2024 Word of the Year – (Re)Discover

2024 Word of the Year – (Re)Discover

2023 was a hard year. Due to circumstances beyond our control, I not only had 6 manuscripts to turn in and 9 rounds of edits on those manuscripts, but my husband spent quite a big chunk of the second half of the year traveling to Baltimore to help his stepfather after he had a massive stroke, so I did my best to pick up the slack in his usual work too. I did this willingly and freely…but by the time December rolled around, I was exhausted. Mentally, physically, emotionally. Exhausted.

This happened last year too as I struggled through the symptoms of my pituitary tumor, so I guess it shouldn’t have come as a big surprise…but it kinda did. I’d been feeling great this year, even given the circumstances. More creative than I have felt in a decade. Capable of anything. Then came that end of the year crash, which was intense enough that I literally wanted to do nothing, think about nothing, and plan nothing.

One thing about me, though–my disposition just won’t stay “down” for long. 😉 When Stephanie (best friend/critique partner) mentioned talking about our 2024 goals whenever I felt up to it, my spirit perked up. As if that mere mention was enough to remind me that the future was still stretching before me, and that dreaming up ways to fill it was one of my favorite things. The exhaustion began edging back. Joy crept back in. And my thoughts turned to something else I’d been putting off in my tired wreck: choosing my Word of the Year for 2024.

As in the past few years, I decided to do a prayerful consideration and even look at my list of words in my “How to Choose an Intentional Word of the Year” post from 2022. I wasn’t just waiting for something to strike me, I was exploring my own mind and heart and soul…and needs.

This year, I was considering the year to come while still under the shadow of exhaustion from the year closing out, and I knew that I wanted to go a different direction with my Word choice than I have recently. My previous three Words were Intentional, Devotion, and Linger. Each of those choices were meant to guide me in how I approached different aspects of my life and determined to what I gave my time and attention. They were all meant to cut out filler and frill and distractions and center my focus on what mattered most: God, relationships, and my writing.

They did that.

But in 2023, do you know what brought me the most joy in the moments of greatest trial? Exploring new facets of those old loves. Reading new books I wouldn’t usually have picked up; writing stories outside my genre. Trying new things. And even sending Xoe off on her new adventure of college life.

So as I considered a Word to lead me into 2024, I wanted something that captured that. Maybe EXPLORE? Or DISCOVER? Those were my main two contenders, and nothing else felt even remotely right.

I debated for about two weeks which of those two words I wanted to go with, and I decided on Discover largely because of the prefix I could affix to it…because I know well I don’t just want to discover new things. I want to REdiscover old loves too. I want to revitalize relationships I’ve let flag. I want to  rediscover the Roseanna who was slowly worn down this last decade by pituitary issues.

Because you know what phrase I said countless times in 2023, as I wrote more than I’ve ever written and did more than I’ve ever done? “I feel more like myself than I have in years.” And I didn’t realize, before, that I wasn’t feeling like me. Not until “I” returned in a flood. So one of the things I hope for in 2024 is to lean into that. To rediscover the things that once brought me joy but which I’ve set aside in the face of responsibilities and distractions and exhaustion.

First on the list: READING.

I know this sounds strange coming from a person whose whole world is books, but I haven’t been reading for fun as much as I’d like in recent years–so much else to get done first in the day, and then I’m usually so tired in the evenings that the thought of opening a book just made my eyes hurt. Audiobooks have helped quite a lot, and in fact, 29 of the 52 books I’ve read in 2023 were on audio. (!! I hadn’t realized it was such a high percentage until just now!) I don’t intend to give up the audio, but I DO intend to take more time with physical books in my hand this year.

One thing I noticed in this last holiday week, though, was that I’ve gotten out of the habit of just sitting with a book. I had to seriously squelch the instinct to get up and check on this or that or see if someone needed something and just give myself permission to BE THERE, with that bound paper in hand. To enjoy it. To relax into it. I never would have guessed that I’d get so out of practice with something I’ve done for so long! But there you have it. “Getting lost in a book for hours on end” is something I need to rediscover.

