The Day I Cleaned the Front of My Frig and Found Peace in my Heart (an Advent Post)

The cornerstone of this Advent season, which began Sunday the 27th of November, is the idea of making room for God to come.  It is a time of waiting, as Mary did, with the impossible promise that a Saviour would be born, the miracle of light coming to a dark world.

“The arrival of Advent marks the beginning of the church year. In the Western church, Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas…The word itself is from the Latin word ‘veni’–adventus–coming.

“Because Advent is a season of preparation and penitence, fasting has historically been part of Advent observance, a way to clear away the detritus of the year and create space in our lives for Christ to come.”  (The Circle of Seasons–Meeting God in the Church Year, Kimberlee Conway Ireton, IVP Books, 2008.)


We ordered new kitchen appliances last week. Everything started when the microwave died (sacre bleu! one can’t live without a microwave to heat up coffee. Or baby bottles). This led to a conversation about the refrigerator which had been humming its way loudly to a definite motor-y end. We dug out the paperwork and discovered the frig was 17 years old.

20161128_102313  Here’s a photo of our kitchen on Thanksgiving 2000, one year after we got it, all brand spanking new. That’s my daughter Leah the chef basting the turkey. (And no, I will not talk about the psychedelic flooring.)

After a thorough appliance reconnoiter, husband and I decided to join the Black Friday crowds and headed to Home Depot. Four hours later we had ordered for the first time ever a matching frig, dishwasher, microwave and range.  In stainless steel. We are so de rigueur. Continue reading

When Worship Looks like a Bass Player in a Flannel Shirt

 “My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.”
                                      Mary’s Song, Luke Chapter 1, vv. 47,48
       One of the joys of the Christmas season at our church is to see the transformation each year from ordinary worship space to glorious, decorated festive space.  A volunteer team of folks gather of a morning, led by a gifted floral designer, and set about transforming with snowflakes, holly, ribbon and glitter galore. Soon there are trees of all sizes, gifts buried in ‘snow’, tinsel, garlands, wreaths, and voila!, our sanctuary is a wonder-filled space.
      The room is filled with a bit of magic, where beauty lifts our spirits and adorns our praises. 
       When God came to Mary via the angel to announce His plan to use her (“who me?!” “yes, you”) her response was an immediate “be it unto Me, Lord.”  Her next breath also reminded God who He was dealing with.
       “I am only a humble servant, Lord, but I will be a handmaiden for you.”

       God is in the habit of using humble folks who will say “yes” to His ask, who will let him transform ordinary to miraculous. Why? So He gets all the credit for the glory when the amazing impossible happens.
      When I glance around the sanctuary on any Sunday morning, taking notice of who is lifing their voice and arms in song, I am overwhelmed at what God has done with the people I call brothers and sisters. There is a lot of amazing impossible stories these folks on my right and left could tell.
          We are a down-to-earth group, a slice of every day America. A room full of people foolish enough to believe in the same Saviour whose care binds us together. There are men and women of all ages, all colors, all sizes who can share about their ‘yes’ to God’s ask, their “Be it unto me” that led to wonders. No, that led to miracles. 
          There are no lowly shepherds here (this is church in the ‘burbs, after all), no servant girls, per se. But we long to be–need to be–a waiting and watching people. And while we wait and watch, we walk together. Through divorce and death, healing from and dealing with cancer, recovering from loss, renewing our faith, hanging on by a thread.  
       We are car mechanics and Sudanese refugees, wheelchair-bound and learning disabled. We are just getting by, just getting settled, just trying to get well.
          And our God loves that.
          He loves K back up front with the worship team, her bass line filling the stage, the worship inside spilling through the simple façade of a flannel shirt, skater shoes and baggie pants.  She loves Jesus with all her heart and is grateful to be here. “It’s good to be back,” she told me a few weeks ago, “That other church was okay, but I wanted to come worship here. I knew they’d welcome me.”
          When Mary visited (“hurried”) to see her Aunt Elizabeth, she shared the astonishing news of what had been promised.
          Her declaration was not words of what would be done in the future….the birth of her son Jesus nine months hence, but what God had ALREADYaccomplished.  The promise of power and glory was a done deal.
51 “He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;

    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.

52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones

    but has lifted up the humble.

53 He has filled the hungry with good things

    but has sent the rich away empty.

54 He has helped his servant Israel,

    remembering to be merciful.”
Luke, Chapter 1

          Transformation, change, healing–they don’t often come with the suddenness we would like, the instantaneous “wow! Look at that” of a bursting-at-the-seams Christmas-filled sanctuary. 

         No, it is more of a lifetime of yesses, staying hungry knowing God will fill us, falling forward because He will lift us up. Lifting our arms towards the Father who said, when He was sending His son to save us–salvation is not only coming, it is HERE.

