Monday, December 26, 2016

Raking Leaves in the Holiday In-Between

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against leaves.  They’re beautiful in all their frond-ish, billowy, colorful grandeur.  I just happen to like them better when they’re still on the trees.  

So today, on this typical Texas winter (very unlike actual winter) day after Christmas, I set out to soak up the mid-70s by raking up the wreckage of Spring draped heavily on our struggling yard.  I actually enjoy that annual rake, and this year it’s helping me deal with the gloominess of the Holiday In-Between.

That’s actually a thing, I’ve decided.  The Holiday In-Between – that week between Christmas and New Year’s Day.   

For my whole existence, I’ve carried a kind of subconscious melancholy during those days for some reason.  I was sharing that with my husband this morning, and he said something like, “Really? Huh?” which is a nicer way of saying, “I love you, but you’re kind of weird.”

I’ll own that.

You see, all while growing up, I would put up a tiny, wilted plastic tree in my bedroom early in every Christmas season.  I even had a whole box of my OWN ornaments that were only to be used on that pitiful tiny tree.  I was all about some Christmas! But once December 26th hit, the tree came down.  Immediately.  For some reason, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was just time to move on.  As in, a brush-off-your-hands, “Well that’s done.  What’s next?” sort of feeling.  Now, of course, we keep the tree up much longer in our house, and, sure enough, inescapably, the day after Christmas sets that strange limbo in motion in my heart.

I cannot seem to escape it.  I can’t even really describe it.  It’s definitely a sadness . . . well, sort of.

It’s like, from the day after Thanksgiving, all the world is riding this glittery, tinsel-strewn wave into December 25th, a great crescendo of shopping and wrapping and singing and baking and decorating and giving and getting and joy to the world.  A Yuletide explosion of celebration! And then we crash. 

And way on the other side of The In-Between, lies a shiny New Year’s Day, which pretty much everyone agrees is the universal signal for a ceremonial do-over; a crisp, white blank sheet of paper, resolutions and new beginnings and excitement of getting up to brush ourselves off and try this thing again.  Head high, we march on, ready and determined.  On mission, y’all!

So I guess I just don’t know how to feel right now or how to spend the days In-Between.  I’m serious, until the New Year dawns (God willing), I will carry an underlying stress, an angst.  It really is weird.  And, just like every year, I will try to talk myself out of it and cover it up with doing and being, but it will still rest its wet blanket on my soul for those few days.

This is the first year I’m really trying to understand why.  God is mysterious, and the way He programs each of us is mysterious.  I’m pretty sure that not everyone feels this way (judging from the husband’s response), so what’s up? What could this signal, and can it (or should it) be fixed? 

I’ve got my figurative pen in hand, and I’m trying to sketch out some parallels to eternal truth.  Here’s what I’ve got:  Could this dreary cloud just be a reminder of the greater limbo we live in – the “already and not yet” of God’s Kingdom?  Seems to fit, maybe.  We super cool modern folk exist in the in-between of the culmination of God’s great redemptive plan:  post-Messiah, but pre-All Things New Eternity. 

It’s limbo.  And there really is an ache, isn’t there?  And that eternal ache rears its head in the simplest, but most profound of ways.

This Holiday In-Between business is small potatoes compared to the great Story, but maybe it’s a tiny echo of the real longing in the hearts of man.  I’m not sure, but I’ll hold on to that possibility during the next few days.  And, while I’m at it, it’s probably a good idea to pray for joy and meaning and mission while trudging through this and all the other In-Betweens throughout our time.
You know, I really do believe that, if we search for them, we can hear those echoes of eternity lacing their way through our daily grind.  If we listen, if we measure them by the Word and seek for them, I just know we’ll hear some holy whispers bouncing off those mountains, the ones that don’t seem to be moving just yet. 

In the In-Betweens, let’s listen.

And maybe rake some leaves.  It’s good therapy.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Christmas - The Beauty and Bite of Evolution

So much has changed.

Ten years ago, Christmas shopping was both a joy and a misery. Every trip to the store in search of the perfect gift meant prepping and ushering three small, often unwilling, shopping accomplices through the crowded aisles.  That meant diapers and sippy cups for the baby boy, whatever 3-5 stuffed animals little sister was in love with at the time and at least one giant book into which the oldest sister would firmly insert her nose as she bumped into any and everything meandering through the store. 

