Welcome to the World!

Seeing posts (and pictures) on FaceBook welcoming new babies and celebrating the fist milestones of babies has prompted me to share with you a video. Kid President has a great message, not only for the new ones, but also for those of us who surround new people.

Love, forgive each others mess-ups, and breathe. Not bad advice for new humans…and for all humans. Enjoy!

New

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Some times new is obvious … like the smell of a new car, moving into a new house, or starting a new job.

Some time new is subtle … like one month rolling into another, getting a new pair of sneakers, or opening a new bank account.

Whether obvious, subtle or somewhere in between, celebrating the new is a good practice, and a spiritual one at that.

This past week I’ve lived through many new moments.         Maybe you have to.

Only a few days ago I dropped our youngest daughter off for her first year of college. New for her; new for me.

Today marked the first day of a new academic year, and the launching of a new day at our school. New presidential leadership and a new curriculum. New students starting; returning students entering a new world. New staff and faculty welcomed; all staff and faculty living in a new reality.

I have a new office, in a new building. This week brings a new routine and new set of “hallway conversations.”

Today I drove to work the same way, but in a new car. The same, but not the same.

And this evening I returned home where there was no “how was your first day of school” conversation at the dinner table. In fact, I ate dinner alone.

 

New is all around us: new jobs, new homes, new schools, new family members, new driver’s license, new calls, new chapter in your life, and new routines.

Newness is often accompanied with hope, but can also be connected to anxiety and uncertainty. Newness can be welcomed and smooth, it can be scheduled and planned, but it can also be disruptive, sudden, unsettling and “rock your confidence.”

Our new may be shared with a community or evident only to you. It may be private or public. There may be words to talk about how new impacts life, or it may be beyond words and only experienced in our gut.

Why celebrate the new? Because it matters! Just like I noted the importance of marking endings in a recent post, I think it is equally as important to celebrate the new. Why?

  1. Marking endings has an eye to the past. Celebrating new has an eye to the future. With an eye to the future new reminds us we are more than our past. Yes the past does shapes us, but we are not held captive to our past. This is both good news and bad news. As a great athlete knows, continuing to be “in the game” means showing up everyday. And showing up everyday is not only doing the basics, but includes trying new things and imagining new possibilities. In the moments of new we have a choice – to hold on to the past or to see a future on the other side. How does the new in your life provide the opportunity for you to see into the future? How does the new provide an opportunity for a bit of the future to come into your present?
  2. We celebrate the new because it reminds us we are “becoming” people. Think about it. Starting middle school or junior high is a moment of new. As scary as it might have been to start 7th grade it was just one in many steps from childhood to becoming an adult. Staying a kid isn’t an option, but how we move into the new is. Starting piano lessons or learning to ski are awkward at first, but stick with it and if we embrace the learning it can be fruitful. Over time, and with practice, we learn and move into our own way of becoming. We may or may not every become an elite skier or professional piano player, but learning, in and of itself, stretches and teaches us a variety of lessons. How does the new in your life remind you you are still a “becoming” person? How might you embrace those “becoming” moments?
  3. Celebrating new recognizes we have a God who makes all things new. Be it creating new or redeeming into new, God is all about making things new. So celebrating new is an opportunity to make room for God in our life, remembering and marking God’s activity among us in real time. Today, in a quick phone call with my new college daughter, she interrupted our conversation to share something with a someone in the room. I asked her who was there and your response, “a new friend. You wanted me to make friends, right?” What a welcome statement for this college mom to hear. How is God present in your new moments? How is God creating and/or redeeming in your life in the midst of new? Mark those moments with prayer.

Yes it is a season of new.

And yes we have a God who makes all things new.

Thank God for the new!

It’s been a Run!

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Last Sunday, our family loaded up the car with the essential cooler, sweatshirt and lawn chairs and headed to the ball diamond for the annual “end of the season” tournament. As best as we could recall, this was our family’s 16th year participating. Some years it went well, and other years we were okay with losing our two games and ending the season.

This year with the sun shining and no forecast for rain, the tone was set for a good day. Entering the tournament in first place was a bonus, but none of that mattered now. What mattered now was playing each game to the best of our ability. The girls were ready and the parents, grandparents, siblings and friends were gathered on the sidelines prepared to do their part. It wasn’t long before the first pitch was thrown, the first out called, and the first run in the books. We were off and running.

