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.

 

 

Giving Thanks: A Study of Light

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On Monday afternoon I went with my not-so-little Jeffrey and a good friend who also happens to be a photographer to take his senior pictures. We walked several blocks all over Charleston, stopping at mysterious places that seemed random to me but to my friend’s experienced eye held some special slant of beauty.  She’s been doing this a long time and makes amazing art, so I trusted her. I tagged along behind her purposeful steps, lugging off-camera lighting, a portable reflector, and sometimes discarded clothing from my son (“Layers,” I told him. “That’s how we’ll get the look we want.”)  At one point, as we stood on a quiet street in front of a colorful mural (only about a block away from my place of employment, but I never knew it was there. How do artists find these things?) my beautiful, talented friend stopped abruptly at the edge of the sidewalk while my son lumbered in the street.

“Wait.” She said. “Let me look at the light.”

She studied the sun play chiascuro over the patterned brick for a moment. “Okay,” she said. “Let’s go.”

This morning I rose before dawn and sat in my quiet place to watch the sun slip slow over the horizon—spilling grace on rooftops and frost-dipped grasses and washing the world in honeyed hues. As I reflected on all that I am thankful for, I remembered my friend’s words.

“Let me look at the light.”

I watched that amber glow bind up the rough edges of my every day world and I thought that choosing to give thanks must be a lot like looking for sunlight—illuminating beauty in even the darkest of life’s corners.

Isn’t this what we do when we engage in thanksgiving?

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come…No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God…It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens…to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens…(excerpt from President Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation, Oct. 3, 1863.)

Happy Thanksgiving, Beloveds. May you feast on the light of His love this day and always.

Don’t forget to leave a comment on this post Friday, November 25th, for 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.

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The Hallowed Corners of Life

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(a reprint from deep in the archives today. Because I needed a reminder.)

There are temples all over this place.

The dining room table, the kitchen sink, underneath the pear tree, the halls I walk at the hospital where I work…no tall arches or stained glass, no austere organ music or deep mahogany. Just these hands, this body, these people I weave in and out of every day.

I remind myself of this each day—each ordinary day: the ground I walk on is holy.

On this ordinary day, my two boys are home from school on a long weekend. I’ve taken the day off of work for their well-visits with the pediatrician. Here I learn we are behind on vaccines. And my eldest still has those big holes in the top of each eardrum. And today we find out his vision is impaired too.

The doctor shakes his head. And then he starts talking about surgery for the boy’s ears. Six shots and two flu mists later, we leave, armed with an order for blood work and a referral to a local optometrist.

We get home in the late afternoon and I do laundry, try to write a little, someone has stopped up the toilet, and I’ve promised a friend to stop by with dinner for a chance to hold her beautiful new baby.

These are ordinary things. Nothing particularly compelling in the going through them. They barely warrant a mention, let alone an essay. They are the stuff of life. Ordinary. And if I am not careful, that word ordinary can trip me up—give me excuse to assign little value to these passing moments.

But here the church gives me a good model of how to view time. The liturgical year is divided into the seasons of Lent/Easter, Advent/Christmas, and Ordinary Time. In this case the term “ordinary” does not mean “usual or average.” We get the term from the Latin word ordinalis, which means to be numbered in series. Therefore, Ordinary Time is called “ordinary” simply because the weeks are numbered.

But here’s the thing: in Ordinary Time, we are not focused on a specific aspect of Christ (such as the Nativity or the Passion). Instead, we celebrate the mystery of Christ as a whole—his life, ministry, miracles, and teachings. These days are no less holy, no less important for this lack—rather, they remind us to view all of life through the lens of holy. When God took on flesh and became one of us, didn’t he elevate the dignity of human nature for us all?

We are still in Ordinary Time now, but soon, Advent will be here. I turn a sock right-side-out on this dreary afternoon and think of this: that even in the high holy seasons, the moments of my life resonate ordinary. Doesn’t Jesus touch these ordinary moments too?

… Listen to your life,” Frederick Buechner tells me. “See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.” (Buechner, Now and Then)

Life itself is grace. How else could we handle the news of the pediatrician? How else are we to handle the sick parents, the loss of that job, the dream left unrealized, or the plodding through of the same?

There is holy in the everyday moments; there is worship in the hallowed corners of my life. And there is nothing ordinary about that.

A variation of this article originally appeared at The High Calling.

The Loneliest Star

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Yesterday was the first day of autumn and I can feel the way the earth is moving. Our two hemispheres receive the sun’s rays equally for a spell—night and day stand side-by-side, neither one outreaching the other. We call it the equinox—from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night). Only it doesn’t feel equal to me. The morning is slow in coming and evening slips down over the horizon too quickly. The sun is stingy with her light and the days bleed moments before we can wrap them up.

There was a time when people were more in tune with the rhythms of nature, when the sky was their clock and calendar. We see this evidenced in ancient man-made structures such as the Intihuatana Stone at Machu Picchu in Peru. This unassuming stone structure has been shown to precisely date the equinoxes and other celestial events. The word intihuatana means “for tying the sun.” The shadow the stone casts tracks the journey of the sun across the sky throughout the year.

