Monday, November 30, 2015

Hope for a new year

Advent has begun--the countdown to Christmas and also the start of a new church year.   I realize the gift of grace in having so many new beginnings, from New Year's resolutions on January 1st, to the beginning of the school year in September (and again for me personally in June), and this new church year before the end of the calendar year.  As someone prone to setting high (unreasonable) expectations and then watching in dismay as they crumble all around me, I need these second (and third and fourth) chances to begin again.  It's appropriate that we light the candle of hope first on the Advent wreath, a reminder that we must hang on to hope to make it through the darkness of the season, and the dark seasons of our life.  I can't envision a more powerful metaphor than the light of that single candle.

I seem to lose hope about a hundred times a day, and yet, thanks be to God, it hasn't quite lost its hold on me.  There is a greater power, a Divine love, that whispers to me that this is not the end, that all will be well...that all is well, even when I can't see or feel or understand that.  I was having one of these moments this weekend.  In a conversation with John, I was bemoaning my fears that for all the hard work of our parenting, nothing of value seems to be sticking with our kids.  As both of us are ordained, I specifically worry about how we are sharing our faith with our kids (and worry that we are not intentional enough about it).  It's so much harder than the faith environment of my childhood where the answers were so certain.  Granted, I bear the scars from that and wouldn't subject those I love to the rigors of fundamentalism, but as my faith and belief has grown and become more open, sometimes it seems so big and nebulous that I'm not sure how to share it.  I have cut out so much of the language that excludes and limits, but what words are left to show the ultimate grace and love that has captured me?  The best way would be to show it, to model it, and yet in my exhaustion and frustration, I fear I teach them the opposite of what I would have them to know.

But tonight we sat together in church, as we usually do, and I hoped that the prayers, scripture, and message would seep into their hearts.  I pointed out the change in the liturgical color and we talked about what Advent means.  During the service I looked over to find Maryn drawing an Advent wreath on her paper.  While we were singing the offertory, Brady put down his Pok√©mon book and siddled up next to me to sing along.  In the communion bread and the wine, we shared a ritual that reminded us of our place as beloved children in the family of God.  What grace.

After getting the kids in bed, I was readying their backpacks for school when I found a paper bag crumpled up in the bottom of Brady's.  I started to throw it away, but something stopped me, and I glanced inside.  There were multiple strips of paper, and I realized there was one from each of his classmates sharing why they were grateful for him.  The reasons included: 

He played with me when no one else would.
He helped me with a project.
He is a good friend.
He cares about others.
He works hard.
He is my BFF and is always there for me.
He is kind.
He is grateful.

These are the things I want most for my children--for them to be kind and loving, using their God-given gifts in service to others.  Reading these reflections from kids who are mostly strangers to me, I realized that they have seen the truth of our sweet boy.   How many times do I miss this?  How often do I overlook the goodness, the spirituality of our children and instead focus on insignficant and temporal things?

Deep down, I know that our children have good hearts.  They are created in the very image of God (and the imperfect but loving images of their parents).  They teach me about love and grace and forgiveness each day.  When I look past the daily annoyances, I understand that they are my own spiritual guides, pointing to God's grace and love.  They accept me as I am, while also pushing me to grow...much as I hope to do for them.

As we enter into Advent and wait for Christ to be born again within our hearts, may we celebrate how God is already with us, within us, and working through us to bring new life into our world.  May we hold on to hope that life is ever new and ever bright.