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Advent: Joy

blog joy

 

Looking in the wrong place?

 

Joy can have a bad reputation, can’t it. It’s notoriously elusive. Like a morning mist, the moment the sun comes up, it’s gone. Shine the spotlight on it, and we’re empty-handed.

 

But, if we are looking, maybe we’re looking in the wrong place.

Maybe quintessential Joy isn’t even the thing we think it is…

 

We’re not talking here about the mob-ecstasy-experience when shouting or singing our throats raw at a sports, music, church event with 500 or 500,000 others.

Nor, for that matter, the simpler pleasures of, say, great coffee or a good massage.

Not even the exhilaration of conquering a mountain or a relationship.

 

No, this Joy has all the sophistication and subtlety of the divine.

Because it is.

And, because of its divinity, we may miss it.

(Though it can also come as the in-your-face revelation of a God-intervention.)

 

Instantly recognized or not, this Joy is a very different creature from its distant relatives.

 

Joy tracking

 

Clues to its identity…

 

It takes exquisite delight in good coming to another.

It thrills when spotting the traces of God’s fingers working in human existence, or the extravagance of ingenuity, beauty and diversity in His Creation.

 

It’s in the smile behind a boy’s smile: seeing the rescued dog relish her newfound safety.

In the sigh beneath a woman’s sigh: watching the adopted child relax into his belovedness.

 

Joy is free of all bonds to please self, it is free to fully cherish the other.

 

Love connection

 

I believe God wants us to know this Joy, His Joy.

And His Joy has everything to do with His love and friendship.

Jesus says:

 

“I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.”

John 15:11-15; The Message

 

One gorgeous detail

 

The Christmas story: It’s a story so well-known, but we may miss an essential, gorgeous detail:

 

The yet unborn John leaps for Joy in Elizabeth’s womb – “skipped like a lamb for sheer joy”– when his mother hears the greeting of Mary, who is pregnant with the Saviour of the world. And the Joy is utterly infectious, for John’s mother “sang out exuberantly,… ‘Blessed woman, who believed what God said, believed every word would come true!’”

 

This Advent season may we also be gloriously infected, anticipating with Joy the meaning of Christ’s coming!

 

 

 

First shared with Church Simplified, Manila: https://www.facebook.com/churchsimplified/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advent: Hope

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Nothing to do with wishful thinking

 

Let’s look at something called Hope.

(Tagalog’s pag-asa, rather than sana.)

 

This Hope is solid, active, alive, organic, dynamic, growing.

Like a tree.*

 

It has nothing to do with wishful thinking, wistful longing, or mental gymnastics around undoable dreams.

 

It is a profound anticipation of good. An alert expectancy.

 

Two intriguing aspects of this Hope:

It often comes in unexpected ways.

It shines all the brighter in times of darkness.

 

Celebrities among us

 

The last couple of years have included some high highs and low lows, both personally and with the work of Young Focus (www.youngfocus.org).

In the midst of some of the most stressful months of our lives, Paul and I have also seen some wonderfully inspiring moments at Young Focus, when the Philippines’ currently most famous Beauty Queen and most celebrated Mixed Martial Arts athletes have walked among us, spending time with staff, students and parents, talking, listening, encouraging.

 

But if we strip away the glory of fame, fortune and success, there’s a bigger meaning here…

 

Not forgotten

 

For the families living in this most reviled corner of the city, the message is simple:

You are not forgotten.

 

Is this not, in its essence, what the human heart most longs to know:

I am not forgotten.

 

Advent: Stripping away His glory, God comes. Is this not also, in its essence, the core of our Hope: God among us.

We are not forgotten.

 

 “With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture…

None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.”

Romans 8:31-39; The Message

 

Hope’s challenge

 

And this Hope is not only about bringing US the comfort and certainty of being loved. This Hope is also for THEM. It is to be shared.

 

Henri Nouwen put the challenge so well:

 

Hope prevents us from clinging to what we have and frees us to move away from the safe place and enter unknown and fearful territory.”

 

Hope is to make us brave!

 

So, be brave

Be free

Be Hope-filled!

 

 

First shared with Church Simplified, Manila: https://www.facebook.com/churchsimplified/

 

 

* Romans 15:3-13

 

Advent: Faithfulness

blogfaithfulnessphoto

Wedding song

Back in 1923, at the age of 57, the American poet and songwriter Thomas Chisholm penned the following words:

“Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee,
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not,
As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided

Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!”

 This went on to become one of the world’s favourite hymns, including Paul’s and mine. As with undoubtedly many other couples, we sang this on our wedding day – proclaiming together with family and friends, “Great is Thy faithfulness”.

