Great Expectations of Joy -The Eighth Day of Advent

Erika Stereo (002)

 

I love Christmas, have from my earliest memory. I readily admit to getting wrapped up (pun intended) in the spirit of the season, merry-making galore.Erika Christmas 1

Before moving to the Flathead, during the months of November and December I would spend days adorning my parent’s house with lights, so much so that when I flipped the switch the rest of the neighborhood dimmed.382117_512993682058568_1687365558_n

From there I moved indoors adding more lights to the pre-lit Christmas tree and dressing our mantels and banisters and doorways with pre-lit garlands. I truly believe we are God’s light in this world and this was my most visible way to shine that message brightly.

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Always alive in me was the real reason for the season, the coming celebration of the birth of my Lord and Savior. My parents made sure that Christ was in CHRISTmas long before that became a popular seasonal saying. The merriment of the season however just reinforced the goodness that was to come. As a child, Santa always had a special place in our family – and he still does. I will never forget the time Santa (supposedly, a co-worker of my Dad’s) stopped by our house when I was about four. Somehow he knew about the temper tantrum I had thrown over not picking up my building blocks. From that night on I made certain my room was always clean (still do!)

Erika Santa 2

My family has a strong Scandinavian heritage and I learned at a very young age the art and technique of making lefse and krumkake, traditional holiday food offerings found in any Norwegian home. I was rolling perfect rounds of lefse by the time I was five and have been eating it with delight ever since – a fact of which my grandmother would be immensely proud.

Our home was always filled with music,piano, guitar, and good old fashioned records! I started Christmas caroling and singing in choirs in my teenage years -I loved bringing the message of good news in song to the hearts of people I would never otherwise know. Never much of a party thrower or goer, my Christmas goodwill was focused on spreading cheer to those far and near, through gifts, acts, words, and music.

Erika Barn

I can remember being ever so excited when the Sears and Roebuck’s Christmas catalog arrived in the mail.As youngster living in the high and wild town of Rock Springs , WY the nearest department store of any magnitude was in Salt Lake City – a good days drive away. Catalogs were king!  I would spend hours dreaming over Lego playsets, race car tracks (I was a bit of a tom-boy),  the Fisher Price  barn that mooed when the doors opened, the house, and the city parking garage with car elevator which when added to my barn set up made no sense then or now but was sure cool! The latest board games like Candy Land and Life (I never did get Connect Four or Battleship) and the first electronic games –  Lite Brite, Merlin, the Simon Memory game, and who can forget Superfection, all came to life in the catalog! I rarely received most of what I asked Santa for, and when I did get something like those games, their impact would have to suffice for two or three Christmases. While I delight in a bit of nostalgia as I look at these games from 30 plus years ago, these relics of my childhood Christmas wish lists are not what I remember most fondly.

Picture2In truth, what I savor most are memories of sitting in the quiet by the fire with just the Christmas tree lights on after Christmas Eve services; the Life Saver Sweet Story book that Santa placed in my stocking every year along with an apple, an orange, and a note telling me what a good girl I had been and how proud he was of my hard work in school; the old fashioned cinnamon striped ribbon candy and Brach’s Royal  candies that sparkled in the candy dish; lighting the angel chime canErika Stereo (002)dles before every dinner; and my delight in putting out the Nativity scene on top of the console stereo while singing along with Arthur Fiedler’s Boston Pops Christmas records.

I remember sitting  at the kitchen counter on the gold upholstered barstool coloring in my Santa and Friends coloring book or cutting snowflakes while Christmas carols were sung by Lawrence Welk as Mom cooked dinner. I remember sitting by the fire cracking mixed nuts with Dad. I have a treasured collection of Snoopy Christmas ornaments for every year of my life since they started making them. It is an entertaining walk down memory lane as I hang the 40 some ornaments on the tree each year. I remember every red or green or red and green velvet Christmas dress and the ordeal my Mom went through in sewing or later buying them for me. I knew I was grown up when I finally got to wear black velvet on Christmas Eve and I still feel that way to this day!

My dogs  were always a source of Christmas calamity and hilarity – from eating the pre-lit Christmas tree to getting more gifts from my co-workers one year than I did!

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Looking back, I long for what now seems like such a simple but wonderful way of celebrating the holidays. I long for my childhood wonder and acceptance of the way we did things, because that is how we did things. I don’t recall my parents being as stressed out around the holidays as we allow ourselves to become today.