I could anticipate with each outing we would have several big belly laughs and wide-eyed “WOW!”s, quite a few tears and at least one tantrum over who would get the last blue raspberry sucker in Mom’s purse and who would be left to torturously suffer through eating the plain ole grape one. At some point, we would experience multiple small humans wallowing on the floor in the checkout line and copious amounts of parental bribery for extra TV time.

Three kids, a long gift checklist, a very tight budget and one tired mama.  

Fire and rain, y’all.

Just a little ole decade later and the landscape looks very different.  I noticed just the other day how I’ve already made quite a few trips out for various Christmas goodies, and I don’t think I have yet been accompanied by even one child person . . . even one time. 

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy being able to focus, secure the package and immediately blow that popsicle stand, but my heart strings are getting sore with the drastic shift in seasons.  The three don’t usually all go shop with me now.  In reality, they are seldom even at home for any extended period of time at the same time during this busy season.  Between choir rehearsals, band rehearsals, musical rehearsals and performances based on all of the prior (guess that’s what I get for having artsy-fartsy kids), the husband and I often find ourselves with only part of the herd in the pasture – sometimes maybe not even one cute little calf to keep the old bovine folks company.

They’re growing up and getting out.  Christmas makes those transitions show through like wrinkles on the forehead.  The lines tell of time and of evolution.  And they can’t be hidden.  Also, they tick me off.

And so we are left to concentrate our efforts.  The traditions that once were a given are now an intentional goal.  We’ve been collectively scouring the calendar, looking to pull the “all-stop” and carve out some time for the annual cookie decorating competition or driving around in our PJs to look at lights while we drink hot cocoa or milkshakes, depending on what Texas weather we get on that particular day.  It’s not lost on me that we have one child sadly counting down how many “kid” Christmases she has before adulthood.  Darn it all, every one of them needs to count.  And it should, right?  Because, time progression aside, we’ve learned firsthand how life can take an unexpected and grievous turn.  Not one of us is guaranteed another raising of the big plastic pseudo-tree.  Whatever the season looks like, every Christmas WILL count.

I’m grateful that our crew is learning (I hope) to place a premium on our time together even more than on the gifts.  Money is a nonessential for a truly beautiful memory. These goofballs just want to sit around at home and write silly carols, jump on the trampoline in their pajamas, watch “A Christmas Story” beside the tree lights.  They are hurting for our yearly family Advent devotionals, which we have been sorely lax in this year, and for sibling sleepovers and giggling by the tree on Christmas Eve. 

These sacred rhythms and traditions out-sparkle the glittery-est of packages. Lord, help us breathe in the blessing.

I’d be good to throw out those shopping lists and create a more sacred to-do list:  more time for traditions new and old, the reprise of this beautiful rhythm, the holy remembrances, to make every year ‘round the tree joyful and triumphant, a new and unique verse in our symphony.

So in the big tick-tock of this season, here’s to all of the evolving seasons in our families:  to growing-up babies and crying babies, to shopping trips full or solo, to sad old cow couples sitting on the couch watching Netflix while the calves are all out tending to their own adventures, to quiet moments where the hum of the Spirit hugs all of our pieces into peace.  And most importantly, here’s to that one Baby that was born and was loved and grew up and left home and loved and suffered . . .

And saved us.

Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Autumn Trees and the Church of Ages

This tree caught my eye this morning. Pretty. For some reason, it immediately reminded me of the multi-generational essence of the Bride, all the colors living together. In such a youth-driven culture (no offense, young folk), what a beautiful picture is the Church -- learning and teaching and growing and encouraging one another, all ages combining to paint a beautiful picture. And how crucial it is that we maintain that intermingling today to His glory.

(Also, I just wrapped up the November poem-a-day challenge, so that's where my comprehension skills are living right now. Here ya go. First draft, so be understanding.)

The Autumn Beauty of the Bride

The Autumn beauty of the Bride
     drawn out against creation’s blue
     the yellow and red and green abide

The greenlings drink the sweet design
     whether young in years or young in faith
     flittering new with the freshness of Life
     such energy

Stories are told in the yellowing fronds
     in the thick of advancing transition
     but tested and stayed, that fire has spawned

And those dressed richly in deep ruby red
     vividly brandish Him faithful
     in confident wave and a peace that has bred
     a great wisdom

Oh, the Bride, she carries her colors well
     and the Groom’s eye catches the compliment
     for ‘tis the blushes of hues intertwined that express best 
     her radiance

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Song Stories #3: After the Fire

So I thought it might be nice (even if maybe over-explanatory) to take some time and use up some of the infinite interweb real estate to share a little bit about where the songs from the new album came from.  You can click the linky-link below to listen, and scroll on down to read the lyrics -- because, well, that's where my heart tends to show up and where most of that fun angst lives.  :)

“After the Fire” -- a place of rest and healing. It’s a space where clarity sweeps across the landscape, explaining and encouraging and illuminating the reason to the rhyme.  It’s the goal, the destination, but the trip to get there is turbulent and uncertain, chock full of doubts and questions.  Becoming gold, the kind of shine the Maker intended, is painful, perplexing, penetrating . . . unfair, we’d say. 

