-Rev Melissa Fain-
Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer.
Mark 1:35 CEB
My son was only a month or two old when I decided I wanted to make him a Super Baby costume. We had been blessed with an over abundance of onsies, and I was eyeing two that would work perfectly.
In all, the costume was made from two onsies, an old red shirt of mine, yellow scrap fabric, and bits and pieces I found in my craft corner. I gleefully cut and stitched together, until I had the finished project that started in my head.
Now, let's get things straight. Did I make that costume for my son? No. Maybe I tried to delude myself while I was doing it, but there was nothing my son could appreciate or enjoy about that costume when he wore it. I did something for the joy it would bring myself. While we should concern ourselves with the needs and joys of others, sometimes we've just gotta do something that makes us happy. One of my personal joys is imagining something and trying to make it a reality. Often, that's through costumes. Sometimes, it's the ornaments I've handcrafted for the tree. (This ornament we found at Hallmark. It was too good not to get.)
The point is, allow yourself the gift of doing something because it's good for you. Self-care is important, and if even the Son of God did it, maybe we should too. Also, be honest when you are really doing something for yourself. In honesty, when others might not appreciate it, it doesn't matter, It wasn't for them anyway. Moments of self-joy are important this time of year. So, go! Rejoice!
Let us pray: Oh wonderful God! Thank you for our personal moments of joy! Amen
-Rev Melissa Fain-
4 Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad! 5 Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near. 6 Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. 7 Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:4-7 CEB
My husband was one of the very first art teachers in Paulding county. When the county made that fateful decision, he had just finished his art education degree. Everything just fell into place.
Let me gush on McGarity Elementary school for a moment. As a parent of alumni and current children, and the spouse of a teacher, there is something special about that school. It's almost like a family. They know me, and not because they must, but because they choose to. These are teachers that understand elementary school kids and give so much of themselves. I love them all.
Then he had to give it up.
I moved to Kentucky to take my ministerial job, and he let go of such an amazing job with amazing people to support me. When everything fell apart, I couldn't help but realize the epic loss. Now we were going back, and that place was lost. But!
Almost like clockwork the job opened up just as we were returning. Was it fate? He applied.
He didn't get it,
But, the previous principle was looking for an art teacher for her school. He applied and was chosen.
Our whole family knew we were in a "meantime" station in life. We weren't doing anything for good. We were getting by. Deep down we still knew he was called to that school. When the job opened up again a few years later we were all anxious. What would happen if it didn't happen twice?
He got the job!
Oh the celebration! Joy filled our home! I can't speak to my husband's welcome, but I can speak to mine. When I walked back into the school, people hugged me! They were glad to see me! They expressed their joy in having him back. I just knew something was right. A piece was replaced. Not everything was a broken mess anymore.
I told my husband I knew exactly what our ornament should be. I got out my baking clay and crafted a Christmas crayon. I asked him to write out the year. True celebratory joy.
I'm not going to promise if you pray all your dreams will come true. That's not how prayer works. Sometimes we pray for things that are not good for us, and thank God doesn't always give us what we ask for. I will say, since coming home, I've prayed for God to lead us on the right path. I prayed for a journey, not a specific destination. When one of those journeying points was a form of restoration, we celebrated.
I think my personal journey is learning God is not asking me to journey alone. The story of God is the story of a family. The moment I said "I do," his journey and mine became our journey. His celebration is our celebration. We are ministers because of those around us, not in spite of them. Sometimes our family is through marriage or blood, and sometimes it's picked up through friends and colleagues. We journey together. My journey is our journey.
Let us pray:
With peace that exceeds all understanding, keep our hearts and minds on you, oh Lord. Amen.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
14 Rejoice, Daughter Zion! Shout, Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem.
15 The Lord has removed your judgment;
he has turned away your enemy.
The Lord, the king of Israel, is in your midst;
you will no longer fear evil.
16 On that day, it will be said to Jerusalem:
Don’t fear, Zion.
Don’t let your hands fall.
17 The Lord your God is in your midst—a warrior bringing victory.
He will create calm with his love;
he will rejoice over you with singing.
Zephaniah 3:14-17 CEB
My most difficult classes for my music degree were my diction classes. It required understanding and reading IPA. (International Phonetic Alphabet). I failed English/Italian diction, and after passing it the second time, barely passed French/German. While I still struggle speaking French, (who doesn't, ami' right?) I knew my IPA backwards and forwards. I knew it well enough, I began using it outside of music to remember pronunciation. Understanding how words were built, and I took those tools to seminary.
