Come As You Are

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I’ve been trying to write this post about the Drummer Boy and folks who don’t go to church because they think they aren’t good enough.

It wasn’t working. I was trying too hard to say the right words.

So here are the true words instead.

My favorite Christmas song is “The Little Drummer Boy”. I like it because it’s a song for the outcasts. The message is “Forget what they say, come as you are, all are welcome, all are loved.”

In today’s church bureaucracy, twisted up around rules and platforms, the come as you are message sometimes gets squashed. It’s easy to believe, from the outside, that only the right people go to church.

Of course, this is a lie. I’m regularly inside a church, which should be enough to convince you that “perfect” and “church” are not hand-holding friends. My church is full of sinners. I know this because we make a confession of sins every single week. And get this: even the priest says it. Boom.

Still, folks hesitate at the doors. They stay behind while others head out for midnight Mass, joking behind their glass of wine about being “retired”.

Or they shake off the invitation to come along with a whispered “I couldn’t because of, you know….” The divorce. The addiction. The lifestyle. The third husband.

Or they are angry at the church for some (probably very good) reason.

I think that most of the time, what’s holding them back is the brick and mortar institution of church. Which can be daunting, judgmental and sometimes—yes, we have to admit it—destructive. Any church that drives people out instead of in is destructive to God’s will.

I get it. I have packed my bags and headed for the door in my faith life more than once.

But then someone always says to me “It’s not about the church. It’s about Jesus.”

And this stops me because I cannot imagine my life without Jesus. I have to come to Jesus, like that Drummer Boy, with nothing but my weaknesses, imperfections and sins, and find love. Without that soul shelter, I cannot continue to wife, mother, friend, function in this world.

Can I get an Amen from the choir?

Right. So here’s the thing—We have to tell the people in our life who hesitate outside the door that we go to church because we’re human and frail and sometimes we suck. We’re not good because we go. If we’re good, it’s because of the love that we find there.

And if you are one of those people, already dreading the Christmas Eve guilt trip and also secretly wishing you could swallow your pride and just go, remember this: There is nothing, nothing, nothing in your life that would make the Baby turn you away. Just come as you are. Bring what you have. Let the love heal you.

Merry Christmas from our families to yours.

We wish you health, peace and of course many, many graces!

A Season of Hope ~ Guest Post by Amy

Amy is how we all got to know Meg. We prayed for her health and then we prayed her through the door of this life into the next. Meg left behind a husband and two young girls, one only an infant. This is their first Christmas without their mama.

No doubt, Meg’s husband Sam will struggle as he learns to walk without his partner, juggling his grief with the responsibilities of his girls and the season. How hard it must be for him to find the light right now.

But Amy wants to share with us a story of how we don’t always have to find the light on our own.

Meg was an AVID coordinator in the Ontario Montclair school district. AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) is a national educational support program, designed for students who will be the first in their families to attend college. As coordinator, Meg was directly involved with the teachers and students, promoting a college education for all.

A few weeks ago, I attended a regional AVID training. Memories came crashing back: Last year when I was here we had just found out that Meg was diagnosed with breast cancer while pregnant with her second child.

Meg took off work to fight the disease with a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. She lost her hair so Sam shaved his off as well, in support.  By early summer, the doctors felt Meg was on the road to recovery. In July we celebrated the news that her PET scan was clean, showing no lesions.

Somehow, just six weeks later, she was sick again. She had lesions on her liver, which was swollen and losing function. The cancer was aggressive and untreatable.

By October, she was gone. Her daughters were four and six months old.

At the AVID training this year, her school site team, including Sam, wore pink shirts in honor of Meg. Every year, the region raffles gift baskets to raise AVID scholarship money. One of the baskets had a pink breast cancer theme, but all the money donated for this basket would go directly to Sam and his girls. Without hesitation, I dumped all my tickets in this basket.

The next morning, another coordinator stood at breakfast and announced a challenge: that every person in the room donate $1 for Sam and his girls. Sam was stunned. In tears, I made my way to his table and wrapped my arms around him. Together we watched.

In five minutes, people donated $1500.

Sam cried. I cried. Everyone in the place, 400 people, cried.

Miracles are real. This was a miracle. It wasn’t the miracle we had prayed for months earlier, to heal Meg and keep her here. Instead, the healing was for Sam, to show him that all is not lost. Meg had a hand in it, I know she did. She used all those people to give her husband a hug and remind him that people are good, the village is good. And there is light in the world for us when we need it.

Thank you to all those people who donated that day. It was about so much more than money. Thank you to Sam’s school, who love him and hold him up. Thank you to everyone who prayed for Meg. Thank you for reaching out in love and faith to strangers. I want you to know that it’s working. God’s hands are healing this family with love.

We have to remember that we are God’s work in this world. Happy weekend.

Meg and Sam
Meg and Sam

The Least of These

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I watched a woman be rude to a Macy’s employee yesterday. Not in a way that I could have stopped. But she communicated clearly that she thought the Macy’s employee was personally responsible for the fact that the clothes she had purchased didn’t fit and wasn’t smart enough to make it right.

When she left, the Macy’s lady was so upset that her hands were shaking. I tried to compensate. “It’s the holidays! People should be brimming with good cheer!”

“They aren’t, though,” she sighed. “This is the time of year when people are the most rude.”

After Macy’s, I wandered into the Christian book store next door.