Next on the list: EXTENDED FAMILY

I’m a homebody and an introvert, so I’ll be honest: family gatherings cost me. One-on-one is better, but it’s still not without a price to me. I need a day at home to recharge from days that I go out, and if I don’t get them, the strain shows. In recent years with my energy and brain struggles, that cost was higher than I think I even realized. But as 2023 drew to a close, I spent a lot of time thinking about family.

About the grandmothers who won’t be with me forever.

About the sister I’ve drifted away from.

About the cousins I never see.

About the parents who don’t always fit in my schedule.

In the year to come, I don’t just want to say “I’ll spend more time with them.” I’ve said that before. What I instead want to do is reDISCOVER the real joy of those relationships. I’m in some ways the oddball of my family (or as Xoe asked last week, upon returning to our very-rural hometown after months in the urbane Annapolis, “Where did you guys even come from?” LOL), but I want to rediscover how our differences complement each other.

Next up: CREATIVITY

I want to try new things. I want to master the sprayed edges of books. I want to write more fantasy. I want to write novellas and shorts. I want to try my hand at suspense. I want to find new artistic outlets. I want to learn how to do TikTok videos. I want to find ways to redesign my space (preferably for free, ha ha). I want to play the piano more. I want to learn new things.

In this difficult year of 2023, creativity proved a lifeline; in my driest season financially, I found wellsprings of life-giving creative water. I want to cling to that, and to find new wells of it, to rediscover old ones, and to explore new ways to engage with that creative side.

And: RESPONSIBILITY

Maybe that seems like a strange one to put on the list, but seriously. Sometimes it’s SO easy to resent our responsibilities, and that’s where I was a couple of weeks ago, exhausted and burned out and fed up with everything, even the things I love best. But it helped to realize that we CHOSE those responsibilities, in most cases. That God gave us others, yes, but the ones that come from my dreams–the ones tied to our publishing company and my contracts and my design clients–those are all choices I made. And I made them for a reason. I decided to pursue those things because they seemed good and desirable and in keeping with the calling of Christ.

They’re hard sometimes, especially when worldly success doesn’t follow them. And honestly, I don’t always know when God’s calling us away from one and to something new. But I do know that embracing what we don’t feel called to leave behind instead of resenting the time and effort and blood and tears is crucial. I don’t want the things on my checklist to FEEL like things on a checklist, just to be gotten through. I want to remember why I love each and every thing I do. I want to know I’m doing it for God’s glory. I want to cut only what He wants me to cut, and to embrace what He wants me to embrace. I don’t want to be the son in the parable who sighs and complains but does it anyway. I want to be the one He didn’t even include in that story, who agrees right away and does it with joy. (I always found it amusing that Jesus doesn’t even address such a possibility in that parable, LOL.)

What will 2024 bring? I have no idea. But as I walk through the months to come, I intend to do it with a heart of discovery. With eyes open to things old and new. With a creative mind and eager hands and a fearless heart ready to explore and discover whatever God shows me this year.

Have you chosen a word for 2024? I’d love to hear it!

2023 Word of the Year Reflection – Linger

2023 Word of the Year Reflection – Linger

As December, and hence 2023, draws to a close, it’s that time when I pause to reflect upon the twelve months that have just passed, especially in light of my Word of the Year. In January of 2023, I chose the word “Linger” to guide me into the year to come.

I’m an overachieving, goal-oriented, competitive person, and sometimes that results in impatience. Sometimes I’m so busy trying to reach benchmarks that I don’t pause to enjoy where I am. But I knew as I looked ahead into 2023 that that wasn’t how I wanted to live my life, especially not during Xoe’s last year at home before college. I wanted to linger–linger with God, linger with my family, linger with friends. I wanted to linger in Scripture, in prayer, and in the things that matter.

As I sit here in December and look back with that word in mind, I’ll be honest: my first thought was, “Well, I didn’t do such a great job with that this year.” But as I reread my post from January 1, I realize I’m being a little too hard on myself. Was the year perfect? No. Was I a model of patience 24/7? No. Did I perfectly resist the temptation to rush all year? No.

But…but I actually made some new habits that have just become so much a part of my life now that I didn’t immediately take them into account when I sat down to do this reflection.