Flash forward to my very last semester in seminary. I was taking Hebrew, and it required reading and speaking the words. The professor announced, during the very first class, we would need to write out the words phonetically. I was super enthusiastic. I knew phonetics. I could write out the phonetics with my eyes shut and one hand tied behind my back. Then the worst realization hit me as I was going through our text book. Their phonetic alphabet was not the IPA I knew backwards and forwards. This was like using another language to learn another language. I couldn't do it.
Now, almost 38 year old me would ask to speak privately with the professor and explain the barrier. Not my 29 year old self. I was too stubborn. Instead, I powered through, did this massive extra-credit assignment, and squeaked through with a C.
The whole time my husband could see the struggle as I stared at the Hebrew, and looked at my IPA- hopelessly comparing my diction book to my Hebrew book.. "If I fail this," I lamented, "I can't graduate this semester!"
After the class was finished, I stalked Candler's website, continually checking my grades to see how I did. I can still remember the feeling the day the grade was there, and seeing I did indeed pass the class. We celebrated that night with our meager earnings. Then, Christmas Eve came. My husband proudly passed the gift to me. I opened it, and saw a Dreidel ornament. It was perfect. The culmination of years of sacrifice from all of us, and hard work. It was a moment of shared joy.
Before this whole ministry thing, there was a moment where I realized my call. It happened as my high school self sat and expressed the anxiety of feeling that call to the first female minister I'd ever met. I knew it was going to be extremely difficult, and a ton of hard work, but I knew it could be done. Passing Hebrew was a moment of hope fulfilled.
That's Christmas hope. When our hopes begin to come true, we can't help but feel the joy attached to that. We celebrate and share in a moment of happiness.
Let us pray: Patient God, thank you for fulfilled hope. Amen.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
7 Then John said to the crowds who came to be baptized by him, “You children of snakes! Who warned you to escape from the angry judgment that is coming soon? 8 Produce fruit that shows you have changed your hearts and lives. And don’t even think about saying to yourselves, Abraham is our father. I tell you that God is able to raise up Abraham’s children from these stones. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be chopped down and tossed into the fire.”
Luke 3:7-9 CEB
Most who knew me in high school would describe me as super bubbly, always at 1,000%. I was that girl in band camp that woke up singing "Rise and Shine." In my mind, I had to keep that level of enthusiasm. I knew the darkness way too early in life, and I wanted to paint the world in bright and bold colors. (When I wasn't terrified out of my mind to speak up at all.) My high school self had no contrast, only bright and happy.
You can't live like that. We are not built to be happy and only happy, so there were times I wasn't. I wouldn't call it manic depressive. My brain chemistry wasn't shifting between high and low serotonin. That wasn't it. but I was forcing myself to be something I wasn't in "front of the camera." The public had to see me as perfect. Foolish me couldn't understand that always upbeat can't be perfect, because it isn't real. When I was with those I thought I could truly trust, those masks fell, and I went in the opposite direction. I had to release that built up pain like water from a bursting dam. If you went to church camp with me, that's why I always cried. I trusted enough to make that a place where I could let go of all the built up pain. Either that, or I knew I wouldn't see anyone enough for it to take down the facade I had built everywhere else. It was also why I had those break downs at home. I trusted my family, until my high school step mom decided to share those meltdowns with church members. She was no longer allowed to truly see me.
What happened? Hard lessons. I could do everything right, and still not be liked. Also seminary. Seminary will lay you bare and force you to self-reflect. I saw my true nature. I was broken. Always being bubbly was my fear acting out in the world. I thought if everyone was happy, then that meant everything was good. Anything else, in my young mind, meant something wasn't fixed or right.
It was on a day I was looking at angel light. (Angel light is when the sun cuts through the clouds and sharp bursts of light band the skyline in brilliance.) I used to live for those moments on the road. Then a very grown up thought shot through me like that magical light:
That light is only understood because of the darkness surrounding it.
I already knew the good things in life felt so much sweeter and good when one already understood the bad things in life. I extended grace in abundant supply to the world, but could I give it myself? It was at that time the cloud moved, and the light disappeared. Then another thought replaced the last:
Shadows are signs the light exists.
