Winter’s Promise

In the midst of Autumn I was on my knees for hours. Several bags were strewn haphazardly atop the fading mulch as I dug hole after hole. One hundred fifty tulips, daffodils and hyacinths were all nestled carefully, spaced just-so and put to bed for the winter in the hopes that they would reward my efforts with colorful bouquets dotting my gardens come spring.

As winter progressed I would study the ground with a frown. It just hasn’t been that cold. Winter began with frost but quickly warmed and, well, I just haven’t needed my heavy coat that often. It’s been cold and dreary, but not freezing. Don’t bulbs need six weeks or so of below-freezing temperatures in order to be triggered to grow and bloom?

January came and went and I still didn’t see evidence of life. I feared all my planning and digging had been for nothing but mole-food. The flower beds, hosting spent seed pods and straggly bare rose branches that didn’t quite take hold last year, stared back at me with forlorn emptiness. The gray days trudged on, one after the other.

In the words my favorite singer/songwriter:

“..and the sky in Nashville, it can bend you low ’cause the winter here is gray, without a trace of snow.”

“You Came So Close” by Andrew Peterson

Sigh.

As February arrived I began to peer more closely, daring even to move the mulch around a bit with my foot in hopes of uncovering a green shoot. Sure enough, in the back yard near the fence, I finally spotted a bit of green sticking up about an inch above the mulch. Once I laid eyes on it I picked up more dotting the bed around the base of the dormant redbud. I smiled and clapped my hands like a little girl. Spring is coming! It’s really coming! And if I can keep those dumb rabbits from eating them all (because the battle is ON now) I might just have tulips blooming along the front sidewalk! (Any advice on rabbit-proofing my front flower beds is welcome.)

I never get over the significance of the changing seasons: The dying of winter, the dormancy of cold months and the waiting, longing for warmer days, the fear that the promise will not be fulfilled until the moment the first shoot pushes through hard, dry winter ground and fresh green spears of daffodils stand in bold rebellion against the monochrome gray of winter’s landscape. Spring is light pushing back the darkness, hope’s refusal to be silenced, life conquering death.

Spring embodies everything that is the gospel. I, for one, do not believe that is a coincidence. God has planted his message in the very fabric of creation. During the most dreary and dark days of winter life is awakened and emerges triumphant, heralding the lush beauty that is soon to follow. Even when the sun is setting at 4:30 in the afternoon, there is movement and intention underground as the earth prepares, once again, to declare the glory of God with vibrant spring color and summer blooms .

Spring reminds us that what we are living now is only temporary. We have cause to hope because, in all of history, there has not been a time where winter did not turn into spring. Not one. Even the Ice Age eventually gave in to the greening. On the darkest of days God is faithfully preparing the fulfillment of his promises, out of sight but ever near. Spring is His reminder that we can trust Him.

And don’t we need that reminder now, more than ever? As the world spirals deeper into darkness and the headlines read worse by the minute, are you tempted to lose hope? Take a look around. Move the grayed mulch aside and peer closely. There it is, my friend.

A Simple Advent

We began today, though it doesn’t “officially” start until December first.  But I know me, and I know us.  Life happens, schedules get tight, and we struggle to finish what we start whether it be a devotional, project, or “school” book.

I’ve purchased many advent devotionals over the years, bought every “memorable” ornament, tree, and wreath there is to make this season count.  This year, though, I’m going back to basics.  Like so many things in my too-busy life I’m paring us down, starting at the beginning and revisiting an old favorite that brings back beautiful memories of the days when all five of my babies gathered ’round the warmth of a winter fire and listened with wonder to the stories that just happen to be true.

We read the first few pages of “The Jesus Storybook Bible” by Sally Lloyd-Jones this morning over hot coffee and before a crackling fire.  I’m down to three kids in our morning time, the oldest two having grown and moved on to other things, so I savor these hours and pray they will last longer with these three.  I opened the book, now worn and with binding beginning to fray, to “The Story and the Song” and read the words slowly, carefully, wishing I had the author’s lovely British accent and determing to make the reading beautiful for my children.  The familiar words felt like home on my tongue and I slowed down as I came to page 17…

It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story.  And at the center of the Story, there is a baby. Every Story in the Bible whispers his name.  He is like the missing piece in a puzzle-the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together, and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture.

My voice broke over these words, tears spilling from my eyes and my heart bursting with gratitude for fresh understanding…revelation, even…of the Christ.  That Jesus would become a baby.  That He would give countless clues all through History that we had not been left to wallow in our sin, but were so very loved that the Son of God had already planned to descend here before we even knew we needed Him…I could barely speak.

“Are you ok, Mom?”  My son’s soft voice broke my concentration.

