It was the call you never want to get, the kind you never forget. I was rehearsing with our church Christmas choir on a Sunday afternoon, when someone tapped me on the shoulder and whispered: “Your mom called and needs you to come to the hospital right away. It’s your dad.” I dropped everything and drove as fast as I could, a sinking feeling in my stomach. The ER staff smiled sadly and pointed me to a room somewhere downstairs. As I walked down a long, intimidating hallway, mom came out of a room. When she saw me she whispered through tears, “He’s gone Tricia. Dad’s gone.” In that moment, my world was irrevocably changed. Because I was uncommonly blessed with a loving, doting, very hands-on father, his passing left a huge whole in my heart and life.
It’s been over a quarter century now, yet Christmas always evokes that sadness of losing my dad. Memories tend to come flooding back, at times making the season bitter, yet ever more sweet. One came a few days ago as I pondered one of my favorite passages for the Advent season--Isaiah 9:6.
Dad bought me a Hershey bar (my favorite comfort food), and as we waited in the courtroom, I discovered that the paperwork proving my innocence had gone into the trash with the candy wrapper. Dad patted me on the knee, whispered that I could handle this, and left to try and retrieve it. I’ve often looked back on that experience and my sense of safety and security because of dad's presence, rare commodities in our world today.
This week as I’ve spent hours helping my brother in the hospital, shared emotionally at my dear friend’s Memorial service, and tried to manage all the pieces of life made more complex by the Christmas holidays, I’ve clung to these things, resting in their profound reality. This is the precious impact of Advent—to not only remember that Jesus has come, but that in His presence is everything I will ever need to live in this broken world.
MAKING ADVENT MEANINGFUL
It was supposed to be the surprise of the century! My sister Sue was hitting a landmark year on Thanksgiving Day (I won’t say which year, but she’s old enough to get social security and young enough to enjoy it!). Mom had planned to spend a few weeks visiting her in Hawaii, and unbeknownst to Sue, I was going to show up and surprise her so we could celebrate in style. Teaming up with her sons and close friends, we’d made all sorts of fun plans. Joe was coming a few days after me, and we were all going to whisk her away to spend Thanksgiving in a lovely hideaway at the beach--a birthday she'd never forget.
This is the way our family rolls. Last year, mom, Sue and I traveled to Lithuania to do the same for my older sister Carol, who ministers to graduated orphans there. Loving and supporting family is a value my parents deeply ingrained in all five of us kids, which is why what happened next threw us into a tailspin of epic proportions.
Early one Sunday morning we received a call that my younger brother, Chris, had suffered a large stroke and was in the hospital. Over the next few days it would become clear that he was completely paralyzed on his left side, and would be hospitalized for some time. Within a few days mom knew she could not travel to Hawaii, and to be honest, I felt I couldn’t either. But after lots of conversation and prayer, we all agreed that celebrating with Sue for this birthday was more important than ever. And so I went, bearing gifts and greetings from all the family I had to leave behind. It was truly bittersweet.
The trip is now a memory and we celebrated well. I know Sue felt loved, honored and treasured, and being a part of that was a great joy for me.
When I got home a few days ago I jumped right back in at the hospital—working with caregivers and family to help my brother get what he needs, to shower him with love, and help plan for the future, a somewhat daunting task.
As I pondered the season of Advent that begins tomorrow, I was struck by the juxtaposition of my experiences over the past few weeks—celebrating and struggling, grieving and giving, laughing and crying, planning and waiting—the list goes on. I can’t help but think that in the end, this is what advent is all about. The word itself means “arrival” or “coming” and so we celebrate Jesus’ coming in three ways—as a baby in a manger, as our future king, and, most importantly for me—as the Presence that sustains and carries and makes life not only bearable, but immensely joy-filled, even through pain.
Advent reminds us to celebrate, indeed gives us permission to rejoice, even when, or especially when the circumstances of our lives are fraught with struggle or suffering. When we don’t know what the next day is going to hold, we celebrate the reality that our Lord came as a babe in a manger, setting himself up to experience every struggle humankind could ever know. When we feel like our dreams have been dashed or our hopes fragmented, we celebrate the truth that we serve a King who is good and powerful, and will one day make all that is wrong, right. And when we feel like it’s hard to put one foot in front of the other, we celebrate the very real presence of Christ who lives within our souls and loves us with infinite passion.
Making advent meaningful
Here are a few ways to make this Advent season especially meaningful:
One of Jesus' most beloved passages on prayer has a rather odd twist to it:
So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!
Why did Jesus use the metaphors of snakes and scorpions? Of course he is making a dramatic point that we have a good heavenly Father who only gives good gifts, but I suspect there is something more here. I shared this message last Sunday at New Hope Church--titled: When God's Answers Look Like Scorpions and Snakes. You can listen below.
It's hard to believe my last post was Easter. In case you wondered where I went, I've been teaching two classes for Fuller, plus rewriting my first book The Soul at Rest (to be released in 2018!). I've had so many moments when I wanted to blog about things that deeply matter to me, but it just hasn't been possible.
Today I am writing to share something very special. Joe and I have had the privilege of working with a Syrian refugee family for several months now, and I want to tell you their story and ask you to consider being a part of it. I've never used this blog or website for anything other than resources for your spiritual journey, but just this once I felt compelled to share my heart! Here then is their story.
When the war between rebel forces and the Syrian government made this family's home of Aleppo what can only be described as a living hell, Saleh, along with his pregnant wife Alia and their two small children packed what they could carry and began a trek across the desert, trying to reach Jordan. They walked for some 30 days, occasionally hitching a ride in trucks with goats and sheep, and every night they slept out under the open stars. As they drew near to Jordan, the danger increased, so they found an abandoned house, where they hid in darkness for 11 days, terrified they'd be found and killed by ISIS. Finally, braving the terrain and imminent risks, they worked their way to a camp on the border of Jordan that had become the home of some 83,000 other refugees like them. For the next three years they went through the incredibly extensive vetting process hoping to immigrate as refugees to the United States. Last October they made it to San Diego.
Joe and I met this beautiful family through a refugee sponsorship program and we have been getting to know them for several months now. When we visit, they always insist on laying out a beautiful meal for us, even during Ramadan when they weren't eating. They show immense gratitude for our friendship and any help we offer. A couple of weeks ago we took school supplies to the two older children and watching little Esraa's delight in a simple pencil box brought tears to my eyes. Their life is not easy. They do not speak English and Saleh, who once had a successful business as a builder, now drives an ice cream truck and waits daily at a car-wash, hoping they will need him. The U.S. government offers minimal help with food stamps and welfare, but also requires that they begin to repay the money that was spent in bringing them to the United States within six months.
While we have been very thankful for a dear Syrian friend at church who usually goes with us and translates, and also helps support this family, over the past few months we have begun to see that we need to bring others along with us on this journey. We hope some local folks can get to know our Syrian friends, but beyond that, there are financial needs we cannot meet by ourselves.
If you live in San Diego and want to join our team, please email me--we'd love to have you! For the rest of you, if you would like to give towards helping this family get established, you can do so through New Hope Church as a tax-deductible donation. Right now this family is about four hundred dollars a month short in income just to meet the bare minimum bills, and our goal is to set up a one year plan that will move them gradually on their own. They are working very hard to be independent, but the hurdles are immense.
Finally, we would ask you to pray for these precious people, and indeed all the refugees that are in the same situation. If you would like regular updates on how things are going, please email me--this is the only time I will post this on the blog. You can give through New Hope in any way you wish--a one time gift or some regular amount.
Here is how you can give:
Click here first. Once there, click on the "online giving link." Choose "Syrian Refugees" under the Ministry Donation link and complete the form.
You can also mail checks to:
New Hope Church
10330 Carmel Mountain Road
San Diego, CA 92129
It is quiet here this morning. Joe has taken the grandboys fishing and I am getting ready to rev up the preparations for our big celebration—26 plus friends and family—for Easter brunch after church tomorrow. But for now, I sit in the quiet, pondering those hours inbetween, that drawn-out day when no one quite knew what was to come, when Jesus was no longer in the tomb, but had not yet shown up to shock the world with His presence and shower humanity with resurrection hope.
