Liturgical Faith: Advent

Why Liturgy? A Preface

I belong to a diverse people. I am surrounded by those who love the church. There are many that follow Jesus with excitement. There are also those that run far from all things religious. When they hear the word liturgy, they think HELL NO. I am not reading Lacy’s blog for the next 100 days because liturgy means rules and weird traditions and a color chart and Confirmation class.

To all my people:
The word liturgy is derived from the technical term in ancient Greek ( λειτουργία), leitourgia, which literally means “work of the people.” It is not a set of rules. It is not something that has to be done perfectly. It is not even confined to what happens (or doesn’t happen) in the worship gatherings of certain types of churches. It is simply, in it’s purest form, the collection of people focusing their hearts and lives on connecting to the Divine. The liturgical calendar is simply a tool that is used by Christians throughout the world to connect the work of the people to the work of God.

The liturgical calendar leads us through seasons and rhythms that emphasize the importance of designated times for penance and celebration and mourning and hope and community and intimacy, all with the goal of drawing us deeper into our connection with God. As I have re-explored this topic in recent time, I have been blessed to have the wisdom of Sr. Joan Chittister as a guide. In her book The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life, Sr. Joan helped me to see more fully the personal implications of this corporate journey.

“The liturgical year is the process of coming back year after year to look at what we already know on one level, but are newly surprised by again and again. To live the liturgical year is to keep our lives riveted on one beam of light called the death and Resurrection of Jesus and its meaning for us here and now. One. Just one.”    – Sr. Joan

The format for my walk through the next 100 days will help us enter into each season with a day of contextual information. Before writing about my own experience of a season, I will write about the background of the season itself. For instance, Day 1 will help us form an understanding of Advent. What it is? Why and how is it celebrated? Why is it a crucial season in spiritual formation?

The subsequent days will include my own stories of the season. Rather than telling stories from many seasons of my life, I am telling my 42 years as one journey through the liturgical calendar. While our calling is to experience the calendar anew each year, I have found it helpful in process and revelation to place my own journey in the context of a bigger story – the one great story of God’s rhythm of redemption.

Some seasons are single posts. Some seasons take 20 stories to express the complete experience. Some stories are hard. Because death is hard. Some stories are celebratory…hello, Pentecost! But all of my stories are significant because they vividly depict the journey from waiting to birth to celebration to turning. From running to dying to life to fullness. This is the story of faith. Over and over and over again.

Welcome to Liturgical Faith.

What is Advent?

It is only right that we start the year with waiting. What?

That’s right. The first day of the liturgical year is 4 Sundays prior to December 25th and it this season is called Advent. In case you are already confused, let’s simplify. The first day of the church new year is usually in November, not January 1st, as the calendar on the wall would say. And we begin with waiting.

Advent, as a season, is the balance of celebratory anticipation. As we celebrate the season, we are reminded of the Old Testament longing for the desperation for and the revelation of a Savior in Jesus. At the same time, we long for the return of Christ in the age to come. Its both, reflection and longing. Advent is a period of preparation, of tempered longing, but not of penance. Advent at its core is a season of joy.

So what do we do about the context of our modern world and the insanity that ensues this time of year? Let me go out on a limb and say that there is NOTHING about the worldly context of holiday celebration that is expectant and tempered and anticipatory. Matter of fact, some of the crazy can already be found in the aisles of craft stores. Merry Christmas…in August!

Before we go any further, you must know this about me. I LOVE the Christmas season. I love the build up and thoughtful gifts and generous outpouring of hope. I come from a family that has woven the love of celebration deep in my bones and heart and internal clock. But as an adult, the soul tending season of Advent as taken root and defined my context of celebration. I have no patience for those that sing “Joy to the World” on December 7th, because we NEED to learn to wait. We can celebrate, but to fully embrace the significance of the Christ Child, we need to place our heart (if not our decor) in a place of longing.

So, we enter the year with waiting. If you have ever had a season where the road was not clear or the outcome was not quickly revealed or the answer you longed for was not immediately given, you know about waiting. In the midst of it, it can be heartbreaking and hard. But for those that have waited and walked to the other side, you know that waiting is often our time of spiritual growth. For me, the advents of life are the times when my character is formed and my spirit matures.

