Flipping the switch: on becoming light this Advent

3335CDD9-5825-4509-B4E5-C4C66CECDE4BAdvent feels different this year, and not just because I actually started holiday shopping before December 22 for what seems like the first time ever.

Normally a season of quiet, wistful reflection for me, the time of waiting for the birth of a baby once reminded me of what I wished God would do for me in my infertile state. This year the infertility story isn’t a trigger or focus for me, and instead I’m more focused on God breaking into the world.

How does God slip into this dark, broken place?

As I read news stories, I feel overwhelmed. The world feels dark, and I find myself anticipating impending doom. Is anything good happening out there?

Plus, since we learned our cat has lung cancer, I spend days waiting and watching this cat’s every move, wondering when a coughing fit might be his last, or which cuddle nap will be my last with the warm fur ball.

I want the god who sweeps in to fix things. I want a snap your fingers, wave your wand instantaneous magic.

But, that is not what I got this year. This Advent I find myself hooked by Isaiah 61 and the parable of the talents (or the bags of gold or the three servants, all depending on your translation) in Matthew 25:14-30.

I read Matthew 25 back in November, and it lingered in my thoughts. Driving to work. Sitting at my desk. Sipping coffee at local cafes. Everywhere I went I meditated on it, whether I wanted to hear it or not. For weeks now, it simmered in my brain, bubbling and distilling.

I found myself troubled as I read the first time. I carry a Jekyll and Hyde image of God, and I hadn’t realized the duality of these pictures. I wait for God to kick me to the curb ruthlessly for reasons I don’t understand, and yet I’m also convinced that I’m loved and warmly welcomed. God wears two faces for me. What scares me perhaps the most is the thought of an arbitrary God.

And so, I stewed and stewed on this passage. Fearfully. Angrily. Nervously.

Light flickered. I want a god who magically fixes the world outside of me. In my timidity, I want to sit passively by waiting for God to act. I want the god who doesn’t expect too much from me. But, perhaps, none of those are actually true of God. Perhaps those are idols I created.

In the parable of the talents, the master distributes the money according the ability of each of the servants (Mt. 25:15). The first two act with faith in the one who invested in them. The third, gets scared of losing the little he was granted, and buries it (Mt. 25:24-25). In that time, burying valuables was a common way of protecting an investment. But the master was less interested in hedging bets, and more interested in those who acted with faith.

I wanted to be like the servant who successfully invests the greatest amount of money and is publicly praised, but in reality, I think I’m most often like the servant who buried the money. I’m scared of epic fails, and so I’d prefer to play it safe and hide.

What would change for me if I acted with faith, trusting God to bear fruit — instead of withholding in fear of making a mistake? What if I trusted God actually gave me gifts and talents he confidently thinks I can invest? What if I placed my faith in God, instead of resting on my ability (or inability, for that matter) to make things happen?

Because the truth is, I am not helpless or useless. Neither are you. We are flush with capability, you and I. The question is: whether you and I will place those gifts and talents in faithful service to Jesus.

The practice will vary for all of us; we all have different calls and vocations. And the beauty of seeing these work together astounds me these days as I watch my church community work together in living out their passions.

As God acts throughout the Bible, he acts through human hands. Paul. Deborah. Peter. Huldah. Isaiah.

Isaiah 61 reminds me, too: God acts through human hands. Isaiah proclaims, “The spirit of the Lord God is upon because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners (Is. 61:1).” Isaiah speaks a word of hope and good news.

And this message is repeated by the incarnate Jesus as he proclaimed these words at the start of his public ministry in Luke 4. Jesus entrusted his followers with this same mission: to carry on the work of becoming good news for those to whom good news is a far-off, seemingly impossible thing.

This season instead of personal comfort, I find myself challenged in a different direction.

Instead of waiting for light to come to me, I wonder about glowing with the light of Christ for others. A switch in me has been flipped. I wonder what it means to become one who is good news to the downtrodden and hopeless? How does the overflow of who Jesus is to me spill over into the welcome I have for others?

In the darkness of this Advent instead of waiting for God to work magic outside of me, I find myself asking Jesus to transform me to be more like him.

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Making peace with awkward small talk

Trail of the Cedars

Every time I think I’m done writing about infertility, life throws surprises, and I find myself with new stories to process. Starting a job in a church and meeting loads of people brings up new rounds of questions for me.

I’ve been infertile for a decade, and I keep thinking I’ll finish working through my issues at some point. It’s naive, and, frankly, I should know better because grief doesn’t quite work that way. We get better at carrying it. But, still it sneaks up on us in cycles and waves.

I started writing in the middle of the story because I found myself aggravated by the published materials sanitizing the dramatic, painful middle with happy adoption endings or magic surprise babies. Finding material that helpfully wrestled the tension in the messy, broken middle was difficult. And so, I wrote my story here.

Mostly, I’ve made fragile peace with this story. This is my life. I can’t change it. And, there’s so much that’s wonderful in my life. Infertility is only a portion of my story — not the whole thing.

But, in the midst of getting-to-know-you small talk these days, I found myself with new waves of shame and deeper questions. Every time I think I figured out how to navigate the small talk game, like in this old post, the rules of the game change. Continue reading

The Grace of “Good Enough”

the grace of good enough

I aim for perfect.

The goal isn’t praise or accolades; praise makes me awkward, especially when I’m just doing what was expected of me. Really, I want to avoid disgruntled comments. I desperately want to be competent, and the fear I’ll be weighed and found wanting drives my compulsive striving. I manage better when I limit the areas where I feel a need to be competent.

The problem: I forget to set my limits consciously and strategically.

When everything is up for grabs–home, family, faith, work, photography, friends– my vision blurs like a telephoto zoom lens panning in and out without focusing. It’s exhausting. Continue reading

Casting … and waiting

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the sauna-like dress

The navy dress I wore for my interview looked quite professional and cute, but the fabric did not breathe. In my jittery, “oh, please like me” state, that means I was sweating as though trapped in a sauna for hours. The outer fabric, however, did not reveal my drippy condition, while I sat trussed up by the red belt threatening to cut off my air supply. Lacking oxygen and overly warm, the anxiety threatened to consume — as it does whenever I would really like something to work out. Continue reading

God’s in control?

120415 Haleakala and Koyama

Advent. The season where we wait expectantly for Jesus to come. It’s a season of hope bubbling up in the darkness. We trust God is bigger than the things going bump in the night.

And here’s where the message of Advent and God’s sovereignty gives me pause.

For some, “God’s in control” is a sparkles and glitter concept. God is in control implies God’s going to work things out for you or me. Sunbeams. Kittens. Daisies. Easy-peasy. Continue reading

Waiting with unanswered questions

081916 garden bench

A little over three years ago was the last time I saw a positive pregnancy test. After months of fertility treatments, the month we did nothing, I was pregnant.

And three years ago this week, the dream crashed and burned at our ultrasound appointment, which ended in me being whisked off for an emergency surgery to remove an ectopic pregnancy (and a fallopian tube).

Looking back at the blog posts then, I see my hope that God could bring about a pregnancy shrinking as I took stock of my new reality. I found myself asking: “What happens to faith in the midst of unanswered questions?” Continue reading

On Gratitude and Turning 35

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Birthday mug

J caught my interest in this knobby gray mug while we wandered through a fair trade shop in Minneapolis. I adore handmade artisan mugs, but always talk myself out of buying them as I reflect on the regular, useful mugs already taking up real estate in our cupboard. I eye the quirky mugs longingly, get a tiny amount of sticker shock, and walk away responsibly. Continue reading