If You’ve Ever Been Disappointed

 

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One morning last week as I did my early reading and light spilled over the frosted earth like a glass of yellowed buttermilk, two yearling does visited the meadow behind our house. The girls were wary, and when I moved to the window to watch them nibble the frozen grass along the fence line, they lifted their heads in tandem to study me—tails twitching behind. They soon surmised I was no threat and resumed their brunching, content. It was cold outside, below freezing, and I noted the thickness of their fur, wondered how it would feel to the touch.

Since then, I moon expectantly around the window as often as I can, hoping to catch another glimpse the little girls’ doe-eyed beauty.

I am a hopeless sentimentalist—a hopeless hoper; always believing the best is yet to come, always holding out for a glimpse of wonder. I study the night sky patiently for shooting stars, search the clover patch diligently for the elusive four-leaf, linger long on the balcony by the ocean for a glimpse of the dolphin’s rounded nose to poke up out of the waves.

I’ve been disappointed too many times to name and yet, my spirit still gets its hopes up when waiting. I never seem to learn my lesson, often diving straight into hope from possibility without a second thought. God has almost cured me of wanting anything at all through the repeated blows of disappointment I have experienced over the years.

But not quite.

Recently, I suffered another disappointment and I’m having a hard time shaking this one. Even though I know there’s no simple answer, I’ve been asking myself “why?” a lot. I’ve caught myself wishing I wasn’t so full of hope. I’ve been asking God what I’m doing wrong, what I’m supposed to learn from this grief, and why does he always make me take the hard path? I tear up at the strangest times and find myself without words during my prayer time. I’ve been sitting in silence a lot. It’s quiet here, inside the walls of me. I have been touching the moments gently—feeling around inside my heart.

Romans 5:5 tells me, “… hope does not disappoint …” but I’ve been complaining to God about what I feel is a lack of truth in this statement. I’ve been identifying with God’s name for his people in Zachariah 9:12: “prisoners of hope.”

And still, I hope. I hope this disappointment was a mistake. That this thing longed for will be replaced by something of greater joy. That the reason for this “no” would be clear to me and I would feel grateful to be saved from whatever certain perils a “yes” would have brought.

Christmas is coming and this year my advent waiting feels almost desperate at times. For, lately it feels I am always waiting for a good that never arrives. This is what the word “advent” means, after all: arrival.

After some sleuthing around in the dictionary, I discovered that the words “advent” and “adventure” come from the same Latin root, advenire. But “advent” comes from the past participle stem of advenire, while “adventure” comes from the future participle.

I’ve always thought of Advent as a waiting for, but this startling etymology reminds me that this arrival we wait for is already past. Yes, we wait for the return of our Savior, but he has already come. He has already done the hard work that fills our hearts with longing—that fills our hearts with hope. He has arrived and dwells within our hearts, abiding and keeping company and strengthening us for the journey. Because even though he has arrived, we still wait for that day when all will be made right and his arrival will announce a new order of things. And it is the promise of future adventure that keeps our waiting so expectant, so alive with joy.

This is why hope does not disappoint. This is why my heart’s hopefulness cannot be quashed: Our hope is in more than earthly desires. Our hope is a person. His name is Jesus. There is much that can be said about this broken world we live in and how our lives are being made new by faith—minute by minute—how disappointment is a real and human thing … but I don’t have all the right words to say that just now.

This is the mystery of Advent, this already-but-not-yet our hearts understand better than our heads. I don’t quite understand it either, my mind almost grasps it but then it slips away as quickly as the light fades from the winter sky.

But the shimmer—this glimmer—of truth stays inside of me. This morning I touch it gently with my thoughts as I move to the window once more. I watch through the glass, my feet planted in warm, as the two yearling sisters emerge from the brush and sniff the remains of my fall pumpkin, broken open and discarded in the meadow.

The house glows soft with twinkling light and my heart floods with hope once again.

 

 

Black Friday: Bittersweet

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This morning as the bacon sizzled in the pan, I looked out the bay window to see a large black crow flying over the meadow behind our house. Something about the slow way he pushed down on the air with his massive wings put a song in my heart. He was unhurried, dipping low into the frost-tipped grasses, lifting feathered body high against a gray day dawning.

These past few days have felt like an extended Sabbath and as Sabbath-keeping always does, a quiet celebration has been kindled in my heart.