Four games, and seven hours later, the last strike was called, the last run scored, and the last inning complete. The day was intense, the games close, the girls tired, the play top notch, and the fans engaged. Soon the trophies were awarded, hugs exchanged, chairs packed up, and we were on our way to our cars. Another season of community softball was complete.

Sometimes that stroll back to the car is filled with relief; sometimes it is filled with disappointment. Today it was filled with celebration, gratitude, and disbelief.

Celebration – It was a day of celebration because it had been a good season. All the girls had grown – in skill, teamwork and confidence. Winning the league, and the tournament, were simply external signs of the many things the team had been working on week after week. It was a day of celebration because it had been a season where the girls enjoyed being together and contributing to the whole. Community had been created, not only among the players, but also among the fans. It was a celebration of what the “best” of community softball can be. But this year was so much more.

Gratitude – It was a day of gratitude because of the overall experience and people involved. Seeing players hug other players and coaches was fulfilling. I found myself needing to thank other fans for supporting the kids and team. The grandparents who cheered for “all the kids” by name! You wanted the best for each player, and that was contagious. And to the siblings, young and old, who weren’t too cool, or busy, to bring their own lawn chair and join the crowd. Thanks. Even when the games weren’t close or were boring, your presence made a statement. So many people shared their Monday and Wednesday nights, and pieces of their life. How can I not be grateful?

Disbelief – It was a day of disbelief because it was the end. Once the last out was made and the game called, the reality began to set in. As the awards were handed out and the pictures taken, the lump in my throat began to form. This was the last season of playing community softball. Too many hours to count, too many bad calls to remember, too many coaches to recognize, too many positions played, and too many teammates to thank. My mind suddenly flashed back to both girls playing T-ball as Kindergartners and then I looked up and saw them grown – 18 and 21. Where has the time gone?

Disbelief. Gratitude. Celebration.

So many ministry leaders want to bash young people’s participation in sports – at least the excess of it. I’d like to offer another look. This week I’m resting in the richness it can also provide. Today I’m grieving and celebrating its place in our lives. More than the skills gained, I’m most moved by the number of adults who have accompanied my daughters, cared about their lives, and simply “been there” for them. And in particular, I’m thankful for the coaches. The coaches who saw my kids as more than “pitchers” or “second basemen”; coaches who challenged, and gave space for error; coaches who encouraged, and listened, and coaches who made mistakes, and let others do the same. Thank you! Lisa, Tony, Julie, Andrea, Brad, Eric, Jeff…etc….this one is for you!

Living in the suburbs, I’m often unsure of where I’ll find community. And while this may not be a stated goal of VAA (Valley Athletic Association), I’m grateful for its place in our life, because sitting on the third base sideline has been one place I found community.

Play – a summer must!

I’ve been out of town quite a bit the past few weeks and upon my return I’ve noticed something. The parks have more activity, more bike riders are filling our streets, and kids are simply put, more visible. And I love it! In a media-driven culture, this makes me very happy to see kids playing. Kids have in their DNA a desire for discovery, for social interaction with other kids, and a call to be outdoors.

A friend of mine posted a link to these beautiful pictures of children at play (Thanks Lori!) and it brought a smile to my face. Children, from around the world, at play. And the photographers have captured the similarity and differences so well. (Love the depth of these photos!)

As you look ahead to the remaining weeks of summer, let us adults encourage play among the children in our lives…and may we also be encouraged by children to have play we part of our lives!

Happy July 1st!

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‘Tis the Season

‘Tis the season of transitions – endings and beginning, good-byes and hellos. Wrapping up “the school year.” Getting married. Moving. Graduating from college. Celebrating ordinations. Accepting new calls. Starting a new job. Having a baby. The list could go on. Endings and beginnings are all around us this time of the year.

In my life, transitions take the form of a high school and college graduation, preparing to move into a dorm and moving back in with mom and dad, wrapping up another academic year (and a curriculum) and anticipating teaching new classes in September, and wondering what it means to be in my 5th decade of life. (Could that really be true?) It means graduation parties and rediscovering daily routines. (How needs a car today? Is there enough food in the house? Did someone do the laundry?) It means intentional relational time and space to ponder the changes taking place. It means some days are exciting and other days are simply hard. Endings and beginnings are all around us and while they happen all year round, for many, this time of the year moves transitions from the edges of our lives to the center.