I didn’t in fact start the Lectio Divina method of studying scripture as I’d intended, but I did read quite a few spiritual books along with my daily dose of Scripture. At the start of the year, I was spending 1-2 hours a morning in prayer. As deadlines mounted for my writing, that contracted to about 30 minutes. But they’re still some of my favorite minutes of the day, as I sit with my coffee and my Bible.

One of my big goals for the year was to linger with family. We sent our firstborn off to college this August, and I knew I didn’t want to feel like I’d wasted our last months together with nothing but work. I still had to work–as a homeschooling, work-from-home mom, the various parts of our lives and relationships have to mesh. And this last year, I can remember many times when one of the kids or David would come out into the kitchen where I was working, and I would spin my chair away from my computer to give them my undivided attention. Many times this was just a few-minutes conversation, but quite a few times, it was an hour-long discussion.

I treasured those times. Even if they put me behind in my work, I knew they were the important things, and I held tight to them. So many afternoons or evenings, Xoe and I would just hang out in the kitchen, talking through fears and anxieties about the upcoming changes, talking about dreams and hopes, talking about new friends and the life she’s building at St. John’s. Rowyn and I, on those days when we’re the only ones in the house for a few hours, spent hours talking about science, about God, about his dreams of someday taking over the property and what changes he wants to make. His dreams of owning a business, the multiverses he creates in his head and how he isn’t sure yet the best way to get those out there. David and I would sit at the table or on the couch and talk about business and AI and God and the Church, about our family and our minds and hearts, our hopes and our fears.

We listened to audio books together–as a couple, and as a family. We lit a fire in the fireplace during the cold months and spent our evenings in front of it, a cup of something in hand and either those conversations or audio books occupying our minds.

I got to linger with my Patrons & Peers ladies, both on Marco Polo and then in a full week retreat in the Outer Banks of NC. So many hours laughing together, sharing the stories of our lives, deepening our friendships, and just doing life together. I also got to take a full week on a writing retreat with my best friend, which included plenty of lingering in conversation, walks on the beach in Pensacola, talking over dinners, and filling in all the blanks that crop up in an otherwise long-distance friendship.

My mom and I try to do a lunch out every month, and while it doesn’t always happen every month, it’s so lovely when it does. In October I worked from my mom’s house while they were away so that I could be on hand to help my grandmother who lives in an apartment attached to their garage, and I treasured the lunches we had together. She’s 92, and I want to take more time to linger with her. I know that the lingering that happens away from my house is still something I need to work on.

In 2023, I ended up with 6 contracted books to turn in. Y’all…that’s a lot of books. I wrote half a million words this year! That’s a lot of words. And when put that way, it’s no wonder that not all of my lingering goals could happen. Especially when you also factor in some pretty major health crises in our family, including my husband’s stepfather’s massive stroke, that meant David spent months traveling to Baltimore multiple times a week.

But an amazing thing happened through all of that. I found myself lingering more, this last half of the year, in story. More than I’ve done in so many years! I didn’t even think to put that on my list of lingering goals, because I didn’t realize I wasn’t doing it. But when stories began to flood my mind again, I realized how little they had been in the last few years. I found such joy in them again, in just being there in the story world, in writing when I didn’t have to, in getting to know my characters and settings like I’d done way back when.

Some of those half-million words…they weren’t necessary. They weren’t for deadlines. They weren’t for contracted novels. They were just for a fantasy I got an idea for and started writing in spare days and hours. Do you know how long it’s been since I wrote something I didn’t have to write? Years. So many years. And oh, the joy that floods my soul when I do what God made me to do, not because I have to, but because I want to. Lingering in story renewed my faith too, in ways I know every artistic soul out there can understand.

My year of Linger certainly wasn’t flawless…but it was beautiful. In many ways, 2023 was the worst year our family has faced in a long, long time…but there’s been such beauty in it too. In time spent together, in dreams renewed.

Maybe I didn’t linger everywhere and with everyone that I’d hoped to…but linger isn’t a word I need to just give up come December 31st, either. Linger has become a way of life and relationship that I’m learning to embrace.

How did your 2023 go? If you chose a Word of the Year, did that word guide you? Did you forget what it was? Are you planning to choose a word next year?