Yesterday we feasted with our loved ones and took our traditional after-dinner walk. My mother-in-law showed us the wild vines of Bittersweet growing tangled all along her property. She decorated the dining table with it this year and it seemed the perfect thing. After our walk, we lingered long in each other’s presence, keenly aware someone was missing, feeling the joyful ache of love and longing all wrapped up in each other. This will be the year of firsts without him, and we cling tightly to what is left behind, finding comfort in being together.

Tomorrow, we make that long drive to drop our boy back at his dorm and already I feel lonely for him. These are the ways God is preparing my heart for Advent—this crazy mix of joy and grief. It’s a strange feeling, this hollowing out of all the stuff of the world I carry in me to make room for the divine.

Philippians 2:5-11 says that Jesus made himself nothing. Being in very nature God … he made himself nothing. (NIV). The NRSV says he emptied himself. It’s the Greek verb form kenóō“to empty”.

In Christian theology, we call it kénōsis—the voluntary emptying of my own will and allowing myself to surrender to the will of God.

He cannot fill me unless I am empty.

The world empties me when I am too weak to do it myself. Circumstances steal joy, hope is squelched and love runs out the door. And I am empty … empty.

The morning winks at me and the sky is heavy with unshed rain and I open my heart to this season. That empty inside is a tender ache—softer than before … sweet somehow. I let this mystery of my own becoming comfort and awaken the wonder. The wonder of waiting for a Lord who never leaves me.

The winner of my Advent giveaway is … Kelli! Congratulations, friend! I’ll be in touch soon.

Rooted

 

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My mother’s father was a coal miner—a hard-drinking man with rough hands who laughed easily and loved children. Mining was hard work, and sometimes dangerous, but it paid a fair wage. That was something a man with little education and a growing family in rural West Virginia could appreciate. His daddy farmed to feed his family; now that same land would give provision in a different way.

For my grandfather, this land where I now live was about more than making a living. It was a way of life. A way of life that has been slowly seeping away.

Mechanization in the 1950s and 60s changed the face of coal mining all across Appalachia. Thousands of miners lost their jobs and left the region. As the economy and industry shifted, the population declined further in the 1980s. Once-thriving mining communities became ghost towns as young families left in search of livelihood.

Bodies broken from years of hard labor became dependent on prescriptions to get through the day. Others self-medicated to forget the pain of their bodies and the emptiness of unemployment.

Gradually, the way of life the land gave us began to fade from our memories. Hollows once blossoming with carefully-tended homes and gardens became darker places. Lonely places.

But still, there are those who chose to stay. They stayed because they are rooted deeply here. Rooted deeply in a land that has given back to its people in more ways than can be named. And they remember the old ways.

My grandfather stayed. He stayed and pieced together a living as best he could. Life was different, but he was home. This land had been faithful to his family for generations.

In April of 2013, Harlan County, Kentucky, hosted a conference for people concerned about the changing economy in Appalachia. Attendees of the three-day Appalachia’s Bright Future gathering heard stories of people from other regions that have gone through similar economic transitions. One such person was Brendan Smith, a former cod fisherman from Newfoundland.

“Economic transition is about much more than bringing in jobs,” Smith said. “ … When the cod grounds shut down, what they did was offer us money. They’d send us a check, we’d beach our boats … We took the money but what we did was lose our sense of purpose. What you find in Newfoundland now is, a fisherman gets a check, buys a brand new beautiful truck and gets up at five in the morning to drive down to the docks and drink himself to death while he wishes he was out fishing.

“Work has to be about so much more than making a paycheck,” Smith went on to say. “Fishermen, coal miners, iron workers … we’re just proud of building, powering, feeding this whole country. So, just transition plans not only have to help us feed our families but also feed our souls.”

I think of my grandfather as I walk beside the creek with my children. I don’t know what it was about this land that fed his soul. The curves of these hills move differently inside of me. As I watch my boys skip rocks from the bridge, I wonder if Grandpa’s loyalty was not so much to the work of the land as it was to the slow pace of life this land engenders. To family and the deep relationships that grow in these hills.

I gaze down at swift-moving water slipping over smooth stones and wonder if my grandfather knew that his choice to stay would bring me where I am today … walking beside my two boys in a neighborhood that stands on a former cow pasture.

Home.

In this New York Times video, residents of McDowell County, W. Va., share memories and hopes for their rural community—in jeopardy because of high unemployment and an exodus of young people. Mobile users can view the video by clicking here.