Living in the midst of transitions is chaotic, but there are things that are “normal” and there is work to be done. William Bridges reminds us that being tired, confused, and having a sense of “being lost” is all part of what’s normal. Endings require letting go, but letting go means saying good-bye to routines and patterns that order our lives. And letting go is hard, especially when the future is unknown. And even our most anticipated beginnings are accompanied with a sense of melancholy. Bridges reminds us to gives ourselves, and others, a break during times of transition.

But there is work to be done in times of transition. Letting go, releasing the past, is part of that work. Yet letting go does not mean erasing the past. Endings, be they graduations or a relational break-up, are simply markers. These markers are not in themselves good or bad, they just are. They note time and that patterns of the past will not be the patterns of the future. And marking time allows space for rethinking and recalibrating so we have the capacity for moving into something different, something new.

One of the pieces of relational wisdom I’ve shared with youth and young adults is: just because a relationship ends does not mean it wasn’t meaningful and/or was an important part of your life. We grow, we change, and we have new opportunities. Some experiences and friendships fit for a time, do us well for a chapter, or are meaningful for what they are/were. Camp, for example, is a good thing. But camp works because it is an experience bound by time. Living through endings, and saying our good-byes, doesn’t negate what was. In fact doing endings well actually honors what was. Having graduation parties, for example, honors the graduate, but it also recognizes the greater community and is an important part of the process of transition. Graduations (and graduation parties) mark time, allow us to remember what was, and in so doing it prepare us to move into a new future. Without tending to endings, all of the good aspects of what was can be overshadowed with the disorientation that accompanies transition and the fruitful memories of the past can be distorted.

Summers often are accompanied by navigating some type of transition. At our house this summer we are navigating more than normal. And we have moments when it is going well, and other times when it’s not. But we are doing our work – we are celebrating accomplishments and giving each other space to grieve; we are appreciating the little things, like reflective conversations while walking the dog, as we also are recognizing the big changes taking place. We laugh and we cry. We have time alone and enjoy time together.

I’m mindful of those in my circle of friends and colleagues who are in the midst of transition. Some anticipated and celebrated, others forced and disheartening. Today, I hold you in my prayers. May God meet you in your letting go, in your disorientation, and in giving you hope for tomorrow. And may you experience grace and peace, space to be alone and community with which to share the journey.

Terri

Making Memories, and then some

Growing up many of my family adventures, planned and unplanned, were marked by the phrase, ‘making memories.’ Sometimes the phrase was used to mark the ordinary, but fulfilling times in life – such as the first summer night we roasted marshmallows around the campfire. Other times it described unforeseen challenges – such as when we survived camping in the midst of a huge thunderstorm. It was used to put a positive spin on negative experiences – like the time we wandered lost in an unfamiliar city for hours and didn’t stop for directions. And it was used to mark important occasions, putting words to moments we knew would be treasured long into the future – such as graduations and weddings.

The past ten days our family has been making memories; memories now stashed away, but ones which will live into the future as (various versions of) stories will be told and retold for years to come. You see this was a big year for the Elton’s – two graduations to be exact. And to mark these moments, we thought we had to celebrate. So we headed to Barcelona, Spain for 10 days of visiting places we had never been before. Ten days and seven different Mediterranean cities. Each day we explored places we had only studied in classes or heard about in the news. Each day we experienced amazing cities and saw another part of a beautiful region of the world. One day…Pompeii and the ruins of a city destroyed by a volcano. Another day…Rome and Vatican City. One day…pizza in Naples and yes…we were in Cannes, France during the final days of the international film festival. (Seriously? I still don’t know if I believe it.) Every day was interesting, filled with ancient history, glorious landscape, and many stories.

But the cities visited only provided some of the memories. Many more came from the ordinary, less glamorous, moments. There was the billiard challenge and the night bowling. There were card games of Rummy and daily work-outs together. There was ordering drinks by the pool, sitting in the hot tub, and waiting as they prepared to leave port. Ordinary things, yes, but these small events grounded each day and gave us opportunities to BE with each other. No schedules, no external demands. And woven into each day were the conversations, mostly at the meals, when we gathered each day, taking about life. We had the gift of time…time to simply have another cup of coffee (or glass of wine in my case) and wonder about today, the future, and what matters.

