor saw me outside putting red and white and gold shiny ornaments on our Dogwood tree.  Passing by she mentioned, “You must be feeling festive.”  I looked her straight in the eye, this one whose husband passed away in March just the day before my mother in law walked into Jesus’ welcoming arms, and responded truthfully, “No, I’m truly not.”  I saw relief flood her countenance as she confessed her lack of desire to set up her Christmas tree, which sat in a box in the living room.

Often, my heart screams out to the Lord, and sometimes to my husband, “I don’t know how to do this! I’ve never lived here before. Help me…”

I don’t understand Parkinson’s Disease.  And guess what, medical professionals don’t really understand it either.  We never saw it coming.  Too young, my man, to be hampered with such a life-altering, energy draining, and uncertain disease.  I don’t want to welcome PD into our lives.  In fact, I want to slam the door shut, and shout at the top of my lungs, “There’s no room in this inn!”

A new normal?  Sure, I get it.  Why not us?  Awful life circumstances happen to people every day. Younger older, richer and poorer, the ones who mean well, and those who don’t.

Just tell me the rules.  Where are we on the game board?  How do we avoid the pitfalls?  Did we somehow land on the square indicating we have start over?

Ok, so we can start over.  We have each other, and relationships with people who love us.  So, how do we start over?  And how do we move forward?  Because my man needs to work.  He loves to work.  So, we pray. “Lord, we’re asking for a path and an open door… Your Light to show us the new way in which You are leading…”

Surely, this is a grieving season.  We exhibit all the symptoms of grieving the death of a dream… the death of our vision for our future.  That’s what it is for me – the realization life isn’t going to be for us as we hoped and dreamed.  This is easier for me.  I’m the optimist in the family, and I’m not the biggest loser.

For my husband, the loss has been overwhelming.  First the diagnosis.  Then the job loss.  Now three years in, we are questioning the resurrection of his career.  During the same three years, his mother languished in hospice.  Her strong heart refused to quit after the stroke took the rest of her capacity for living.  Now she is with Jesus, for which we are abundantly grateful.

He’s not quite Job, though Job is frequently mentioned around our home.  I remind my man often, “I’m not leaving.”  We’ll learn to do this new normal together.  Our lives are full of blessings for which we are daily reminded to be grateful. 

My suntanned feet man having grown up in church and regularly fed on the Word of God from a young age, he knows the right answers.  Yet, somehow in the tremendous pit of pain and darkness, black writing on white pages isn’t enough.  He is in need of the real presence of God holding him, catching his tears and listening to his brokenhearted questions.

This Christmas, this is where we’re living.  I want real.  My insides are clawing for an understanding of what it really means to welcome the King of Kings and Lord of Lords into our home.  What if Joseph had come knocking at our door, his wife about to give birth?  Would we help them… give them a place to rest… watched as she birthed the Word incarnate?  Would we have believed Mary’s story?  The real of what God selected them to do was messy and hard and heartbreaking and lonely at times. 

My method for regaining equilibrium – finding my bearings in unsettling circumstances – is to ask myself questions: “What do I do when I don’t know what to do?”  And then I answer myself: “Go back, Lisa, to what you know is true.”

I go back to tried and true Scripture for a foundation.  Lately, I’ve found comfort in the 37th psalm.  As I read it again and again, I feel peace wash away the fear and anxious thoughts.  Here it is simply stated:

Trust in Him.  Do good.  Dwell in the land.  Enjoy safe pasture.  Delight myself in Him.  Commit my way to Him.  Trust Him.  Be still before the Lord and wait for Him. 

– Psalm 37:3-7, paraphrased

Other times I go back even further to where I started with God.  That time in college when He found me in the deepest pit of despair.  All was dark and I had no power to fix anything.  In the depth of my soul, I was simply trying to disappear.  I didn’t call it ‘wanting to die’, but my behaviors were leading me in the direction of death.

But God had His eye on me – many loved ones were praying, I now feel sure.  One night, in a dream, the most trustworthy person I could imagine, my great-grandma Becky, sat on the edge of my bed and spoke simple truth to my aching heart.  I dreamed it, yes, and please don’t make it weird. 

