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.

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.

The Weight of Waiting: A Giveaway

Last week we finally had our first frost and I was forced to abandon waiting on those last green tomatoes to turn. I picked the vines clean, tomato and pepper, marveling all the while at such a bounty in the second week of November.

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November. How can it be November, I mused? I sat at the kitchen table with a filled-to-the-brim colander in front of me and watched the leaves drop off the walnut trees. They fell from the branches in huge clumps, looking like birds dropping down to the earth.

I’d hoped to can this final crop but I knew the busy would catch up to me first. So I bagged up a poke of chilis and sent them off to a friend—another lover of growing things. It felt good to give away something long-awaited.

I’m attempting to lean into waiting seasons,” says my friend Kris Camealy, in her Advent devotional Come Lord Jesus, “to let God grow in me, a holy promise for the things promised but not yet revealed.”

Advent begins November 27th, and I can hardly catch my breath thinking it. Tomorrow we will pick up our boy from college—the nest will be full again for a short time. My hungry heart beats joy at the thought of kith and kin gathered around the hearth again. Thanksgiving ushers in that season of waiting in the sweetest of ways, stoking our hearts with wonder for the most common moments.

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. Waiting is hard.

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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. Some things are worth waiting for: watching my boys become amazing young men, feeling the bloom of marriage open into full blossom, friendships that weather the long storms …

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The past two weekends our church hosted a War Chest Boutique party for WAR International. If you’re not familiar with that ministry and its good work, by all means, read about it here. They are fighting human trafficking, among other things, and helping victims of this atrocity rebuild their lives by training them to in the craft of jewelry-making and the like. We sold over $1800 of merchandise. I find it a fitting thing to give away some of that beauty as we prepare to usher in Advent. Purple is the color of Advent, so we have a purple theme going on. If you’d like a chance to win a signed copy of Kris Camealy’s Advent devotional Come Lord Jesus: The Weight of Waiting, a beautiful purple clutch purse, an Amethyst chip ring, and a lovely  handcrafted Christmas ornament, just leave a comment on this post. I’ll announce the winner next Friday, November 25th.

This year I will step into Advent with thanksgiving and wonder and awe. This is how I feel God grow in me, this is the gift of waiting: the giving back of what has been sown and waited for, the giving away of that which has been tended with love.

Christmas 2015

On Christmas Eve’s eve we grilled burgers and sat out on the back deck late into the evening. I looked up into the night sky and wondered about Mary, about that star, about the night sounds in Bethlehem. As we wait for the swaddled one, our Advent has been swaddled too—in family, quiet moments, books, and home. I’ve been reading about Sabbath again, and this week these words jump out at me:

Sabbath is a fiction, true and sure, the promise of peace. ~Dan Allender, Sabbath: The Ancient Practices

I have been living a fiction these past days, dreaming within a dream—a woman come back from the dust. How wonderful to know only the warmth of kith and kin, to be formed by the waiting, and let my ardor for God be stirred by love.

I pray the same for all of you, Beloveds. I am wrapping you in the swaddling clothes of my love.

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