Savior

f60a75b558a14d61052bf9e6b4eba8ceI usually look forward to that November email from Steve asking us to write a blog for Advent. I’m a talker, so I don’t struggle to find stories to share or thoughts to express. Give me 30 minutes and you’ve got a blog post. Now I must admit, it is full of grammatical errors and lacks polish, but it gets done rather easily. For some reason though, this year when I got the email, there was no eagerness. I felt like I didn’t really have anything I wanted to share and instead it felt like just one more thing I had to do.

To be honest, this was not a great year. It was a long year. It was a tear-filled year. It was a very heavy year. This was the year that every counselor dreads. This was the year that I experienced the thing that I had spent the last 25 years trying to prevent. This was the year that I lost a client. This was the year that a young person that I had known and loved and invested in took their own life. This was the year I had never wanted to come.

This year I had to actually believe the words I so often say, “I can not be your Savior.” I always knew these words were true but then when it happened, all I felt was my immense failure to save a life. When that young adult had been a teen, I had spent hours walking alongside them. I had offered countless messages of hope. I had listened to each heartache. But I had obviously never said whatever words they needed to hear so that as the years passed, they would chose life. This was the year that I truly learned that I couldn’t save them all.

“No matter what we say or what we do, sometimes people are going to die,” is what Mike told me that day. I will never forget it, words so obvious and familiar but so unexpected. He looked me right in the eyes and in that moment I was forced to not just hear the words, but to trust the words and accept the proof. Kind Mike, he helped me recognize that I would grieve two losses, one was a beautiful young woman and the other was the knowledge that I could not save.

This year, may these words, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord,” be engraved upon my heart.

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An ‘Accidental’ Black Friday

black-friday-at-wal-mart

I  went Black Friday Shopping last week.

 

You have to understand I didn’t do it intentionally, In fact It was the furthest thing from my mind.  My idea of Black Friday shopping is sitting at home in my PJ’s with a hot cup of coffee and surfing the web for all the best ‘cyber deals’.  The thought of going out at ridiculous hours of the night or morning, waging war for parking spaces or getting in huge lines of hundreds of people waiting to lay claim to only 3 treasured items, just isn’t my idea of fun and relaxation.

 

So how did this happen you ask?  On Thanksgiving night after a delightful day filled with gluttonous eating, watching/playing football and enjoying time with family, my wife sent me out to pick up a few grocery items we needed for the next day.  As I headed out my thought was what store would be open on Thanksgiving night?  My answer, Super Walmart! I figured they would be open and I could ‘run in’ grab the groceries and be home.  As I pulled into the parking lot, I noticed how busy it was and wondered if everyone was ‘running out’ for a few groceries as well.  And then it dawned on me, crowds like this could only mean one thing, I’m out with the ‘Black Friday’ crowds!  Panic set-in, I contemplated turning around and heading home but I ‘manned up’, parked a mile a way and journeyed into the madness.

 

As I entered the store I was stunned, I had never seen such a site, everyone (and I mean everyone) was racing around the store, most carts were full and almost every one had a giant flat screen tv in them.  The aisles were clogged as crowds gathered around Wal-Mart employees unveiling giant boxes filled ‘doorbuster’ deals.  I noticed my own heart started racing and I began getting caught up in the excitement.  I fought through crowds to start grabbing what must be amazing deals.  The next thing I knew I was into it.  My cart started to fill up.  I realized I was buying things just because everyone else was, no time to think, I just figured I could return what I didn’t want later.  And then I remembered why I was there, the milk, the orange juice and cheese. I ventured over to the grocery side of the store, which was a ‘ghost town’ ( No ‘Black Friday’ doorbusters on ketchup ), grabbed my items, stood in the never ending check-out lane, paid for my stuff and headed home.
Now I know what I’ve been missing, I see why adrenaline junkies do this each year.

 

It will be back to shopping in my PJ’s next year.  But as I drove home I couldn’t help but contrast the excitement for landing a ‘great deal’ and my excitement for celebrating and knowing the presence of Jesus.    So my prayer is that this advent season and throughout the coming year, my joy will be found not in scoring a pair of $20 noise-cancellation bluetooth headphones but as I learn to rest in the arms of my savior’s embrace.  There is good news! Jesus has come, sin has been conquered, death defeated, the grave overwhelmed, the child born in Bethlehem, reigns and rules as our Savior. Now this I can get excited about!

“O Holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray, cast out or sin and enter in be born in us today… O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel”

Steve Dallwig

Flashback

Flashback pic - BrittanyMy name is Brittany. I’m not a pastor, ministry leader, or longtime member of Chapelgate Church. I’m just an ordinary girl living life…often day to day, and sometimes more gracefully than others.

I’m a writer. It’s not what I do on a day-to-day basis, but it’s what makes me feel alive. Needless to say, I was incredibly excited when asked to write a post for this Advent blog. Until I sat down to write, that is. Laptop open…blank white page…and that intimidating blinking cursor daring me to begin typing.

I refuse to call it writer’s block. For me, it’s more like God saying it’s time to listen before I’m given words to speak. Sometimes it’s scripture, sometimes it’s quotes from my favorite authors, and occasionally it’s my own writing that I’m called to read and meditate on. This time it’s the latter.