These days we have become a very expectant society when it comes to celebrating the holiday’s. Social media posts of families gathering to beam at the camera remind us that this is a happy time of year; of dressed up snowmen in front yards reminding us of how old we have gotten; of sumptuous recipe after recipe appearing in our friend’s Pinterest lineups making our Pillsbury sugar cookies, green bean casserole, and sage stuffing look positively blah; of group shopping parties and kitchens a bustle with cookie baking fests.

Advertisements tell us we are going to “Win the holiday” by patronizing such and such retailer; “You got this!” they exclaim as a family stands back and admires perfection personified in Christmas lights. Who doesn’t want to “win the holiday” but in reality, who can?  For the longest time, I tried but I always ended up feeling defeated and depleted.

All these images of happy traditions have a way of coloring our own expectations of happiness around the holidays. It is indeed a wonderful time of year in which we focus on making and spreading joy, a time I cherish and look forward to. But I have also experienced the emptiness inside after too much money is spent, all the presents are given, and life just goes on the next day. I have felt my heart break when my high expectations of the perfect family gathering go up in the smoke of a blazing argument or are dampened by the stress of over-extending and over-committing my life to every activity that comes my way. I have felt the cold sting of loneliness at a time when love sparkles in the lives of all those around me. I have felt the let down when my own celebrations don’t measure up to the grand gatherings of friends and acquaintances.

These are the dual realities of the holidays that approach. A time when both joy and sadness, quiet and commotion compete for a presence in our lives. My own experiences with both the light and dark aspects of the holidays have heightened my emotional sensitivities and my empathy for others who struggle at his time of year.

Perhaps that is the truth God wanted me to see after all the years I spent wrapped up in the busy-ness of the season. The true joys of the season are not found under trees or in shopping carts or even along glowing roof-lines. In this joy-filled yet broken world filled with traditions and terror, caring and competition, winning and whining, the joy we seek can only be found in our hearts and the hearts of others. When we share God’s light and love with those of every walk we encounter, be it the hungry at the shelter or the stressed out Mom in line behind us, that is where we find joy. When you hold the door to the post office open for a package laden distressed style maven and they sputter their surprised gratefulness, that is joy. When your landlord offers to pay half your heat bill out of the blue for the months of December and January, that is joy multiplied.  By releasing ourselves from celebration expectations we can find joy in actively and expectantly waiting for the One who is coming whose true light will shine in the darkness and bring peace to our hearts.

Let your light so shine just as His light shines in the darkness.

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Courtesy: The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

 

 

The Seventh Day of Advent

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Courtesy: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

There are times when I know I have met God. I have found him beside me on a mountaintop, rejoicing with His spirit at one with mine. Other times I have seen him in the actions of another, God at work in the world. He has lain beside me deep into the night and wiped tears from eyes as I fell asleep, God being near as I prayed.

A father with such magnitude and might … one would think we would see Him crowned in the glory we sing of and we would surely be dressed in our Sunday best if not better. I am sure he was there when my parents presented me for baptism in my white baptismal gown – that was likely the only time I met Him when I was worthy of meeting Him. But in His almighty grace, God prefers to meet us where we are at. He seeks us out in our roughest moments and He joins us in delight when we make it to the summit. We don’t have to be anything more than we are for God to open His arms to us. How should we greet Him? Just as we are – with our hearts open to his love.

Let your light so shine  – just as His light shines in the darkness.

The Sixth Day of Advent

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Courtesy : Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

So much peace of mind has come my way while reflecting on these words. I remember the summer I moved to Whitefish I spent weeks searching my soul and trying to divine my future, seeking out God’s will and trying to do what I thought best when it came to turning my settled life on the Eastern Montana plains upside down and heading west to climb mountains and live in paradise. I endured numerous sleepless nights filled with prayer, took countless contemplative walks trying to discern the right course to follow, and queried those I trusted for objective reason in the direction I was taking my life. Finally feeling strong and sure enough in what I was doing I took the leap that had at the time seemed so right, so bold, and so full of faith.

I accepted a job offer and stepped out of the safety nest I had known  for my entire adult life and…..  then I found the bottom of my boldness. I felt like I was choking and my world was spinning out of control. Somehow the decision I made was causing everything in my life to cloud over and I could not understand why. And then the road blocks came. 

The path I had been following in faith suddenly dealt me twists and turns I wasn’t ready for. Instead of feeling excitement for the adventure that lay ahead I felt exhaustion, even dread at what would come next. I was consumed with confusion over the conflicting feelings I was experiencing. Why was this happening? Why was I feeling so anxious and uncertain and why couldn’t I find solace anywhere? It seemed I would be damned if I stayed the course and even more damned if I didn’t. I couldn’t find a place to live. The finances that seemed so clear before weren’t penciling out. I started doubting the strength of the relationship I was moving to grow and my own personal strength.

