Hidden inside the ordinary, will you see God-alongside?

Christmas eve worshipAs you gather with your family and/or friends, ponder this question:

What was your favorite part of the Christmas Eve worship service?

I’ll bet you get a variety of answers.

My unofficial poll included the music offerings, and when all the lights are turned off and Silent Night is sung by candle light.

The telling of the story didn’t make our list.

I wonder if we have become so familiar with the story of Jesus’ birth, that we forget to be amazed?

Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem

I spent Christmas Eve too sick to attend worship. Home alone, in bed, I decide to read the story. I’m glad I did. Functioning as the only component of “worship” that I had, it allowed for deep contemplation.

I was reminded of the wondrous, amazing aspect of Christmas.

What’s that you say?

As explanation, I’ll use a phrase often heard in this season:

The Incarnation

Star of Bethlehem Nativity

The Incarnation is a concept that leaves me awestruck. (And also feeling a bit jumbled – reminding me that sometimes we have to live in the mystery.)

Incarnation is a big word that comes from Latin, meaning “the act of being made flesh.” It’s what God did in the birth of Jesus. Somehow, mysteriously, Jesus is both fully God and fully human!

In Jesus, God is with us!

The prophet Isaiah had described our coming Savior as Emmanuel. What a perfect title for Jesus, because “Emmanuel” means “God with us.” It’s the very thing we need and look forward to the most: the presence of God himself! Jesus wasn’t born just to save us from our sins; God came to be with us.

God loved us so much that he chose to come into the world in the actual person of Jesus. We find this expressed in John 1:14, which paraphrased reads…

The “Word” was made flesh and moved in with us.

The Adoration of the Shepherds, a painting by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622

Even more amazing (if that is possible)… God joined us, not just in human form but as a tiny, helpless baby! What are we to make of this news? Knowing what we know, what will we do?

Who would have looked for God as a baby in a manager in a stable?

If the way we live shows what we believe, should we be actively looking for God among us?

What does God with us look like today?

Richard Rohr calls it, “hidden inside of ordinariness.”

The Incarnation

A humdrum home for animals, equipped with a feeding trough. Where will God-with-us show up next?

Have you observed God, hidden, yet present with us, in the ordinary?

Let’s look for Emmanuel! Here are a few searching suggestions:

  • Go for a drive at night, and be dazzled by the neighborhoods festooned in Christmas lights.
  • If it snows, go outside and catch flakes on your tongue. (Or spend time studying the rain drops rolling down the window pane.)a child ponders the first snow
  • Lay on your backs under your Christmas tree and silently gaze upward, pondering the beauty and perhaps the scent of pine or spruce.
  • Watch and notice when your child seems in an attitude of awe. (A moment of wonder is often characterized by quiet stillness rather than enthusiastic activity.) Silently join them in their observation.
  • Where will you find God?

May you experience God with you — in whatever ordinary awesomeness he arrives.

a blue line

Photo credits:
The first photo is from my archives.
Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem was created by moi from an Unsplash.com image by Tim de Groot. The figures were adapted from wpclipart.com; the words are the start of Luke 2:4, NIV.
Star over Bethlehem by Garrett W. offered on Flickr under a Creative Commons License.
Birth of Jesus is a portion of “The Adoration of the Shepherds,” a 1622 painting by Gerard van Honthorst; from Wikimedia, in the Public Domain.
Babe in a manger by Rapolas; from Pixabay, in the CC0 1.0 Public Domain.
First snow by Joe Thorn, offered on Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

What happened to me on a night full of beautiful miracles

ambulance in action

When the kids were little whenever we heard the siren of an ambulance or a fire truck, I would always say, “Make way for the helpers!”

One Saturday night, eleven years ago this night, I needed those helpers.

I don’t remember much about the eve of November 19, 2005 but I found out later that there were miracles happening left and right – even before the ambulance and the fire truck got there. (I was told later that the fire truck arrived first.)

I was home alone and I sustained a burst aneurysm in my brain; usually a fatal event.

When an aneurysm — a bulging, weakening in the wall of an artery — ruptures, it leaks blood into the space around the brain. Things did not look good.

The first miracle: At the moment it hit, I was on the phone. I was talking to my husband, Greg, who was over in the western part of the state, for a hockey tournament with my son. Greg was just passing the phone to my son, when he heard a slight gasp — the aneurysm hit and I lost consciousness. Not hearing any response from my end of the conversation, they thought the connection had been lost. Redialing. Busy signal.

The second miracle: My high school daughter was out babysitting and came home early(!) I think the story was that the parents she was sitting for had decided (for some unexplained reason) to call it a short night.

The third miracle: She had left her phone on the floor by the garage door. (Hidden under stuff?) I guess in those days a phone was not as important? The timing of events was about to get unbelievable.