Happy New Year!

In a Birth, There is a Longing

I was born on April 25, 1975. From all accounts, my entrance to the world brought with it a middle of the night car ride, a clueless first time dad and mom who was thankful that her husband finally decided that indeed a hospital run was more important than sleep. They had been waiting with excitement to be parents. Their plan had not gone according to their designed timing…you know waiting is the theme of Advent, right? And so on that exciting night, we became a family of 3.

I was a perfect first child. I was brilliant and picture worthy. I was the first grandchild on one side and the first girl on the other. Both set the stage for a plethora of dresses and bows and curlers and ruffles and dreams. Being in the prime of 70’s culture the photos also include velour and bell bottoms and big hair. I forgive you all.

I will share more about the individual players and personalities in the days to come, but the overriding theme of preparation that lays foundational groundwork for the advent of my life were the events of the next 3 years. As legend goes, my parents were encouraged by physicians to seize the success of my birth and try again soon if they desired a second child. And so, 15 months after my birth, my sister arrived. If that was not enough excitement for all, 18 months later my parents were surprised to be the proud co-creators of 3 children under the age of 3.

Take a moment and sit in solidarity for my mom. Praise the Lord that she survived.

I was in diapers. I was 32 months old and I was handed the reigns of BIGGEST Sister. While this makes a cute picture and a lovely cartoon, it played out over the next few decades as a developmental track for a bossy, driven, perfectionistic and overcritical developing brain. Out of shear survival insist, I was thrust into a “grown up” role of responsibility and rule following during a formational time of my life.

The advent of my coming of age was shaped by being the first and the pace setter. Two formative things played out during the preparation for adulthood. The first was that my sister and I were often defined by being a singular unit. Sure we were two people, but in friendships, in activities and in the world of zone parenting, we were the “girls” and we moved as a force. As I will explain further, this was the best and sometimes the worst. To this day, she is often my first line of defense against the world. But to a developing heart, there were times that I lost myself in our communal grouping. The second advent revelation was my early formed desire to allow my parents to take care of the “little” ones because I COULD DO IT MYSELF. I’m quite confident that I expressed that passion in all ways including my voice and tone.

I was the strong headed bull Taurus that come hell or high water was going to make MY way THE way. I can vividly remember throwing my siblings under the trouble bus before they could even speak in favor of my dominance. I can remember the many times that my mom and I would lock heads in conflict and at the same time get each other better than most, because let’s be honest I’m a wonderful, gifted, creative mini-Lyn.

I need you to know these insights as we begin this journey because for better and for worse, they will be common threads in my life. What was developed in this formational waiting season laid the groundwork for big successes and desperate failures. As with any formational traits, they can be used for glory and distorted in moments of great pain.

May this reminder be a beacon to each of us to longingly call on the themes of advent: hope, peace, joy and love as we develop and draw towards the Creator and Creation. If Advent is the season of preparedness, then there is no greater force of preparation in the life of a child than her parents. Whether for good or bad, hard or blessing, parents guide the development of not only your DNA but help shape your worldview.


The Originating Force in My Advent

I was born to a mother and father that longed for a child. I was born into extended family that valued togetherness and love and faith. From my earliest memory, I have been surrounded by a cloud of support and blessing. I say all of these things to declare that I am aware and appreciative of the fact that this is not offered to most children brought into the world.

When you are born into a picture of happiness, the world assumes that that every moment of every day looks like the Christmas card. Can we be honest? We were probably fighting 5 minutes before the picture was snapped. In our case, someone was complaining about the clothing choice or the temperature outside in July because we are in turtlenecks. There is a good chance that the ones standing next to each other are pinching or hitting each other between clicks of the camera. All in the most loving way, of course.

90% of the Norman Rockwell moments were just that. But there are those 10% moments. The ones that you can recall 35 years later and when you do, you are instantaneously transported to feelings of shame and guilt and unworthiness and worse. For me, these memories are defined by times when I perceived to be letting my mom and dad down. As I discussed yesterday, my wiring for perfection was paramount. There was nothing I wanted more than to make my parents proud.