Don’t forget to leave a comment on this post for a chance to win some great books!

This article originally appeared at The High Calling.

Exile

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This morning I awakened in the kind of pain that makes it difficult to move. I knew what it was, knew what was needed, and so for the second time in ten years, I called in to work to let them know I would be staying home today. I’ve been resting, using ice, and stretching. I am doing better—still moving gingerly, but better. My friend Shelly says that if we neglect our Sabbath time, sometimes we will enter into a time of forced Sabbath. I must admit this feels good—to stay in my PJs late into the morning, listen to my body and heed its call.

The truth is, work has been hard lately. Just yesterday I suffered a bit of disillusion after an exchange with some of my colleagues. Sometimes a system can feel too big to change unless we work together, and often the people we serve take the brunt of this kind of stagnation. Sometimes a system can feel so big that individuals get caught up in their own agendas and resist working together for change because it might require much. I feel myself being pulled toward this way. Yesterday, in a very small way, I felt like Jeremiah—my voice falling on empty ears. It was a hard place to be and I didn’t like it. So, this morning I am resting my tender heart, collecting the manna of this moment.

Eugene Peterson defines exile as “being where we don’t want to be with people we don’t want to be with.” Of course, he was speaking of the Jewish exiles in Babylon at first, but he is skillful to draw a quick parallel to our lives today. That’s how I felt yesterday. Like I was in exile.

When the Israelites are in Babylon, Jeremiah sends them a letter from Jerusalem. “Build houses and make yourselves at home,” he says. “Put in gardens and eat what grows in that country. Marry and have children. … Make yourselves at home there and work for the country’s welfare. Pray for Babylon’s well-being. If things go well for Babylon, things will go well for you.”

“The aim of a person of faith,” says Peterson, “is not to be as comfortable as possible but to live as deeply and thoroughly as possible—to deal with the reality of life, discover truth, create beauty, act out love.”

Today it feels like I am hiding from the reality of life. But tomorrow? I pray I will be able to jump back in, to “discover truth, create beauty, act out love.” I will continue in this discovery of what it means to belong to God in this place I do not want to be.

Exile.

 

Like Riding a Bike

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As I write, the little boy across the street is learning to ride his bike. From my desk I can see them through the window—his father holding onto the seat and running along beside as his boy pedals maniacally. When he lets go the man bellows, “Pedal! Pedal!” I hear a high pitched howl before boy and bike topple over into the soft grass. His sister and another little neighbor girl stand witness, cheering as he goes down time after time. But he keeps returning to the seat.

“I feel like my writing muscles have grown weak,” I joked with my friend last weekend at the poetry retreat. “Well,” she said. “It is a skill. If you don’t use it …” I recognized the truth in her words and felt a catch in my throat.

It doesn’t feel like “riding a bike,” this ebb and flow of the writing life. In some ways, though, it does feel like the learning to ride—all these bumps and crashes. I’m on a quest to rediscover the joy I used to find in words. Somewhere along the way, writing became something else, my voice muffled like a song under water.

Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés calls this quest “building a motherland.”

“This world is being made from our lives, our cries, our laughter, our bones. It is a world worth making, a world worth living in, a world in which there is a prevailing and decent wild sanity …” She goes on to say,

When we think of reclamation it may bring to mind bulldozers or carpenters, the restoration of and old structure, and that is the modern usage of the word. However, the older meaning is this: The word reclamation is derived from the old French reclaimer, meaning ‘to call back the hawk which has been let fly.’ Yes, to cause something of the wild to return when it is called. It is therefore by its meaning an excellent word for us. We are using the voices of our minds, our lives, and our souls to call back intuition, imagination; to call back the Wild Woman. And she comes.”

Last night I told a friend that I am learning I must fight to awaken my voice again—I mustn’t give up as easily as I have. This love of creating is a way of giving to the world and I feel like a part of myself is missing when I am silent. Like a psalm written on my bones, it is a core part of my being.

Across the street, my little neighbor friend gets back up on the seat of his bike again. I hear his sister and her friend lift up encouragement. I hear his father giving instruction. I have voices cheering me on as well. Some have held me until I can find my balance.

But the most essential part falls to me. I have to keep getting back up into the seat.

The winner of last week’s happy giveaway is … Julie Dodson! congratulations, Julie! I’ll be in touch.