Playdates with God: Autumn Longing

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Jeff and I ran away to Lexington together this weekend. It was a quick overnight, one we traditionally make on black Friday to do some holiday shopping. But this year, we will have our nest full again over Thanksgiving week, so we made the break for Kentucky early.

My husband and I always have fun exploring new places, but it wasn’t our time in the city that sung God’s sweet song to me. Driving through the Kentucky farmland in the autumn, new music tickling my ear, the beauty of skeletal trees whispering austerity to my spirit … this is where God came to me this weekend. And I sat dumbstruck in the passenger seat.

I always turn to C.S. Lewis as my companion during this season. He captures the longing of autumn so articulately. In my book I talk about how he grasped onto the word sehnsucht—that German word with no real English equivalent encapsulating a longing for home, a homesickness for a place we’ve never been. Lewis famously adored autumn as a time of awakening, a season where joy and sorrow hold hands to reveal to us that we were made for something more.

In the fall I am always filled with a sense of expectation—the hope that something wonderful, something life-transforming is about to happen. I go to bed each day in disappointment, wondering what is this churning inside of me? I should be well familiar with this by now, I wrote a book about it, for Pete’s sake. But life makes no exceptions for slow learners and my memory is surprisingly short. I mistake this feeling as pointing me toward something tangible, but I learn over and over and over again it is the feeling itself that stirs my awareness of God inside of me.

Lewis says it like this, “All joy (as distinct from mere pleasure, still more amusement) emphasizes our pilgrim status; always reminds, beckons, awakens desire. Our best havings are wantings.”

This wanting, this longing, how sweetly it fills my spirit! This sense of expectation I carry with me reminds me that most of the time when wonderful things happen, they happen slowly. No sudden reveal, rather, a slow awakening like a flower opening to the morning sun.

on the bright wing
of morning
I touch the hem
of dawn;
soar through stardust
and dew as light
spreads like
spilled milk, slowly
blinding the eyes
of heaven, light
upon light,
trembling like
a bird preparing
for flight. my body
blooms until all
the sky and I are
one diaphanous
blue wing.

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

Playdates with God: Like a Child

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As we say goodbye to summer and step into fall, I am also saying goodbye to my role as editor for The High Calling. I’ve decided to share some of the posts I wrote over there as a way through this long goodbye. This post was edited by Ann Kroeker and was part of the theme The Work of Play and really is a tiny glimpse of the ideas in my book. I hope you enjoy it.

When I was small, I would run as fast as I could with arms outstretched, letting the wind collect under makeshift wings. I was an airplane, a bird, or a dragon, flying over vast kingdoms. When the moon peeked through the dark at night, these wings would take me from my bed up into the sky, through stardust and past fiery comets—the curtains of the heavens opening wide to receive me. And I would meet with God—fly straight into his arms and let him rock me to sleep in his great lap.

As I grew up, I learned the limits of our natural world. The world grew smaller, and God seemed light years away. I came to understood that faith is being certain of what we do not see (Heb. 11:1), and my childhood nighttime meetings with an unseen God faded to a sweet memory. More and more, my knowledge increased and my faith grew; yet, more and more, I longed for that close communion of long ago.

A few years ago, I went walking with my two young sons on a snowy evening. I remember how they ran ahead, lost in the tumbling play that only brothers know, leaving me in a wake of laughter. I stood alone under that white sky and looked up. Was it true that I once flew through these same heavens; cheeks flushed and eyes pools of starlight?

When did I stop believing that with God all things are possible? Or, rather, when did my imagination become so small that I stopped expecting the seemingly impossible? When did my feet become so rooted to the crust of the earth that I let gravity weigh down my idea of who God is?

It could have been when I turned seven or eight years old. At least, that’s what Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development would suggest. He claimed that the preoperational stage of thinking, which spans approximately ages 2-7, is characterized by the development of symbolic thinking, memory and imagination—all of which allow engagement in rich make-believe play.

This thinking, based on intuition instead of logic, makes it difficult to grasp cause and effect, time, and comparison. Experts view this as a limitation, but my dictionary defines intuition as an insight into truth that is not perceived by the conscious mind. That sounds to me like the place where the Holy Spirit touches my consciousness—steering me this way or that. The world may view that as a limitation, but I wonder…

When our brains reach that stage when they are capable of logic, do the wonder structures in our brains have to shrink to make room? If so, how can we expand them again? How can we grown-ups, long past Piaget’s preoperational stage, recover the wild joy of wonder? How can I revisit that place where the Holy Spirit begins to touch my conscious and steer me again, offering his intuition and insight?

Jesus tells us in Matthew 18 that unless we become like little children we will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, he said. What might that look like? How do I come to Jesus like a child?

One answer came that cold day in February—lifted with laughter on the snow.

Play.

But what would play look like in my grown-up world? In his book Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, Dr. Stuart Brown says when we engage in true play, our sense of self-consciousness diminishes and we lose track of time. Play allows us to live fully in each moment.

I start to practice play, losing myself completely standing at the window, watching a goldfinch peel a sunflower seed. Hours spent pulling weeds in the vegetable garden pass like seconds—the scent of the tomato plant leaves intoxicates. And when the sun shines on water, leaving a rosy trail behind her, I’m drawn into the passage of light through water.

Play reminds me how it feels to be a child—innocent, everything new. God is inviting me to play each time he points my heart to beauty.

That evening in the snow, my sons’ laughter echoing through the streets, I felt the internal prompting. I felt the invitation. Once again, I lifted my arms up to my sides—stretched out my wings. This forty-ish mama let herself glide in circles, let the wind collect under makeshift wings.

And I flew. Straight into the arms of God.

This post originally appeared at The High Calling and is reprinted here under a Creative Commons license.

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

The One Prayer You Don’t Pray But Should: A Guest Post from Margaret Feinberg (and a giveaway!)

My friend, Margaret Feinberg, has a powerful story of finding joy in the most unlikely of circumstances. Her new book and Bible study, Fight Back With Joy, just released—and it’s the most vulnerable and shocking she’s ever penned.

I invited her to share a bit of her journey with you.

Fight Back With Joy 6-Session DVD Bible Study Promo Video from Margaret Feinberg on Vimeo.

 

Troy’s daughter is a sparkling six-year-old ball of hilarity. She bubbles with delight. One night for evening prayers, she petitioned:

“God, tomorrow, may we have gladness and get the energy up.”

Who prays like that? Troy wondered.

Perhaps we all should.

With striking innocence, this precious child was praying for more joy. She asked God to shower her family with cheer and laughter.

Troy wasn’t the only one smiling at his daughter’s prayer. I suspect God was, too.

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When was the last time you prayed for God to give you more joy?

If you’re like me, you may be hesitant to pray for joy, because, well, it can feel a little self-indulgent. Most of us wouldn’t think twice about praying to become more holy or righteous, but asking for joy can feel hedonistic. Yet I believe God takes delight when we abound in joy, because He is the source of all joy.

Psalm 16:11 declares, “In Thy presence is fullness of joy; In Thy right hand there are pleasures forever more.”

In alluding to God’s right hand, the author is anthropomorphizing God (giving him human-like characteristics). The right hand signifies power throughout Scripture. Jesus is seated at God’s right hand (Col 3:1; Acts 2:33). True joy and pleasure are found in Christ.

The Psalmists reveal that the quest for joy is not just an option made available to us but something we’re commanded to pursue.

We are called to seek and obey God, but we also created to enjoy God and partake in the most satisfying pleasure imaginable found in Him. We are meant to live in such a way that God’s pleasure becomes second nature.

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Joy is the hearty echo of God’s great love for us.

Two years before I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I became obsessed with the more than 400 references of joy in Scripture. Two weeks away from turning in a book on joy, I received the phone call that changed my life forever.

I had to scrap the entire project because I couldn’t imagine how I could possibly talk about something as fluffy as joy in the midst of the darkness I felt. Up until that time, I had been searching for joy in the relatively good times of life. But, after cancer, I read the same Scriptures different.

I discovered facets of joy that no one ever taught me:

More than whimsy, joy is a weapon we can use to fight life’s battles.

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The thing is, no one signs up for that discovery project—finding joy in suffering. No one. I’ve never felt so surefooted on my path to a joyful life. I know now that without shadows, joy can feel shallow. But, when we can discover joy while in the fight of our lives—no matter what that is—it is lasting.

Everyone who has faced a challenge, or who knows someone in the midst, needs a to know that suffering doesn’t win. Joy wins.

My prayer is that this book and Bible study will be beacon for anyone searching for HOW to fight darkness.

My prayer is that this book and Bible study will be a beacon for anyone ABOUT to face a battle.

My prayer is that this book and Bible study will be a beacon for anyone IN the fight of their lives.

My prayer is that this book and Bible study will be a beacon for anyone who has crawled THROUGH the trenches.

Today, if your future feels flimsy, know that you are not alone. Even in this you can fight back with joy. You can pray like Troy’s daughter—and know God has something powerful He longs to give you.

