I met Cara last spring at The Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College. Already, I consider her a dear friend.
She is honest and eloquent. She writes about hard things, yet she always writes with hope and with joy.
She is sharing just such hard, honest words with us today, but she is, as always, sharing them with wisdom and with love. Reading Cara’s words, I feel that something precious is given to me. It is a gift like an easy yoke, a gift like a light burden.
The Lonely Season
It seems like a lesser pain somehow.
I am not sick, or truly bereaved. I have not loved and lost slowly, day by day. I am not hungry or in want of warmth or occupation. It is easy to think that my pain is less real. But it is with me, more days than not, following after me like a shadow.
I am lonely.
But there is something about Advent that helps me feel that I am not alone in my loneliness. Suddenly I am walking alongside a very young unmarried mother, pregnant and wrapped in mystery. I am keeping company with a woman who watched everyone around her raise children, while she remained barren.
Here in Advent, the lonely find each other, just like Mary and Elizabeth did.
I wonder, sometimes, if they knew each other well, or if their time together started out awkward and halting, like a song half forgotten. I wonder if each person wasn’t just a little jealous of the other: Mary of Elizabeth’s intact reputation, Elizabeth of Mary’s youth and ease of becoming pregnant.
What must people have thought about these two women in the same “stage in life” (as so many of my contemporaries like to say) but in such different life seasons?
I’ll bet they were lonely.
The circumstances leading up to Jesus and John’s births were not easy or smooth. I can imagine that Zechariah discovered the difficulty of moving through a world without speech, and Joseph lost friends and respect after failing to divorce Mary.
I like to take some time to think about the women in Jesus’ lineage during this season. I think about Ruth, who journeyed to a country that wasn’t hers with her mother-in-law, the only person she knew there. I think about Rahab, a prostitute by trade, in Jericho. Tamar, who endured the death of one husband and that of his brother, with no children to show for it, forced to take things into her own hands. I think of Bathsheba, who obeyed the words of the king and stood by as he sent her husband into battle and certain death, her unborn baby following quickly after.
These were women who were acquainted with grief and sorrow. I can only imagine that they knew loneliness, as well.
In fact, once I start looking, I find it hard to stop seeing them, women and men in scripture who were alone, or felt alone. Elijah in the wilderness telling God that he was the only one left. Hannah, crying out to God for a child. Jeremiah in the cistern. Hosea entering into a relationship with a wandering woman again and again.
I resonate with these stories, though mine is not so extreme. But like most people who make up the Advent narrative, I am hoping for what I can’t see. I am feeling around in the darkness, unsure of whether I will truly see light (not even sure I know what light looks like).
I am learning that Advent is a perfect fit for my lonely heart. Here, I can wail and lament. I can ask God why I’m still single, though I’ve prayed faithfully over a relationship since I was seven. I call out and ask Him why finding and maintaining friendships and community feel like trying to lift a sleeping whale. I can set my hope in His hands for a while, because I can’t bear the weight any longer.
I fall into step beside Mary, Elizabeth, Zechariah, and Joseph. Somehow, I feel less alone.
Cara Strickland is a writer, editor, and food critic in Spokane, Washington. She writes about singleness, food, feminism, and the way faith intersects life (among other things) on her blog Little Did She Know. Come say hi to her on Twitter. She likes making new friends.
I am ashamed to admit this, but when I began writing this blog three-and-a-half years ago, I did it primarily because I felt I had to. I sensed God tugging me toward becoming a writer. When I hit publish on my first blog post I viewed the act, primarily, as one of simple obedience.
In other words, I did it, but reluctantly and dragging all of my fear and doubt and general insecurity along for the ride.
Now, when I look back, I see God’s mercy and his provision. I see how he gave me the support and encouragement of online friendships through a long season of transition, a season when I had few opportunities for face-to-face community.
I am humbled, and I am grateful.