I began writing this song with two particular friends in mind -- two wonderful women who were slow dancing and stumbling through some pretty tough life spaces.  The precious way they struggled and questioned in humility -- and yet with gut-level, rugged honesty -- fortified my soul as I got to walk with them.  I witnessed their refining, and, finally, their sparkle when they made it to the other side of the fire.
I never feel like I have much to offer in situations like theirs, so I did what I thought I could.  I wrote a song for them. For them . . . I thought.

But in the days that followed, this little song turned into a lesson for me personally when the waves crashed unexpectedly down on my own world.  And in those days when I wanted to rage, to cry “Unfair!” and grow embittered and hard, I had to hear my own words echo in my ears while we prepared to record this song.  

When I was dark and down; when I wouldn’t listen to other voices spouting platitudes of “God has a plan”, He knew I would need to be crippled by the fact that He had already pointed me to the comfort I would need before the stifling blow was ever laid upon me.  His typical crazy, pre-emptive, merciful love.  How could I not trust His direction through the fire?

But the healing never comes immediately; even now years later, sometimes the scar still bleeds and tries to open wide to consume me in measure. And these words from one little song didn’t resonate because they were eloquently prepared by some master craftsman, but because I knew their root – however wilted and browned the bloom itself might be -- in the Almighty’s truth.  The only truth.  And it's hard to talk back to Love's own truth.

It’s funny how, in the work we do, we just never know when God is using what we think will be an outreach to others to be our own in-reach of His love.  He’s just wild like that.  Sometimes in serving others, we end up serving and witnessing to ourselves.  And He serves us.  And all of it serves our Creator.  So I think that makes the best kind of sense.

After the Fire

Patience is the practice of the Father, but worry is the way within the heart
Every day you dress up in your armor to fend off every single fiery dart

Memories of the days when you were dancing melt in the heat that is today
The edges of your life singed and pounding
Refinement should not have to feel this way

Don’t hang your head
Lift your hands up higher
Think of who you’ll be after the fire

When you will be gold, glistening gold, the purest of gold
In the middle of the flame the promise you hold
Is who you’ll be after the fire, the you you’ll be after the fire

The enemy is prowling in the break room
he’s the poison coursing through your veins
he crouches in the quiet of the still womb defining you with every ache and pain

Don’t hang your head
Lift your hands up higher
And claim who you’ll be after the fire

All things for the good, child
But the pain is so real, so, yes,  first you kneel
But then you stand up on the Word, child
And you believe
When it really hurts believe

That you will be gold

Copyright 2015 Jennifer Hildebrand

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Song Stories: Bitter Waters

So I thought it might be nice (even if maybe over-explanatory) to take some time and use up some of the infinite interweb real estate to share a little bit about where the songs from the new album came from.  You can click the linky-link below to listen, and scroll on down to read the lyrics -- because, well, that's where my heart tends to show up and where most of that fun angst lives.  :)

<Listen here on Reverb Nation>

Bitter Waters . . . It’s really not pretty.

This song ended up being an amalgam of several different people and relationships.  Maybe it’s because I’m a naturally difficult person (surely it’s not that), but I have plenty of bitter waters flowing through my heart from which to choose.  And, for most of us, I think, sorting honestly through the often grotesque and seemingly impossible stuff of community can really take some doing. 

Initially, it started as an “I have this friend” story.  Yes, of course, I was being petty, but that's just where it began.  This longtime friend and I are such totally different personalities that at times we grate on one another a bit.  On top of that, I tend to not be very good at friendship maintenance.  Praying and crying through some of those interactions, through my own selfish anger, was the spring board for the whole song. 

So I decided to hit the couch for my self-Dr.-Phil-ification.  Once I finally put a name to what I was feeling – bitterness – other people and events from my life began to come into focus.  Too many times, I had cut and run when lines of communication became strained.  It was just easier to get mad, justify my mad and stay that way.  Man, relationships and expectations and jealousy and flat out apathy completely wreck a friendship, a community, even our whole stinking world. 

Bitter waters start to flow – from your heart to mine and back again.