Margaret Feinberg shares her harrowing journey in the book and Bible study, Fight Back With Joy: Celebrate More. Regret Less. Stare Down Your Greatest Fears. You can learn more at www.margaretfeinberg.com. Follow her on Twitter @mafeinberg

I’m so excited to be giving away a copy of Margaret’s new book Fight Back with Joy: Celebrate More. Regret Less. Stare Down Your Greatest Fears. But that’s not all. If your name is drawn, you will also win a copy of Jenny Lee Sulpizio‘s new book For the Love of God, Jeanne Murray Walker‘s The Geography of Memory, and my very own Playdates with God. How’s that for a prize package? Enter for your chance to win below.
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Playdates with God: Creature Love

Bonnie is helping me remember.

This careful tending she requires invites me to slow down, to focus outward and not on my unruly thoughts; taking care of her does not allow time for brooding.

She likes to be outside, to lie in the sun. A great deal of time is spent sniffing the grasses and she has made an enemy of the dandelions—stalking and striking like a giant cobra until her whiskers are white with fluffy seeds. When I delight in her silly antics, I am kin to St. Francis and I understand why he is said to have preached to the birds.

So I am her glad companion, sitting in the sun and letting spring sing her song around me. I had forgotten the way birdsong makes the air lighter, and the poetry of the wind in the trees. When I close my eyes I can hear the hum of the bumblebee’s wings as she collects her sweetness. To stretch out in fresh-cut grass under a tent of blue sky is to wonder at my own smallness.

And the lilac. Yesterday as we walked together through the back yard I smelled her perfume. The blooms have not yet fully unfolded, but the tight panicles seemed to me like fingers beckoning us closer. So I pulled out the kitchen step stool and my camera and had a closer look.

This, the lens of joy.

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:
 
 
The Playdates button:

Enter into Lent with Joy

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I’m engrossed in trying to paint thanks—filling this need inside of me for color when something behind me falls from the shelf with a clatter. I startle and turn to see my amaryllis on the floor—the bulb my pastor gifted me with for Christmas; the one that whispers red joy to me each time I pass it by, the one whose full blooming glory I’ve been waiting for. Just this morning I noticed that the palms of all four flowers were open wide—finally—and it made me so happy and I thought, “My, that thing is tall. I will need to stake it soon.”
Too late now.
There is peat moss all over the floor and when I gently lift the hollow stems I see that one of the blooms has snapped off clean. The bulb has pulled up out of the dirt and I pile the loose soil back around its base and lean its now lopsided frame against the shelf. I have no idea if it will survive.
It seems the last tiny straw in a series of backbreaking bales and I sit in the floor and pluck at peat moss that has settled in the cracks of the wooden floor. Life has been such a struggle lately and can’t I just have this one moment of joy—dipping my fingers in the paints and letting my mind see what I want them to become?

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It’s hard work to grab for this joy when the studio is the dining room table and dipping in means a constant rearranging of the necessary things. I have to fight for joy—have to want it enough to do the hard work of stepping out of the norm. And it ishard work—isn’t it easier to step around my box of watercolors every day, to think one day I’ll have time for these things?
But this afternoon I choose joy and I am smack dab in the middle of it when that mean old devil has to make a mess of everything. Dabbing at loose dirt with a damp paper towel, I remember what that famous demon Screwtapesaid to his nephew Wormwood. “The safest path to hell is the gradual one,” he said, as he instructed the novice in a demon’s best strategy: to befuddle, confuse, and eventually corrupt. They say the devil is in the details, and it has been all these little things lately that seem to torment.
I feel befuddled and confused. Lord, have mercy.
I sit in the floor and hold the gracefully turned funnel of an amaryllis bloom in my hand. The red of its petals is soft like velvet and there is a small tip of white on the point of each. Yellow flecks of pollen are scattered along the red and I lift it gently to my nose. The scent is faint but sweet and it stirs an ache inside of me.
This week marks the start of the Lenten season and I feel the bright sadness. All these little deaths are reminding me…reminding me of how waiting can prepare the heart. Tomorrow, we will receive the ashes and remember how we died with Christ—how we must die a little every day.                                  
I rub my finger across undulations of softly rippled petals and remember what Jesus said.
I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.
Isn’t this our story? Isn’t where the Lenten journey must take us?
We are a resurrection people.
This is the joy we hold onto in the journey to the cross. This is the joy we fight for.
I water the amaryllis and stake her tall scape. Then I go back to the paints.

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