Monday, December 16, 2013

My guide this Advent Season

Jayna pointed to the seat next to her on the bail of hay, "you sit here," she said.  She was so excited about taking me to see the "Jesus Walk" called "Echoes of Christmas". The "Jesus Walk" is a live nativity in the park.  Her family is hosting David and I in our temporarily home in Salt Lake City while our newborn son is in the NICU (and growing bigger everyday.)

Jayna took my hand and excitedly led me to the next stop along the journey to the manger.  At five years old, she was my guide through the Christmas story. Her enthusiasm was contagious. I found myself asking her with all the excitement of a five-year old, "Is that a real camel?"  It was, and she was quick to point out it was a real baby at the manger scene as well.

Christmas has come a little early for us this year. Our son was born on November 6th this year and we officially became his parents on the 15th.  We journeyed across two states to meet him, knowing we were in for our journey that would last for his entire NICU stay (10-12 weeks). We were so excited that we drove 12 1/2 hours with hardly any stops.

Douglas' birth meant that I immediately (although temporarily) left my work at the church.  Thank goodness they knew all about the adoption and were on board with my leaving. In my absence they are doing wonderful things, filling in and leading worship each week with no outside help.  They are visiting the shut-ins, leading the youth, caring for each other and oh yeah, their pastor too! They have overwhelmed us with love and gifts for our new little family. Their prayers are everything to us.

Normally when a pastor takes a short leave of absence, or even a sabbatical, they try to pick a good time for the church. They certainly don't set out to be gone during Advent and Christmas.  So many people reminded me during the adoption waiting period that God's timing is perfect. When I look at my beautiful son, I know that is true. God's timing is perfect, even if our son was born at 27.5 weeks.  God's timing is perfect even if I had to be gone during Advent (they even voted to call me as their permanent pastor the second week I was gone!). Not our time, not the most convenient time, but God's good and perfect timing.

The gift of that timing for me is that I get to be an observer this Christmas season.  Usually it is my job to be a guide during Advent. I remind folks why we change liturgical colors, and we why wait for the coming of the Christ-child year after year. But this year is different. I have my very own miracle-boy in my life who teaches me everyday about paying attention to the small things. Tonight I had my very own 5 year old guide, she held my hand and led me excitedly to the manger. God bless her for guiding me. God bless those in my three churches who are guiding others in my absence.  Most of all thanks be to this Christ-Child for whom we wait. He is our greatest guide and friend.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Advent at home (kind of)

I have to admit- I'm not eager to go back to the place of waiting. Today is December 1, the first Sunday in Advent. The day where I am supposed to stand in front of my congregation and tell people to "slow down" and experience the "holy waiting" of Christ's birth.

You see, I feel like my little Christmas miracle is already here- all 2 lbs 9oz of him, Douglas Brian Ridings in the NICU just a few miles away from me this morning.  My loving congregations in Thomas County are leading themselves through Advent, no one is expecting my presence this morning. Believe it or not, pastors, your church can be church without you. And they are doing an incredible job.

Normally, I would at least be present for the first Sunday of Advent in our church away from home here in SLC, Granger Community Christian Church.  However, this morning I'm sick. I don't need to be around church folks, and a certainly don't need to be around my tiny son.

And so I am remembering what it is to wait again.  David and I wanted to be parents as soon as we got married- so really we have waited for six and a half years for this precious little one.  We finished part of our paperwork in January, the other part in August- and then the real waiting began.  Birth mothers looked at our profile book, we thought we might have our little one several times before we actually got our miracle.  And he's the perfect one for us. He is so very tiny to have his mom and dad so fully wrapped around his finger already.

I have not forgotten the waiting place, though.  Some days in the waiting place I thought I would lose my mind (Advent can get that way sometimes- just ask a child ready for the big day to arrive).  The waiting place can be a scary place- perhaps that is why in every Christmas scripture we read an angel has to say, "Fear not!" before delivering the message. Waiting on something you have no control over can teach you a thing or two.

As much as we do not like to wait, we spend much of our lives doing it. The key is to not forget to live in the waiting time. David and I didn't stop going to work, or going out on dates together, or playing with our dogs because we were waiting. Life happens in the waiting time. Cool stuff happens. I mean, I started running for heaven's sake- who knew?

Also, God is in the waiting. But you knew that already. That is why we have a season of waiting and preparation before our big high holy days. We have Lent and we have Advent, because God would like us to just slow the heck down and prepare our hearts and minds for the big 'ol miracle that we call Christmas (or Easter).

Jesus isn't gonna be born when it is convenient for you, if you don't believe me, just ask Mary, I'm fairly certain a stable was not in her birth plan.

As willingly as I can, I will enter into the waiting season again. I will not be afraid, or if I get that way, I will remember all that "fear not" stuff. I will trust in God to bring me through this season as God has done in every other waiting season of my life.

Happy Waiting.  Happy Advent.
(written in my apartment in Salt Lake City, instead of being preached in front of one congregation or another)