As a child, this sets you up for automatic failure. There is no parent that can express enough love or extend enough favor to meet these unreasonable goals. And in the moments that my parents could not read my mind (because heck if I ever asked for what I needed) my unrealistic expectations were not met. From there, the spiral turned to resentment, followed by rebellion and crash landed on emotional distance.

Unlike the normal advent of the parent child/teen relationship, I never openly rebelled. I wasn’t sneaking out or drinking or using drugs. My teenage rebellion consisted of wild nights of church camp pranks and youth group lock-ins. The primary tool I used for parental avoidance was dismissive teen angst fueled with the magnificent ability to stuff my feelings to avoid all hard conversations. The years of my advent provided me with the erroneous understanding that as long as you cleaned up the surface, the world would never know the truth.

How did this mode of operation prepare me for life? Well, it worked until it didn’t. I would love to tell you that my relationship with my mom and dad has always been easy. But I have vowed to be honest and brave in this journey. The truth was that we all did the very best that we could with the skills that we had. Sometimes the road was rocky. Sometimes the pictures of perfection were masking some great pain. But most importantly in the season of Advent, we all survived. I was launched in into the birth of independence with the knowledge that I had a solid foundation when I was ready to do the hard work.


Partners in Advent

If you have ever prepared for a journey, you know that magic happens when you are joined with like minded travelers. I was blessed early in life to be gifted a sister and a brother. As I previously explained, we are very close in age. While I’m certain this was a nightmare for my parents (think diapers x3, college x3) on many fronts, we as kids loved it! I had built-in playmates from the beginning. While I know many kids fuss and fight with their siblings, that is not a memory that I recall. Perhaps my parents would tell a different version of the story, but I saw my brother and sister as teammates, confidants and co-consipirators. We spent countless hours building hallway forts, creating backyard clubs, running the neighborhood and destroying dad’s yard with trash bag slip-and-slides.

My sister was one grade behind me in school and my brother was two grades below her. This meant that we were all in high school together and, yes, my parents had three kids at Baylor at the same time. While I can’t image that from my vantage point of today, as one who had the experience from the child’s perspective, it was genius. I had built-in friend groups. I always had someone with which to watch the current TV craze. When a new movie came out, no need to phone a friend, I had one.

The challenge came in our personalities. I am, by nature, more introverted than my siblings. I would rather have 2 best friends that know everything about me than 10 people to hang out with on Friday night. My sister, on the other hand, has never met a stranger. We can recall a junior high acquaintance and not only does she remember, but chances are good that she knows someone who knows someone that is still in touch with them. When you combine our natural personality traits with our age difference, I often could be found with more friends a grade behind me that my own age.

First world problems, right? Sure. But to the ever active magnifying mind of a perfectionistic, hormonal teenage girl EVERYTHING.IS.A.CRISIS. Especially when you have to go on grade specific class outings or worse when you compare yourself to your fun, easy going, friend magnet of a sister. With time and maturity and perspective, I have gained a since of belonging in my own skin, but in the advent of my birth into independence, my self-esteem and confidence to build and sustain my own friend group was minimal. I had two of the best friends in the world in my brother and sister, but looking beyond the walls of our house, connectedness was scarce.

While many look to their childhood for long lasting classmate relationships, tales of adolescent adventure and treasured life shaping memories, my junior high and high school days are often recalled much like a dark night with small bursts of starlight and faint glowing memories. I was scared, insecure, anxious and terribly introverted, which in my active and busy family provided for many major meltdowns. In this season, I was convinced that I was broken. People in this kind of family are happy. Why do I feel so overwhelmed?

As I prepared to launch into the birth of my independence, my constant companions were those given to me in birth. To this day, I thank every lucky star around for the love that can only come from a sibling that sees all of the worst days and still comes back for more.