I remembered all this recently as I sat with my friend Danielle over homemade pizzas at my own dining-room table. I “met” Danielle in the comment section of my blog. She is a talented writer and artist, and we love so many of the same books. She lives only an hour or so away by car, but I would never have known her apart from this strange landscape we call the blogosphere.
It is is with a great deal of gratitude that I share these words from Danielle with you, today.
Prepare Him Room
Joy to the World! The Lord is come; Let earth receive her king; Let every heart prepare him room, And heaven and nature sing…”
The song is so familiar that I barely notice the lyrics. I stream it from iTunes while making dinner. But suddenly these words cause me to pause:
Let every heart prepare him room.
This December I am great with child.
My belly is swollen with a child that thumps and kicks and pulsates life. Three weeks out from the due date we are preparing room. The crib is set up; the clothes are washed and stacked in neat rows in a freshly painted white dresser. I’ve been here before. The preparing and waiting. The waiting and preparing.
During this season of advent and pregnancy my thoughts turn to Mary. What was her waiting and preparing like? She rode the back of a donkey the last days of her gestation, uncomfortable, with no hotel room awaiting her with clean sheets and a hot shower at the end of the journey. God was becoming incarnate in her womb. It took nine months just like any other baby, so mundane yet extraordinary. Mary must have marveled at it so many times.
The startling visit from the angel was just the first of many miracles during her months of pregnancy. First Joseph didn’t believe her, but then had his own mysterious visitation, which changed his mind. She visited her relative Elizabeth—barren her whole marriage—who shared her own amazing story of angel visits and an unexpected yet joyous pregnancy.
Mary experienced the incarnation of Christ in the most unique way possible within the Gospel story. Physically, she birthed Jesus Christ. Spiritually, she praised God with her beautiful Magnificat, saying in Luke 1:46-49, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” She treasured and pondered the meaning of all the strange things that were happening to her: the conception and birth, the unexpected visit of shepherds, the “wise men” that showed up on her doorstep.
She believed in the incarnation. She held the incarnation in her own hands, had seen it with her own eyes. She herself became a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Mary teaches me that just like I’m preparing and waiting for the birth of my new baby, so I need to prepare and wait for the incarnation of Christ. Yes, as a historic event Christ has already come, but he’s coming too. He’s always coming, every year, every season, every day.
Everyday I can prepare room for Christ in my heart. I can make manifest the Holy Spirit at work inside my soul. Each moment of each day I have the opportunity to incarnate Christ to others.
That is what Advent reminds me to do. To prepare for Christ’s coming: past, present, and future. To be like Mary and prepare room for him in my heart.
Danielle Ayers Jones is a storyteller. Whether it’s with paper and pen or behind the lens, it’s one of the things she loves to do best. She writes regularly for Ungrind.org, iBelieve.com, StartMarriageRight.com, and FortheFamily.org. She also combines her love of writing and photography on her blog, www.danielleayersjones.com. It’s a space where she seeks to find beauty in the everyday, joy in hardship, and encouragement in unexpected places. Danielle lives in Maryland with her husband and three children and one on-the-way.
Kimberly and I have been online friends for a few years, but we met for the first time in person just this October. I’ve recently taken a few friendships from the online world to the real world, and it is always a treat to discover that the person you like from a distance is also completely likeable face to face. But Kimberly? Well, we spent almost the entirety of our first in-person conversation saying, “You too??” We are more alike than I ever would have guessed, and I love knowing that this talented writer and like-minded friend is only a few hours away by car.
And this reflection? Well, this may be Kimberly’s first year observing Advent, but she has captured it beautifully, perfectly.
Here is an Advent treasure.
To Hold Longing
I hand-picked the peeling birch branches we cut off the dying tree in the backyard. They’re white and spare and beautiful. Last Christmas, I hung small white doves from every twig. They sat like tiny messengers delivering a promise of peace for the year to come.
This year, I chose those same spare branches to hang the ornaments for our first Jesse tree. Every day, I look at it, and it feels unfinished, lopsided, undone. I miss the doves with promise caught up in their wings. When I hung them, the look was complete. Instant beauty, strung up and done. Next project, please.