And then, much faster than it took for the door to my new life to open before me, it slammed shut. Meanwhile, the wonderful happy life I had come to know and take for granted  now seemed to collapse in and smother me.

The utter despair that comes when you think you have life all lined up only to have those nicely laid plans blown away  left me coasting without direction and feeling powerless. I felt I had not only let myself down but those who supported me and cheered me on. I despaired that by somehow not trusting blindly in my faith that everything would turn out alright I had failed in fear. I let fear take away the opportunity to soar as God intended me to. I had disappointed not only my friends and family but God, for not stepping out in faith and taking a risk because of something inside that was telling me to stop what I was doing and stay in place.

It was a feeling I had never felt before. Not only lost but hopeless. I felt trapped by something I did not understand because I could not hear what my mind and my heart were telling me over the din of what I thought I should be doing in my desire to live boldly.

I was lost in this hopeless state of mind until I realized that a state of harmony was revealing itself to my head and heart. Indeed it was a sense of certainty very much unlike the incongruous state I was in as I endeavored to divine my future. I realized that the pain and sadness I initially felt over MY plans not coming to fruition were turning into peace.

“And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7

 I accepted that the difficult road I was on was the one God wanted me to take in order that I would have a deeper understanding of who I am and what I needed on this journey of life. Most importantly, I knew that without Him I was nothing and with Him I could do anything that was His will.

2 months later, I ended up following through on my grand adventure. The road blocks that were in my way initially had some construction work done on them and ceased to be a problem. The job offer was extended to me again, a higher salary was negotiated, and I found a wonderful place to live!

I stepped out boldly in faith and haven’t stopped climbing mountains since. I am no longer afraid. I have peace.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

The Fifth Day of Advent

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Courtesy: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

As I drove home from a sun-filled Eastern Montana Thanksgiving  along the mountainous US Highway 2, pinkish cloud tendrils teased the mountaintops as the late day sun gave way to evening. I took a fancy to the colorful fingers in the sky, wishing I was high above on a summit looking down on the playful clouds. But the closer I got to home in the Flathead, the clouds grew thicker and lower and darker. Soon the sky was within my reach, an oppressive ceiling pressing down on me. By the time I parked my car in the driveway, I was depressed. The smothering darkness had taken its toll on a soul that just hours earlier was dancing in sunlight.

The oppressive clouds have stayed firmly in place going on 7 days now, and I yearn for the life-giving rays of the sun. The world is a much darker place when we can’t see beyond our cold  cloud enshrouded  valley. Our lives can  feel very dark too, when we can’t see beyond our present struggles, when we can’t seem to capture the light we see alive in others lives. And yet, we can have hope, in the glimpses of sky as the clouds part- as a caring heart steps in – however briefly, that there is light for us to see, that we are not alone, and that our present struggle is only a temporary darkness. God walks with us in darkness and in light.


“For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.” ~2 Corinthians 1:5-7 

Let your light so shine  – just as His light shines in the darkness.

The Fourth Day of Advent

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This is a stanza from one of my favorite hymns, “Christ Be Our Light,” a hymn that has left me with tears in my eyes on numerous occasions, happy and otherwise. Christ is my guiding light. On the brightest of days He gets all the glory and through my darkest nights of life he is my beacon of hope. At Christmastime, light in all forms – candlelight, tree lights, lights along roof lines, flickering firelight,  star and moon light, light in the eyes of others -to me symbolize the light of Christ in our lives.

Let your light so shine  – just as His light shines in the darkness.

The Third Day of Advent

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courtesy: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Happy 3rd Day of Advent. I was baptized as a child of Christ at Trinity Lutheran Church in March 1971 while living in Rock Springs, WY. As a month old child I had no say in such matters of faith but I am grateful to my parents for giving me to God when they did. As I grew into my own, my church and my faith  evolved in the years since.Trinity. From Atonement Lutheran, Lord of Life Lutheran, Lutheran Church of the Master, Holy Shepherd Lutheran, Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, All Saints Episcopal, to where I worship now at Our Saviors Lutheran, each change brought me closer to God, more sure of His promise, and instilled in me the importance of having a community of faith. I don’t know where I would be in this world today without the support and love I found in all of my church families at every stage of my life. Through their examples of faith I witnessed God at work during good and bad times. I saw trust where trust would not be found without God. God worked through the special people He brought into my life to help me along my wayward path in life.

Let your light so shine  – just as His light shines in the darkness.