Guess who was working behind the counter, next to the Keep Christ in Christmas bumper stickers? “God bless you”, she told me pleasantly as I left.

I’m not taking an easy shot at Christians here. I know folks are folks and moments are moments. But I also know the difference between someone having a bad day and someone who is intrinsically not a nice person.

The Gospel reading on Sunday was Matthew 25: 31-46. Maybe it’s because our religious leaders know we need to hear these things as the holidays kick off. All of us are familiar with the command to feed, clothe, visit, heal. Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for Me. Our churches and communities will put lots of opportunities to do these things in front of us for the next few weeks.

It’s the second half of the Gospel we have to think about. When Jesus tells the ones on the left that they are damned, they protest: Lord, when did we not serve You? And He says When you did not serve them, you did not serve Me.

We can feed all the homeless kids we want in the next five weeks. We can take our kids shopping for the Giving Tree and feel good that we are teaching them compassion for others. We can serve turkey dinners to veterans, sing for the old and infirm in nursing homes, pay for the groceries of the young mom in front of us in line. But let’s be honest with ourselves: those things are a slam dunk. We know that Jesus will be there.

But He’s standing behind that counter at Macy’s too, with tired feet and an aching back.

He’s loading those kids into the car as fast as He can in the crowded parking lot.

He’s working his fourth overtime in a row because His company insists on “Holiday Hours”.

He’s trying to solve our complaint call with His limited resources.

It’s harder to see Him there, so it’s harder to serve Him there. But in the Gospel, when the damned protest that they just didn’t know, Jesus doesn’t let them off the hook. He tells them that walking His Walk is an all-the-time thing, not a when-we-feel-like-it thing.

If they’ll know we are Christians by our love, it won’t be the love we show when it’s easy. It’ll be when the parking lot is crowded, the lines are long, the packages are late and the children are screaming.

And that’s how we keep Christ in Christmas, by remembering to serve Christ in everyone, all the time.

 

 

Roasting

I hate the summers Inland California. Hate is a strong word, I know, but I mean it with every fiber of my being. Sometime in early June, the thermometer hits 97 and it doesn’t dip below that number for the next four months. In other places, summer lasts 75-90 days. Here: 120.

Our summer is like winter in Wisconsin or Maine. The kids cannot go outside for days at a time. We usually have at least one round of over 100 degree temps that lasts for more than 14 days. California homes are not built for this. We have no basements and I was dumb enough to make Shea buy the house without a loft. “Why on earth would we need that open empty space?” I asked him.

Short. Sighted.

Don’t even get me started on the Edison bill. Tier 5? Tier 5 is a common occurrence during July and August. At dusk, when it’s cooled down to 90 and we turn the kids loose in the streets, the moms huddle up and compare bills. We have a house fan, which helps us keep our July and August bills under $400. My neighbors either pay upwards of $600 a month or set the thermostat at 82.

The winters usually calm me down, with a few weeks of frosty, heater required weather in December and January. Not this year. This year it never got cold. Which I think explains why, for the first time since we moved here, we are seeing mosquitos and fleas. And ants. The ants are everywhere, assaulting us from the front door and the garage and up from the slab through the middle of the house and back down the staircase.

Blech.

It was 89 degrees on Halloween, 85 degrees on Thanksgiving and 80 degrees on Christmas. We got a grand total of 4.9 inches of rain. Our average is 7.6 inches. We haven’t hit the average since 2010.

It’s enough to make me want to throw my shoe at any fool who still insists that climate change is a liberal media myth.

Did I mention that I hate to be hot? More than anything? It’s why we got married at the end of November. It’s why we’re moving to Oregon. I picked the town based on the average high temps in July (89) and December (45). That’s blissful compared to the average temps here in July (100, with some days at the end of the month averaging 103) and December (69).

We’re going up there next week to look for a house. Of course, they’re having a heat wave and the temps are going to be in the 100s all week.

Sigh.

To fend off Summer Seasonal Affective Disorder, I count it down.

From July 1 to October 1 is the 90 days of summer, of which we have 79 left.

School starts in 38 days.

Halloween is in 111 days.

Our projected moving date is in 119 days.

Thanksgiving—which this year falls on our tenth wedding anniversary—is in 138 days.

And attention shoppers, there are only 166 days left until Christmas.

Yeah, I went there.

I’m telling you, it’s the only way to stay sane when it’s 103 at noon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joy to the World!

Lord, in this holy season of prayer and song and laughter, we praise you for the great wonders you have sent us: for shining star and angel’s song, for infant’s cry in lowly manger. We praise you for the Word made flesh in a little Child. We behold his glory, and are bathed in its radiance.

 Be with us as we sing the ironies of Christmas, the incomprehensible comprehended, the poetry made hard fact, the helpless Babe who cracks the world asunder. We kneel before you shepherds, innkeepers, wisemen. Help us to rise bigger than we are.

Amen.

 (from www.catholiconline.com)

After weeks of sacred waiting, the day has come. The promise is fulfilled. The Savior is born. Joy to the world!

Dana and I wish you and your loved ones a Merry Christmas. May peace and blessings fill your Christmas season.

We’re going to take a Christmas break. We’ll probably still be popping off on Twitter and Facebook, and we’ll be back on the blog January 3. So Happy, healthy New year, too! And thanks for everything.

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Dana and Jen