Sing We Now of Christmas

Sing We Now of Christmas

One of my favorite parts about Christmas? The music. I love Christmas music. I love how it has this certain sound that labels it as such before you even hear the lyrics. It’s . . . bigger somehow. Fuller. Richer. Especially sacred Christmas music–I mean, I love “Rudolph” and “Jolly Old St. Nicholas” too, don’t get me wrong. But Christmas hymns are their own kind of beauty.

Which is why I laughed out loud when I learned the history behind our singing of them–a history that, fascinatingly enough, dates back to a rather famous heretic named Arius.

In the early centuries of the Church, there was a lot of debate, discussion, and outright war among Christians as they tried to wrap human minds around divine truth. I get it–we still have those same problems today. And one of the leading controversies centered around how it really worked that Jesus was both God and man.

Did He really exist eternally in heaven with God the Father? What does begotten mean? Was that baby born to Mary really God, or was it just the human nature born that day and the God-nature was imparted to Him later?

Trying to imagine GOD–the infinite, eternal, omnipotent God–being helpless chafes against how we otherwise understand Him. And this was a real stumbling block in those first centuries, when there was no single teaching on the matter.

Arius was the primary voice of a sect that believed Christ was not fully divine until His baptism, when the Spirit descended. That, they said, was the moment when He received a divine nature. Before that, He was just a man. They further believed that Jesus was not one with or equal to or co-eternal with the Father, but rather subordinate to Him like angels, a created being like we are.

At first, this argument was subtle and the differences more an interesting conversation than a cause for a rift. But it soon became a raging debate. Church leaders took sides. Politicians who had converted took sides. And as it was agreed that a council must be called to determine what the Church would teach, each side began their campaign to sway public opinion.

The Arians started writing songs. Hymns. Songs and hymns about how Jesus died as God but was not born as God. And guys, these songs were catchy. People started singing them as they went about their daily lives. Which meant that people were teaching that theology, whether they realized it or not. These songs were, quite simply, propaganda. And it was working.

So his opponents began doing the same. They began writing songs about how Jesus was born as God. Expounding on the miracles surrounding His birth. Emphasizing that He came to this earth as BOTH Son of God and Son of Mary.

Interesting side note–the man we now know as St. Nicholas, then Bishop of a town in modern day Turkey called Myra, was present at the council at which this was debated. There’s a story (whose truth can’t be verified) that he became so enraged at Arius’s argument that he actually struck him. Santa Claus hitting the anti-Christmas heretic. Too funny, right??

Anyway. Back to verifiable history. 😉

Up until this point in history (this debate raged in the early 300s until Arianism was eventually ruled a heresy by the Council of Nicaea in 325), Christmas was celebrated as a holy day, but it was given no more special attention than days like His Baptism, Transfiguration, etc.  The highest of holy days was Easter, 100%. THAT was the day and week that Christians around the world really gave special attention to. But in order to emphasize this now-official understanding that Christ was fully human AND fully God from the moment His earthly life began, the holy day of Christmas was elevated to a level nearly as important as Easter. More songs were written to try to overwrite the catchy little ditties the Arians were still singing, and which were still pulling people away from the truth. It slowly began to move from being a solemn day of reflection to one of celebration, a grand feast.

It wasn’t long after the Council of Nicaea that Nicholas died, and he was soon named a saint. Stories began to emerge about people he had helped anonymously, money he had give secretly. Miracles were still happening as people asked him to intercede in prayer for them. His feast day was established on December 6, and to honor his memory, people began leaving anonymous gifts for each other and calling them “from St. Nicholas.” As time wore on, the feast day of St. Nicholas and the holy celebration of Christmas began to intertwine, thanks to their proximity, in part. But given how ardent St. Nick was about Christ’s birth signaling the coming of God among man, I imagine he smiled down from heaven over that.

And I like to think, too, that the angelic choirs continue to sing their own glorious songs of Christmas as the world celebrates this miracle. The one they sang to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace to people of good will!” must have been pretty catchy too. Have you stopped to wonder how we know what they sang to those shepherds?

