Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Pumpkins, Wreaths, and Valentines

Our backdoor neighbor has a lot going on at her house. She has 2 darling (and by darling a I mean loud) children, who really are fun (and noisy). She has a mom who has been battling cancer and this week, the week of Thanksgiving, she has gorgeous wreaths up on all of her windows and a yard full of pumpkins. It's a sight that I think is indicative of our lives as busy Americans, but maybe it's a sign of our lives of faith too.

I joked in a sermon recently that it was "that time of year"...time to get your Valentines ordered. I was kidding...mostly. But these last few weeks of the year are always such a funny mix of holidays and icons and SUCH a rush. Seriously we had a hard time this week, the week of Thanksgiving, finding some replacement lights for our Christmas tree...which we aren't even planning on putting up until well into December. If we were very faithful liturgical people...we really wouldn't even put that tree up until Christmas Eve since the time before that is actually Advent and not Christmas. But I digress. A lady at a big home store bit my sweet husband's head off as I reached to get one box of lights. Apparently she had been "all over town" looking for lights and she wasn't about to let this box get away from her. Nothing says Welcome Baby Jesus like yelling at strangers. Again, another digression. Sorry!

Looking at my neighbor's yard which holds symbols of the month of November and December in a kind of mixed up tension that is both jarring and oddly beautiful I reflected on the mixed up tension that we live in all the time. We are at once people of hope and people of sorrow. People who must think about our futures, how to pay for medicine, how to care for aging parents, how to keep roofs over our heads and people who right this minute have a lot to be thankful for. We live in that world where you have to plan ahead whether it's Christmas lights, vacation deposits for next summer, or long term care, and yet as people of faith we get reminded that Jesus says not to worry about one thing.

Sometimes I think the most faithful, most counter-cultural, most shocking thing we can do is be people who are grateful for what is right in front of us. The world says, "look over there", "uh oh, the stores are running out", "there won't be enough" and our faith tells us to breathe, to trust, to find joy in what's right in front of us. And Lord have mercy if that isn't hard!

How do we move in the world in practical, tangible ways and move in the world faithfully...grateful for what's happening in this moment, trusting that we are right where we need to be, and yet keenly aware of the important preparations we must undertake to care for ourselves, and our families?

Here's the answer. OK, just kidding. If I had the complete answer to that I would be taking over the Oprah show. I do think that it is possible to be people who straddle the present and the future. People who save for retirement but not at the expense of caring for others right now or not at the expense of the laughter and joy to be had right now.

My neighbor friend, and everyone watching a loved one who is ill, knows this straddle only too well. There is much we can learn from her. When you accompany someone on a difficult health journey you learn to be so grateful for every minute you spend with her (or him). And of course we know that is true about everyone in our lives, but it's so easy to forget that. It's so easy to get caught up in the plans and challenges and hunting for stuff we're going to need next month that we forget just to study the face of the person we're accompanying to that big box store.

But when someone is ill, we get a sharp reminder not to take any moment for granted. Each conversation, each shared meal, each picture takes on a whole new significance that we can lose in the crush of getting things done. I certainly do NOT want to romanticize illness! My neighbor would much prefer that her mom was well. I would prefer that my sweet friend with brain cancer be 100 percent healthy even if that meant that we got so busy we lost touch again.

I think we're always in the midst of straddling the present and the future and that certain circumstances simply bring that into sharper focus. I wonder if we (and by we I mean I!) can learn how to hold the present and future in some delicate tension that becomes a thing to cherish rather than a thing to battle? I wonder if I can practice my faith in such a way that I can see gratitude for the moment and preparation for the future as twin gifts from a Loving God? Reminding myself that God is God in this present instant, next week, and 20 years from now? For the eternal God there is no time, really. It all just is, and for mysterious, wonderful reasons, God has invited all of us into the dance!

Happy ThanksMasTine's Day! Rhoda