The fourth miracle: My daughter walked in at the instant my husband — continuing to get a busy signal when calling me — dialed her phone. The phone was ringing as she walked in and of course, she answered. I often think of what would have happened if a minute had passed between her entrance and his call. She (being a teenager) would not have looked for me (situated in the back office); she’d have headed straight upstairs. She would not have gotten the call.

The miracles continue… Needless to say, my daughter called 911 and the neighbor — a nurse. The rest is a blur of activity and more miracles. The best brain surgeon at the University of Michigan, the best nurses in intensive care, friends and family who believed in prayer…

I had a 5% chance of living. And it turns out that I kept defying those odds. Friends have told me that the surgeon came out and said, “We’ve done all we can.”

And yet I survived.

Then they would say, “Well, she may never walk again.”

And then, I would. (After much physical therapy!)

The next dreadful prediction was that I may never talk again… or have fine motor control or… and on and on. Each one gradually torpedoed.

You all prayed. And here I am.

praying peopleThis experience has taught me to believe in prayer!

The miracles continued to come. Released from hospital after 6 and a half weeks. Friends and neighbors who decorated the Christmas tree for our family, drove kids, and brought meals. A dear friends who drove an hour just to get me outside for a short (very short in those first days home) walk!

And the miracles continued. A friend who recognized my need for additional Physical Therapy and fought for me to get it! Another friend who took me with to one of his “stretching” sessions with Coach James Henry, and solved an aftereffect of surgery — deliberating pain in my toes!

Eleven years in and I am still recovering and still receiving miracles. Praise be to God!

a blue line

Photo credits:
Moving ambulance by Clker-Free-Vector-Images, from Pixabay, and praying people,adapted from clipart by algotruneman. Both of these images are licensed under a Creative Commons Public Domain License.

4 practical ways to help your family grow faith

Faith is caught, not taughtNo amount of teaching will do it. Faith is primarily caught, not taught.

Your kids are watching.

They will do as you do.

Here are ways for your family to hook a little faith…

A check-boxRedbud blossomsAsk: Where did you see God today?
Take notice of God at work and call out his wonderful miracles in creation. If you don’t spend lots of time with your kids, make a point to share a group time of recalling and naming God as a part of your life. When you notice, they will pay attention.

A check-box Tie life to a Bible story.
For example, our latest story is teaching us about the miracle of sharing. When more than 5,000 people were fed with just a little bit of lunch, perhaps Jesus encouraged a bestowing behavior? For preschoolers this means labeling sharing as it happens. (“You and I are sharing some grapes.” Or, “Let’s share our stories about our day.”) Intangibles — taking turns and working together on a project — are also a form of sharing. Use Bible stories to remind your child of the greater story: Living as Jesus taught.

Feeding the 5000 - games - fishing   Feeding the 5000 - games - put the fish in order

Note: Please don’t bring up this story as an impetus for sharing, as in: “Let’s be like the boy who shared his lunch.” That’s a forced event — a connection that may not be remembered as good!

an adult Bible readingA check-box Nurture your own relationship to God.
Allow your child to “catch you” at prayer and/or reading the Bible. I have a strong memory of the response of a peer, whom I’d interrupted while praying: “Just a minute. I’m talking to God.” Her reply has stayed with me for 45 years! Model the importance of conversation with, and continued learning about God.

A check-box Engage in rituals.
At home your rituals probably already include a bedtime routine. Add bestowing a blessing on your child. Rituals within your spiritual community may include regularly serving at L.O.V.E. Thy Neighbor. Worshiping together as a family is a biggie. Making time for rituals connect us to God.

kid at youth worship

a blue line

Photo credits:
Faith is caught rendition (cropped and words added) is based on a photo by Virginia State Parks. Woman reading a Bible by Ariel Waldman. Both on Flickr under a Creative Commons License.
Games Workshop photos by Beth Pascoe.
Rest of photos from my archives.

My New Year’s resolutions. And yours?

The crazy season of rushing is over. {Take a deep breath.}
Now we turn our thoughts toward the new year.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be different in the coming year.
I want to pay more attention.

It goes like this:

Big Horn Sheep at the Grand Canyon

Take something dramatic like the Grand Canyon. With no effort it registers off-the-charts: instantly recognized beauty.

Yet I easily miss the small details, which might seem like minutiae, but when exposed are equally awe-inspiring.

Details such as the fact that the Grand Canyon was formed by water and wind…

  slowly… imperceptibly…

     eroding the rock.

“Gentle waters flow over rocksWith a lack of attention I miss seeing the clout of one simple gust of breeze…

  of just one drop of water…

    whittling away…

      drip by slow drip.

I need to pay attention and focus to the level of a single water drop.