The night sky, too, announces autumn, with certain constellations moving into prominent view. But also, there rises in the southern sky what some call the “Loneliest Star.” This star, also known as the “Autumn Star,” or the “Lonely One” is thus called because it is the only bright star in that part of the sky this time of year. Its formal name is Fomalhaut, which comes from the Arabic Fum al Hut, meaning “mouth of the fish.” Fomalhaut, the Lonely One, is the brightest star in Piscis Austrinus (the Southern Fish).

Last night, I went outside and stood facing south and searched the horizon for the brightest star. Fomalhaut did, indeed, look lonely in the broad expanse of night sky. As I stood under that twinkling canopy, I felt a kinship with the Lonely One. I have spoken before of the longing that autumn evokes. That sweet yearning pulled at my heartstrings urgently as I stood alone among the song of cicadas and crickets. Sometimes this feeling of emptiness can feel big enough to swallow me whole. The urge to fall into that well of darkness is strong at times.

In Romans chapter 13 the apostle Paul says, “The night is nearly over. The day is almost here. Live in the light.” He is telling us we have a choice to make. Spiritually speaking, in this tired world, it’s not yet day, and it’s not quite night: both are right here, within our grasp. Two ways of life. And even though we may have chosen the way of light, the darkness is still very present—clings to our skin like the damp air of night.

I think the ancient people, with their keen awareness of the rhythms of nature, understood the dueling forces of dark and light much better than we. I’m trying to notice the rhythms built into this good earth more. I feel the lightness of each leaf I see fall from my maples in the back yard. I study the way of the honeybee, knee deep in the goldenrod. I watch the birds and butterflies shed a new season as they flock southerly.

But I am earthbound—no winging out of this for me. Still, I make a choice. A choice to see this longing inside of me as something good, something made of light. A longing for life the way our good God intended it to be.

Autumn

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.

Garden Notes: A Harvest to Remember (and a winner!)

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If he was still alive, my Grandpa Phillips would have turned 118 today. Born in 1898, he died in 1999 just before his 101st birthday. Our Jeffrey, who carries Grandpa’s name as his middle (“I want to name the baby after you,” I told him. “What’s your middle name?” He laughed and said, “I wasn’t important enough to have a middle name.” So, Jeffrey Ray it is.) wasn’t quite four months old when this part of his namesake passed. They met only one time before Grandpa fell ill. I have a picture of Grandpa beaming, a bundle of baby in his arms. Grandpa was a stubborn, independent, loving soul. He lived alone until the last year of his life. Even when arthritis and vertigo plagued him, he resisted moving in with my aunt as long as he could. He lived life on his own terms—farmer, father of nine, lover of automobiles and babies—I still miss him sometimes. His wife—my Grandma—died when I was five years old. He lived another 25 years without his beloved. One time I asked him why he never remarried. “I didn’t want anyone but my old woman,” he said, tears in his eyes.

When I was a little girl, Grandpa had the biggest, most beautiful garden. I remember staring wide-eyed at his strawberries every summer; I remember Grandma’s well-stocked pantry of home-canned goods.

Last night, I pulled up what was left of my pole beans. They were still producing, petite white blooms speaking promise here and there. But the Mexican bean beetles had made lace out of every heart shaped leaf on the vine. I spent two hours pulling up the beans by root, searching out the beetle larvae and destroying it. Then I cleared the bed of any leaf debris, hoping to deter any overwintering beetles.

It’s been a bad summer for my garden. As I looked out over my little patch of land I wondered if Grandpa ever had such a sad harvest. Something inside me felt like I’d let him down. I’ve had little energy to nurture the tender shoots of growing things these past few months. I’ve had little energy for much other than what is required.

This week our women’s group begins a new Bible study on the life of Nehemiah. In preparation I’ve been reading through that book of the Bible, freshening my memory to the details of Nehemiah’s story. Nehemiah felt moved to leave a prestigious position in Susa to lead the Jews in rebuilding the city walls of Jerusalem. At one point, in fear of attack from their enemies, Nehemiah says,

From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor. The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah who were building the wall. Those who carried material did their worked with one hand and held a weapon in the other, and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked. … Neither I nor my brothers nor my men nor the guards with me took off our clothes; each had his weapon, even when he went for water.” (Neh. 4:16-18, 23)

How does one rebuild a thing while constantly standing guard? When you can’t even take a drink of water for fear of being ambushed by one thing or another?

Did my grandfather ever stand looking out over the garden of his life and wonder if what he was building would ever hold up? He lived through the Great Depression, two world wars, the struggle for civil rights, free love, and raising nine kids. His oldest son was a prisoner of war during the Korean Conflict, for Pete’s sake. His youngest son married at age 18—to a 16-year-old girl (my mother). He lost his wife of 53 years to cancer. And remained faithful to a memory for another 25.

And yet, in my memory he is always smiling.

The word remember is mentioned frequently in the book of Nehemiah. I’m paying attention to that. Today I’m remembering my Grandpa—Ray Phillips. And remembering feels like a rich harvest.

The winner of Laurie Klein’s beautiful book of poetry, Where the Sky Opens is Dolly! Yay, Dolly :). I’ll be in touch soon :).

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