It’s because the shepherds remembered. The shepherds followed Him. The shepherds were part of that earliest church, and they told Luke about that night. They told him the song the angels sang. That song has always, since those earliest days, been memorialized in the liturgy of the Church. All my life, I’ve sung Christmas songs that remember those words. And now my soul gets to soar with them nearly every week of the year, because the “Gloria” is part of every mass in the Catholic church, other than during Advent and Lent, when it’s removed…so that it strikes anew with all its glory when it’s brought out again on Christmas and Easter.

So sing of Christmas, my friends. Sing we now as those who fought for truth in the Church’s teaching sang then. Sing to teach the people who He is. Sing to remind your own heart. Sing to remember the glory.

Advent – The Savior Will Come

Advent – The Savior Will Come

Do you observe the season of Advent?

I grew up in a United Methodist church, which lights the candles on the Advent wreath every year; when we planted our own church in the Seventh Day Baptist denomination, my family kept that tradition. And now that my immediate family is Catholic, Advent isn’t just a part of our year, it’s the start of the Christian calendar. Advent, in this oldest tradition, is more than just four candles. It’s four weeks of preparing our hearts for the coming of the Savior anew. Of yearning for Him. Of longing for Him.

As my Patrons & Peers group celebrated Christmas together for the first time last year, discussion round about the end of November/ beginning of December touched on Advent…and the fact that at least half our members are only vaguely familiar with the tradition, since their churches don’t observe it. Which made me think that the same percentage is probably true of my general readership. So then, it sounded like fun to take some time to talk about what Advent is and why it’s become part of the Church calendar.

When Does Advent Begin?

Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas. Much like Lent is 40 days, a Biblical significant number meant to mimic the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, Advent used to be 40 days as well, to encompass the “fullness” of history before Christ’s appearance on the scene. In the 9th century, that time was condensed to four weeks, and the Four Sundays of Advent began to be observed as we still see them now.

In traditional services, Advent, much like Lent, is a season of repentance and somberness. Celebratory songs like the “Gloria” are taken from the liturgy. The alter and vestments are clothed in purple cloth, because purple is the traditional color of repentance and penitence. Scripture readings during these four weeks focus not on Christmas, but on the state of the world before Christ came, and on John the Baptist preparing the way for Him–because Christmas and Easter have always been so closely linked in the Church that you don’t even try to separate one from the other. Christ was born for one purpose: to save us through His death. This is why we both celebrate and mourn. We celebrate because He loves us so much.

We mourn because our own sinful natures required this sacrifice of our Lord.

What Do the Four Weeks of Advent Represent?

As we focus on the state of the world so desperate for a Savior–a state our world is always in–we look too toward how good our God is to meet us as He’s done. And we recognize that we are the world before Christ. We are sinful. We are selfish. We have wronged God. We have disappointed him. We have hurt our neighbors. We have failed to be what He made us to be. We have chosen, again and again, our own way above His. Our own hearts, certainly before we accepted the salvation offered by Him but even now in some degree, are hard and barren.

And yet He not only came down to walk among us, He prepared the very world for His arrival with such care. He came at the perfect time in history. And His coming restarted history. It created a new era, a new epoch. This is why the traditional Church calendar begins with the anticipation of Christmas.

The first week of advent, marked by purple, is the week of Hope. From the earliest writings of the Old Testament, we see the faithful servants of God hoping for His salvation, whether in the very physical realm–hope that He’ll deliver them from oppression–to the purely spiritual sense. This hope, when the world is at its darkest, is one of the most amazing marks of faith. Faith hopes when logic says we shouldn’t. Faith hopes when all seems lost. Faith hopes, knowing that even if it seems like we’ve lost, we haven’t, because there is a world beyond what we perceive. This first week of Advent, we celebrate the Hope that Christ represents to the world…hope that we need because the world is otherwise so hopeless. We recognize that without Him, we are irrevocably separated from God, but we cling to the Hope of Reconciliation that He represents. Living as we do in the 21st century, we obviously know He has come already…but it’s still so important to reflect on what that hope means, for us and for all of mankind throughout all of history.

Because at some point in our lives, He hadn’t yet come to us…or rather, we hadn’t yet turned to Him. For us, as for every Christian before us, we need to experience our own Advent of Christ, His coming into our hearts. Remembering that coming every year, remembering that hope, keeps it fresh and new and beautiful.

