Playdates with God: First Monday of Advent

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The first Sunday of Advent found us on the road, returning our son to his scholastic nest after a week of giving thanks. We traveled for a total of nine hours yesterday, watching the sun-chariot of Helios arc across the sky through the windshield. We missed the lighting of the first candle with our church family, the candle of hope, but as day dwindled into night and we drove away from our son, I felt the flame of hope kindled in my heart.

He is growing into his own person and this week felt like meeting him anew in many ways. Every smile was an answer to prayer. Today, it feels right to step from gratitude into hope. It has been a long year. We live into decisions made of sacrifice, uncertainty marks our steps. There have been disappointments and new beginnings, but the light of this season reminds us this story we are living is only part of the tale.

Advent always stirs that deep longing, fills with expectation. I strain my neck to see the manger, but also look inward to find Christ in me. I look ahead to the day when all will be made new in this tired world. Sometimes, it’s hard to let that work begin with me, let my fingers slip from the tight grip with which I hold it all.

John Calvin said that the world is a theater of God’s glory, that he is “inclined to allure us to himself by gentle and loving means.” In his book Ravished by Beauty, theologian Belden C. Lane says, “[P]raise is a matter of studying in minute detail the footprints of God in the world.” He is referring to nature, but I have followed God’s footprints through the ways he is working in the lives of those I love of late. I step into Advent with wonder and awe, cradling tiny flames of light.

Hope. How it does light the way. May your week be filled with light, Beloveds.

Every Monday I share one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find God and know joy. Click on the button below to add your link. I try to visit a few of your stories every week, so if you are a new visitor, be sure to let me know in the comments so I can welcome you. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us.

Laura Boggess

White Christmas

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Christmas Day came and went and not one frail flake fell from the sky. New Year’s dawned with a white sky of promise but hope faded with the sun. Not until the Epiphany of the Lord—yesterday—did our little valley get a glimpse of the white stuff. Somehow this seems appropriate on this day that we celebrate the revelation of Christ as king. Epiphany—the “aha!” moment, the unexpected light of insight. And Jesus, like a sudden snowfall, brings wonder into our lives. Epiphany celebrates how God revealed the identity of Jesus as Messiah to the Gentile Magi. It reminds us that Jesus came for all—not just for the Jewish nation—that is the significance of Epiphany—that the Lord of Lords reveals himself to each one of us in a unique and personal way.

This morning I sit in my white chair in my white dining room and watch the sky drift down in flecks of light. It is lovely to be warm and cozy when it is twenty-one degrees outside. I’m enjoying my new quiet time corner and this morning I remembered I promised to share with you when the room was all done.

First, here’s a little of what it used to look like. This is from Christmas a few years ago. The walls were yellow and red.

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And here it is now:

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I’m not a Martha-Stewart-type but beauty does inspire me. This makeover was inspired by some original artwork that I acquired last year. I have a friend who collects art from all over the world and to visit with him is a delight for the eyes and heart. He introduced me to the work of South Carolina artist Claire McElveen and I fell in love. I was able to bid on a few of her original pieces on eBay and have started a small collection of my own.

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Well, of course when the pieces arrived I couldn’t find a suitable place in the house to display them. Such loveliness requires just the right setting, no? Like precious gems. That was when I decided I needed to paint all the dark woodwork white and create a blank slate. It’s so much brighter now and it feels roomier to me. When the walls and woodwork were done, my furniture looked out of place, so I decided to pickle my home office cabinet. You know how it goes, if you give a mouse a cookie … Then I had to do the chairs.

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The entire project took quite a while due to working around the busy schedule (who decides to re-do a room the same time their book is released?). In truth, it was only the threat of holiday visitors that propelled me to finish.

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It was quite a playdate. Amazing what a little paint and some elbow grease can do :). What do you think? Do you like it? Aren’t the paintings lovely? I’m still pinching myself every time I stand in front of them.

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Thanks for letting me share a little of what is making my heart smile on this cold, snowy morning.

Playdates with God: Christmastide

beach-2012-day-1-060As we traveled to the manger, the days were numbered, counted diligently and weighed as they passed. But since the arrival it has been as always when new life enters into a place, all soft-skinned and needy—time has been slipping through our fingers. This being together has entered into our hearts and I feel the way things are supposed to be. The slow pace of the days, the quiet conversations, the long walks in the afternoon.

This little season of Christmastide brings Jesus into our everyday in tangible ways. It seems the perfect phrase. Beauty sweeps over us like a wave, following the ebb and flow of something bigger. Carrying away the harsh edges of life, leaving behind round-edged gems. It gives the space to breathe. Peace on earth. This is how it should be when the calendar commitments are in their proper place, when the work we do is done for the right reasons, when Love is at the center of it all.

I don’t want to take down the Christmas tree. Every year I struggle with the same. How do I hold on to the season of Light all year long? It’s a heart state, this Christmas. I can carry it with me. But there is something about a house frocked in red and green, something about the twinkling lights. Everywhere one looks the worlds sings Christmas.

I set out one of my nativity sets year round. It makes me happy when I see it. I trim the house with reminders of new life for every season. This helps my heart stay focused, but these weak eyes will sometimes look straight through these things as if they are only scenery.

It has to start on the inside.

This little practice I started those years ago of having playdates with God keeps my heart as soft as clay. Spending time, intimate time, with the Lover of my soul has saved me. It is still changing me. This is what it takes: time alone with God. How else can a person fall in love?