God spoke into the deep darkness His rescue plan for me.  When I awoke, I knew three things:  1) God loved me  2) He had a good plan for my life  3) I needed to follow Him.  This was the unlikely and humble place of God choosing and calling little me to be His ambassador and receive the mission He has for my life.

Perhaps this is the heart connection I have with Mary – not that God pulled her out of a pit, but that He sent a messenger to personally meet with her.  She knew when Gabriel left, stunned as she must have been, she had been chosen by God for His purpose.  Surely, she had more questions than answers. 

The real of her situation was that God’s calling put her reputation on the line.  Suddenly, Joseph was forced to choose between what seemed a plausible betrayal and the glorious gift of God.  The couple had to have been reeling as they too may have grieved the death of a dream for their lives.  Nothing would be as they planned at the beginning of their betrothal.

Yet, God intervened.  He confirmed to Joseph the truth of Mary’s situation.  They were affirmed in their calling.  Step by step, they lived the current day, no longer certain of what the future held for them.  They chose faith.  Trust.  Hope.  Obedience.  And God was there with them.  God, the Father, led the way.  He, the Son of God, came to live with them. 

With all my questions, I’m certain of this: 

The real of Christmas was hard, scary, uncertain and raw.  And out of darkness, the Light shone confirming the truth of God’s word and His presence with us.  Emmanuel, welcome to our real…

Ponders:

What about you, friend?  Are you seeking the real face of God in the middle of your circumstances?  I pray you will, like me, simply pour out your questions.  Be real with Him.  He knows.  He sees.  He’s been in every feeling, thought and circumstance alongside you.

  • What comfort do you find in the real of Scripture?
  • How might the real of your circumstances add Light to your celebration of Christmas this year?

Eyes on Jesus…you’re shining!

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Lisa Brittain CBS profileLisa Brittain and her husband, Randy, will soon be married 30 years.  Together they are parents of two adult sons, and share their home with three adopted pups. By day Lisa works as a receptionist in the local middle school. However, her mission is to reveal the important voice of each woman and teach her how to share her overcoming God stories.  It is Lisa’s true passion for Jesus and introducing women to Him, which flows in and through and around all the open moments of her everyday life.

Connect with Lisa on her blog, Eyes on Jesus and Shine, or on social media (Instagram / Twitter  / Tumblr)

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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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The Wednesday Writers: Tara Ulrich

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (2)

Gentle Reader,

It’s The Wednesday Writers!

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

Today we hear from my friend Tara Ulrich.

Bethlehem Lights

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see they lie, above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by, yet in thy dark streets shineth, the everlasting light, the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

But today, the lights in Bethlehem are no longer burning bright. They have been shut off because of those in power who think they are doing the right thing. Yet they do not know the consequences of their own actions.

I find myself crying out, “Do you know not what you are doing?” This city of peace is no longer a city of peace. The hopes have been dashed and the fears of today are still there. In fact, the fears have paralyzed the people in this city.

I am usually one who will sit and listen to both sides of an argument. Yet as I listen to my friends who have visited this holy city, I can no longer stand silent. I must speak up for this city of peace. The city where this precious infant Emmanuel is born in a manger. His cry pierced the darkness. The Holy One whose birth into the world proclaimed the good news of God.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”

– John 3:16-17

In the midst of chaos and unrest, can we trust in this one who brings about the peace that passes all human understanding? This one who promises to come down and rend the heavens; bringing God’s kingdom on earth – a kingdom where there will finally be peace for all the world – peace for my LGBTQ friends, peace for Muslim friends, peace for my brown and black friends, peace for all of God’s beloved children.

And when this day comes, the city of Bethlehem will once again stand with her lights shining bright, knowing that Christ came into the world through this holy city that calls us all to proclaim God’s redemptive love and peace.

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TaraHeadShotTara Ulrich blogs at Praying on the Prairie. She is a minister of Word and Service; a deacon of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) serving in western North Dakota as the Director of Home and Congregational Life. She has served at churches in Dilworth, Minnesota, Beulah, North Dakota and Minot, North Dakota.

She is a farmer’s daughter, granddaughter and niece. The prairies of North Dakota are her happy place. She is also the daughter of a woman who lives daily with a mental illness. You can read their story in the book Living as a Daughter: 31 Days of Mental Illness.