The second week of advent, also marked by purple, is the week of peace. In Isaiah’s prophecy of a Messiah, he calls Christ the “prince of peace.” In an age where power and royalty were only ever achieved through war, this would have seemed like a strange thing. A prince could only be one of peace if he was born into an established kingdom strong enough that it didn’t need to fight. David, we know, was a king of war, and Solomon of peace…and that was when God permitted the Temple to be built, by hands not stained by blood.

Christ, however, entered into a world of strife. The peace between Israel and the Greeks and Romans had been won through political maneuvering in the centuries preceding His arrival, but it had cracked and broken. Israel was occupied by Romans. Israel was restless and ready for a Savior to lead them out of bondage. Israel wanted a king like the ones of old, that would lead them from captivity by crushing their enemy.

Instead we get a Savior who comes not to offer this shaky peace to a nation, but to offer something no king ever dared to promise before–peace of the spirit. Peace of the soul. Peace not between men and kingdoms, but between each person and God. This is a peace no mortal man can offer, but what we all long for at the most primal level. Why do we war with each other? Because part of us in rebellion against God. If we were perfectly aligned with Him, all of us, then we would be at perfect peace together too. This is the kingdom of which Christ is the Prince of Peace. Not a kingdom of earth, but the Kingdom of God. And that Kingdom began the moment He was born, was anticipated for hundreds of years before His arrival, and still reigns today.

The third week of advent, marked by pink, is the week of joy. Do you have children? Do you remember how, when your abdomen grows large and you feel the baby moving around in there, you have those moments when fear and discomfort and uncertainty are forgotten, and you just marvel at the life within? Do you remember those bubbles of joy that come surging up?

This is the joy of all of creation at the coming of our Lord. Scripture tells us that all of creation yearned and groaned like a women in childbirth, ready for the coming of the Savior. We know the joy that all of heaven and earth proclaimed at His birth, but that joy didn’t start there. The joy begins in the expectation.

Because faith, the knowing that God will make a way, breeds not only peace as we trust Him, but joy in the knowing.

We know that God yearns for us as we yearn for Him. We know that He has made a way back into His arms. We know that when we view the world through His eyes, we’ll see not just what’s broken but what He will heal.

We may still be unhappy here in this world. We may be persecuted. We may be neglected. We may be hated. We may be misunderstood. But when we truly trust in God and let His peace reign in our hearts, joy follows. A joy that we remember and anticipate anew as we draw ever nearer to the celebration of Christ’s arrival. Because He is the ultimate joy.

The fourth week of advent, marked again by purple, is the week of love. Why would God do this for us? Why would Christ leave His heavenly abode? Why would He not only become human, but become human in the most helpless of ways, coming as a newborn baby? He could have been formed like Adam, full grown. But instead, He put Himself in the arms of a human woman. He entrusted His life to the protection of a human man. He became fully part of the human family.

Because He loves us. He loves us so much that He agreed to let His divine radiance be swaddled in eight pounds of human flesh and blood and bone. He loves us so much that He set aside immortality so that He could die for us. Save us. Love us in the fullest of ways, by giving Himself totally for us. And that started not when He died, but when He first let His being be planted in His mother’s womb. He started, as we all do, as mere cells. A God more vast than the universe, shrunken down to such a size! Only love would inspire that. The most perfect love.

What About Advent Wreaths?

The traditional Advent wreath has four candles in it, which mirror the liturgical colors of each week: purple, purple, pink, and purple. Sometimes a white candle will be situated in the middle and lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, which is called the Christ candle.

In addition to hope, peace, joy, and love, each candle has an additional reminder. The week of hope, we call it the Prophecy Candle, because those prophecies are what assure us that we have hope of One to come. The week of peace, we call it the Bethlehem candle, to remember the small hamlet in which Christ chose to be born–not a capital won by war, but a tiny little town about family, not royalty. The week of joy, we call it the Shepherd’s Candle to recall not only the shepherds there to receive that blessed news of His coming, but how He is our shepherd, just as Moses was shepherd for Israel so long ago too, as David was, as so many others were. The fourth candle is then the Angel Candle, because they are the messengers who proclaimed Him every step of the way, from conception to His triumphant birth, from ministering in the garden to proclaiming His resurrection.

Why Advent?