As the year winds down and I look back in faith at all the days we’ve traveled through, I see that this is what has carried me: the One True Love that never fails.

Tell me, what practices are taking you to new places in your spiritual life?

Every Monday I’ll be sharing one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find Him. Be with Him. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us:

Laura Boggess

West Virginia Morning: Christmas Eve

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On Christmas Eve’s eve we sat together on the couch and watched some of our favorite holiday classics. There was The Grinch, and Rudolph, and Charlie Brown to keep us company. We’ve done this since the boys were small, usually earlier in the season to build the excitement. But every year the showing comes later and later, seeming to stretch out with each inch added to their height. As boys grow, so do their personal calendars and family time becomes a rare gift to be savored.

But I kept falling asleep in my place on the edge of the couch. There is a lot of flu going around here and I worried perhaps I was coming down with something. So I went to bed early without kissing anyone and Bonnie joined me and we snuggled in deep for a long winter’s nap.

So, on Christmas Eve’s morn, what do I do? I rise early, with nothing more than a slight morning sniffle, to get more work done, creep out of bed in the dark and sit with some last minute editing to meet a deadline. And I don’t mind it, really, I don’t. This lover of words could drown in a sea of them and be happy. But when I’ve done all I can do, I pick up that book on Sabbath I’ve been reading on the lonely mornings, the one that has become my favorite. And Wayne Muller says this, “Sabbath requires surrender. If we only stop when we are finished with all our work, we will never stop—because our work is never completely done. … If we refuse to rest until we are finished, we will never rest until we die. Sabbath dissolves the artificial urgency of our days, because it liberates us from our need to be finished.”

I sat there fingering that page, aware of all the work that is undone, and felt a loneliness so deep. Such a longing welled up inside of me for something unknown. I wanted rest, I wanted beauty, I wanted hands on my body and poetry in my ears. I wanted paradise and wholeness and the love that never fails.

So I did what I always do when eternity woos me this way, I went outside. The earth was just waking up to birdsong, her thirst quenched by the showers that passed through last night; everything gray and damp and dripping with baubles of light. It smelled like spring, like new life and I marveled at the ways of creation once again. The newspaper tells me we might break the record today for warm temperatures on Christmas Eve. The record temperature for this day is 73 degrees, set in 1964—before I was even born. I stand outside with only a light jacket, breathing in new life and it hits me.

This is the season of new life. Isn’t this Christmas? Hope took on flesh and suckled at the breast of a woman. Hope came in the most impossible of all ways, in the helpless form of a babe. And isn’t it God’s way to come in the most unusual of ways, the most unexpected? Isn’t this what I believe when I light the Christmas tree, when I sing the carol, when I open the gift?

God came down. It’s impossible to grasp and I will never convince my unbelieving friends of this story that is next to lunacy. Because love rarely makes sense, love rarely comes in the ways we expect it to, Love cannot be explained in words.

And so this lover of words sets them aside for a time this morning. She gives herself fully to the surrender. And for a brief moment, one tiny millisecond, eternity floods her heart and that loneliness is filled.

And it is enough. It is enough for now.

Playdates with God: The Ordinary-Sacred

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On the first day of winter—the shortest day of the year—my pastor preached about the ordinary-sacred.

She asked us about our nativity scenes at home, about the figure of Mary. “Mary is often pictured kneeling with a serene expression on her face, or sometimes with her arms lifted high in praise.”

I thought about my kneeling Mary. I thought about my praising Mary. I thought about the babe lying untouched in the manger.

“First of all, how many women who have just given birth do you know who are able to kneel?” She reminded us what it means to be a new mother. It is a messy, tiring thing, this motherhood. It’s the kind of thing that requires hands on.

“If there is any time the holy family should be pictured as hands-on,” she said, “it’s Christmas. For this is when God became hands-on with us.”

My pastor introduced us to the sculptor (and professor) Tom Clark, who grew famous for his lovable gnomes. But he also does other sculpting, including some nativities. She showed us a picture of a nativity Dr. Clark had made in which a frumpy-looking Mary holds her infant close to her body, tiny face peeking out of swaddling clothes. The baby’s head rests in the nape of Mary’s neck, eyes closed, lips full and puckered. (You can see a photo of this beautiful work of art here, on the owner’s blog.)

I met with my Spiritual Director last week and she asked me about Advent. “It feels different this year,” I told her. “Usually, my heart feels tender, vulnerable, needy during this time. But this year it just feels raw.”

We wait for this Jesus. And because we know the end of the story, this waiting is tinged with sweetness. But some seasons? Life is just hard. Some seasons are rich with the rugged journey through the longest night, heavy with the stink of the stable, rife with the sleeplessness of new birth, and the tired of doing all that is required.

These are the seasons to remember this, “Mary didn’t keep Jesus at a distance. She held him close,” my pastor said. “This is the true miracle of Christmas … Just as all babies, his greatest need was to be held in human arms … ”

Jesus is not a God who requires us to stand back and praise him from a distance. He is Emmanuel, God with us. He touched the sick, embraced the sorrowed, held little children in his lap. His life illustrates how the holy comes to us in the midst of the ordinary. Over and over again.

In the dark season, I hold Jesus close. He is as near as my next breath, as close as a tear. And when I open my arms to the raw places in the world, He opens his arms to me. This is how we make it through the longest night, this is true Advent waiting: to wait in hope, with open arms, cradling the beautiful-ordinary as sacred.

Every Monday I’ll be sharing one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find Him. Be with Him. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us:

Laura Boggess