The Advent of My Faith

Being raised by two parents that love Jesus and believe in the Church is undoubtedly a piece of my story that deserves an early and significant place in the story of my preparation. One cannot begin to develop the priority that I place on a community centered around faith in a vacuum. I don’t remember a time in life that our schedule, priorities and energy were not committed to the work of Christ in the world. I felt more at home in Sunday school classrooms than I did at school or on the sports field or even at Pipe Organ Pizza. The church of my childhood was as much a part of my development as my DNA. I was educated in friendship, jealousy, heartbreak, joy, laughter and despair by experiencing the fullness on life with my faith community.

We lived in the neighborhood behind our church and on the short drive, we passed most of our best friend’s houses. Both of my parents, as well as my friend’s parents, served the church. Whether it be as choir director or board chair, finance committee leader or capital campaign chair, we found ourselves playing in the hallways while our parents were “working” most weeks. Looking back on it, this was a brilliant parenting strategy. This commitment to church life provided the parents time together and a nursery worker to lasso their wild offspring. There was nothing that could make me happier than the announcement that we were eating Happy Meals at the church tonight.

This was my family. We vacationed together. We played together. We went to each other events. We watched our parents support each other. We saw how much fun our parents had together when they sat on the beach or by the lake or in worship or played cards or even walked through hard seasons.

My parent’s closest friends belonged to a Sunday School named The Explorers. Almost 40 years later, I could pick up the phone and call anyone in that group and not only would they be there for my parents, but they would be there for me, my spouse or my kids. This is the kind of preparation I had in the advent of my life when it came to finding your people. We can go years without seeing each other, but when we do, it is like we are instantly transform into 8 year-olds hiding from our parents on the metal folding chair racks because we don’t want to go home.

I never felt shamed. I always knew I belonged. I believed that I was included. I saw the adults in my church give of their talents and time and sleep to impact our lives. This happened in the church building on Westheimer Rd., but it also happened in my living room and in the back room at Los Tios. It happened in the car on the way to camp and as we were jumping off cliffs in central Texas. I don’t remember a single “Jesus said not to…” lecture and I still know every word to Psalty’s songs and “We Like Sheep”. In the advent of my faith, I was blessed to have the engrained words of a song that I still sing on hard days, because it is so true.

Bullfrogs and butterflies, they’ve both been born again.

If you have been around the Church very long, you know that not every experience is this much fun. There were rocky roads ahead. But when I look back on the formational years of my life, I have no doubt that the preparation for my calling and love of the Church was rooted by a group of 30-somethings that said that they needed Jesus and each other to get through life.

Echoes of Powerful Voices

When you spend time reflecting on the people that shape your childhood, the biggies are easy to see. The elementary school teacher that first engaged you in your love of history, the coach that would not let you quit and the piano teacher that withstood endless excuses for why you did not practice, all shape your journey in clear ways. There are also the less obvious voices. The ones that said or did something that they probably don’t even remember, but you will never forget. Three of these came to mind as I recalled my preparation for life.

The first was a man by the name of Mr. Mendenhall. Every Sunday, I would walk into church and he would be standing in the narthex (that’s a fancy church word for the foyer) with the bulletin of the day. He would hand the adults a paper and if you were a little too small to read, he would reach into his pocket and produce candy. I can remember that candy acquisition like it was yesterday. It was the hard candy with the loud wrapper that could get you into some trouble if you waited until prayer time to open it, but he never gave us instructions, only a smile. As I got older, I graduated to acolyte duty. He was always there, lighter in hand, to make sure we did not engulf the flowy robes or each other in flames. I don’t remember one time that I heard correction in his voice. He was the most endearing man. He taught me from a very early age the value of consistency in serving.

When I was in junior high, I had a Sunday School teacher by the name of Gary Smith. In this moment, I must pause and give thanks and praise for all of the wonderful souls that have ever taught a junior high class. This is a special age. One that requires laughter and love and very thick skin. Mr. Smith was the right guy for the job. He showed us how to read the Bible. He answered all of our stupid questions. He let us awkwardly try to navigate the woes and pains of junior high life and he did it all with a smile. My favorite memory was the day he invited us all to his house to make chili for the church chili cook off. God. Bless. It was a train wreck of female hormones and drama and a far cry from cooking. But not one time did he ever treat our ideas as anything but brilliant. He encouraged us to be ourselves and we were better off because of him.

