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.

 

 

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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Weather Forecast (a poem)

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this will be remembered
as the Christmas of sixty degrees
when we went walking in shorts
and wore flip-flops as we sat
on the patio in the fading light
of day

the trees adorned with flashing
wings; morning drips from gray
branches; the meadow covered
in white mist

I have two sets of eyes, two sets
of ears; my skin holds the memory
of life hoped for, taken, healed

I am a sponge, filled with the water
of dreams, your voice strong
inside me, like the north wind,
all my worth measured by
the light in your eyes

beauty is a wild thing I stalk,
gathering fog by the armfuls and
heaping it onto yesterday

the lights on the Christmas tree
glisten, winking in reflection on
naked branches outside the window

the weatherman calls for rain.

Playdates with God: Image-bearers

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The night before last, I had a dream that I had Alzheimer’s Disease. I was in a strange town, had parked my minivan along the street somewhere, and couldn’t remember where I’d left it. Nothing looked familiar and IT WAS TERRIFYING.

Last night, Jeff and I went to Mountain Stage to see one of our new favorite singer/songwriters—it’s one of the best playdates, seeing live music—and Mountain Stage always introduces us to amazing new artists (AWE-MAZING!), anyway, on the way home, I was telling him about my dream.

“For that little bit of time,” I said, “I knew what it felt like to have dementia. When I awakened, I had so much compassion for anyone dealing with that illness. I was terribly frightened.”

Ever since, I can’t stop thinking about it. This train of thought leads me to try to inhabit the many sorrows people deal with every day. Sometimes, the holiday season must feel like just another day to get through. The world is a broken place. We can still see the beauty through God’s common grace, but being human means living with frailty.

This time of year, we all get bombarded by charities. From the bellringers at the grocery store to the woman standing at the intersection with a sign, everywhere I turn there is a hand out. It would be easy to let my heart turn to stone and look the other way. But I hope I never do. We are the only creatures formed in God’s image. Yet many times I fail to see the holiness in the faces I meet every day. Here are some of our favorite organizations that remind me to open my eyes and see anew.

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World Vision

We’ve been sponsoring three children through this organization for many years now. I’m amazed at all the good work they do. One of our favorite gifts is to give something from their gift catalog in the name of a special friend.

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Family Health Ministries

This is the organization I went to Haiti with last summer. I witnessed first hand the many ways they are changing the lives of the people they serve.

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Read Aloud West Virginia

One of my passions. Helping children fall in love with reading will change the future of the world.

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College Summit

I believe education is one of the keys to helping many of the problems our world faces. College Summit is dedicated to helping make sure every child has an opportunity for higher education.

Some other organizations I haven’t worked with but read wonderful things about:

Help One Now
Mercy House Kenya
Compassion International
Pure Charity

And one more we may add to our giving list this year:

Alzheimer’s Association

What are some of your favorite ways to give back?

I’m going to take a break from the Playdates linkup for the remaining Mondays in December. Have a wonderful Advent Season, beloveds. You are all gifts to me. I’ll see you back here in January.

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