Lessons from the Joy Candle: Lean into Joy

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The Kaufman Family Joy Candle

 

 

In my family, we have a tradition.  When a couple is married, they receive for their first Christmas a bottle of wine, wine glasses, and a set of drip candles. From Thanksgiving to New Year’s every year, we burn candles over the empty wine bottle.  Each drop of wax commemorates a moment of joy in our family.  As we burned wax over our candle this year, the aptness of the ritual, of the way I was taught by my father to grow this candle each year, washed over me.  I will do my best to share these thoughts with you.

 

 

The flame carves a deep well of wax in the center of the candle. Columns of color stand sentinel around it.

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I want this color to yield – to be transformed by heat into drops of cherished memories on the growing mountain of joy below, but they stand stoic. Just far enough from the heat to be soft and mold-able, but not close enough to be changed into something new.

I gently press in on the wax, bending them toward the flame and soon it yields and drip-drops down an unseen path.  When it runs out of heat and begins to cool, it is so much more than wax, but now, marks the path of a life well lived.

Joy is a transformative force of life, but not always gentle.  

You may be molded, softened and warmed by joy, but in order to be truly transformed by it, you must lean into it.  Into the flame and the flame of the vulnerability it brings with it, but what beauty that transformation brings with it all along the way marking the path of a life well lived.

Upgrade Your Spirit- Forgiveness

As we head into this Christmas weekend, my thoughts turn to healing relationships.  To mending broken pieces and patching torn places.  To human love in its purest form.  To Forgiveness.

I read this recently and it resonated deeply with me…I want to share it with you:

Forgiveness is made possible by the knowledge that human beings cannot offer us what only God can give. Once we have heard the voice calling us the Beloved, accepted the gift of full communion, and claimed the first unconditional love, we can see easily–with the eyes of a repentant heart– how we have demanded of people a love that only God can give. It is the knowledge of that first love that allows us to forgive those who have only a “second” love to offer.

I am struck by how I cling to my own wounded self. Why do I think so much about the people who have offended me or hurt me? Why do I allow them to have so much power over my feelings and emotions? Why can’t I simply be grateful for the good they did and forget about their failures and mistakes? It seems that in order find my place in life I need to be angry, resentful, or hurt. It even seems that these people gave me my identity by the very ways in which they wounded me. Part of me is “the wounded one.” It is hard to know who I am when I can no longer point my finger at someone who is the cause of my pain!…

It is important to understand our suffering. It is often necessary to search for the origins of a suffering.  It is often necessary to search for the origins of our mental and emotional struggles and to discover how other people’s actions and our response to their actions have shaped the way we think, feel, and act. Most of all, it is freeing to become aware that we do not have to be victims of our past and can learn new ways of responding. But there is a step beyond the recognition and identification of the facts of life.  There is even a step beyond choosing how to live our own life story. It is the greatest step a human being can take. It is the step of forgiveness.

Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly. The hard truth is that all of us love poorly. We do not even know what we are doing when we hurt others. We need to forgive and be forgiven every day, every hour– unceasingly. That is the great work of love among the fellowship of the weak that is the human family.  The voice that calls us the Beloved is the voice of freedom because it sets us free to love without wanting anything in return. This has nothing to do with self-sacrifice, self-denial, or self-depreciation. But it has everything to do with the abundance of love that has been freely given to me and from which I freely want to give. – Henri Nouwen

I am praying for you this Christmas- that your hearth is warm and your family is near, that your heart is full of love and laughter  and hope.  I am sending love your way! Merry Christmas! Happy Birthday Jesus!

There are still 4 posts left in the Upgrade Your Spirit series.  Check back next week for more reflection on deepening your relationship with God.

Guest Post: How to Prepare for Family & the Holidays: The Fish Principle

My word sister, Ann Voskamp, keeps the most beautiful blog at A Holy Experience. Her words are always like water over my soul….I love to read her writing…You will be truly blessed to check out her blog.

When I get to her door, it’s after 6:30 and dawn’s breaking rays down rows of the cornfields and I’m already late.

Mama’s got a note on her front door that reads in a black scrawl, “Welcome! Come on round. We’re out on the back deck!

Every other Saturday we meet when dawn breaks the day open. We bring Bibles.

We are four, one Linda, who is my mama and her name means beautiful and she really is, and one Annette, one Anne, one Ann, three with one name meaning grace and the Trinity really is and I am the deep dirty Ann who has to bathe her stains long in the Grace.

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Mama’s got plates of sliced oranges laid out,strawberries, raisin bread toasted. Her tea pot in its cozy. Their Bibles are all laid open. The air is cool this early, the sky quiet clear. A cardinal heralds the sun from the tip of the spruce tree at the fence. I nod embarrassed, always the last, and mama pours my tea and the steam wraps itself up and around the cool, warming fresh morning.

John 21,” Annette winks her welcome, points to her page and I find the passage. Ah, yes, this passage — Jesus at dawn and the disciples at sea with their nets and He’s already got the fire kindled and He beckons, “Come and have breakfast.” I smile. We’re here. And it’s a feast! Mama clasps her hands, laughs.

We read the passage four times. Once lingering. Once listening. Once lifting voice to pray the words. Last time: to live it. Lectio Divina.

