West Virginia Morning: Advent Devotion

This morning there is no sun. The white sky fills with young light but there is no warmth. The thermometer tells me it’s seventeen degrees. I go out to fill my bird feeders dressed for a blizzard. When I come back in, I light all the candles and kindle the Christmas lights. Then I sit, beside the tree, with Bonnie wedged in the chair beside me. She is a good companion for the listening, and this is what we do—close our eyes and strain hearts to hear something, anything—that still, small voice.

Then I try to do some reading. Have I mentioned I’m having trouble reading lately? My hands ache to be busy and my body begins to feel squirmy and soon my mind wanders and the words float before me like alphabet soup. I keep trying, though, and this morning I gathered some of my Advent devotionals and read a little from Scott Cairns, who is one of my favorite poets. Then I read some Wendell Berry poems out loud to Bonnie, who was rapt and appreciative. But this Advent, this season of Light, I mostly have been practicing listening.

Early on in the Advent season I told a dear friend about my struggles with reading and she made some wise suggestions. “I think you need to not read any books at all,” she said. “I think maybe you need to listen.” She went on to suggest music, or poetry, or the Psalms. And then later, she gave me a tremendous gift. Every day she reads to me a chapter from one of her favorite Advent devotionals on Voxer. I listen to her readings each morning as I drive to work. The book is quickly becoming one of my favorites too. My friend told me she is reading for herself as well as for me, but as I listen to her rich voice give me words and stories, I feel treasured. I feel loved.

I spent so many years reading aloud to my sons. It was an act of love, a sacrifice. The gift of time is enough, but the gift of story? Nothing feeds my soul more. How good it is to be cared for this way.

After my Advent listening, I wash my son’s bedclothes and put clean sheets on his bed. Tomorrow I will drive all day to bring him home for winter break. There is rain in the forecast, possible icy conditions, but the thought of his company on the way back home warms me from the inside out.

These are small things but Christmas first came to us in the small, did it not? That swaddling babe wrapped in rags, sleeping in the manger. I am finding hope in the small moments this year, cherishing my small life. And I am learning that this is no small thing.

My West Virginia Morning: In Like a Lion (plus a giveaway)

 

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This morning I awaken to a softer world. Snow lands in layered pillows and our usual noise is quieted, hushed by a thick layer of white. The sky keeps falling down, the street is buried, there are rumors of power outages, and the clinic is closed. The initial anxiety of interruption gives way to quiet joy and I am softer too. The spirit rests in this muffled stillness.

“A life without a lonely place, that is, a life without a quiet center,” says Henri Nouwen, “easily becomes destructive.”

When I slow to listen, I see how this is true. How quick I am to lay my worth in all the things I do. So that when productivity comes to a screeching halt I am filled with anxiety. Surely there is something I can do to fill this quiet place.

But God whispers to me, “Be still.”

And more emphatically, “BE.”

I feel the weight of Presence and it fills me with light. This is cause for celebration—my Beloved has been waiting for me all this time. So I don my boots and wade through the train of winter’s gown, stand under a heavily cloaked Maple and stare up into the white sky falling down. Bonnie watches from the window as I frame up the lion.

I find my quiet center through the lens and this lonely place, this being—it is prayer.

I have two lovely copies of Dawn Camp’s beautiful new devotional The Beauty of Grace to giveaway! Enter below and I’ll announce the winners in Mondays Playdates with God post.
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Playdates With God: Listening