How foolish had I been? What was I doing? No one, including myself, knew me! I needed to put the parts back together. I needed to be real, always. Then my honest self wouldn't always be bawling in a corner. I was brought low to look at the shadow. When the light shines, the shadows fall, and that's good. I could be that. In reality, that one day was the beginning tone for my personal call to ministry. I'm called to set contrast right, but I had to have contrast first. I had to see joy in the shadows first, before I could share it with others.
The shadows are the first sign that something good exists. The shadows should be celebrated, because it means light has entered the darkness, and the light cannot be covered over. Christmas is the celebration of the whole picture; not just the pretty portions, with the bad parts cut out. Advent (the weeks leading up to Christmas) is about preparing us for that acceptance. May we all have the courage to set aside our foolishness to bring true joy to Christ on Christmas morning.
Let us pray:
God of immense light, help us see you in the shadows, and understand how you are in all things, not just the things we deem "perfect." Amen.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
1 Look, I am sending my messenger who will clear the path before me;
suddenly the Lord whom you are seeking will come to his temple.
The messenger of the covenant in whom you take delight is coming,
says the Lord of heavenly forces.
2 Who can endure the day of his coming?
Who can withstand his appearance?
He is like the refiner’s fire or the cleaner’s soap.
3 He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver.
He will purify the Levites
and refine them like gold and silver.
They will belong to the Lord,
presenting a righteous offering.
4 The offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord
as in ancient days and in former years.
Malachi 3:1-4 CEB
Life sucks sometimes. There, I said it! Life is sometimes a big honkin' candy cane turd!
One of my biggest pet peeves when I look into a church, is this desire to make every message sunshine and sprinkles. Jesus never promised belief would lead to rainbows and unicorns, and neither should the church. That's very shallow and dangerous theology. It's shallow because it doesn't take any real thought to process. It's dangerous because if someone is thrown into life's deep end with shallow theology they are far more likely to drown.
I bought this ornament for my husband the year we adopted our cat, Morse. We loved that cat. He was a mouser and gave us attention all the time. He was also huge. Just big in general, not overweight. He'd sleep with us at night, settling in between our legs, and not move, like he was a dog. During the day, he played by jumping out in front of us. Most cats, if I jumped back it would cause them to hide in submission. Not Morse. He'd run like it was a game of tag; only running to immediately come back for more. He was a very fun cat.
You might notice I've been talking about him in the past tense. That's because when we moved back to Georgia we had to make some tough decisions. Some of those decisions were tough on a superficial level. My husband had to give up the desk and bike he loved because it wouldn't fit in the moving van. We had to live in some places that were uncomfortable for a bit. Jobs had to be taken that were not easy or liked. Something that wasn't superficial was Morse. If we wanted to move on, he would have to go.
I bawled as I passed him over to the the animal shelter. The worker who took him clearly had no idea what to do with me. She wasn't used to people being heartbroken as they brought animals in. At first coldly, she asked why I was upset. As I told her my circumstance, I watched her icy demeanor melt. She told me to have hope, I had a couple of months to figure it out, and he should still be there. It was a nice thought, but I knew we'd never see him again. This was a casualty of the chaos. If we kept him, we'd be homeless. There were no good and right options; just varying degrees of bad options.
And that's an important note. Sometimes you are stuck in a place where any action (including inaction) is bad. There were avenues for peace, but those opportunities eventually pass. History calls WWII the "just war." The idea being, it was the war that had to be fought to bring peace. Reality is, war is never justice. By the time you get to the place where bombs must drop, multiple people wasted multiple opportunities to set things right. Like I mentioned a couple of days ago, peace often requires giving something up. In the case of WWII, the something was revenge in the form of the Treaty of Versailles. There is no justice in revenge, only the lost opportunity to bring peace, and set everything back in motion towards what is right.
There was nothing "just" about needing to get rid of Morse. A set of actions from so many players, including myself, led me to that path.
Any one of us can be in that place. We can find ourselves in a situations where the good options are no longer on the table, and we are sitting in front of only bad options. We still have to move forward. That's when hope comes in. It's difficult to see where we are heading when nothing good is happening. That' s when we have to go back to the beginning and realize where we were headed, and choose the option that is going to lead us back on the right path. For our family, it was the hope that our family would find a new "normal." There was nothing good about needing to get rid of Morse, to reach that goal, but I had to get rid of Morse to get our family headed in the right direction.