Glory to God in the highest!

Linking with Jennifer Lee for Tell His Story

Wherein I take Nothing for Granted

It’s your breath in our lungs
As we pour out our praise,
Pour out our praise,
It’s your breath in our lungs
As we pour out our praise
To you only.

All the earth will shout Your praise
Our hearts will cry,
These bones will sing,
Great are You, Lord.

It’s your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise
We pour out our praise
It’s your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise
To you only

Leslie Jordan & David Leonard, All Sons & Daughters
– – – – – – – – – – –
There was a lull in the sanctuary the other morning as the worship pastor’s guitar faded; the piano’s tones softened on the keyboard. A quietness fell while we waited a few moments and listened.

From the back of the room a voice was lifted in confidence and confession–
     “I will remember the deeds of the LORD;
yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your wonders of old.”  

Norm shouted his praise from Psalm 77 and we ‘amened’ the words on the other side.

It is not remarkable that there would be a moment of spontaneous sharing like that on a Sunday morning at our little Foursquare Church.

What is remarkable is that Norm is frail and bent over and confined to a wheelchair.
And without his oxygen tank towing forever behind him, he cannot breathe.

You would think he’d bemoan this fact each time he had a chance. That he’d recite a litany of ‘woe is me’s’ about his limited abilities to get around, his waning strength this last year, his reliance on the kindness of others to get him hither and yon.

But no, he shows up at church and our small group, he brings the Word and with all the breath he has in him, he belts it out.

Later on that day, I read these words:

There are countless hours in each day I never give a second thought to the fact that I can breathe, unassisted. I am upright, mobile, strong and healthy. I can shout and sing, laugh and yell. All manner of expressions are mine because of my Maker.

It is GOD’S breath in my lungs, whoooshed into me at birth, gracing me with strength and health these 60 plus years. I probably think about that fact a total of 30 seconds a week (or maybe never).

In/out, in/out, sing, talk, laugh, shout, pray….how many ways can I use my voice? How many times can I lift it in song? Countless, countless number of times. Without giving it a second thought.

This week I want to put on thankful, breathing praise in and out, and remember everything I have is a gift. 


What is something ‘every day-ish’ that you take for granted? Share in the Comments.

When You Can’t see the Trees

There’s a danger in going back to visit a place you’ve grown up in–a chance for your psyche to experience a bit of a jolt when what you remember doesn’t line up with reality.

Actually, much of life is like that.

My husband and I recently returned from an 8-day trip to California, the majority of the time in Southern California where I was born and raised, attended school and was married.

We drove around the old haunts–the house my husband grew up in, the home I lived in when we had our first date (and he kissed me in his front seat while my sister stared out the window).

Then we drove over to my high school alma mater.

The school site looked like a war zone–a chain link fence encircled the entire property, mountains of dirt excavated and piled high, chunks of concrete stacked in jagged hills.
Oh. Well.  Things were clearly not as they used to be.

I hadn’t expected to see the construction (destruction?) going on but it certainly made sense–I graduated forty-five years ago–clearly the building was ready for repairs and renovation.

My husband’s approach to a fence has always been, “How can we get IN there?”
He suggested we try to drive around to the back of the school, “to take pictures,” he said.
I’d never been all the way around to the back of the school that I recall and had no idea how to get there.
He confidently drove our car across the parking lot, skirted the fences along the side and went right through the construction gate.

There we were.

The angle was odd–we stood at the back of the school’s demolished gathering area, the Quad, looking at the Snack Bar next to the cafeteria.  The dividers where we leaned over each other to purchase chips and milk, gave each other cuts in line and ogled the cool kids.

That was a long time ago.

The Quad itself–a grassy expanse with an ‘X’ of walkways intersecting it–was a torn-up mess.
I remember many an angst-ridden lunchtime sitting on the concrete benches there, agonizing over whether or not any of the popular kids would ever come sit down by me or I’d be left alone.

The memories were like reading a familiar chapter in a book I knew by heart.  The story was my own but the distance of time depleted the sting.  I was grateful for the years that had passed and the blessing of being a little older and wiser. A lot older.

What I did not remember were the jacaranda trees.  Two of them standing there tall against the sky, shading the buildings.  Jacarandas are enormous green structures laden with lace-like leaves and punctuated by lovely lavender flowers.  They are few and far between, usually planted in plazas, parks and old neighbors.

I am always stilled by their beauty now, noticing them as if for the first time.

Why did I not remember these remarkable trees from my teenage years?

No doubt I’d been too busy focusing on my little high school world–the boys, the clothes, the drama–ever to look up skyward and see them.  I had missed them even though they’d been there all along.

