I can no longer remember how I first found Tresta Payne’s blog, but I know I have appreciated her quiet, wise stories for a long time. We’ve never met, and our homes are separated by too many miles, but what I glimpse in her stories is a vision of a life well lived. I don’t mean that her life seems perfect or even that she seems perfect. Only that the thoughtfulness and attentiveness with which she lives her daily life inspires me. And this Advent reflection? It’s a song of hope calling each of us out into the wild world beyond even our imaginations. To the place where God, in all his fullness, dwells.
At the dawn of first light, the Very First Light, there was a song about a savior coming. At Joseph’s court, on Moses’ long trek, at Nehemiah’s return – all through there was a hint of coming, of reigning, of redeeming forever.
I imagine God, like Aslan, singing the world into being and singing the first sunrise up with hope.
You will mess up.
You will fall short.
You will despise Me and think you’ve gone as far away as you can, but I’m making a way back.
Because you will want to return.
I need to imagine it like this, like Lewis did in The Magician’s Nephew. I need to imagine more about God than I think is possible, because my finite brain is tied to my eternal soul and both need more of who God is, less of who I keep being.
I am hopeful against the odds.
There was a message at church a month ago about hope. Our pastor was reminding us of personal revival in a time when the whole world seems a wreck and we so easily lose hope for it. He was encouraging us to think more about God, to remember that He does and is beyond all that we could ask or imagine.
I was challenged to think more of God. Not just to think of God more often – definitely that. But mostly, to think MORE of Him than my logic can fathom, and so to stretch beyond my mind’s small and logical borders.
I want to think the grandest thoughts I can about God, about His plans for good, and about His kingdom in me and you and the one to come. And then, when I’ve thought the best thoughts I can muster, I am challenged to believe that it’s even better than that.
The imagination doesn’t stretch beyond the natural order of things very well, especially if it’s been stifled by years of common sense and religion. But yet, what is natural if not God?
Bring back the imagination, I say. Bring back the awe of God and the understanding that we simply cannot grasp Him, but He wants us to try and keep trying, seek and keep seeking, believe and keep believing.
Before that Baby broke the thin skin between heaven and earth, landing in the rough hands of a carpenter, the world logically understood how babies were born. Mom + Dad = Baby. Of course. So logically, Mary was lying.
I wonder if she spent any time at all defending the truth she knew in her heart, but no one could fathom in their minds? How frustrating, to know the truth about God in a way no one else would believe.
She tucked things away in her heart, like moms do, and I suppose she also learned to think more about God, even more than a virgin birth and God-made-man.
The song was carried by angels that first night of Christ’s incarnation and they sang what they didn’t fully understand. God is too much for even the heavenly hosts to grasp.
Novatian says that if God were to be understood fully, He couldn’t be God. If our human understanding could box Him up all tidy (like we try to) then God would be a god of our making, a god of small minds and little imagination, bound by human experience.
But God is before, and God is behind, and He has to be more than our language can express. He has to be outside of every means we have to fully describe Him or know Him or experience Him.
Yet He placed Himself in us, bound up in the same minerals He spoke into existence.
Voices from the past keep reminding us and I know I don’t quite get it yet. Do you ever feel like you are on the edge of something, about to take a huge leap in understanding or faith or imagination towards God? It’s a good place to be, but it’s not the finale.
There’s always, endlessly, forever and ever, more.
The hope of revival and the revival of hope in me, and the strain to hear that song – it’s Christmas’ reminder. It’s the only fitting thing for a weary world to rejoice in.
He’s coming and we hear the music and we imagine so much more than is possible, so much more than what the pull of this earth allows us.
He’s coming, and that’s enough and altogether too much for us.
Tresta lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and 4 kids, surrounded by mountains and rivers and the best little community one could ask for. Her days are filled with homeschooling, laundry, and trying to find truth, goodness, and beauty in the middle of chaos. Any remaining brain cells are used to put words together at sharppaynes.com.
I have seen the first snowdrop, and I have seen the first crocus. Eight baby chicks are cheeping away in our basement.
Seasons generally do not shift like clockwork. They tend to pour like water. But as I stood in the yard yesterday, ringing that snowdrop bell with the tip of my boot, I was fairly sure that this was spring’s beginning. It’s exact, precise beginning, almost perfectly timed with the calendar month.
If spring has a beginning, it also has an end. I could see it unfolding in my mind’s eye: from snowdrop and crocus through daffodil and tulip and all the way on to snap peas and strawberries ripening in June.