I feel like I know these inbetween seasons so well… these times when one thing has ended, but something else hasn’t yet begun, when the old has been sucked away, but the new has not yet dawned with its expectant promise.
The inbetween is, for me, the hardest of all—when a hole in my heart waits to be filled, when an empty tomb reminds me that my future hangs in the balance. I’m living in the vortex of one right now, and not a day goes by that I don’t wait in silence before the Lord, wondering what will unfold…and when…and how. Anxiety threatens my peace, fear assaults my steadfast resolve.
I read a story once of a trapeze artist who said that the most agonizing moment in every show is when they have let go of one bar, but haven’t yet taken hold of the next. There, suspended in midair, they know nothing but the beating of their own hearts.
This, I think, is what this Sabbatum Sanctum, this suspension between crucifixion and resurrection represents for us. The inbetween...hanging midair with only the sound of our own heartbeat. Through the centuries, the church has labeled this day many things—Holy Saturday, Black Saturday, and the Great Sabbath. My personal favorite is just Easter Eve, the reminder that the inbetween I am living, though it can feel as if it will never end, will one day face the dawning of resurrection light. It always has. This is my hope.
In case you missed it: kandi pfieffer and i talk about what we love about jesus in our final lent live conversation.
Last year an old friend dropped me a line via email, connecting me with another friend of hers, because in her words, we "had some common threads." Her friend was Alicia Britt Chole. Since then the two of us have had some email and book exchanges and let me tell you, this woman inspires and challenges me. I love her deep humility and love for Jesus and the beautiful way she puts words together. As I started going through her book, Forty Days of Decrease for Lent, I wanted to get a little more from her--even an inside scoop on her own Lenten journey, so I asked her a couple of questions, and she readily acquiesced. I know you will be blessed by this guest blog. A little heads up--this woman will make you think! Oh, and she was once an atheist and now runs a spiritual retreat center with her husband!
You say in your book that God is more interested in what we are becoming than what we are giving up for Lent. Often it seems we can't tell what God is doing when we are engaged in various Lenten practices. How can we know we are "becoming" as a result of our fasts and not just giving things up?
What a great question! Becoming is, on one level, a function of sheer existence. The direction and depth of becoming, however, is a function of our focus. If the focus of our fasting is relational, I think our "becoming" -- i.e., coming into greater be-ing -- is assured. The good news is that our understanding is not the author nor the great assessor of that becoming. In other words, our becoming isn't on pause, awaiting the emergence of accurate vocabulary in our minds.
My comment: I think she's telling us that if we are focused on our relationships with God and others during Lent, we can be confident we are "becoming" or "coming into greater be-ing." That is such encouraging news. No matter how you think your Lenten journey has gone, cling to this lovely morsel!
How would you recommend we take the gains of Lent and invest them into the future? (People say they'd like to continue Lent practices, but we often don't).
I talk a lot more about this in my next book (The Sacred Slow: A Holy Departure from Fast Faith). As a spiritual mentor, I encourage leaders to live heaven-down. Earth-up living starts with what we can see and measure; with what we like and dislike. Many self-improvement lists and New Year's resolutions are created earth-up. Earth-up living gifts us with realism, but rarely with grace.
My comment: I can't wait to get her new book--coming out in September--preorder or read about it here!
To take the gains of Lent into the future, consider adding heaven-down living to such realism. Heaven-down living begins with listening prayer and responds with intentionality. A simple prayer, "God, what would please You in this season?" can guide us to focus upon components of Lent not for the sake of the components but because that's where Jesus' companionship is leading us.
My comment: The simplicity of that--listening prayer and intentionality--is captivating. My takeaway is that Lent is not a side road in our spiritual journey, but a continuation of what God has been doing in and through us--or where Jesus has been and is now leading us.
Love is what turns disciplines into offerings. With love, fasting is relational just as feasting is relational. After Lent, I will ask Jesus what would please Him as I head into our Spring/Summer. Though I probably will not hear anything audible or see anything tangible, I will have a longing, a leaning, a hunger, or an interest in a practice or purpose. Whether that looks more like the fasting of Lent or more like the feasting of Pentecost, if I do it with Jesus and in Jesus, I'm pretty sure that He smiles.
My comment: ...a longing, a leaning, a hunger, or an interest in a practice or purpose. Consider what this might be for you and press into it as Lent comes to an end. Then sit back and feast on the smile of Jesus! Thanks Alicia for some words that we can feed on for a long while.
IF THIS SHORT INTERVIEW LEFT YOU WANTING MORE:
Watch a video of Alicia talking about how to process pain in light of the cross here.
Visit her website and take a look around--great resources here!
As we enter Holy Week, I pray you will experience the wonder of redeeming love like never before!
Join me for my final Lent Live on facebook this Wednesday at 6pm. Click here.
THE DIRTY LITTLE SECRET CHRISTIANS DON'T TALK MUCH ABOUT: If you missed last week, Kandi Pfeiffer joined me and I know you'll be blessed as you listen. It includes some great and practical teaching and I promise it will make you laugh!
The ancient Celts used to say that there are only a few feet between heaven and earth and at times, that distance can be even smaller. When this happened, they called it a "thin place." A thin place is that Kairos moment, that holy instance where God breaks in and we experience him in ways that are precious and transformative and impossible to describe.
Thin places can be our experience during majestic moments of communal worship, or in the sleepy solitude of morning prayer. Thin places often emerge through our encounters with nature; The roar of the ocean arrests our heart or the sound of birdsong captivates our soul or the wind in the trees immerses us in a holy hush.
While we cannot control how or when the space between heaven and earth becomes thin—that is the work of God’s Spirit—we can learn to be available and aware so that we do not miss these rare treasures. This has become harder and harder to do as we try to navigate lives entrenched in digital noise, immersed in the incessant chatter of our devices.
STEP ONE: list the ways you invite noise into daily life
You might be surprised at how immersed you are in noise-creating technologies. Walk through your day—what are your digital practices? How do you handle pings, beeps, and other notifications? How often is the radio droning on the background when you are driving? When is the TV playing? Make a simple list--don't judge yourself, just make the list.
step two: ask, 'what do i gain, what do i lose?'
Take a couple of minutes to assess how beneficial or how detrimental each noise-inducing practice is. Use a scale with -10 being extremely detrimental and +10 being extremely beneficial. Again—you aren’t judging yourself, but simply trying to make an honest evaluation.
STEP THREE: CHOOSE ONE THING FOR A NOISE FAST
Look at your list and choose one thing you will fast from for one day or more. Will you turn off smartphone notifications? Eliminate the radio in the car? Leave the TV off?
step four: listen to the silence
Don’t fill those quiet places with other kinds of noise or busyness, but seek to be still and simply listen. Hear your own heartbeat and the sounds of the world going on around you. Listen to the Spirit of God—does he have something to say?
step five: ask again, 'what did i gain or lose?'
At the end of the day, take a few minutes to evaluate how the fasting from that noise inducer helped or hindered you in your overall well-being and spiritual journey.
step six: CHOOSE SOMETHING ELSE AND DO IT AGAIN
If you have seen the real benefit of a noise fast, determine to make this a habit of life. Choosing to eliminate one source of noise every day will open up space for Kairos, for that place between you and heaven to grow very thin. These are the moments that make life the awesome adventure and holy wonder that God intends for it to be.
JUST JESUS: Click below to listen to my personal story of falling in love with Jesus (audio only)
LENT BEGINS MARCH 1, ASH WEDNESDAY.
Join me on Wednesdays at 6pm Pacific Time, for facebook live
to share your journey and be encouraged!
In my last blog I noted that Lent begins March 1, and shared one reason why practicing Lent is good for your brain and your soul. Find out another reason in the short video below!
It's not too late to order a book to help you on the journey. Here are a couple of options:
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Tricia McCary Rhodes
Passionate about spiritual formation, slightly obsessed with technology and the soul, author of 8 books, affiliate professor at Fuller Seminary, wife of one, mom of two, grandma of four.