Buried dread

I thought I had already figured it out, at least logically in my head: God was, is, and forever will be 100% trustworthy.

And yet, and yet… 31 years later, looking back on that wedding day, I now know there was a secret fear within me; a fear so hidden, it was hidden beyond consciousness.

And I was to only first recognize it once it had gone.

It was a fear of failure, to be more specific, a failure in my faith. The buried dread was that, if a crisis struck, I would collapse like a house of cards. My faith in God would simply not be strong enough.

When crisis hit

When a crisis actually hit, the truth was to be so liberating: Making it through to the other side of personal catastrophe has nothing to do with our strength and EVERYTHING to do with God’s; with HIS love, HIS faithfulness. And, for me, with this realization came a deep release from fear of failure, and fear of the future.

Advent

The Messiah stepping into human history is God’s initiative: it has nothing to do with our capabilities, and everything to do with HIS. It is The Supreme Divine Act of grace, of love, of faithfulness.

This Advent season may we walk into more freedom from fear.

Because His faithfulness is the bedrock of our faith. Not the other way round.

 

First shared with Church Simplified, Manila: https://www.facebook.com/churchsimplified/

Who She Is

Listening to the internal tide

Her mattress an echo chamber crackling

Rippling out in a thousand creaks

Mimicking the catching of her lungs

 

Fabric of time trips up

Streams forward then

Slips sideways

 

A rolling fuselage

Across abandoned plains

Whistling grass in

A forgotten runway

 

Tortured hysteria as

Child ripped from breast

Wail tearing skies

Anguish trained refined focused

 

To soldering blue flame

 

 

First published in Pulp Poets Press: 

https://pulppoetspress.com/who-she-is-by-ann

 

Health&Wholeness Equation

equation

Exercise + Good Nutrition + Leisure activities + Mental stimulation / Learning + Positive Environment + Social life / Community + Spiritual Growth + Absence of Sickness / Injury / Disability / Acute Stress + Sufficient Sleep + Work and creative fulfillment + Youth = Health&Wholeness

 

What do you think of this equation? Not exactly rocket science, eh!

More like, plain ol’ common sense.

 

But let’s go to the trouble of spelling it out, if only to underline a few obvious-but-overlooked facts.

 

Fact 1: Seasons

As we walk along this journey called life, we walk through different seasons, different circumstances.

 

Fact 2: Farewell factors

Because of Fact 1, our Health&Wholeness Equation is constantly shifting, fluctuating.

Certain factors on the left side of the equation diminish, or disappear altogether. Some, never to return.

(For the majority of the world’s population, one or more of these factors, will always be absent.)

 

Fact 3: Equilibrium

To the degree a certain factor disappears, to an equal degree the other left-side factors grow in significance.

If Health&Wholeness are to be maintained, that is.

 

Consequences

Practically speaking, what can that mean?

 

  • The sanity of a new mother depends on napping when baby does, and having a friend over for coffee every now and again.
  • A young adult, living and working in a toxic environment, manages to maintain mental normalcy because of an online writing course.
  • A couple in their 50s discover the fun and benefit of exercise and healthy eating for the first time in their lives.
  • A recently-made widow thrives in the midst of grief because of a supportive community and a renewed passion for gardening.

 

Personal Consequences

Practically speaking, what does the Health&Wholeness Equation mean for you, what does it mean for me, at this point in our lives?

 

And do current circumstances mean having to rethink current priorities?

 

Reality checking our own individual circumstances. So we can reset, upgrade our own individual priorities.

 

‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!’

 

What is your unique version of lemon juice going to taste like this week?

 

9 lessons I learned in 9 months of stress

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Might have guessed it

In the interests of transparency, here’s an update of ‘6 lessons I learned in 6 months of major stress’. Yes, you’ve guessed it: though the worst of the storm was indeed over, buffeting winds continued.

Pathetic as it may sound, I even found myself revisiting my own blog post just to be reminded of how to keep going.

So, here are the original 6 lessons, plus 3 extra learned along the way…

 

To be clear, this was not one lesson learned per month; my life at least is not that cut and dried. In fact, let this untidy caveat be about Lesson One: Real Life is, more often than not, an utter mess.

 

Lesson Two: Night

When curled up in a fetal position overwhelmed and whimpering, or crying hard, ugly tears of despair, don’t expect to see the light. Because dark is dark. Night is night. ‘This too shall pass’ is a truism that doesn’t necessarily take into consideration how long the tunnel is.