Tomorrow we board the plane for the flight home. The flight will be long, but it too is part of the journey. A saying our family has is, ‘sometimes you have to go far to come near.’ We have often used it referring to mission work, but today I believe it is fitting for this trip. We did travel far – our bodies reminded us of that the day we landed in Spain. But we also grew close – something being without internet and having only each other can often do. But ten days in tight quarters does not always equate to growing closer. And for that I am deeply grateful. We, four very different individuals, not only love each other, but we also like each other. We laugh, we give space, we explore the world together, and we have learned how to be family. Sure it’s taken time, and many days it’s been hard. But somewhere along the way, we did it. We figured it out – that pushing through the tough times and celebrating the good times is worth it. Sisters aren’t friends, they are family. And moms and dads do really have your back, even when it doesn’t seem like it. And having adventures, and making a few memories, just might be an important part of making it happen.

So, here’s to another chapter in making memories. Until next time…

A very grateful mom.

The Need for Funerals

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Funerals are Easter moments; moments when God’s promises are proclaimed and Christians are reminded where their hope lies. Yet this is an ironic truth. Funerals are usually the last place we think of when seeking hope. Funerals are where people gather to recognize someone is no longer living, their death is marked and their life remembered. And people come to funerals come at various stages of accepting the loss, this passing of life. Good funerals recognize this reality, but the truth is a funeral doesn’t require the community to be ready. Christian funerals are more about pointing to another truth, one that lies outside of us. God, the creator of the universe and the creator of us, promises a way of life that extends beyond this world. And this is where our hope is grounded.

During Lent I was reminded how death has many forms and exists all around us. Sometimes we recognize it, and other times we push it aside. This past Holy Week I was drawn into the mystery of dying and the importance of honoring life by recognizing death. Society doesn’t know what to do with death, leaving many of wandering in the wilderness. Yet Christians need not fear death. And in fact, I’ll go as far as to say abundant living cannot happen unless we deal with death and dying. Said differently, I’m not sure I can live abundantly in the promises of Easter without participating in funerals.

Lately I have been trying to find ways of living abundantly in a season of dying. Some might say, great – you did the work of Lent and they’d be right. But entering Lent I was unaware how prevalent the dying was around me. The deaths I am experiencing are not physical. Rather they are a series of realities that have resulted in a season of endings and letting go. Meaningful work has ended, relationships are in transition, connections redirected, and communities forging new vision. The future looks very little like the past and a new path has not yet emerged. Many days I’m in a place, or accompanying others, trying to live between abundant living and the process of dying.

I was taken back by this recognition because the dying was not quick and definite. No, the dying has been a series of dying “moments”, ones which you think you can handle, but as they keep coming life turns into a rollercoaster, exhaustion sets in, and the future gets lost in the fog. During such a season, time is both a friend and an enemy.

Perhaps some of you know what this is like. Maybe you have accompanied someone through a long stint in the hospital or journeyed with a person that has a terminal disease; there are moments where the core of life is crystal clear and there are moments where death is so close you feel it. Sometimes you find the strength to push death off one more day and life wins for a moment. Sometimes you wish death would take over. Sometimes hope is secure, no matter the ending, and sometimes despair fills your spirit. God is present in many ways in such seasons; at times that is enough, at other times it’s a curse.

Sitting in Maundy Thursday worship, it became clear to me I needed a funeral – I needed to let go of my hope for life (at least how I imagined it) and be prepared for naming and confirming death. It was a moment where I confessed, I cannot longer live “in between,” where something, someone is neither alive nor dead. “In between” is a hard place to find life. The world is small and focused. And while grieving can begin, there is no way to move forward until death has been marked – the last breath taken, time of death recorded, and the words publicly stated. Sitting in worship on Thursday, I knew it was time, and I opened myself to such a reality.