This week, peace, is like the middle book in a series. It is the most difficult theme of the four Advent themes: Hope, Peace, Joy, Love. Most middle books are not as good as the first or following books. There's lots of set up. Well, that's peace: set up. Next week is a fun week, as the puzzle pieces begin to line up, and we begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Starting Sunday, we enter into Joy.
Let us pray:
Oh holy and forgiving God, thank you for your immense grace. As you forgive me for my failure, may I extend that forgiveness to others. Amen
-Rev Melissa Fain-
68 “Bless the Lord God of Israel
because he has come to help and has delivered his people.
69 He has raised up a mighty savior for us in his servant David’s house,
70 just as he said through the mouths of his holy prophets long ago.
71 He has brought salvation from our enemies
and from the power of all those who hate us.
72 He has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and remembered his holy covenant,
73 the solemn pledge he made to our ancestor Abraham.
He has granted 74 that we would be rescued
from the power of our enemies
so that we could serve him without fear,
75 in holiness and righteousness in God’s eyes,
for as long as we live.
76 You, child, will be called a prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way.
77 You will tell his people how to be saved
through the forgiveness of their sins.
78 Because of our God’s deep compassion,
the dawn from heaven will break upon us,
79 to give light to those who are sitting in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide us on the path of peace.”
Luke 1:68-79 CEB
Christmas of 2012 was chaos. Family from both sides were moving away after we had just moved back. We didn't have a living room, because the house we were staying in was too small for our four person family. I was working long night hours as a server at a local restaurant, because it was the only job where I could take care of a baby during the day, and get employment after my husband came back from work.
Only, this ornament isn't about 2012. This ornament was from 2011.
I had had a baby, and two weeks later everything happened at the church. All those emotions were amplified by pregnancy hormones, and the immediate loss of them. If I could pin point why this event sent me into a depression, my physical condition would be the first thing I would cite.
But she was here. It wasn't fair this was the world she was entering. She was born in the middle of extreme chaos for our family. Born a church orphan.
For our son, we had carefully picked out his "baby's first ornament" as soon as the season began. It is a picture ornament, so I made sure to capture him in the joy of Christmas.
That all came crashing in around me as, the day after Christmas, I realized I never got my daughter her first ornament. Rushing to the store, the best we could find was a blue spoon. I was heartbroken. That's what we were giving her, "the best we could do." I searched in vain for at least a pink spoon, but none were to be found.
Every year my heart breaks a little putting that spoon on the tree. This year something changed.
I was at my computer when I hear my daughter talking by the tree. "Mom! You can't put my spoon where no one can see it! You have to put it in the middle of the tree for all to see! This is my spoon. This is my ornament, and it's beautiful."
The point is, sometimes peace is born in chaos. Sometimes you find peace like a discarded and picked over collection of ornaments, and it's only years later you realize what you had.
In the bible, everything appeared lost for the Israelites. They were occupied, poor, and the only leader called to speak for them was working for the enemy (Herod). In the middle of all that chaos a baby was born. A child was given. Not to burn it all to the ground, but to bring peace. They wouldn't see it right away, but eventually they would. Peace on Earth, and goodwill to all.
Let us pray: Wash over us, God, and clean away our anxiety and fears. Wash through us, God, and purify our spirit. Wash under us, God, and sweep away that which keeps us from moving forward. Amen.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
1 The Lord’s word came to Jonah a second time: 2 “Get up and go to Nineveh, that great city, and declare against it the proclamation that I am commanding you.” 3 And Jonah got up and went to Nineveh, according to the Lord’s word. (Now Nineveh was indeed an enormous city, a three days’ walk across.)
4 Jonah started into the city, walking one day, and he cried out, “Just forty days more and Nineveh will be overthrown!” 5 And the people of Nineveh believed God. They proclaimed a fast and put on mourning clothes, from the greatest of them to the least significant.
Jonah 3:1-5 CEB
I was insane when we started our ornament tradition. I had rules, and those rules had to all be followed!
Our first year I gave my husband the wedding couple. He gave me a Hoops and Yoyo PC that sang Christmas carols. His was perfect. We met online before it was cool to meet a potential spouse on the internet. we would send each other Hoops and Yoyo online cards just for fun. The next year I gave him a baby bottle that was being chilled like it was champagne. (It was our son's first Christmas.) He struggled. He ended up giving me this gorgeous snowflake ornament, but also cropped a bunch of pictures of me with our son. He put it in an ornament frame.