Three years ago, I was living in Florida. I had only ever been in Florida for vacation, and our two years living there felt like an endless vacation. Which sounds lovely but was, in reality, devastating. At a certain point in every vacation, if that vacation is long enough, you find that you want nothing more than to go home.
Living in Florida, I couldn’t put down roots no matter how hard I tried. And every day my longing for home grew. I cried rivers of tears, and my tears were a prayer: God, please bring me home.
Often when we pray, we have some object in mind. I certainly tend to. But this prayer was different. It was more desperate, and, I think, more powerful, because I had no idea where my home might be. I only knew I needed it. Wanted it. Could hardly live without it.
In my desperation, I began to hear God speak. There is a ballpoint-ink star in my Bible. It is dated three years ago, and it marks these words: “A fountain will flow out of the Lord’s house” (Joel 3:18). Beneath those words I wrote this: “Fountain House Dream.”
I can no longer remember what I thought those words meant. Quite likely I had no idea. Today, I am only beginning to understand them.
The day we found Maplehurst, our Pennsylvania home, we visited eight old houses. The only house with a fountain on the property was this one.
Since we moved here a year and a half ago, I’ve imagined that those words “Fountain House Dream” were a small but surprising confirmation. A way of knowing that, yes, this was the place for us.
But I am beginning to think these words mean more than that. I am beginning to think they point toward my true home, which is not opposed to this pile of bricks called Maplehurst, but somehow deeper. As if I could step inside my own front door, and into some other reality. Some endless place.
Spring at Maplehurst has a beginning and an end, and yet observing spring on this hilltop has shaped my imagination. I am waiting for my magnolia to bloom, but I am beginning to see a perpetual spring. Not simply a spring that returns every year, but a spring that is endless.
I believe we were made for spring. We were made for newness. We were made for a spring that never pours itself out. This is spring like a fountain. This is spring like living water – not still water – and it is always new.
I think, despite lying appearances, that we may be living in just this season. I think it began with the very first Easter. Jesus was a seed, planted in death and sprouted in resurrection, and that seed has been growing ever since.
And so it is spring, though early spring. We still see so much dead grass. But come further up. Come further in. The snow has gone. Spring showers water the earth. Flowers are stirring, and water is flowing.
Easter will soon follow. It is our annual reminder, our yearly celebration: we are living a spring with no end.
(photo by yours truly)
I recently discovered that my house is surrounded by azaleas.
I came to this brilliant conclusion because spring arrived (our first in this new home), and the bushes I’d never really noticed turned brilliant pink and flowery almost overnight.
Next to the extravagance of these azaleas the flower beds in the front of our house suddenly looked sparse. There were big empty spots, and I worried about finding time to purchase and plant perennials. My days are overfull as it is just making snacks for children. In the small spaces of time when I am not making snacks, I am trying to get the new vegetable garden planted.
That’s when I noticed the fiddlehead ferns. Well, not the ferns, just the fiddleheads, really. It looked as if bright green violins had begun sprouting all around the azaleas.
I vaguely remembered seeing ferns when we moved in late last summer. I realized I could probably hold off on planting. I could wait and be surprised. Who knew what else might emerge.
Like the dogwood tree. Also, a second dogwood tree. Apparently, I can’t identify most trees unless it’s spring and they are flowering. There’s also a crabapple in the corner I’d never noticed. And roses. So many roses are tucked along the fence line, but I had no idea how many there were until I went around inspecting every square inch for poison ivy.
For me, this first spring is all about surprise. My eyes are wide-open, and I have begun expecting hidden wonders to reveal themselves at every turn.
It has reminded me of the birth of my fourth baby, Elsa Spring. When I first looked at her she felt both familiar and utterly surprising. I loved her, she belonged to me, but I did not know her. She would reveal herself to me only in time. Anticipating that slow revelation carried me through so many heavy, hard newborn days.
I hardly know this place, but it is home. We are planting trees and putting down roots (quite literally), and the horizon of our dreams is farther out than we have ever seen it.
When I imagine teenagers, they are slipping through these bedroom windows to sun themselves on the roof of the porch. When I imagine weddings, I picture them here beneath the avenue of maple trees. When I consider grandchildren, I see them playing beneath the apple trees that are, today, more like apple sticks.
Until this spring, home meant familiar and comfortable. The place you know so well you no longer see it.
I’m discovering that home might be familiar and surprising. Our true home is not the place we no longer see, but the place (or state of mind?) that keeps us wide awake with wonder.
Home is where we expect good things. Home is where we say, with shining eyes and hope in our hearts, What next? What next? Is there more?
And there is always more.
“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now … Come further up, come further in!”
– C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle