Their minivan is stuffed with children and luggage, all the paraphernalia of a Christmas well celebrated. The late December sun is too weak to soften the wind’s bite so we rush inside to wave goodbye from the window.
The kids and I wave frantically, and it is as if we are saying goodbye to good friends, to Christmas, to this entire year.
In a few more days I will look ahead, but now is the time for saying goodbye. For looking back. For remembering.
In one year everything has changed.
One year ago, I had three children and little hope of more.
One year ago, I lived in the south and grieved the loss of northern winters.
One year ago, I dreamed of a farmhouse with room for chickens and vegetables while my single, potted tomato withered in the Florida sun.
On year ago, we spent the holidays alone and wondered if we’d ever again spread a feast across the length of our dining table for a crowd of friends and family.
This year is dying, but it has left me with these gifts: four children, an old farmhouse, a large garden, and the perfect spot for a chicken coop.
And this: hospitality, community. We now live within driving distance of our dearest friends. Hardly a week goes by that we don’t hear from someone we love: “We’ll be in Pennsylvania. Can we come and see you?”
I live in a Victorian farmhouse with several acres of land, but the fields all around have been parceled into home sites. Now that the leaves have fallen I can look out of my windows and see houses. I don’t yet know who lives in them, but one day I will. One day, their children will run up the hill and through the break in the fence to play with mine. One day, I will wave hello through the line of trees with an invitation to help pick blueberries. Or apples. Or tomatoes.
One day, one day, one day …
This is the greatest gift of this year: I have been brought to a place with a future.
In other words, I have been given a home.
“I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul.”
Jeremiah 32: 40-41
Today, Amy Lepine Peterson returns the favor and shares these powerful reflections with us. There is so much wisdom here, I’m taking my time, reading and rereading. These are words I know I need right now.
Thank you, Amy.
Advent is a season of darkness, of waiting for the light; but I’m warier of darkness than I used to be.
When I was a teenager, I revelled in darkness. I don’t mean that I loved bad things. I loved complicated things, facing the realities of our broken world, anything that seemed deeper and truer than the sparkly cliches I found on tv and in commercial christian products. My teens were when I read Thomas Hardy and Pascal and Kierkegaard, when intellectual doubts were hitting me for the first time, when I first traveled to a third world country and recognized the excess of my own lifestyle. I was in my teens when Dad took me to see Good Will Hunting – despite the language – because of the redemptive themes, and I too wanted to recognize truth like a troubled genius or a holy rebel. I needed a faith that was honest about darkness.
Becoming a mother was what changed me. I first noticed it when I was pregnant with Rosemary. Jack and I started to watch The Road one night- a film based on Cormac McCarthy’s post- apocalyptic vision of a father and son traveling across a barren earth. Though the movie had been hailed as important, haunting, and powerful, and though its bleak, true-eyed vision was something I would have loved in my late teens, I couldn’t make it through even the first half of the film. As a parent, it was too harrowing to watch, and I wanted to sleep instead.
Once your own children enter the picture, the reality of darkness in the world easily becomes overwhelming, your potential for distress growing exponentially with each child you bear.
To be honest, I don’t want to talk here about what happened in Connecticut last week. I can hardly bear to acknowledge that it exists or to read the names of the children who died. I haven’t read a single news story about it all the way through, and I haven’t watched even one news clip, not just because I’m generally suspicious of the reliability and motives of the press, but also because I can’t manage, emotionally, to let myself imagine how those parents feel.
Tonight before bed, I read to my almost-4-year-old from the Jesus Storybook Bible. We read this, based on Acts 1:
Jesus’ friends and helpers huddled together in a stuffy upstairs room. Even though it was sunny outside, the shutters were closed. The door was locked.
“Wait in Jerusalem,” Jesus had told them, “I am going to send you a special present. God’s power is going to come into you. God’s Holy Spirit is coming.”
So here they were. Waiting. Actually, mostly what they were doing was just being scared and hiding. (You can’t blame them — their best friend had left; the Important People and Leaders were after them; and Jesus had given them a job they didn’t know how to do.)
As they waited, they were praying and remembering — remembering how, from the beginning, God had been working out his Secret Rescue Plan.
I wondered as I read: how much of what I do is just “being scared and hiding,” waiting, in this long Advent season, for the Secret Rescue Plan to be completed, hoping I make it through unscathed? Although for me, unlike for the disciples, the Holy Spirit has already come, already made my heart burn within me, I still cower in fear when faced with the realities of a world in need of resurrection. I know about this Secret Rescue Plan, and I’ve been assured of its success. The Prince of Darkness grim? – one little word shall fell him. I ought not to tremble.
And yet my fear is legitimate; after last week, there’s no denying that even our safest places are vulnerable, that the “control” I think I have over my life is illusory.