To slow down.
To always be noticing…often and regularly…

My life intertwined with the presence of God.

A collage of nature scenes

What about your New Year’s resolutions? Join me in being more intentionally aware of God with us?

Happy New Year!
 — Carol

Photo credits:
The Grand Canyon, by Marcin Wichary who licensed this photo on Flickr via a Creative Commons License.
Other photos from my archives with thanks to Tracy K. for the lower center shot of kids at the lake!

Are you seeing ads? They are not from me! They are placed by WordPress, who otherwise offers a free platform from which to share lots of good-ness. If you see an inappropriate ad, please report it to support@wordpress.com. Include the URL, the date/time the ad appeared, and a screenshot of the ad.

God’s purpose? To be with us.

You can do this:  Dig deeper into the Christmas story.

Ask questions at your family dinner table.
Ask the question most frequently asked by young children: Why?

I remember telling my kids when they were very young, a simple explanation for why we celebrate Christmas:

It’s Jesus’ birthday.

Birthdays are easy for kids to understand. On your child’s birthday, do they enjoy hearing the story about the day they were born? (Or perhaps the day they were adopted?) It follows that on Jesus’ birthday we tell over and over, the account of his arrival.

crèche scene

We typically hear the story from Luke – a trek to Bethlehem, rooms at capacity, a babe born amongst beasts, topped off with sojourning, wonder-struck shepherds. It always amazes me: Jesus’ first bed was an animal feeding trough, and second-string sheep-tenders were Jesus’ inaugural guests. Everyone had been on the lookout for a majestic monarch, yet God slipped into our world as a defenseless little baby.

Why did the story happen this way?

What were God’s intentions? When we dig deeper, and read in Matthew, we reveal God’s purpose:

 She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means “God is with us.” (Matthew 1:22-23)

Immanuel, means in Hebrew:  “with us is God.” Ah! A glimpse at God’s motive.

Jesus was sent to be God with us!

Ready for some family discussion surrounding Immanuel / God-with-us?

  Start off reading together Matthew 1:18-24.

A long time ago, God quietly came to earth via his son Jesus. Most people in those days didn’t recognize Jesus as their long-waited-for Savior. What about these days, do you suppose people recognize God-with-us today?

What are some ways that God makes his presence known to us?
a magnifying glass
  What can make it hard to “see” God?

How can we help others to notice God with us?

Back in Bible times it seemed that God was more overt in his communication with people. For instance, in our current Rotation on Jesus’ birth story, there are lots of “angels of the Lord.” One named Gabriel, visited Mary, whereas Joseph had two angelic visits in his dreams. And the shepherds… they got a sky-full!

Angels made by the younger kids at church

What evidence of God have you seen lately?

What about that bird perched just so, on the snow-covered branch…

Cardinal in snowy treeTo me nature-happenings are a sort of message from God. He says, “Slow down. Take notice. Isn’t what I’ve created intricate and amazing? I created you too. Oh, what a beautiful job I did! Do you see that little bird? The one perched outside your window? I care about him. I care about you!”


God is with us.
In what ways will you look for his presence?

Photo credits…

Photos are from my archives. Copyright Carol Hulbert.

How to find time for God in the midst of Advent chaos?

Are you feeling it yet? The rat-race turmoil leaning towards a muddled mess?

A dance of light rays

It must be Advent. (Or it could be in the midst of the chaos of any season.)

How can we find time for peace?
How can we find time for God?

Pastor Nancy Lynn at FUMC in Ann Arbor, MI had some ideas in a recent sermon.

Let’s review Nancy’s ideas. (And is it okay if I build on them?)

    Split rocks in the woods

  • Go out and notice something in nature.
    (Even if it’s just a bunch of rocks.) Set a recurring timer (to go off when it will be okay to be interrupted). When it rings, go for a daily walk. Find a truly beautiful nature-made article. Allow yourself to fill with awe. Yes! God made this!
  • Take time for prayer.
    (Be like Jesus?) How about a different way of praying? Breath prayer: This sort of prayer brings yourself to a quiet rest. Start by relaxing—take a couple of deep breaths. Then, focusing on your breath, silently recite a word (or words) over and over.

    Try the Aramaic word (Jesus spoke Aramaic) that means “Come Lord” – Maranatha. Break it into four syllables:
    Breath In: Ma
    Breath Out: Ra
    Breath In: Na
    Breath Out: Tha
    When your mind drifts, bring yourself gently back.

  • Change your prevailing viewpoint. Give yourself compassion and change your self-talk!
    Practice grace and forgiveness… towards yourself! Rather than piling up accusations against yourself (I should have… I am such an idiot… Why didn’t I… ) Try loading your brain with positive, helpful thoughts. Phrases like:
    • Sometimes I make mistakes. I can learn from them.
    • Most decisions in life involve tradeoffs.
    • I chose not to buy the most expensive gift.