In a world that begins celebrating Christmas so early, moderns might wonder, “Why even bother with Advent? We’re already focused on Christmas!”

We are, yes. And yes, the world needs all the joy it can get. But one could argue that you can’t understand the celebration if you don’t focus on what led to it. One can’t fully appreciate the hope and peace and joy and love if one doesn’t pause to consider how much we NEED those things, even today. Only when we pause to recognize that we are still, even now, even as Christians, so desperately yearning for Him can we appreciate what His coming truly means.

I think the thing I love most about the Church calendar is that it isn’t about the past. It’s about living it out now, every year. Not just remembering what came before, but becoming a part of it.

In these next four weeks, we aren’t just resting in the knowledge that Jesus came to earth and was born in a stable. We are reliving the centuries leading up to His arrival. We are anticipating it for ourselves. We are pausing to recognize how much we still need Him. How He is our hope. He is our peace. He is our joy. He is our love.

In four weeks, we’ll set aside the sober reflections. We’ll hopefully have examined our hearts and laid them bare before God, just as His people have always needed to do when we want to draw near to Him. We should have removed what stands between us, confessed it and renounced it. We should then come, pure as that newborn, to Bethlehem’s stable. We should kneel before this Prince of Peace with the full measure of awe.

Then, my friends, we celebrate Christmas. Then we sing that “Gloria” again, just as the angels sang it to the shepherds. Then we’re ready for the Christmas season, which begins when He was born and stretches out long past when the world tucks it all into boxes again and moves on.

We’re still celebrating. Because Christ’s coming is one to be anticipated. And it’s one to then be upheld with every joyful celebration we can dream up.

Questions Unite, Answers Divide

Questions Unite, Answers Divide

“Questions Unite, Answers Divide.” This was a line that really stuck out to us as we listened to a podcast called The Art of Accomplishment. The hosts were talking about building community–building real community, the kind that mourns with each other and rejoices with each other and accepts responsibility for the lives of each other. They were talking about the kind of community that says, “If you’re failing, then it’s because I’ve failed you.” And in that kind of community, that truth has proven itself.

Let’s ponder it for a moment, shall we?

Sometimes,  yes, we don’t even agree on what the questions should be, on which ones are important to talk about. There were certainly times in my college conversations where people would interject, “Yes, but how can we even know if we’re real?” into every single subject, and we’d just have to say, “You’re asking the wrong question.” But most of the time, in life (if not in philosophy), we can at least agree on what questions are important.

How do we help those who feel outcast in their own skin?
How do we support single women who just found out they’re pregnant and are terrified?
What can we do about the rampant drug abuse in our streets?
Why is violence so out of control?
How can we shape our kids into responsible adults?
How can we show people we love them?
How can I be successful?

These are just a few examples, of course, but they are examples that are at the heart of most of the contention in political arenas, family arguments, and even workplace rivalries. And it doesn’t take much imagination to realize why the answers to them divide, right? Because one side might say, “We need to make sure those people can just CHOOSE their gender,” while the other says, “They just need to get COMFORTABLE with who God made them to be.”

The answers divide us. But they don’t have to…because we don’t have to try to offer solutions. We can just sit in the question. What would that look like?

Something like this. “Wow, you’re right. There are so many people who hate who they were born and want to be someone new.” Then instead of jumping to “answers,” we could instead say, “Why do you think that is?” We could talk about the root of it, the heart of it. We could have opinions, sure, but we could approach the conversation impartially. Because you know what? Rarely is there one answer. And rarely does our opinion actually do anything but hurt people. Rarely do we help by offering a “fix,” an “answer.” All we ever do is push people away.

“There’s no such thing as winning an argument,” Dale Carnegie observed (I’m probably paraphrasing) in How to Win Friends and Influence People. “Once you’ve started arguing, you’ve already lost.”

But what we can do is have conversations. We can just ask questions–not questions designed to push an agenda, but questions rooted in curiosity. In wonder. Instead of wanting to fix everything, we can just want to learn about it. We can get to the place where we can love–the person we’re talking to, and the people or situation we’re talking about.