But underneath the ugly, deep down beneath the broken, there is a kind of honest acceptance and compassion that is truly life-giving, and it’s just waiting there to be discovered.  It’s the kind of love that restores a person’s self-value, reaffirms their humanity.  It’s the kind of love that can save a soul.
And it does.  It saves our souls. 

But it is so hard.  Agreed?

Too often I need to remind myself to put down the shovel – stop taking the surface-level, easier, mechanical way to repair – and do the work.  Get to digging until your hands are bloody, plunged deep beneath the pain and spite to the underlying waters of truth and unconditional affection.  It’s there, but you have to really want it to get to it.  And it’s worth it. 

So the moral of the story is:  If you love someone, don’t stop digging.

Bitter Waters 

I know you see me with my eyes wide open
How I stare right through you when you talk to me
To even fields you return the gesture
And we both wonder how this could have come to be
A smile across our hearts but drinking deeply from the bitter waters

They trickle down from our expectations
Of where this relationship should be today
They’re rising up even though unbidden
In the cold poison hidden in the words we say

If we don’t crack this open, I think we both may drown in the bitter waters

Bitter waters . . . they drain me dry

But here comes the rain, the precious rain, falling down
Christening a calm upon this place
 And in the rain, the hallowed rain
Just a taste of grace, to purify this place

Put down the shovel ‘cause the axe we bury
Demands the bloody earth underneath our nails
A digging down through the grudge we carry
To the sweet spring where we see that love prevails

It’s that necessary pain that overcomes this tide

The bitter waters . . . they drain me dry

Copyright Jennifer Hildebrand 2015

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Song Stories: Thirsty

So I thought it might be nice (even if maybe over-explanatory) to take some time and use up some of the infinite interweb real estate to share a little bit about where the songs from the new album came from.  You can click the linky-link below to listen, and scroll on down to read the lyrics -- because, well, that's where my heart tends to show up and where most of that fun angst lives.  :)

“Thirsty” was actually born out of a somewhat lame guitar chord exercise.  (Hang on, it gets better.) Several years ago, I would often play around on the open-E forms to build hand strength.  My then little boy would come dancing into the room, spinning and bouncing, making blaster sound effects, and kindly point out when I missed a chord (he does that at times).  Eventually, I found that a song was coming up from beneath the fundamentals.  It took a while for the melody and lyrical idea to present itself, but when the characters came into focus, I grabbed hold pretty tightly.  The contrast of the dark and light timbres within the song seemed to fit just right for this true story that laid so close to my heart.

One of my favorite Jesus interactions in the Scriptures is found in John 4 with “the woman at the well”.  I have always identified with this figure; this seemingly cast-off, used up, confused and grasping lady who came to the usual watering hole one day to draw water and ended up quenching a thirst she had not even fully recognized within herself. She was truly, soul-deep parched. 

And Jesus -- He is so gentle with this woman.  He digs into her undoings with scalpel-like precision, speaks unflinching kindness into her cynicism and deceptions and then blazes light into her shadowed spirit.  He offers her a taste of truth and ends up making her mouth an instrument that brings others to this living water.  

I wanted to get inside her mind.  In what manner did her thoughts spin when he spoke? How was her heart rent, her chains melted off through this dialogue?  She came empty, trash to those around her.  She left full, a treasured treasure.

So, yeah, I identify with her story.  And with her rescue.  It is mine (and probably yours) in many ways.  


My life’s run dry
The journey seems so winding to the quenching place yet I set out alone
From here I see a mystery man who takes His stand leaning, resting on the sacred stones
At my wishing well

My solace flees
My satisfaction seeking interrupted by this presence here today
His eyes ablaze, He’s looking through me yearning to oppose the waywardness of my ways
Enveloped in the brutal heat of day, He says to me

I’ve heard your cries of silence and I know of all you fear
So much defiance, child, why have you come here
Are you thirsty?

I hear my name 
Come dripping off His lips just like the sweetness in the sweat of sacrifice
My hard heart fails, 'cause there’s no way that He could know the trueness of the story He recites
My parched and empty spirit takes to flight as He speaks again

You’ve been seeking refuge in the arms that will soon return to dust
Making merry with the temporary
Child, you must stay with Me, follow Me to a life that’s more than skin deep
Where you can drink deep
Drink deep

Through your cries of silence and in spite of all you fear
Set aside your defiance
Embrace me right now right here
I know you’re thirsty
And only I can fill you in truth 
With streams of eternity welling up inside of you

Copyright Jennifer Hildebrand 2015