 

Lesson Three: Music

A song can save me. For example, ‘You’re Gonna Be Ok’ by Brian & Jenn Johnson: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LjF9IqvXDjY

 

Lesson Four: Nature

Receive the comfort of nature, whether it’s the companionship of pets; the singing of crickets or pied fantails; the colour of sky, the green of pine, or the smell of cut grass.

 

Lesson Five: Health

This is precisely the time NOT to stop any healthy habits to do with eating and exercising. Good nutrition is a godsend, and pushing my body to its limits, sweating it out, can be a great release.

(Screaming into a pillow is also a great rage-releaser, very handy if you don’t want to alarm the neighbours, but not very kind to your voice box.)

 

Lesson Six: Prayer

Ask for help. Especially for prayer. It need only be from one or two friends, but it helps. Don’t know how – in my four decades of being a Jesus follower, the mystery of love and prayer has only grown deeper – but praying friends have buoyed me up like a life-saving jacket in a raging river.

 

Lesson Seven: Share

Even if we’re not specifically asking for help or prayer, talk to someone. Maybe I won’t be able to offload the whole kit and caboodle, but being absolutely honest about one aspect of the struggle will give me the space to breath and keep going.

 

Lesson Eight: Fears

Name the fears. Fears have a special debilitating power over us while we don’t recognize them. But, once we can see them, we can start figuring out where they come from, and spot them before they actually pounce.

 

Lesson Nine: Let it all out

Don’t be ‘too religious’ for God when alone together. Drop the mask. Let it all out. Yes, this includes our worst language, the shouting, the swearing, every doubt, every accusation. He can take it all. Of course He can. He really, really can.

 

After all, He meets us where we are, not where we’re not.

 

 

 

 

 

Photo: A moment of serenity

Confessions of a hypocrite

pubjune22

Watch where you’re going

Ever experience this: You’re showing a friend around the neighbourhood. They’re on the tallish side, so you warn them of an overhanging beam of wood. “Mind your head,” you say as you’re walking along.

Whereupon: SQUaa-eeeLLCH! One foot skids on a pile of dog poop.

So focused on letting someone else know about an approaching danger, we forget to watch our own step.

Occasionally (as in, most of the time, if I were more honest and less of a hypocrite), I feel like this after writing or public speaking. Case in point:

Missing the moment

Click here: https://crackedceiling.blog/2018/05/23/be-the-one-watching/
Or here: https://medium.com/@annvanwijgerden/be-the-one-watching-7b4452744c1a

This was a blog post warning about the risks of being so busy taking photos, so driven to digitally capture the moment, that we miss the actual moment itself.

Well, I might not be one for taking pictures right, left and centre…
(Unless there happens to be a well presented cappuccino, dessert, startling sunset, or colorful insect.)
… But I do miss the moment in other ways.

Comfort and distraction

To be more precise: I AVOID the moment, the awkward moments, the sad moments.
I’m starting to realize how I use the internet to sidestep confrontation.

I also reach for my phone for COMFORT.

Such easy access to instant comfort; instant distraction.
Scrolling through other people’s lives diverts my thoughts immediately.
Likes and hearts puff up my sinking ego, sooth my distress, evaporate my self-doubts.

Automatic reaction

The foot-in-the-poop alarm bells went off recently:
A friend had just told me some very sad news about one of their relatives.
Within minutes, (was it even within seconds?!?) what did I do?
As if by instinct, I reached for my phone and was diving into Facebook for distraction and comfort.

No one around me could see what I was looking at. I could have been checking for a taxi, for messages from family, for the time, or an important email, for all they knew.
The shame of the fatuousness, the inappropriateness of my action would probably have stopped me if those around me could have seen what I was seeing.

But I knew.
And, as soon as I was doing it, it stunk. To high heaven.

Escape hatch

And, if anything, this is worse than missing the moments, the good moments.

This is dumbing down my life.
This is numbing the pain.
So I don’t have to feel.
So I don’t have to think.

Do you recognize this? Or am I the only one so foolish as to allow a handheld device to constantly be my escape hatch?

Power vacuum

In the meantime, as, more and more frequently, we abdicate from reality – what will fill the void we leave behind?

And, taking this line of thought to its logical conclusion, wouldn’t an unthinking, unquestioning society filled with non-present individuals tend to present a nice, juicy vacuum for power hungry individuals to fill?

Time out

I need a Time Out:
Time to pause and reflect;
phoneless;
unplugged from the internet.
(Google can also wait.)

I wanna take a good look at the proverbial poop and say,

O-oh! NOT going there!