We don’t have to avoid or shy away from subjects that can turn contentious. We can embrace them when we go in without an agenda. We can simply enjoy learning other views and perspectives. We can appreciate seeing things in ways we never have before. We can strive to understand why people come to different conclusions and (gasp) even entertain the notion that our own opinions could be wrong, in part or completely.

We’re entering a season of visits and travel, of activities and festivities. We’re entering a season where we’ll be spending a lot of hours around dining room tables or living rooms or office parties or church fellowship halls with people we love…but may not always know how to talk to about anything but surface things, for fear tension will intrude.

Let’s not avoid the hard subjects–but let’s not approach them as things that have definitive answers, either. Let’s leave our own opinions and agendas at the door, and let’s simply connect. Let’s let the questions unite us–because we all know they’re important–and refuse to let the answers divide. Let’s enter those conversations like The Art of Accomplishment encourages us to do, with what they call the VIEW mindset: with Vulnerability; with Impartiality; with Empathy; and with Wonder. If we can do that, then we’re going to leave those conversations knowing we’ve grown closer to the other people…and more, that we’ve grown. We, ourselves. We’ve grown, because we’ve ventured outside the walls of our own biases.

And that’s a freeing, festive place to be.

 

Sometimes We Forget

Sometimes We Forget

The other day, my husband was reading my manuscript for Imposters 3, An Honorable Deception, before I turn it in. Now, he reads most of my books before I send them off to my editors, but he’s bowed out of the last couple for one reason or another, which means he hasn’t read anything of mine since Imposters 2, which I turned in back in March. We talk a lot about my writing, the edits that come in, the whole process, and David is without competition the one who does most to support my writing on a daily basis, reworking our lives around my deadlines.

So anyway. The other day I was back at my desk in Xoe’s room (okay, Xoe’s desk in Xoe’s room, but it’s mine until she comes home for Thanksgiving, LOL) working on a cover design. I heard him walking through the living room so knew he’d be coming my way and thought he’d poke his head in to share something he just saw on Facebook or even ask a question about something in the book, if he was actively reading. Instead, he just walked over to my chair and wrapped his arms around me and kissed the top of my head. I think I said something enlightened, like a laughing, “Hi?”

He held me tight a moment more and then said, “Sometimes I just forget what a great writer you are.”

I have no idea what part he’d just read that made him feel the need to walk the length of the house and tell me that, but it warmed me from the inside out. And that phrase just stuck with me. Sometimes I forget…

It stuck because it struck. It resonated. Because you know what? Sometimes we forget.

Sometimes we forget that the people we love aren’t just the people we love.
Sometimes we forget that our kids just need a listening ear.
Sometimes we forget that our friends struggle.
Sometimes we forget that the strangers that cut us off have lives that are weighing on them.
Sometimes we forget that God loves our rivals as much as He loves us.

Sometimes we forget that just because we think something, doesn’t make it right.
Sometimes we forget that we don’t have to fix everything.
Sometimes we forget that we’re the ones who shaped this modern world into what it is.
Sometimes we forget that we can have a conversation and it doesn’t even matter if we agree.
Sometimes we forget that Christ chose sinners as his dinner companions, not the righteous.

Sometimes we forget that suffering should draw us closer to Jesus.
Sometimes we forget that this hard place is necessary to bring us where He wants us.
Sometimes we forget that we actually have it really good.
Sometimes we forget that we can let go and say no.
Sometimes we forget that joy is a choice, not circumstantial.

Sometimes we forget that we are children of God.
Sometimes we forget that we are exactly who He made us to be.
Sometimes we forget that we still have to strive always after Him.
Sometimes we forget that He promised us trials.
Sometimes we forget that every action should be based in love, not getting our own way.

Sometimes, my friends, we forget. We forget who God really is. We forget who we really are. We forget that the people around us aren’t just our vision of them. We forget that our life’s story isn’t the only life story playing out. We forget that we’re called to be part of something bigger than our own concerns.

We all forget. But…we also all remember. We get those glimpses. Those reminders. Those pangs in the heart. And when they come, I pray we can all do exactly what my husband did. Put down whatever we’re doing. Take the journey, whether it’s a phone call or an email or a walk or a drive. Wrap our arms, physically or metaphorically, around someone. And just let them know, “I remember. I remember what a precious gift you are. I remember. And I love you.”