    This change can take some brain-training. Keep at it!

  • “Rack - Random Acts of Christmas KindnessMake a point to be spontaneously kind. Print a calendar page for December. Each day write something you’ve done to be helpful.

    Want a different idea to promote a randomly caring attitude? Try “RACK” (Random Acts of Christmas Kindness).

  • May one of these activities help you to find peace (and God with you) in this busy season!


    Photo credits…
    Chaos by kevin dooley, licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0). Rest of photos from my archives. (I made the RACK’ed figure.)

    Proclaim the Presence of God

    Every family has routines — from the getting-up-and-getting-going groove, to the daily-drill, all the way to the beaten-path-to-bedtime.

    Does your family routine include spending time every day, attentive to God’s presence?

    It’s a behavior that needs to be taught.

    Cultivate coming to recognize and experience God’s presence.

    Here are some ways to teach your family to take note of God!

    • Puffy white clouds against a blue, blue skyMake it a habit at every dinner table gathering to review everyone’s day with a sharing of highs and lows. Add in the question: where did you see God today?
    • Take a walk with a camera. Take photos of God at work around you. Puffy clouds with a blue, blue sky? Yes!
    • lots of air time at the state fairIs your child worried about something? Model for them the behavior of remembering when: Tell a story about a way that God has cared for you in the past. Encourage them to recall their own story. (Remember how you were afraid to go on that ride at the fair?)
    • Practice gratefulness. Start recording your thankfuls. (I’m up to #1756.) [Updated for December 2014 — I’m at #2985. Counting up reveals joy in all sorts of moments!]
    • A 3rd grader checks out her new Bible with dadFind God in the Bible. Read a passage using the practice of reading scripture known as Lectio Divina. Ask: “Where is God in this story?”
    • Add and subtract. Consider what needs to be reduced or augmented in your life, to make room for noticing God.
    • Admit that God is easy to see when life is full. Encourage looking for God, even in hard times.

    Is God’s presence proclaimed in your family on a daily basis?

    Photo credits:
    Click here for info on banner photo (not visible in readers or email).
    State fair photo by my niece, Sarah Clouse. Used with permission. Other photos from my archives.

    Are you seeing ads? They are not from me! They are placed by WordPress, who otherwise offers a free platform from which to share lots of good-ness. If you see an inappropriate ad, please report it to support@wordpress.com. Include the URL, the date/time the ad appeared, and a screenshot of the ad.

    Ordinary Time? Make it extraordinary!

    Did you know that we are in Ordinary Time?

    It may still be summer and nights may be feeling like fall, but according to the church calendar, this is Ordinary Time. Admittedly, this time of year can feel ordinary—plain, average, lacking special distinction, rank, or status. The dog days of August?

    In this case the “ordinary” in “Ordinary Time” comes from the word ordinal, meaning rank in a series. We can consider Ordinary Time as counted time. Have you ever noticed the “count up” happening on the worship bulletins, “ninth Sunday after Pentecost,” “tenth Sunday after Pentecost,” etc. Next Sunday ask your kids to notice what week we are on!

    A chart showing the percentage of time for various sessions of the church yearOrdinary Time occurs from the day after Pentecost until the first Sunday in Advent. That’s a long time! It takes up the biggest chunk of the annual pie shown on the right. Incidentally, Pentecost is the smallest slice of the pie – it lasts only one day! (Pentecost, celebrated 50 days after Easter Sunday, marks the day when the Holy Spirit came to Jesus’ disciples.)

    It would be easy to consider the days of Ordinary Time not as ordinal time but as, well, ordinary!

    Other occasions in the church calendar are marked by rich meaning: Christmas, Lent, and Easter—no question, something big is happening in those areas of the church calendar! But there’s nothing special happening in Ordinary Time.

    Or is there?

    Might I challenge you to change your perception of Ordinary Time by practicing one small, ah, ordinal thing?

    Count the extraordinary in the everyday ordinary.
    One child helps another wild flowers

    Seek God in the ordinary events of life. Whether it is in the natural world around you or the wonder of people interacting, or something as simple as laughter. Notice the presence of God in the commonplace. Keeping an ordinal list can help you obverse the extraordinary ordinary that is happening all around you!

    Where did my list-making start? Read more by clicking on this button…

    Button to access the web site: A Holy Experience.

    kids on a dock Two women share a laugh Puffy white clouds against a blue, blue sky
    How will you note ordinary time as extraordinary?


    Photo credits…
    “Kids on a dock” by anolobb, originally licensed on flickr under Creative Commons (BY NC-SA 2.0); photo no longer available.
    Rest of photos, from my archives.
    View the chart I created here.