So how do I, with my tender mother-heart, open up again to face the realities of a complex world, where the End is certain, but in the meantime, the ways can be inscrutable? How can I embrace the spirit of love, rather than the spirit of fear? How can I trust God enough to face the suffering of the world – and the potential of suffering for my own little ones – with clear eyes and an open heart?
I know that I need to face the darkness head on and ready to fight. Taking comfort in shiny happy cliches and ignoring reality may feel good for a season, but ultimately helps no one, ultimately turns me into one of the shallow “phonies” that Holden Caufield and I used to despise.
Leaning into the meaning of Advent means remembering that our hearts have to be split in order to open wider. And leaning into the meaning of Advent means believing that because a baby was born, there is a promise that if we lean into the suffering of the world instead of protecting against it, we find love. This is a long wait, but we’re not waiting alone.
I don’t have to watch The Road. But I think I do have to watch Half the Sky. I have to begin by being willing to see the brokenness of the world, and then I have to be ready to fight against the darkness. I have to combat the urge to construct a “safe” life. I have to be willing to acknowledge the brokenness of the world, not just intellectually, but emotionally, if I’m going to be able to help usher a new and better kingdom in.
We wait, this long Advent, for that kingdom to arrive, but we must wait with honest eyes and willing hands, practicing resurrection in the dark.
Amy Lepine Peterson teaches ESL Writing and American Pop Culture at Taylor University, and spends most of her time making a home for her best-friend-husband and their two (frankly adorable) children. You can find her in the cornfields of Indiana, or online at Making All Things New.
I met Amy at The Festival of Faith and Writing in Michigan last spring. During a five minute chat, we discovered we’d attended the same college, attended the same college-town church, majored in English lit., and had recently found ourselves at home in episcopal churches. Needless to say, we kept in touch.
I’m delighted to share this advent story at Amy’s place today:
I know that Advent should include repentance. In fact, repentance is supposed to be an integral part of any advent observance. The idea, I think, is that we must prepare ourselves to receive Christ.
I’ve mostly avoided thinking about it.
I far prefer to meditate on ideas like wonder or anticipation.
If I think much about sin at all it’s to imagine the sin out there. For instance, the dark injustice of human trafficking or the world orphan crisis.
I’d rather not confront the darkness in my own heart.
Until the parents of twenty first-graders walked into a nightmare.
You can read the rest of the story here. While you’re there, check out Amy’s own beautiful advent series. Like me, she’s posting every day this season.
One year ago, I was waiting, holding on to these words from Psalm 81: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt. Open wide your mouth, and I will fill it.”
The date inked in beside those words in my Bible is August 23, 2011. By the time Advent began, I’d spent three months wringing out every drop of hope they had to give.
I did not know when (or even if) we would be moving on from Florida, but I longed to leave the desert behind. I was not yet pregnant, but I had a daughter who prayed every night for a sister. I had only imprecise dreams of what the future might hold, but I kept my mouth open and imagined a cup running over.
I wrote every day that Advent, and I shared it all with you here.
Before I’d even packed away the Christmas tree, I was pregnant, and the events which would bring us to Pennsylvania had been set in motion. I celebrated the new year with anticipation, though I still knew nothing of a baby girl or a red brick farmhouse.
Such a year it has been. Such a year.
And now – now, it is a season for singing. And, so, like last year, I will have something for you here each day of Advent.
We will wait and sing, together.
I am singing my Advent anthem to you, God: How all year
I’ve felt your thrusts, every sound and sight stabbing
like a little blade – the creak of gulls, the racket
as waves jostle pebbles, the road after rain, shining
like a river, the scrub of wind on the cheek, a flute
trilling – clean as a knife, the immeasurable chants of green,
of sky: messages, announcements. But of what? Who?
Then last Tuesday, a peacock feather (surprise!)
spoke from the grass; Flannery calls hers “a genuine
word of the Lord.” And I – as startled as Mary, nearly,
at your arrival in her chamber (the invisible
suddenly seen, urgent, iridescent, having put on light
for her regard) – I brim over like her, quickening. I can’t
stop singing, thoroughly pregnant with Word!
– Luci Shaw
Only seven weeks old, and she’s seen her first hurricane. Actually, “heard” might be more accurate. I’m not sure any of us held her up to the window to watch the rain fall, but we were both awake to hear the wind in the night.
It was a wind to make you thank heaven for thick brick walls, even while you wondered if the storm windows would hold.
She breathes warmth and peace into the side of my neck, and I am newly determined: when storm clouds hover I will, like this baby girl, expect to be cared for.
I will practice hope.
I will assume Jesus meant it when he said we have no reason to worry.
When Hurricane Sandy threatened to cut off our power and water, I lined up baby bottles on my window ledge. They were filled to the brim with clean water. Then I went and filled a few more containers with water. And then, a few more. Possibly, a few more after that.
Does the Lord of the storm (Job 40:6) love me any less?
“Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed.”
(Psalm 107: 28-29)
(photo by yours truly)