Advent (First Sunday)

Our first serious snowfall arrived the day before Thanksgiving.

The day began with rain. I left the house early to meet a friend for coffee and prayer, and the rain was already running in rivers. They said the rain would turn to snow mid-morning, yet that is a miracle I am always reluctant to believe without seeing. They were right. At ten in the morning, as I sat writing in one of the third-floor attic bedrooms, the rain turned quietly to snow.

Within minutes the golden-brown leaves still piled on our lawn were dusted with snow. Within an hour, the whole world had changed. Autumn had disappeared, buried beneath a new, wintry world.

My children had an early release from school for the holiday. I was standing at the parlor window, watching for them to come walking the long length of our driveway, when I heard it. A rumble. Like a heavy truck. But the rumble grew and cracked and broke into pieces, and I recognized it for what it was.

Thunder. A long, rolling river of thunder.

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Every year since I began writing this website, I have blogged daily during Advent. During the rest of the year, I struggle to post regularly once each week. But those Advent seasons of daily writing have been my favorite seasons. The intensity of those days, the witnessing and the telling, have changed me. They have also changed my life.

I began this discipline of daily Advent blogging because I was desperate. Desperate for something new and good in my life. Desperate for more. I ached and yearned and waited, and I wrote about it. I tried to anchor my own story in The Story. That January I found out I was pregnant. I’d had no idea what I was aching for, but Elsa Spring is, as her name suggests, new and good and as beautiful as a long-anticipated spring.

The second year I was weighed down by a gray post-partum fog. I was sure I had nothing to say. But God showed himself and gave me words. And in January the fog was finally rolled back. I was myself again. I knew happiness again.

The third year, I was sure I couldn’t do it. I had not had time to pre-plan a single post. I kept my eyes wide open, and I scratched out a few words each night. And God showed up. I woke every day feeling empty, and I went to bed every night having been given the story for that day.

In January, my long, vague dream of writing a book crystalized unexpectedly. Just after Epiphany, a book idea dropped, fully formed, into my head. And, in another year, that book will show up in bookstores.

You would be right if you guessed that I approach Advent with not a small amount of fear and trembling.

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Advent is a journey. And it changes us. It is a season of quiet beauty and gentle expectation, but it can roll over our lives like thunder. Sit. Watch. Wait. There is no telling what you might see.

Two thousand years ago, the whole world changed. And it goes on changing. There is always, always something new.

This year, I am deep in words for my book. For the first time, I have had to admit that I cannot blog every day of Advent. But I have not wanted to give it up. Instead, I have asked a few of my writer friends to join me here. I’ll be sharing their Advent reflections with you this season. I’ll also be showing up with Saturday book recommendations and a special food-themed Christmas giveaway.

And I pray, however you observe Advent, that it will be as beautiful as the first snowfall of the season. I pray that it will rock the earth beneath your feet like thunder.

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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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The Sound of Our Waiting

I wrote a version of this post almost exactly two years ago. In early June of 2012, I had been wandering in a Florida wilderness for two years. I was tired of waiting. Tired of rootless living. I was six months pregnant and desperate to leave Florida. I wanted my baby girl to be born wherever home might be. But I had no idea where home might be.

Six weeks after our arrival in Pennsylvania, Elsa Spring was born. Today, that baby girl is rounding the curve on two years old. And we have come home. Every day I breathe “thank you.”

But it is Pentecost again, and I have realized something. We are lost and we are found, we are lost and we are found again, but we never truly leave this song behind. This beautiful ache of a song.

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Pentecost Sunday is approaching, and I feel stuck in that room. Waiting. Asking this question: how did they survive the long, empty days between Jesus leaving and the Comforter coming?

How did they endure being lifted up by the joy of a promise believed only to drop again into the discouragement of yet another not yet?

And why the gap? Why did they have to wait at all?

We do know that the wait moved them to gather together. I imagine the promise was easier to believe when they could see the hope in one another’s faces. When they could pass around their Jesus stories, like a platter of bread and fish. Stories multiplied into hope. And faith.

And I imagine they worshipped. Sang and prayed.

Was this what it was all for? Was their worship the reason?

Did God wait, strain with holding himself back, because he wanted to hear their songs?

“Call to me,” he had once told them. “And I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know” (Jeremiah 33:3).

Call. My husband tells me this word suggests something organized, something formal. Something created. Like a song. Like a poem. Something more than careless words tossed at the sky.

Maybe you don’t sing songs. Maybe you don’t write poems. But maybe you journal. Maybe you sketch. Maybe you take photographs or bake bread for the neighbors. Maybe you orchestrate elaborate finger-painted messes with the three-year-olds at church and maybe, just maybe, that is a call? A song? A cry of longing for more of God?

And maybe that is the point of it all. The point of waiting. The point of living. To add our call to the many others until a crescendo of sound and beauty and worship rises to heaven and all is unleashed.

Then, just as it was that Pentecost when God’s church was born, wind and fire reveal the great unknowns.

What have we all been waiting for? To hear the mysteries of God’s glory in a language we can comprehend.