Now, the branches sit waiting for the next reminder, the next piece of the Advent story we string into place each night. My children don’t know what to make of it. We’ve never observed Advent before, and they don’t know exactly where this story and this Jesse tree will lead us.
Over the years, they’ve grown increasingly unaccustomed to waiting. They want insta-Christmas with all of the parties and early gifts and holiday cheer distracting them from the wait for presents on Christmas Day. This year, I want all of us to learn what it feels like to sit with the undone. To hold longing. To wait with anticipation for the next thread woven into Jesus’ story to unravel from the spool.
I don’t know what beauty these threads will weave into place. I know the end result is the Baby, but I don’t know what he will teach me in the waiting. I hope to sit with hands cupped, holding each day and each story lightly, ready to catch and then release them onto what’s left of my backyard tree.
Perhaps this is where the manger always leads us, to the tree where everything that appears unfinished is finally called finished and done. I’m sitting with this promise during Advent, believing that the work of redemption is complete, but knowing I wait still, watching for the final threads of this story, for Kingdom come to unfurl.
After three years spent living in Switzerland, Kimberly Coyle recently relocated with her family to New Jersey. She loves stories, chasing beauty, and grace. Always grace. Connect with Kimberly on her blog or on facebook.
Kris Camealy is an encourager with a gift for friendship. Though we have yet to meet in person, I am already blessed to call her friend.
Also, this lady knows how to get things done. At least, that’s how it looks from where I sit. I have no idea how she manages to write and create and teach and organize (and cook!) the way she does, but she inspires me.
I think her reflection will inspire you, too, though it is her vulnerability, even her weakness, that shines so beautifully in this piece.
In the middle of the busiest shopping weekend of the year, with the steady lure of distractions and temptations streaming into my inbox, I fight to be present—to pay attention.
The Saturday before Advent, I listen to a scripture reading on my phone while warming Thanksgiving leftovers for dinner. The recorded voice reads a passage from the 13th chapter of the book of Mark. As I listen to Jesus’s words to his disciples urging them to “stay awake,” I am struck by the insistence with which He speaks this message.
“Be on guard,” He says. “Stay Awake.”
Meanwhile all I can think about is how tired I am. I turn the page on the calendar; how is it December already? I seem to enter the season of Advent every year like this — unprepared, tired, and teetering on anxious. The sun slips away by five pm, and the premature darkness leaves me sagging well before dinner. I shuffle through the evening routine with one eye on the clock, anticipating crawling into bed.
Stay awake, Christ urges. For you do not know when the master of the house will come…lest he come suddenly and find you asleep (Mark 13:36).
Advent comes with an unbearable weight bearing down, the expectation of Christ coming. I wonder if Mary was able to stay awake in the waiting? How long a journey it was to Bethlehem, to stable, to the floor of a crude barn, where she spilled the Glory of the World into the soiled hay at the feet of livestock.
Stay awake — five days after hearing them, these words refuse to leave me. Advent comes every year at a pre-determined time, marked on virtually every calendar available. I know exactly when it will begin. I know when it will end. But Christ’s urgency to his disciples reminds me that I don’t really know what I think I know.
The season of Advent offers an opportunity to learn to prepare, to remain awake, even when the temptation to hibernate presses in. Wakefulness requires a conscious effort to be present, even in my weariness.
After dinner I close up the kitchen. I’ve scuttled the kids all off to their beds. I find a quiet spot at the edge of the sofa and sit for the first time in a couple of hours. I light the candle on the table beside me and sit still in the dim, flickering light while the dishwasher hums busy in the background.
Recounting Mary’s journey to the stable, in the dark of a waiting world, Advent invites me to hold on. I’m reminded to ready my heart for the King’s coming.
Stay awake, He urges. Pay attention. Be present.
