A Christmas Story

First things first...we are having a girl! Anniston Cate Simmons and she is still on schedule for April 29th.

Now that we have that taken care of... Christmas stories!
On Being Blessed...
My church staff decided a few years back to ditch the Christmas party, staff bonuses, and gifts and to use that money instead to bless people in the community. So, they take thousands of dollars, break into teams and they have two hours to go into the community and take care of those in need. They come back with beautiful stories. The gifts mostly end up at people's front door by word of mouth. Someone dealing with cancer, or a friend of a friend whose lights have been cut off, a ministry that needs some extra money to make it through the holiday, or children's classmates who will not be getting anything for Christmas.  This is one of the reason's I love my church. It's an eclectic group of people who give generously and sacrificially. We collect angel tree gifts and all the normal stuff, but then our pastors actually give up the rights to their own bonuses to take care of others. That seems to be taking it a step further. And they do it so joyously. 
Anyways, I got to play hostess this year for the pot-luck lunch that followed and listened to the staff as they shared their stories and visited. I love serving. And serving people who spend their lives serving is even better. You just want to give them all a big hug and take extra good care of them. Somewhere in the midst of keeping drinks filled and plates stacked I completely missed the brand new baby stroller and car seat that were wheeled in. And my ears weren't even listening to my pastor who was telling the group that the next person they were blessing, "travels full time and ministers to people on and off stage and has a hard time making ends meet and is just finishing a 40 city tour, and is trying to get ready for her new baby, and pours herself out into people's lives day in and day out." But then I felt everyone looking at me. And I realized... wait, that's me. 

Before I know it I am crying and looking at the most adorable travel stroller system and three baby bottles that had $500 in cash rolled up and stuffed into them. And I am realizing that i wasn't really there to serve, but to be served, and I am awe-struck. 
I have a weakness of sometimes expecting or wanting or dreaming of people doing nice things for me.  As someone that "pours" out a lot, I sometimes want to be poured back into. And that leads to a bunch of silly thinking in my head that maybe "this" or "that" will be done for me. Not only do those thoughts rob me of joy (because I am often disappointed when they do not happen) but they also rob God of his ability to do for me instead of me doing for myself. 
This was one of those rare days though that I was not thinking of myself. I had no dreams built up that maybe we would receive anything, in fact, nothing even remotely close to that had even crossed my mind. I mean, we can pay the bills, not a lot more, but isn't that enough? Aren't there people out there whose needs are greater? It just never crossed my mind as I worked through the room collecting trash and serving drinks. 
And that is exactly how God wanted it. Unplanned, unasked for, and probably even unwarranted. Just a pure and simple blessing. A surprise. A gift. A gift that could be pure, not created or longed for in my conniving little mind, but purely and truly separate of anything I could do myself.  Just the way a true blessing should be. 
On Being Cursed...
Four days later Ryan and I are sitting on the couch and he has been rubbing his eyebrows out all day. This is code for, "I am stressed but don't want to stress you out so I will rub my facial hair until it falls out." I always feel really bad for his eyebrows. 
When we got to the bottom of it all, his two main stressers were band money (or a lack thereof) and what to do with the baby once it gets here. The second fear is normal. I tried to assure him of this. Now that we are getting the nursery together and having showers before we hit the road again this spring, it is feeling very real. Not to mention we know her name now... Anniston. Can't be more real than that. And like every major life event, it is completely exciting and terrifying. 
But the band money, I can't give him reassurance on that. Because honestly a lot of times it is just terrifying minus the excitement. And if I had to deal with it, I am sure my eyebrows would suffer the consequences too. But I tried my best. All the patent answers. God will provide. We will be OK. It will work out. Hey, we might even have some unexpected miracle check in the mail too. And with that, he decided to go check the mail. 
Five minutes later the front door opened again. It was Ryan. The van trailer had been broken into and over $10,000 of gear was missing. So much for that, "we are going to be OK" business. I am almost had to laugh it was such unbearably bad timing. 
And within four days we went from being totally blessed to feeling totally cursed. 
A Convergence...
If you are on our mailing list you know that the gear was recovered. All of it. And most of it working. It was found 30 miles away in a murder suspects home and in the riverbed behind his home. The detective working the case spent his free time online trying to figure out who "Addison Road" was. Then, he saw that our gear had been stolen and called our management in Nashville just so he could return our things to us. Who does that? And how often is stolen equipment ever found and returned? And is still working? This detective said rarely. It rarely ever happens. Especially not through such a "fluke" as "we found it in a murder suspects home." 
A lot of people were praying for us. Praying for our equipment. Praying for Ryan's eyebrows. Praying for our spirit of hope to persist. Perhaps God put the right person there at the right time. He somehow made the pieces fit together. Somehow worked a "fluke" of a miracle. Who knows for sure. 
But what I do know is this. It did not seem to matter. Last night in worship we celebrated the Sunday of advent where we rejoice in the future coming of our savior.  We remembered that we are only in between. In between the arrival of Jesus and the coming of Jesus. In between light and dark. In between the curse and the blessings. And the only thing constant in all of that is this God who claims to love us.  Who works on our behalf and who can be seen, periodically, in the madness of this world. When the presence and realness of God and his love is all that can truly be counted on, the curses and the blessings seem to run together. 
I can be blessed and cursed in four days time, my fortune can flip, my world can change in an instant... yet my heart can remain steadfast. 
As we sang, "Praise God from whom all blessings flow," I thought about his blessings.  Maybe they are not physical at all. Because the physical comes and goes. We gained a stroller but lost our instruments.  A mere exchange of commodities. Instead, He reminded me that His blessing is the water that allows us to thirst no more. The hope that helps us to keep fighting. The ability to love and forgive when we are unable to do so ourselves. 
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control...
These are the real blessings. The unplanned, unregistered for, unphysical blessings that exist in a world where fortune comes and goes like the wind. 
I pray that this Christmas is full of blessings for you. Those kind of blessings.