Those unsearchable glories we never even knew to seek.

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Returning to God in Winter (Or, Why it Hurts to Rest)

In late December, the seed and nursery catalogs began arriving. I dove in. When I came up for air, I tried to remind myself I was planning a vegetable plot, not an eight-hundred square foot formal rose garden.

It is easy to get a little lost in a pile of seed catalogs.

These are the days for rest, both for you and your garden. Unless you live in Florida.

I’ve heard it said that southern gardeners should take their winter break in late summer. Which is sort-of true. No one can grow tomatoes in Florida in August. But, it is also not true at all. You may give your vegetable beds a break, but the grass, the weeds, and those horrible invasive vines covered in thorns do not take a break. Unless you want your house to disappear back into the primeval jungle, you had better not neglect the August garden entirely.

I only gardened in Florida for two years, but I am still recovering. As it turns out, I need a good long break from working my bit of ground.

I need a season for rest. I need a season for dreams.

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Rest can be painful. A persistant ache. Dreaming hurts.

I love winter in the north, but I don’t find it easy. I long for sunshine. For warm air on the skin of my arms. For flowers and green grass and those little breezes that feel like a caress. It is a season for rest, but this means it is also a season for waiting, for desiring, for pressing hard against the blunt edges of everything you dream about but do not yet hold in your arms.

It is a season of emptiness.

True rest means returning to God. But this is not as easy nor as pretty as it sounds. It is often anguish that sends us back.

Back to the source of dreams, back to the source of every good and new thing.

Back to the only One who can renew our hope.

 

Advent (Day 10): Let Us Deck These Halls With Empty Space

On the first day of Advent, our church sanctuary was draped in evergreen.

Bare evergreen.

There were no shiny ornaments. There were no red or green ribbons. I looked at those unembellished greens and heard them say, “Not yet. Not yet.”

Our home looks much the same. Undecorated, except for the white pumpkin still sitting on the front steps.

It wasn’t intentional. Thanksgiving turned so quickly to Advent, all in a rush of visiting friends and family, that I couldn’t quite keep up. I found the advent wreath in the basement. The boys circled it with greenery. And that was all.

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The world outside our walls has thrown on the glitz and made room for the glitter and every other year I have been right there keeping time with that fast Christmas beat.

Not this year. Not yet.

For more than a week, I’ve sat with bare branches, four candles, and a pile of Christmas books. Every other year I have rushed to fill in the gaps, to embellish the plain, and to pile on more. This year the Advent cry Come, Lord Jesus, Come has echoed in bare corners and across empty tabletops.

And I have heard something in those echoes. Something that frightens me.

I have heard as if for the first time the story of how God came and his own did not recognize him. Of how he appeared in a story crowded with a greedy empire, an oppressed people, and long-whispered promises of deliverance and restoration. A good story. A true story. And yet …

Living within the density of their story, God’s own people were unprepared for the ways in which God himself would turn the story inside out and upside down. They were unprepared to meet the Truth face to face.

And this is what I have heard echoing in the empty spaces of my house: who am I waiting for? Will I know him when he comes?

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Year after year, I have rushed to fill the empty space of my fireplace with stockings. I have moved quickly to cover bare branches with ornaments. I have penciled in the calendar; I have filled the closet with gifts.

Year after year, I have greeted the Christmas season with everything I already know and all that I have figured out. I have said Come, Lord Jesus, Come to a face I find comfortingly familiar. A face with no more power to shock.

This year should have been the same, but a severe mercy and a difficult grace intended differently.

Without meaning to, I have decked these halls with empty space.

My prayer today remains the same. Come, Lord Jesus, Come. But this time, emptiness has made way for echoes. Bare corners have left room for the unknown and unseen.

And I prepare to have my world turned upside down by the King whose name I call.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

 

I Have Written No Essay Today

And I am sorry. I wanted to give you metaphors that sing, but I have only this empty page and a blinking cursor. This is doubly unfortunate because today’s essay was intended for the column at Living the Story. In other words, today’s essay had a deadline.

I feel embarrassed by this blank page, as if it exposes something of which I am deeply ashamed. It seems to matter more than a blank page should.

This page is my life, I think. I rush and worry, trying to fill it up with words. I am terrified that I might run out of words.

 

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Typically, I fill my empty pages quickly. So quickly, in fact, I rarely notice their emptiness. That this page has stayed blank longer than most, I blame on my ragged throat and tissue-burned nose. I blame it on my flexible work-from-home husband who was not, this week at least, able to work from home. I blame it on the baby girl whose cough matches my own.

She knows the baby signs for “milk” and “more” and “banana” but not for “sick.” I have to read it in the way she clings to me, the way she asks for food then tosses it down, the way she makes it impossible for me to live. Because isn’t my life composed of tasks ticked off, essays written, deadlines met? Which means today my life is not being lived. It means today this essay is not being written.

Or is it?

Perhaps even our blank pages have stories to tell?

I hope you’ll click through to read the rest of this one for the Living the Story column at the website BibleDude.

While you’re there, I hope you’ll leave a comment and let me know you stopped by.

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