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The Wednesday Writers: Lesley Crawford

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (1)

Gentle Reader,

It’s The Wednesday Writers!

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

Today we hear from Lesley Crawford, my friend from across the Pond.

Choosing Our Focus In Challenging Times

Have you ever faced a time when, despite your best efforts, the outcome has been bad?  When you’ve done everything right but, somehow, it’s all gone wrong?  When others seem to be getting ahead or, even worse, taking advantage of your unfortunate circumstances, and life just feels unfair?

How do you respond in moments like these?

If you’re anything like me, then misery, anxiety, and doubt are probably not far away, but really, that’s not helpful.  While it’s natural to be upset over suffering or injustice, it’s all too easy to give in to complaining and grumbling and constantly asking why, and for the result to be bitterness, hopelessness, and a sense of defeat.

That’s why I’m so challenged by the apostle Paul, who demonstrates a radically different response.

As he writes his letter to the Philippians, Paul is in prison- not because he has done anything wrong, but simply for preaching the Gospel.  To make matters worse, Paul’s enemies are using the situation to their advantage and are preaching about Jesus with selfish ambition, intending to make Paul’s chains even more painful.

It would be understandable for Paul to be unhappy about all of this yet, amazingly, his response is not to complain, to give up, or to retaliate, but to rejoice!

How does he do it?

I think it comes down to one word, which God has drawn me to as my word for 2018: Focus.

While we may be unable to control our circumstances, we can choose our focus, and that can make all the difference.

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Philippians 1:12-19 gives us valuable insights into Paul’s focus and there is a lot we can learn from his example:

Paul focuses on the Gospel.  His main concern is not for himself.  It is not his reputation, his comfort, or his safety that matter to him; it is whether people are hearing about Jesus.  He rejoices because “everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News,” (v12 NLT) and continues, “the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice.” (v18 NLT)

Paul focuses on God’s sovereignty.  He trusts that God can use his circumstances and that he can use others, even with their imperfections and bad motives.  He sees God at work and he is content to trust in that, not fighting against his situation, but accepting that God is in charge. (v12)

Paul focuses on what God is doing.  As he raises his eyes from his own situation, he sees God at work.  The members of the palace guard know why he is in prison and he has had opportunities to tell them about Jesus (v13); many of the believers have gained confidence and are preaching boldly (v14); God is even using those preaching out of jealousy and rivalry to take the Gospel to more people (v18).  Despite Paul’s suffering, God is not absent or inactive.  He is working out his purpose.

We may not be in prison for preaching the Gospel, but I’m sure most of us can identify situations that are not as we want or as we feel they should be, times when others seem to be getting ahead by dishonest means, circumstances where we face suffering or even hostility for no good reason.  

It’s easy to focus on the injustice and to question why God allows these things, but what if we could follow Paul’s example and choose a different focus?  What if, rather than focusing on ourselves and our own desires, we could focus on the Gospel, on God’s sovereignty, and on where he is at work, even in our less-than-ideal circumstances?

It’s not easy, but I am convinced that with that change of focus the result would be greater joy and peace.

Of course, there are times when we need to stand up for ourselves and to fight for justice.  I’m not suggesting that anyone remains in an abusive situation for example, but I’m proposing that it would change a lot in many situations if, instead of our focus being on ourselves, it was primarily on God and his glory.

Sometimes that will mean acting to change our circumstances, but at other times it will mean accepting hardship, suffering, and even injustice.  It will mean putting aside our own desires and comfort, and fixing our eyes firmly on God, looking to see where he is at work and seeking, above all, that his name be glorified.

It’s a challenge, and I know I have a long way to go, but I hope this year to adjust my focus more in that direction and to develop more fully the attitude expressed in this song and prayer:

“Father, let me dedicate all this life to Thee,

In whatever worldly state Thou wilt have me be.

Not from sorrow, pain, or care freedom dare I claim.

This alone shall be my prayer: glorify Thy name.”  (Matt Redman)

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Lesley


Lesley lives in Scotland and works for a Christian charity.  In her spare time she enjoys music, theatre, reading, writing, and walking in beautiful places, enjoying God’s creation.  She blogs at Life in the Spacious Place 
and writes to encourage people that, whatever their circumstances, there is always hope to be found in God. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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