Advent (Second Friday)

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.

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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.

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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.

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These Farmhouse Bookshelves (Advent Edition) + Giveaway!

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:

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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.

potential giveaway

 

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 blogFacebook, and Twitter.

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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.

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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 blogTwitter, andFacebook.

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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 blogetsy shop, and Instagram(among other places).

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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.

Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!

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.

 

The Lives of Dry Bones (An Announcement)

“… unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”

John 12:24

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It is the dream-come-true moment that lodges itself in our memories.

The day the baby was born. Or the day you wore the cap and gown. Or the day you moved in.

It isn’t that you’ve forgotten. It is only that time does heal and dreams-come-true are complicated. They ask so much of you. When you are changing diapers in the night or ripping out weeds for a new garden you do not have much energy to spare for looking back.

Which may be why I have written so much about dreams-come-true and so little of letting them die.

Because no dream lives that has not yet died.

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Some call this surrender. They describe it as letting go. Giving back to God. Release.

I prefer to call it planting.

First there is the dream. It seems to have come at once from somewhere deep within and somewhere so far beyond yourself that the only explanation is divine. God has whispered, and your eyes are now open.

That is the seed.

Then comes the next day. Which turns out to be not all that different from the day before. The dream appeared to be so real, so startling and immediate, but life seems not to have noticed. Life is much the same as ever.

We each have our own way of living these days. Some of us wrestle and rage. We cry and we grip and we will not let go until, utterly spent, we drop the seed and we bury it.

Others of us begin to doubt almost immediately. I can live without this, we say. Maybe it was never meant to be, we tell ourselves.

This is how dreams die. How they are buried in dark dirt.

This is how we live with dry bones.

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Waking up is difficult. Resurrection, even of the figurative sort, can be painful.

T.S. Eliot warned us:

April is the cruelest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

It is painful to dream again. To risk a broken heart. To walk through a valley of dry bones and say I believe.

But, oh friends, I am convinced. It is the only way to live.

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I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them. … Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.

On Monday, an envelope stuffed with papers arrived in my mailbox. I knew it was coming, but I still caught my breath when I saw it there.

It sat on the kitchen table while we gathered groceries and medications and swimsuits. School begins on Monday, but we were squeezing in one small family vacation before calling summer quits.

Late at night, with our bags packed and our kids in their beds, I read the papers. I signed the papers. There was no time to visit the post office, so I packed the papers with everything else the next morning.

We drove north toward Ithaca, New York. The Finger Lakes, they call them. It’s a storybook landscape of mountains and water and red Dutch-style barns. The kind of landscape I found only in books when I was a child growing up in Texas.

Just the right landscape for a dream-come-true.

Now that I’ve left those papers at a post office in Ithaca I can tell you this:

Dry bones do live and this autumn and winter I’ll be writing a book.

I’ll be writing a book for Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. … Then you will know that I am the Lord.

And I pray, Let it be to me according to your word.

Let it be, let it be, let it be.

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These Last Days

These last awe-full days of Lent are upon us.

To be honest, the past few weeks seem to me like a blur of pictures and noise. The world is spinning faster now than it was just a month ago (something the poets know even if the scientists haven’t yet discovered it), and I feel the need to stop and steady myself.

And then … the headlong rush into a world made new.

I want to be ready. Or more precisely – I want to notice where it is already springing up.

I don’t want to miss any of it.

 

 

I’ll be opening my laptop a little less and stepping outside a little more.

Look for me in this space after Easter.

 

                    Thanks to our Photographer Kelli Campbell for this image of

                    my daughter on one of the most beautiful spring days I can remember.

                    Find more of Kelli’s photography here.

 

Your Favorite Posts and a Thank You

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Happy New Year, my friends.

Recently, someone I love sat at my kitchen table while I fiddled with pots and pans. She asked me if I love to cook. I told her that despite evidence to the contrary (shelves of cookbooks, dozens of kitchen gadgets), I don’t really enjoy cooking. I’m usually in a hurry to get it over with. But here is the truth: I love food, and I love feeding people.

This blog is like that for me. I love stories, and I love sharing them with you. Without you, there would be little point to all the hours I’ve spent tapping away at this keyboard.

Thank you. I’m so grateful for your presence here in 2012.

For those of you still in the mood for looking back, here are a few of the most popular stories from the past year at There is a River.

When my daughter’s young classmate was murdered, I wanted her to know that darkness does not get the last word. The last word is Shalom.

Half-way through 2012 we went searching for a new home. This is how we knew we’d found it.

This was the year when God led me out of the desert I had wandered in for two years. Now I know that deserts are terrible, beautiful places. God brought me to the desert because he loves me.

In 2012 I received a great gift. Her name is Elsa Spring.

I don’t think I’ve ever looked forward to a new year as much as I look forward to 2013. God has shown his goodness, and I can’t wait to discover what’s next.

 

“Memories are the key not to the past, but to the future.”
– Corrie ten Boom

Advent 2012 (When Waiting is Prayer)

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As I write this, we are waiting for snow. I can hear rain on the metal roof of the red barn, but I am straining my ears for quiet. When the rain turns to snow (as the forecast promises it will), quietness will spread the news.

Silence heralds the advent of snow.

There were so many silent years between the words of Malachi and those of Matthew. I imagine the silence building until those who strained their ears, like Simeon and Anna in the temple, could hear the silence speak: He is coming. Hold on. He is coming.

I want to be like Anna.

I want to pray him in with my waiting.

My own season of intense waiting may have ended (with an old Pennsylvania farmhouse and a new baby girl), but I need Jesus more than ever.

I need his presence because, apart from him, this home is just a pile of old bricks crushing us with endless to-dos. Apart from him, there is no hope for me as a mother (the best and hardest thing my firstborn taught me, and it’s a lesson I learn again with each child, is I do not have what it takes).

I desperately need him for today (to give meaning to my dishwashing and the endless picking up of toys), and I need him for tomorrow (because, apart from him, my life has no destination; what am I walking toward?).

And so, this month, I will pause in the midst of online shopping and tree decorating. I will put down the toy catalog and the cookie cutter (which, let’s be honest, will be a relief. I could write a book on the horrors of holiday baking for the child allergic to butter, wheat, and nuts).

I will turn my face towards darkness and watch for light.

I will listen to silence.

I will pray him in with my waiting.

“… come quickly to me, O God. You are my help and my deliverer; Lord, do not delay.”

(Psalm 70:5)

You can read the introduction to last year’s Advent series here.

Receive each Advent post in your email inbox by subscribing here. You can also keep up with the series on the There is a River facebook page. Click “like” here.

 

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