Monthly Archives: December 2014

Thomas and Meredith

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Today marks 15 years since my cousins, Thomas (11) and Meredith (8), died in a car accident. They and their parents were on their way to my family’s home for an early Christmas dinner.

Every December 11th since then I marvel that another year has gone by, and often wonder what they would be up to if they were still living. They were great kids- spunky, smart and kind- and I know they would have grown up to be bright, compassionate and hilarious adults. I grieve the fact that our time together was short; that I, my sister and the rest of our cousins don’t get to have them as friends.

My aunt and uncle are living testimonies to the grace of God in the face of tragedy. Their story is full of answered prayers, the hand of God being extended through his people, peace that surpasses understanding, and of course a lot of struggle and pain. As a family, we experienced God’s presence in very beautiful ways in the hours, days, weeks, months and years following the deaths of Thomas and Meredith.

I want to acknowledge this anniversary, as well as the grief and grace that accompany it. The death of two kids is a terrible thing, no matter what. Much grace, mercy, and good followed their deaths. These things are both true.

Advent helps me to make a bit of sense of this- we acknowledge that all is not right in the world. We ache for healing and hope. We also celebrate with joy that Jesus did come, and will come again. Grief and grace live side by side, and will do so until he comes back. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

 

The gift of giving

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As December gets rolling, everything around us tells us to think about giving gifts. Like I said in my last post, I have a lot of thoughts about this… but for today I want to ponder an alternative way of thinking about gift giving, which applies all year long.

Central to the vision/mission statement of The Dale is the idea that all people are welcomed into full participation; all are encouraged to share the gifts that they have been given with the rest of the community. These gifts might include food prep, music, art, time spent on outreach, insights shared at Bible study, and any number of other things.  This invitation to both give and receive is important to us, because too often folks who are on the margins find themselves passive recipients, and are robbed of the opportunity to give.

Over my time at Sanctuary and the Dale, I have been the recipient of many precious gifts: smiles and hugs, words of deep wisdom and encouragement right when I needed them most, shared meals, wild (or something like that!) flowers, cards and little items. I have a treasure box where I keep a delightful assortment of bracelets, key chains, toys, a baseball, etc. One of my most treasured gifts is a french onion soup bowl that was given to me by a friend who heard me say that I’d like to buy a butter dish 🙂

Last week I received a beautiful piece of writing from a new friend at the Dale. He said that I could share it with you. Here it is, just as he wrote it:

Trust Jesus

Trust him in the dark places of your mind. Trust him in the light. When everything is wrong, you have to trust him. Trust him in the valley; trust for every moment of your life. Thank him for every breath you take. Trust him he gave the the newness of life, from the dead through his blood. Trust him for he never fail. Jesus is not a failure. If you put your trust in a man you are heading for trouble because man always fails. Put not your trust in man, man will fail and sometimes laugh at you, so put your trust in Jesus not in any many. Jesus he deliver from the dead not me so you trust Jesus. Jesus he is the only one. He made you. Jesus is the Lord God the creator of life there is no other way but through Jesus his blood gave you salvation. Trust him with all your heart. It is Jesus it is Jesus.

So friends, may we remember that giving is a gift, and that the most precious gifts usually aren’t tangible. And in this season of gift giving, may we hope for, long for, and ache for the arrival of The Gift. It is Jesus it is Jesus.

An advent re-post

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Last year I did a lot of thinking about Advent and Christmas, and wrote a post about it. These thoughts still pretty much sum up how I feel about December, so I thought I’d post it again:

 

I accidentally went to the Dufferin Mall on Black Friday. I should say, I went to the Dufferin Mall to buy Advent candles and a swim cap, and I forgot that it was Black Friday! It was a terrible experience. So many people, so much consumerism, so little peace. I didn’t find any Advent-appropriate candles or a swim cap, but didn’t want the trip to be totally fruitless, so I picked up some cookie cutters to use the following week for a tree-decorating-cooking-baking party with my housemates.

On my walk home I thought about the experience that I had just lived through, and how it fit into my understanding of Christmas. I have always been bothered by the consumerism/materialism that surround Christmas, and find it SO frustrating that we collectively spend billions of dollars on a bunch of stuff we don’t really need, ostensibly to celebrate the arrival of a baby who was born into poverty, became a refugee, and challenged his followers to live simply. I think that giving and receiving meaningful gifts is a lovely thing, I just don’t think that we need to spend SO much money, and I don’t think that buying more stuff should be the focus of Christmas. And yet here I was, walking home having bought cookie cutters because I didn’t want to leave the mall empty-handed!

But then I thought more about my new cookie-cutters. I hope to have them for a long time, and they are tools in the creation not only of home-made cookies, but of memories with my friends. They represent some of the great things about the Christmas season… time spent together, good smells, yummy tastes, beautiful memories. Along the same lines, we, at The Dale, did a bunch of Christmas baking, went caroling, and held a Christmas open-stage, decorated with red, white and green lights. These things (cookies, carols, lights, fun times) don’t need to be linked with the consumerism/materialism of Christmas that I oppose. They also aren’t the “true meaning” of Christmas, but they’re really great! I don’t have to to boycott gingerbread, just because I oppose the mall!

Then I thought about Advent. I never did find Advent candles, but made a makeshift wreath with tea lights and one tall candle in the middle. I did not grow up with liturgy, but went to an Anglican theology school and was introduced to the Church calendar, including Advent. This year I have really fallen in love with Advent’s focus on waiting, longing, aching and hoping for Jesus. Waiting in hope is hard, but it is good. This is a huge part of the Christian life, and I love that in December we sit and dwell in the waiting.  Advent has nothing to do with consumerism, and also has nothing to do with gingerbread. I know there are connections (Jesus is God’s gift to us, so we give each other gifts… We celebrate his coming, which includes feasting), but in my mind these three things (consumerism, gingerbread, etc, and Advent) are distinct aspects of the phenomenon that we call “Christmas”.

And then there is the fact that Christmas is hard, for lots and lots of people. The whole festive-ness of it all brings up pain for many reasons. Families are broken, relationships are strained, loved ones have died, resources are scarce. Christmas is hard for many of my friends at The Dale, for all of these reasons and more. And, as many of you will know all too well, this pain extends beyond the street. Many (maybe even most?) of us struggle at Christmas-time. The pain that we experience is raw and real, and we are in it together. This year I have been learning to dwell in the pain; not minimize it, and not make it more than it is.

So, Christmas is still complicated, but I think I’m okay with that! I have realized that I can be opposed to the consumerism, enjoy the gingerbread, dwell deeply in the hopeful waiting, and work through the pain. Or at least try to!

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