As the years progressed he wanted to alter the rules. He wanted to do any ornament, or only one ornament for the whole family. I was stubborn. This was going to be our tradition and traditions happened because an event happened time and time again. Then, about four years in, I realized something. I was getting something out of the ornament exchange, and he was getting nothing. I could drag him along, and make him hate the process, or I could alter what I was doing.
The above ornament was me changing our rules. He loves the NES. It was the first gaming system that was truly his own., That's why I made him a controller. It didn't have any connection to anything going on that year. I just felt it was right to give something to him. He loved the ornament, and I conceded we should do one family related ornament a year. Our rules changed because I was willing to let go, and now everyone enjoys the process. My children get excited over what might go on the tree. My husband and I can discuss what was important to both of us, and not just one of us. It's truly a family tree.
We want to believe God never wants us to give up, but sometimes we are called to let go. For Jonah, he was called to let go of the animosity that was keeping him from sharing a prophecy with Nineveh. For me, I needed to let go so a real tradition everyone loved could take root. All of us are called, at various times, to let go. Peace is sometimes in saying goodbye to prepare for the "hello" just around the corner. Peace can be putting down, so a new thing can be picked up. It could be physical, it could be mental, it could be spiritual.
Whatever it is, it's difficult to let go. Jonah, a prophet of God, had to be swallowed and spit up by a big fish to finally do what was right. If it takes us some time, we shouldn't be too upset at ourselves. Sometimes, it's in our time, and like the Prodigal Son was welcomed back by the Father, so our letting go comes with celebration too.
Let us pray:
God. help us let go so we can pick up what we need, Amen.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. When Mary his mother was engaged to Joseph, before they were married, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph her husband was a righteous man. Because he didn’t want to humiliate her, he decided to call off their engagement quietly. 20 As he was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 Now all of this took place so that what the Lord had spoken through the prophet would be fulfilled:
23 Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son,
And they will call him, Emmanuel.
(Emmanuel means “God with us.”)
24 When Joseph woke up, he did just as an angel from God commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25 But he didn’t have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son. Joseph called him Jesus.
Matt 1:18-25 CEB
Peace is the first step towards reaching a realized hope. It is the culmination of hard work. The pieces fall into place, and you are left with calm order.
That's the problem with peace. We just want it. We no longer have any concept of the work it takes to get it. While hope can occur at any time or place, peace is the result of blood, sweat, and tears.
Like if you live in my area, you've probably driven on Bill Carruth Pkwy. It's a peaceful drive, allowing residents to bypass the chaos of Hiram and C.H. James Parkway. It didn't start that way. We didn't magically wake up one day and see Bill Carruth in it's finished form. Huge rocks had to be blown out of the ground, Families had to be bought out of their homes. Trees had to be torn up. The path to that peaceful road was anything but peaceful.
That's what we have to remember this week as we enter into the Advent theme of peace. Finding peace is hard work. Often times that peace feels anything but peaceful. That's okay. Often times, it's good.
Dear Lord, Help us know when to enter the chaos to find peace. Amen.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
9 How can we thank God enough for you, given all the joy we have because of you before our God? 10 Night and day, we pray more than ever to see all of you in person and to complete whatever you still need for your faith. 11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus guide us on our way back to you. 12 May the Lord cause you to increase and enrich your love for each other and for everyone in the same way as we also love you. 13 May the love cause your hearts to be strengthened, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his people. Amen.
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 CEB
My friend and colleague, Rev James Brewer-Calvert told me some wise words before I got married: "You do not fall in love until after you get married."
Me, the know it all I was in my younger days, kindly nodded my head and decided to dismiss what he was saying. I already knew what love was. I was in love. I was engaged, and my heart was sold. There was no way that wasn't the real deal. It was like my future husband was all the things I liked about the guys I had previously dated. I had found him.
Flash forward to today. My husband and I have been married a dozen years and it will be a baker's dozen in February. Our understanding of love has been tested, torn, tossed and tumbled. Love was found through negotiation and patience in those times where things were being tossed and torn.
This was one of our very first ornaments. It is usually near the top of the tree. Don't try to read into why. When our son was born, he loved grabbing ornaments. For the first few years the bottom half of the tree looked bare except a few plastic ornaments, and the top half was filled with everything else. There are many parents that can relate to the 1/2 empty tree.
The point is, this ornament cannot stand for "love." We didn't know what love was. Instead, this ornament is a symbol for the hope of what our love would be. It is perfect in understanding Advent Hope. Marriage is a beacon of hope. We seek that hope as a promise that the couple is heading towards finding love, true love.