I swore I wouldn’t do what I’m getting ready to do. I considered it a cop out. But last year I waited too long to share this piece with the world, and I think that others suffered as a result of my shame. So below you will find a copy of a post from my personal blog originally published on January 5, 2015. No matter where you find yourself this Advent season, I hope you will find some comfort in this piece:

The Not-So-Christmas Spirit

 The reality of my situation hit me while sitting in Sunday school right before Christmas. The rest of my family had already left for vacation and I was left in an empty house. Our Sunday school class had been covering various individuals in the Christmas story. This final week was spent talking about Herod. The pastor leading our group asked us which of the characters we identified with the most in the story of Christ’s birth. We talk about Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and the wise men. Even the little drummer boy. But rarely do we consider the role that King Herod plays in the greatest story on earth.

 As we talked more and more about Herod, I came to the startling realization that there was no one in the entire Christmas story that I identified with more than King Herod. It was everything I could do to contain my tears in that moment of revelation.

 Every year after Thanksgiving, people refer to something called the Christmas Spirit. It usually involves a joy of decorating, singing, and baking. This year I experienced none of it. I did not want to decorate. I avoided Christmas carols at all costs. And as for baking…and here’s the “real” part folks…that just wasn’t happening. I’m knee-deep in eating disorder treatment and festive food is the last thing on my mind.

 Back to Herod.

 While everyone else in the Christmas story joyously celebrated the birth of our Lord and Savior, Herod saw the event as a threat to his kingship–his power and control–everything he had worked for–his life. The presence of Jesus in this world was a direct challenge to everything that Herod valued.

 This year the Christmas spirit haunted me. It burdened my soul. It was not until that day in Sunday school that I realized the truth. That the coming of Jesus threatens the control I’ve tricked myself into believing that I have. My ability to control my food intake and body is an all-consuming illusion. An illusion that brings me nothing but complete and utter misery. An illusion that extinguished the true meaning of the birth of the King. It robbed me of joy, left me in a perpetual state of exhaustion, and slowly drained the warmth from my skin and the sparkle from my eyes. Yet I clung to my illusion and avoided anything that threatened its existence. The thing I feared was the very thing I needed–the only thing that could save me–Jesus.

 I’d like to say that this realization changed my heart and allowed me to joyfully celebrate Christmas with my family.

 It did not.

 Revelation does not always breed immediate change, but it does aerate the heart. Which is exactly what I needed.

 People often confuse the Christmas spirit with Advent. They become blended together, a single entity. But Advent is a season of preparation and anticipation. It involves the heart and the soul, which means it might not always be cheerful or involve an upbeat melody. For me, Advent meant observing my role in the story and realizing my devastation at what had become my reality. In its own way, the Advent season prepared my heart to realize the magnitude of what was to come: an all-powerful King who destroyed my very need for an illusion of any sort.

 I know I’m a little late in sharing this story.  Most people have already begun taking down their Christmas lights.  We’re going back to work and school. Walmart is already filling their empty shelves with Valentine’s Day candy. But I thought it was a story that deserved to be shared because I have a feeling I’m not the only person who found Christmas difficult this year. Perhaps you don’t have a heart like Herod. Maybe illness has shaken your world or a valued relationship has been destroyed. There are many forms of pain that can keep us from experiencing joy. Often our knowledge of this fact can be more devastating than the pain itself.  And that’s ok.

It’s ok to admit a hurt.  It’s ok to feel sad.  It’s ok to cry while everyone else appears to be laughing.

Because a King has come and the story has a happy ending. The pain will not last forever.  This is not the end.

 So cry.  Mourn.  Scream.

 As long as you are breathing, there is room for a revelation. One that will aerate your heart and provide a breeding ground for hope and renewal.

Breathe in.  Breathe out.  Wait.  He will meet you here.

Brittany Bowen

Christmas Town

We went to Christmas Town in Busch Gardens last week. My family loves it. The place is lit up with a gazillion festive lights and there are even live penguins! They change the names of the rides to things like Reindeer Roller coaster, they waft pine scent through the causeways, and the kiosks all sell peppermint hot chocolate. It really puts a person in the holiday spirit.

I had so many favorite parts of Christmas Town this year. I loved that my husband won me a Santa at Whack-an-Elf. I especially loved that my son rode the swings because his sister wanted to, even though it was 32 degrees, and I loved that he was wearing the new hat she had bought for him the night before. I loved when Frosty came on stage during the Deck the Halls Show so much that I ignored my family’s teasing and kept bopping back and forth and clapping along as he danced. We all loved when the little girl saw the nativity in the gift shop and yelled, “Jesus toys!”

Most of all I loved the life-sized marble nativity outside standing under the trees. It was dark and the four of us had just gotten off a ride in “Italy”. They were trying to find a heater so they could read the park map in its light and I wandered around the corner. There before me was Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. It was lovely, lit up in this quiet little area of Christmas Town. As I stood there taking in its beauty, a little boy and girl walked over to it. The boy was about 10 and when he got to the manger, he took off his hat and kneeled. In this busy place, this big exciting place, this little boy stopped in reverence to acknowledge our Savior’s birth. That was by far, the very best part of Christmas Town.

I know I am going to get caught up in decorations and festivities many times in the next few weeks, but as things get busy and exciting I want to be like that little boy. I want to stop in the midst of it all to acknowledge what this season is really about, my Savior.

Merry Christmas, Little Boy from Christmas Town. Thanks for the reminder.

Tonya Cherry