When I think about the people that embodied grace and love, one man immediately came to mind. My high school Sunday School teacher, Tom Beasley. I have tears as I type this thinking about the way that he endured numerous RIDICULOUS conversations that we incited. There was not a passionate big haired, Houston area, Jesus loving teen of the early 1990s that did not have all of the wisdom and revelation thanks to the fact that God Listened. We knew it all. And on more than one occasion, we enlightened Mr. Beasley with our profound revelation of Biblical truth. Let me share his grace – he never, not once, told us we were wrong. He was a brilliant man, well read in matters of science and business and faith, and yet he made us feel like we knew more than he did. He would help us search the Scriptures and listen to our musings and never preached. We would bring in an idea or topic and he made us feel like our small insight was original truth. His patience and kindness and excitement for us was unmatched, and I am better for it.

As I reflected from an adult vantage point on the gifts these men offered me, I was struck by a common thread. None of them had kids my age. None of them did their ‘job’ for glory or fame or a pay check. They all served the kids and teenagers that were placed in their path like it was the most important job on the planet. Even more impressive, they made every single one of us feel like we were important. There is no doubt in my mind that the gifts that leaders like this gave me in my personal advent are the reason that I am who I am today. They formed in me the desire to reach deep and share my life with others in ways that they will never know. For these gifts, I am indebted.

The Search for the Missing Piece

If there was a single word that could summarize my advent, it would be longing. I longed to find my place among peers, I longed to feel comfortable in my role in the family and I longed to feel worthy. My attempts to fill this longing are not that different from many other young women. The world told me that I would find my place, my person, in someone else. In the 90s era of coming of age, Seventeen and Glamour quizzes were sure to help the “get” the guy, look the part and fit in. Yeah, no.

What I found with each passing day was that the shoes and clothes and purses, not even the ones with the 3D ducks, could make me feel the way that the girls in the magazines looked. I was awkward. I was unsure. I didn’t know how my body worked. I spent most of the years between 12-15 trying desperately to be anything but the person that my body told me I was. A week of conversations and creatively folded notes with a junior high football player gained me attention. That is if you call being barked at in the hall by his friends, attention.

During my freshman year of high school I grew 5 inches. I was approaching 6′ tall and not even the fact that I went to an all-girls school could shield me from the fact that my insides did not match my outsides. By all physical characteristics, I would make a great athlete. Nope. That would require my arms and legs and brain to communicate in way that centered around coordination. What about modeling? Yeah, just because someone is tall or skinny or both, you should never suggest that. When the agency encouraged me to chop off my hair I realized this was not helping me be me. Their goal was to make me be them. Standing face to face with a less than stellar academic life, a turbulent self esteem and uneasy friendships, the next step was sadly predictable. As many teenage women find out the hard way, relationships fix nothing. But I needed no assistance, asked for no advice and knew just what I needed.

This pattern was an ongoing journey of pain and heartbreak and self-hate. It fueled arguments and patterns of angst. It shaped words and framed thinking and paved deep grooves in my soul that told me that there had to be an exterior way to fill an internal hole. Like I’ve mentioned before, my adolescence was absent from perceived worldly rebellion. What the world did not know and my perfectionist outside smoothy polished, was my first drug of choice: people.

I love to be needed. I love to be loved. I love to be the saving piece to the puzzle of struggling humanity. While years of hard work and learning showed me that there were blessing and curses to every gift, in the advent of my peopling, I was throwing a worse case basement party that included some of the best co-dependents and emotionally unhealthy people this world could offer a struggling teenager.

Here is the quick takeaway for those needed a peek at how years of therapy played out:

• you are enough
• you are enough
• another person cannot fill your holes
• you are enough
• you are enough
But this is skipping too far into the future. For now, the longing was real. The need to feel love was profound and my two favorite stops for a fix were boyfriends and the church. Good times. Both of these can help to fulfill a healthy person. But to a young person, on the search for hope and love and joy and peace, it was time for a Savior.