As a sequin-wearing, homeschooling mother of four, Kris is passionate about Jesus, people and words. Her heart beats to share the hard but glorious truth about life in Christ. She’s been known to take gratuitous pictures of her culinary creations, causing mouths to water all across Instagram. Once upon a time, she ran 10 miles for Compassion International, a ministry for which she serves as an advocate. Kris is the author of Holey, Wholly, Holy: A Lenten Journey of Refinement and the follow up Companion Workbook.
You can read more from Kris at kriscamealy.com.
It’s Saturday. Let’s have a little fun, shall we?
In addition to another installment of my Saturday series of book recommendations, I am inviting you to enter a fabulous foodie-themed prize giveaway organized by some of my favorite writers and a few new friends.
Let’s take a look:
I’m giving away a copy of one of my favorite cookbooks (a book I’ve recommended before), The Homemade Pantry by Alana Chernila, and a box of the magic white powder that changed my life. Seriously.
With Pomona’s Pectin you can make jam without any added sugar. Unlike every other pectin you’ll find on your grocery-store shelves that require equal (horrifying) amounts of sugar and fruit, with Pomona’s you can make your jam with fruit only, with a little honey, with fruit juice, with maple syrup, just however you like it. And jam-making (especially freezer-jam making) is one of the easiest, most satisfying things you can do in the kitchen.
Life-changing stuff, I tell you.
Cara Meredith is a writer, speaker and musician from the greater San Francisco bay area. She is passionate about theology and books, her family, meals around the table, and finding Beauty in the most unlikely of places. A seven on the Enneagram, she also can’t help but try to laugh and smile at the ordinary everyday. You can connect with her on her blog, Facebook, and Twitter.
Erin S. Lane is author of Lessons in Belonging from a Church-Going Commitment Phobe (forthcoming, February 2015) and co-editor of Talking Taboo, an anthology of writing by young Christian women on the intersection of faith and gender. Confirmed Catholic, raised Charismatic, and married to a Methodist, she blogs about faith, feminism, and, yes, cupcakes on her blog, Holy Hellions. You can also connect with her on Twitter.
Rachel Marie Stone is a writer living near Philadelphia. In the past eight years, she has lived in four countries and two states, and will gladly tell you about the various kinds of pizza she ate (or didn’t eat) in each place. Her book, Eat With Joy, won the Christianity Today Book Award for Christian Living. You can connect with her further on her blog, Twitter, andFacebook.
Carina is an etsy shop owner, writes when she can, works with Noonday to advocate for women around the world, and loves food. Preparing it, consuming it, sitting together around a table filled with friends and family enjoying it. She lives in Seattle, WA with her five lively children and one awesome husband, and drinks way too much coffee. You can connect with her on her blog, etsy shop, and Instagram(among other places).
Cara Strickland is a writer, editor, and food critic in Spokane, Washington. She writes about singleness, food, feminism, and the way faith intersects life (among other things) on her blog Little Did She Know. Come say hi to her on Twitter or Facebook. She likes making new friends.
If you’re reading this post in an email or a reader, you’ll need to click over to enter.
And now – books!
This week I picked up an old favorite and remembered why I love it so much. We may already be a few days into Advent, but this little gem can be enjoyed here and there as you make the time. The readings are diverse, all wonderful, and you never know what you might discover on a given day. It’s Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas
While preparing this post I noticed that the paperback copy I own is no longer available. I am actually glad about that. This book deserves a hard cover, especially since, like me, you’ll be pulling it out year after year.
Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher is the perfect, cozy novel to reread each Advent season. I’m about to begin rereading it myself.
I say cozy, which it is, but I think this cozy is a cut above your typical holiday movie. This novel is thoughtful, sweet, never too sweet, atmospheric. It takes place in Scotland. Need I say more? This is one for reading by a twinkling Christmas tree.
I think books make the best Christmas gifts, and I especially love to give beautiful editions of classic favorites.
Of course, the problem with beautiful books is that I really just want them for myself. These new editions of the classic L.M. Montgomery series are lovely: Emily of New Moon: A Virago Modern Classic (Emily Trilogy).
Happy Advent, my friends.