Annette says she wants the passionate abandon for Jesus that jumps out of the boat like Peter, plunges straight into water as soon as he sees Him, and did he do it because he thought he might walk on water again?

Mama keeps returning to the three times Jesus asks “Do you truly love me?” and she says that all week she’s been working through feelings of rejection and it’s been hard and it hurts and yes, betrayal, and what does it really mean to feed Christ’s sheep today and she has to figure that if that’s the way we show we really do love HIm.

Anne, the other one with the fanciful “e” and curling hair, she’s thinking about Peter with a battered faith who says I’m outta here, I’m going fishing, and a Jesus who won’t let Him go, who wants him to build His church even when he’s betrayed Him three times and that’s a kind of love she needs right now.

Then Mama turns to me, “And for you, Ann? How is He speaking to you through this passage?” The sun’s warmer now on our faces, higher over the corn behind Mama’s house. A robin’s singing with the cardinal. I unbutton my sweater.

“Well, there’s the fact He asks us to trust him when it feels like we’ve been in a long night and caught nothing and will we hear His voice, trust him, do what He says when He asks the unconventional of us: “Throw your net on the right side of the boat”…. And there’s this: … the wild love waiting for us at the end of dark, empty nights of the soul — the kind of love that has breakfast waiting for us on the beach, the fish and bread all ready for us… but really… and this is what I keep coming back to,” I glance around anxious at their faces and I run on excited, “I keep coming back to this:

Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord.

I look up. They look blank. I try again. “It was full of large fish — 153!” Mama nods slowly… waiting for the epiphany to strike. Annette’s smiling politely. Anne’s fingering the corner of her page, re-reading the text.

I just blurt it out: “Someone had counted the fish!”

Peter, the failure, the reject, the broken, he had counted fish.

Now they all smile, nod politely. My cheeks are hot. I distract with reaching for my cup of tea, swig back a long gulp, and sputter out something about it getting that time and maybe it’s time to close in prayer?

We go around the circle and the sun’s sure now, strong, and we each pray passionate for the woman to the right of us, for her bruises and for her dark night and for her longings and that she might be fed, her nets full to overflowing in the morning and that we would each really love Jesus. We squeeze hands with the final Amen.

And for a moment, we all sit still and silent in the sun. I close my eyes, listen to nature waking. The light feels healing. The robin keeps singing. A back door closes down the street. I can hear a car start.

“Well, you’d all better get back to families!” Mama’s gathering plates off the deck table. We carry in teacups from the back deck, wander in through her house for our shoes.

And there it is on Mama’s kitchen table. Stacks and scattered and in open books. Us three Ann’s pause on our way through. Mama sets the teapot on the counter. “Yes, forgive the piles. All week, I’ve been sorting out the years. Filing them into albums.” I scan my history — Mama’s. I hurt inside.

A child abused. A wife replaced. A mother broken.

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Annette leans over, points to a black and white image of a little girl holding a doll, her mother’s hand.

“Who is this?”

“That’s me!” Mama smiles and Annette’s eyes grow big, picks it up for a closer look at time.

There are photos of Mama a toddler, her sitting on her father’s lap, a color-tinted photograph of her mother, Mama’s first Christmas with my father, his gold-band hand resting on her shoulder. There are photos of me sleeping on Dad’s chest, my first steps, my Dad holding me brand new in the heat of an August dusk. Mama looks so young.

Her whole life is laid out across the table on kodak paper.

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Anne points to one a white-blonde girl with sky blue eyes playing in a cardboard box. “And this?”

“Aimee.”

Mama says her name quiet and holy, name of my younger sister who was killed before Mama’s eyes. I want to find the door, run away home. I want to pick up the photo of Aimee and me and Mama sitting on the orange flowered couch with my brother, my Dad and I want to go back and make it right, make it all hold. My parent’s marriage. My sister’s life. Us.

Mama picks up the picture for me, of us all. Holds it so I can see. Dad’s smiling. I remember when Mama had long hair like that, dark and thick and wavy, under a kerchief. When they were married and we were all together and I remember Aimee’s giggle and her alive.

“Yes… “ she traces faces… says the words more to another time than to us right here. “Now you can see why I’ve been working through rejection.” I swallow hard. When we can’t say it and we just want to run away, Jesus asks our question for us, again and again, “Do you truly love me?”

Anne nods understanding towards Mama and Mama looks across the table, asks in this wounded whisper, “What do you do with all this?” It’s her life.

We are silent.

And then it comes, and I murmur:

You count fish?

Mama turns to me and I reach for one of John and Aimee and I playing in the sandbox and I say it slow.

“You pull in your life and you see that though you felt ripped open —- the net actually didn’t tear. That there’s much in your net. And you actually count them. You make sure you count the fish. So you don’t have to ask because you know. You know it is the Lord.” I feel the lump in my throat ebbing.

You count every single grace that He gave through the long dark night, and you see that there are more than 153Far more than 153. It’s a feast!” I look up. Mama’s looking at me.

“You count fish?” She nods and she clasps her hands and laughs lovely and soft and long and she is beautiful. The epiphany strikes: “You count fish!”

Us four stand around a table picking up photos and pain from the past and we’ve lingered over Scripture so that we live it and we are disciples counting the blessings hauled in by a life.

We give to God when we give thanks.

I hold one picture long.

And I count it twice.

And I count it twice.

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