This weekend I found the rich gifts of silence –my first silent retreat, in which I would get a small taste for the rhythm of the life devoted to the contemplative. It was also my first experience with Spiritual Direction—such a tremendous blessing.
I fell into the rhythm of the days with hunger, longing only for more time to taste and see. We awoke to Contemplative Prayer—which incorporated responsive singing—another first for me. I was deeply affected by the rise and fall of these voices that rose out of the silence along with mine. After breakfast (such an experience to eat in silence—looking out the glass at the swaying white pines) I met with my Spiritual Director—Ginny Masters. She assigned me scripture to contemplate during my prayer times and we discussed my prayer life and my faith journey thus far. Even in our first meeting, God used Ginny to open me up to hear what the Divine was whispering into my life. After Spiritual Direction was personal prayer time—which I spent in a quiet spot on the grounds. It rained on and off all day that first day, and I contemplated scripture under the umbrella of the native trees—enchanted by the way the sun made shine through misty droplets. Before lunch, we had an hour of liturgy. The pastoral center is operated by the Roman Catholic Diocese, and our liturgy followed the order of Mass. Ginny had given me a little booklet to help me follow along, but I didn’t mind the newness of it all. This little Presbyterian took in the Responses and the rhythm of the service with wonder—the holiness of it all penetrated all the deeper for the unfamiliarity of it. I clung to each word, strained to touch the meaning of each tradition.  We took Communion—the Eucharist—together from the communal cup. My cheeks flamed as I tasted the musky wine—Christ’s blood, shed for me. I’ve never partook this way before and I savored each scent, each flavor.
Lunch followed liturgy, then more prayer time and some time to relax, the afternoon spiritual direction session, more time for prayer, dinner, the evening Contemplative prayer session, evening Spiritual Direction—in which we went through the prayer labyrinth first and then discussed my scripture assignments and what the Lord spoke through them.
I always think of my friend Ann Kroeker when I chill in a hammock.
I had some company during my quiet time.
By 9:00 p.m., I was filled. The grace Ginny gave me for the first day was this: to recognize my longing for God and God’s longing for me. As I snuggled into bed that night, I felt cherished; treasured and embraced by the Love that never grows tired. 
I did a little painting, letting color fill some of the silence–letting God speak through bold splashes of red and brown.
So much was spoken in the silence. Amazing what can happen in two days. Two days devoted to listening. Amazing. I might share more in the coming days.
Ginny suggested using a finger labyrinth in my prayer. I absolutely loved it.
But then again…I might just keep these things between me and my good Lord.

How about you? How do you embrace the God-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. And come tell us about it.

Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us!

Sharing with L.L. Barkat today also:

On In Around button

Overflowing

Darkness still lingers when alarm sounds.

I creep downstairs and light my candle—my Christ-light. It floods clarity, eyes slowly adjust and I move from vague dimness to this brilliance.

He speaks to me.

We sit, He and I, together over these words…His words…

and I practice.

I’m learning to listen.

Again.

To be still, to wait; these are not my strengths.

Restless, struggling–I move outside under disappearing stars.

Practice listening.

The robins are not yet roused from their nests and the stillness thrills awake the sleeping parts in me.

Leaves wave in breeze as limbs bend and sway, light begins to seep in at the edges of the horizon.

There is moisture in the air—God’s breath all over me.

You’re so cool, I say.

I know, He says, smiling.

And we listen together as the robins begin to awaken.

Sometimes, He just wants to be with me.

When I listen, I hear His desire.

And it fills me with wonder.

This is
the fullness of joy.

On Signing Books and Hannah Montana

Yesterday, I had my first “real” book signing. I have to admit, I was a little nervous. I skimmed my book for parts I wanted to read, and had an outline of ideas of what I wanted to say in between reading. I felt fairly prepared.

But I was nervous.

So, the night before, looking for a distraction, I settled in with Gilead, hoping Marilynne Robinson’s beautiful prose would keep my mind off the signing.

It didn’t work. When I decided to put the book down, I’d lost my bookmark. So I grabbed a scrap piece of paper from my work pile (Do you have one of those?) and watched some TV with Jeff.

Next morning, I was still thinking about it. Even after prayer.

The Lord had awakened me at 5 a.m. to talk about it, and I laid it down before Him. Several times. At 5:45 or so, I grabbed Gilead again. I noticed the scrap paper bookmark and examined it. It was an old memory verse I had copied down—probably over a year ago.

Here’s what it said:

“But when they arrest you (or when you have a book signing), do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Matt. 10:19-20)

I felt better after that.

I began to see that this was an opportunity to share my faith…to glorify Him.

When I was able to make it about Him—not me—everything fell into place.

Everything went fine, and I had a lot of fun.

There was a little competition at the mall yesterday morning…

Check out this line:

No, that’s not my book signing line (Ha!).

It’s a line to see Jason Earle, who is evidently of Hannah Montana fame.

The mall was packed with pre-teen girls. I thought that might be a good thing, since that is the target audience for my book, but all of these girls seemed to be in an agitated state and were not interested in visiting a bookstore.

But I had a secret weapon…

Chocolate!

I sold a few books and really enjoyed getting to know the staff at Borders Express.

God is so good, Dear Ones. He gives us so many blessings!

Sometimes I just need a little reminder of that!