How many things do we miss because we’re not looking?

How many things do we miss because we’re not listening?

To paraphrase Scripture, I think I understand why Jesus said, 
“He who has ears to hear and eyes to see, let him understand.”

You can’t see if you’re not looking. You can’t hear if you’re not listening.

The world is a broken down mess and people are searching for answers–looking in all the wrong places when God is right in front of them. They just need to know where to look.

And Who to listen to.

I want to remember that, too. How about you?

What Does Grace Really Cost?

We raised our hands and voices again this morning in worship, singing of  grace being an ocean…and if it is, we’re all sinking.

Then Heaven met earth like a sloppy, wet kiss.  And well, after that line in the song, it took me awhile to get my spirit and soul focused on Jesus again.

I always think about a cocker spaniel puppy when we sing that verse.  I mean really, ‘a sloppy wet kiss?’  I know Jesus loves us, God loves us, immeasurably and tenaciously so. 
But frankly, I think we are getting a little too casual with this word we toss around in Christian circles–the word is ‘grace.’

To paraphrase Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God’s grace is free, but it isn’t cheap.

There’s a difference, of course, between cheap and free. Free is a gift given by the Giver, purchased with a price. Cheap is, well, worthless.

I am becoming weary of hearing the phrase, “thank God for His grace, it covers all my __________”  being used like a ‘Get out of Jail Free’ card.

The Greek word for grace is ‘charis’–gift.  We get the words ‘charisma’ and ‘charismatic’ from this.  People with ‘charisma’ are gifted. People who are ‘charismatic’ have gifts of many kinds, and often they have the gift of the Holy Spirit.

But the gift of God’s grace? It isn’t cheap and it isn’t free.

 It cost Jesus his life.

A passage I’ve been meditating on in Ephesians Chapter 1 really spoke to me about this; verses 5-8 in particular make it clear we cannot separate the gift of grace from the Giver:

 “he  predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, 
in accordance with his pleasure and will— 

(God decided ahead of time that we would be His children 
because it makes Him happy)

to the praise of his glorious grace, 

(Why? so people will praise Him for His amazing grace)

which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

(Yes, it’s a free gift)

In him we have redemption through his blood, 

(purchased back from the Enemy of our souls)

the forgiveness of sins, 

(every one of them, every time, when we repent)

in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 
that he lavished on us.” 

The grace was lavished on us AFTER the redemption through Jesus’ blood,
AFTER the forgiveness of sins.

The impossible work of that scandalous exchange–his life for mine,
his gifts of grace for my sin–are something I never want to take for granted.

His grace isn’t cheap, but it’s free.

The Hurrier I go, the Behind-er I Get

My husband and I are embarking on another season of Home Improvements in the Collins Household. We’ve lived here for over 20 years; the house was built in 1979–the maintenance and care are ongoing.

The other night we were calculating dimensions of the opening for a new sidelight to go next to our front door.  I was to be the recorder while my husband called out measurements.
He is Detail Man, the analytical talk-to-think guy.  I am more the Big Picture, I-already-thought-it-through-and-I-actually-have-some-questions-about-the-process. I’ve jumped right to the end of the project–blast all the steps along the way. 

This is called Being Impulsive.  (My husband calls me Impossible; we’re still working on that.)

As he likes to remind me, “measure twice, cut once.” Or when he begins to echo my father-in-law, it sounds like this, “If you have time to fix what you did wrong, you have time to do it right the first time.”

God is using this difference in our thinking and processing styles to remind me to Slow Down.  Because it is true, the hurrier you go, the behinder you get.

I am so quick to jump to conclusions my impulsiveness often gets me in a bit of trouble. It definitely leaves me with the wrong impression–I assume “A” is true, when actually “B” is the case.

I don’t think it’s any coincidence that our pastor has been doing a series on the book of Proverbs lately, particularly on the power of words…. One of the many verses that has been speaking is….

Proverbs 17:27 
“The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint,

    and whoever has understanding is even-tempered.”

More even-tempered, less mistakes, fewer go-back-and-do-it-agains. Hurrying up can be something we do physically–racing here and there through days and weeks.
But we can also race right through a slow truth that God may be speaking to us and miss that, too.
I’m in this walk with Jesus for the long haul, giving myself to become more myself 
(but resembling Him).
I’m so glad God is committed to that, too.
Linking with Laura Brown over at Makes you Mom,
discussing the book “How Did I get So Busy? The 28 Day to Free your Time.”
This post was inspired by Chapter 2 (I’m a few days late)
(I have not read the book, by the way–the chapter titles were enough for me to go on 🙂
We’re reading and blogging for the next 8 ish weeks.  Join us?

**abandoned shed photo by the author