Entering Good Friday worship, I came ready to hear the words, to acknowledge that brokenness and pain are real in the world, and loving deeply means risking a piece of ourselves. And, as I did, my eyes drifted to the cross. I can’t imagine what Jesus went through thousands of years ago, but I can feel, deep within me in a way words cannot express, the sin of the world – my sin, the sin of society, and the need we all have for grace and healing. And I heard Scripture and songs in a deeper way. Now what I needed was a funeral.

And two days later, Easter morning came. Our family worshiped with many others, and heard the news of the empty tomb. The loss and pain had not magically disappeared, but interestingly the fog had cleared enough to hear the message of hope again. “There is a new day ahead, one where there will be no more tears and no more pain. I promise!”

My season of dying is not over. I still have good-byes ahead and endings to come. Some are simply endings for which the future is open with possibilities; others are simply endings. But on this side of the funeral, I’ve been reminded of the promises of the empty tomb, and I’m once again seeking life.

My prayer for you is that you too may hear the promises of the empty tomb.

Access to Information

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It was a Sunday afternoon and my daughter and I were running errands. We were halfway between home and a store I wanted to stop by. In a “senior” moment, I asked my daughter if we could stop by home to check on how late the store was open. Before I even realized what I had said, (I wanted to go home and call the store or look up their information on their website) she had taken out her phone, searched for the store and told me we had an hour before they closed.

I grew up in an era with phone books – yellow pages for businesses and white pages for home residents. My mom loved phone books, and she taught her kids well. As the saying goes,”She let your fingers do the walking” and made use of this valuable tool located right in our kitchen cupboard. In the 1980s, phone books were a source of information.

My kids don’t know the difference between white pages and yellow pages, and laugh at the idea that a book, updated once year, could we valuable for getting people’s numbers, findings specialty stores or even discovering a shop’s hours. This information, as witnessed with my daughter, is all at their finger tips. All the time, everyday.

So what, you might ask. What does it matter how one finds phone numbers or store hours?

It matters because the world has shifted. My daughter doesn’t only have access to the yellow pages in her phone, she’s got “the world” in her hands. Think I’m over exaggerating? Think again.

This fall, while said daughter was in a class on Martin Luther, mom became a great resource. For about five Tuesdays or Wednesdays in a row, I’d get a text, email or even a call, asking for help. My daughter was struggling with the assigned reading in her religion class, usually a reading I had in print in my office. She’d written a 2 page reflection, but wanted me to “look it over” and offer critical feedback. (A theologian’s dream – quite possibly!) To offer good feedback, I needed to “refresh” my own reading of these texts. And guess what I did? I Googled it.  And, lo and behold, I found the texts I needed. All of them. Imagine that.

Today, all kinds of information is available at our fingertips – in our Smartphones, in our iPads and in our laptops. Getting essays by Martin Luther, for example, is not a problem. The issue at hand is, like it was for my daughter, finding a good conversation partner. What does this mean for faith formation? What does this mean for Christian education?

This experience with my daughter has helped me rethink what it means to be a teacher of the church. Yes, I’m teaching church leaders, but I don’t think it matters if it is a “soon-to-be” pastor or a 13-year old or an educated lay person. Studies show, we can get access to information. But who will be a guide? Who will help people make their way through the maze of information? Who will ask good questions? Who will be there for conversation?

The world has shifted. As one “teaching” about the Bible, theology and what our church believes, I have to remember, I am not the dispenser of information – my role has changed. These days, what’s needed is a guide. one to accompany learners in their journey of faith. I don’t know exactly what that means yet, but I’m trying. And I’m making mistakes along the way.

Two easy things to do to get started:

As you ponder what this means for you, think about an area you don’t know anything about, but want to. (I recently needed help with some aspect of knitting, for example.) Maybe  you have a particular “situation” or problem you want to address. Maybe it’s a really big issue, and you want to know how to get started. What did you do? Where did you turn? What would you need? What kinds of questions would you have? Maybe the exploration is a place to begin.

Next, listen. In the “normal” places and in the “abnormal” places. Listen to what people talk about in the coffee hour between services or before or after confirmation. What insights do these comments have for you as you think about being a guide. But also listen at coffee shops, at the basketball game or when you are out to eat. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll get a clue as not only the questions, but what tools these folks need to access the information they are looking for.

Terri

Meaning-Full

Meaning – “the end, purpose, or significance of something” or “full of significance”
Full – “completely filled” or “maximum” or “abundant”
…at least that’s what Dictionary.com says about these two words.