Let us pray:
Dear Lord, hold us fast in the anticipation of new hope. Help those hopes be first steps in healthy futures. Amen.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars. On the earth, there will be dismay among nations in their confusion over the roaring of the sea and surging waves. 26 The planets and other heavenly bodies will be shaken, causing people to faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world. 27 Then they will see the Human One coming on a cloud with power and great splendor. 28 Now when these things begin to happen, stand up straight and raise your heads, because your redemption is near.
Luke 21:25-28 CEB
As I've been saying, picking an ornament for our tree has become our family tradition. I love being able to look at the twinkling lights, and see our history in tiny ornament form. With that in mind, there are two ornaments that are not on our tree. One never existed, and one broke soon after moving into our current home. More about them in a minute. First, let me explain the ornament pictured above.
I've volunteered in churches my whole life. I've been paid staff in churches or some form of religious programming since 1999. I was ordained into a denomination as a minister on Valentines day, 2010. I remember it was a packed house. Friends I hadn't seen in years showed up. Choosing Valentine's Day perfect. It expressed how vital my relationship with the church had been. In the brokenness of my childhood, the church was there to pick up the pieces. Everyone sitting in the pews that ordination day already knew where I was going, and they wanted to see it come to fruition.
When I accepted a call as a full time minister in a small rural Kentucky church, everyone celebrated with me. Getting out of the Georgia region was going to be good for me. As Rev. Kathy McDowell aptly put it, "There's a reason Prophets don't prophecy in their home towns."
As my husband and I talked about our yearly ornament I just knew it had to be church related. Not only was it the realization of my hard work, it was symbolic for my hope for the future of the church.
Now let me tell you something about me. If I could sum up my "call" in any field it would be this: "Taking jobs where the system is not working in a natural way." Years ago, I wanted to start my professional Christian journey as a Camp Staff at Christmount. I emailed just in time to discover all the positions for that summer had been filled, but they needed Kitchen Staff, It was a simple answer. They needed it, so I did it. Time and time again, my church calls have not been to healthy churches or easy/fun positions. I'm drawn to things that need fixing.. Even as a sub, I'm more drawn to subbing knowing there is a need for reform. I've told teachers that I don't want to be certified, in part, because I see what they have to deal with, and I don't want to deal with it. If I can be even more honest, that's not the major reason. I see they are doing a great job, and I don't see a need for me to be part of a great collection of people. I purposefully enter broken systems to fix the systems.
My first full time ministerial job, conversely, was supposed to be a healthy system so I could get a feel for helping future broken churches. That was the hope when we got this ornament.
Flash forward two years later. It wasn't a healthy church, it was a broken church hiding their wounds. My hope was crushed into fine powder. What ornament do we put on the tree when that's the moment of the year? I knew. I wanted to craft a church on fire. There would be flames licking the steeple, and fire shooting through the windows. "Goodness, Melissa! A bit dark, isn't it?" my husband remarked. I responded, "Tell me a better option, and I'll listen." He remained silent, because we all knew that was the best ornament for that year.
I never made it. It still exists in my mind, invisibly hanging from our tree. It can't help but mentally exist. It was the ornament for that year. Some day, when I'm ready, I'll go downstairs and craft it. It will exist as a sardonically humorous reminder of a different time.
The other ornament I mentioned was purchased for the following year. It's a set of luggage. We moved three times in one year. This was the result of being thrown back into Georgia, with nowhere to call home. Everything was chaos, including our living arrangements. When the ornament broke, I searched for it's copy, but never found it. It too remains invisible on our tree.
There are very big thinkers that would tell me and you hope is pointless. The destruction and loss was the truth, and the hope was a lie. They would tell us to not hope, because hope keeps people from dealing with the hard truths of life. Hope keeps us from reality.
There can be nothing further from the truth. The stained glass ornament remains on our tree because without hope we are left with no anchor. Hope remains even when you know your hope can leave you lost and alone. Hope remains even when everything tells you it is foolishness. Hope remains because even in failure, the potential is still out there, within our grasp. Hope is out there to throw our failure on the ground and use it as a stepping stone towards a better future. Do not give up on hope because you know some hope will be unfulfilled. Give into hope because the potential will always exist, and somewhere it will be found.
Let us pray:
Dear Lord, help us find that hope in the midst of hopelessness. Help us trust you, as you lead us. Amen.