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Two Fridays ago I spent the afternoon with a group of women reflecting on 2013 and setting a direction for 2014. At the end of our afternoon we each had to land on one word that would guide us in 2014. My word (I cheated) was meaning-full.

What do I mean by meaning-full and what do I hope for in 2014?
What gives my life meaning is different then what gives your life meaning, but what we share is meaning grows out of our values. Naming our values is important, and so is living them. How do we interweave our values into the demands already on our life? In 2014 I want to reflect on what it is that’s filling my days, weeks and months. My life is full, but with what? Can my days be abundant with significance? Can my weeks be maximized towards the areas of life I most value? That’s the quest I’m on this year. I want my life to be full of what’s meaningful to me.

Okay, I got a word. So what?
That’s the challenge. And to start I know this. Habits, daily rituals and patterns form and shape my life. Those habits, like drinking too much Diet Coke, can take me away from my goals or, like attending the 6:00 am cycling class, they can move toward achieving my goals. So I’ve been evaluating my habits. Starting a new semester provides a natural opportunity for adapting habits. But so does the new year. So, I’m limiting my Diet Coke to one a week. (Yes, those that know me recognize that’s a big deal.) But I’m also adding some new habits. As I do life everyday, be it going to cycling class or heading to chapel or leading my group of 6th graders, I’m asking myself, “If, and how, this is creating meaning?” I’m wondering if I’m just going through the motions or if I’m fully present and seeking ways to put my values into play. So far, half way through the month, I’m slowly finding my way. This question has helped me evaluate my habits and maximize the things I’m already doing so I can live more meaning-full.

And what does this have to do with you?
Maybe you have a word too, or maybe you’ve been striving to live more meaningfully, or maybe you are open to being intentional about your habits. Those are all great things, and I hope me sharing helps you in some way. But there is something more fundamental here. Do you believe you can impact your life this year? In big, or small, ways we all have agency and the ability to impact our lives and the world. To do that, however, we need to believe a new future is possible, we need to be reflective and open, and we need to be intentional about the little things and our daily choices.

Tonight this was most evident as my class participated in The Wellness Center ministry. People of all walks of life, with varied life experiences and resources, came together for a meal and community. At the end of the night several people shared about what this community meant to them. All the responses were moving, but two stood out. The two men who had been homeless and welcomed into this community. Accepted as a fellow human, they were valued and cared about. They were not victims; they were human beings. Their stories reminded us social status, economic resources or fashion choices are not what make us human, relationships do. And we all can foster relationships – young and old, rich and poor, and with various religious beliefs. Tonight was meaning-full, and it was filled with hope, openness to change, and concrete ways for living today. Thanks for a teaching me tonight.

Dec. 24 – in those days

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Luke 2:1 NIV
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world…

And so the story begins. Christmas Eve in my family means a fancy dinner, church and opening gifts. Each year has it’s own version. Sometimes church is early so the kids can go to bed at a ‘decent hour.’ Sometimes worship is in communities we are familiar with and other times we worship as visitors. The gift giving changes from year to year. In my younger years, the gifts were central to Christmas. As our family grows our gift giving has morphed from more to less. Today just being together, sharing stories and traditions, takes center stage.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.

And our lives are interrupted. Most every year something interrupts our life during the holiday season. Sometimes it’s coming down with the flu on Christmas; other times it is weather delays. Often we travel from our homes and rearrange our schedules. Friends visit, we gather, we take time off of work. Some of the interruptions are minor; others are major. Our family knows both. There was the year our family was in California and had a Jewish guest. (A memorable year in our family!) There are the Christmases of firsts – engagements, marriages, grandchildren…and so on. The year my brother Scott died ranks highest in interruptions. This year my daughter had ankle reconstruction surgery this morning. Not the ‘normal’ Christmas at our house. Christmas is filled with interruptions.

and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And the good news breaks in. No matter how the tradition plays out, or what interruptions happen, Jesus comes. In those days and today, the the message of Jesus coming reaches into our lives. And the message, familiar as it is, is always new.

So tonight, missing worship as I sit by the fire with our patient, I once again welcome the baby morning in a manger and say,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Merry Christmas