How do I even answer that question?  I am more than ok, I am free.  I am saved, gloriously and forever seated with Christ in the heavenly places!  I am forgiven and beloved and, oh my sweet ones, how I long for you to realize this is true about you as well!

He came.  Jesus came and lived the life I could not live, died the death I deserved to die. He is the center of my story, and of yours.

“…So in Heaven and earth and below, every knee would bow in worship and every tongue would proclaim that Jesus, He reigns with the angels. Son of God, Son of man.

Hallelujah!”

From the song, Gather ‘Round, Ye Children, Come by Andrew Peterson

We too easily complicate things in an effort to make Christmas beautiful. We too often forget the simplicity of the Gospel of Christ.  But, today, I was reminded of why I am who I am and why I do what I do.

For the sake of Christ and the Glory of God.

Keep it simple, my friends.  Remember and celebrate the Advent of Christ with all of your heart, and without all of the fluff.

The stories are true.

Gather ‘Round, Ye Children, Come.  Listen to the old, old story…

 

Of Autumn and Rest

I took a short drive this morning.  The speed limit is 23 here in our neighborhood.  Not one mile higher.  The teenagers find it binding, I find it delightful.

I love being forced to slow.

Rounding the wide curve, with the pasture to my right, I spotted a neighbor.  Woolen hat pulled low to his eyebrows and two dogs fighting for position as he walked, a bounce in his step on this blustery Autumn day.  He waved and smiled, his cheeks revealing lines created by years of practice.  Such a genuine joy in his face that I couldn’t help but return it.

I was on my way to the gym where I would push and pull and sweat and, strangely, love every minute of it.  But the drive leading up to my session was devoid of stress, beautifully lined with orange-bedecked trees showing off just a little longer.  The horses huddled, two-by-two as the wild wind blew their manes and tails, creating dramatic poses from what would have been simple still-lifes.  The tan one lifted his handsome head and watched me pass by.  I wished I had a few carrots with which to treat him.

I prayed this year for Autumn, that it would be long and not too hot, not too cold.  I selfishly believe God made it perfect just for me.  It is, truly, the most beautiful and bright Autumn I have seen since moving to Tennessee and that is saying a lot.  Tennessee Autumns are generally lovely, but often too short.  Not this year, though.  Autumn came gently and has stayed a nice, long while.  She doesn’t need to hurry on my account, I assure you.

The cooler temperatures energize me.  Daylight savings has come and gone and now the sun sets early, just after 4:30 in the afternoon.  It makes the evenings feel  long and lures me here or to my notebook to write.  I start putting words to page and find myself editing, reshaping the stories and searching for just the right words, knowing they are out there somewhere.

The wind is howling and rain beats against the windows and I give thanks that, despite the stresses and strains of my day, a storm is blowing in and washing everything clean.  Both outside and within me.

And that is a much-needed gift.

Why am I rambling like this?  Well, I have some advice…I hope you will take it:

Step outside today.  Look up, letting your eyes focus as far away as possible.  Notice the clouds, the stars, the way the birds dance before they settle on the highest limb.  Listen to the wind, the train in the distance and the leaves bouncing along the sidewalk.  Let your senses rest and be still.  Wave and smile at your neighbor, then call your friend just to see what she is doing.  No agenda, just easy conversation.  Spend time counting blessings and maybe even write them down.  You’ll need them later, when the blessings are harder to list.  Talk to God about silly things, small things, because He cares about even those things.  Isn’t that incredible?  Breathe and sip tea while unsorted socks wait patiently in the laundry basket.  They aren’t going any where, I promise.  Then walk into the next thing, the awaiting tasks, refreshed and more able to focus because you took that Sabbath moment and gave your Creator a chance to do what He does best…Make all things new.

Hearthfire and Frost: Finding Joy in the Gifts of Autumn

It did this mama’s heart so good. All seven of us, together in the same room as Daddy lit the first hearthfire of the season and we marked it with a feast, a liturgy and laughter.

Chicken pot pie was the main dish, an easy dinner that brought everyone to the kitchen. Green beans were served alongside chopped salad with hot bacon and the grease drizzled all over the lettuce before the ranch dressing even had a chance. Crusty bread cleaned our plates and then, with mugs of hot chocolate and marshmallows, we gathered. Us, who have been too often fragmented. Seven people leading seven busy lives, four of whom are often in different counties during the day or any given evening.  But this night, we were all seven piled into our living room with only five seats and that made it cozy. And sweet. One squeezed in close beside her sister in the rocking armchair that squeaks. Another stretched out on the rug, warmed by the first Autumn fire.

Together, we read the prayer. Eyerolls were, miraculously, few and far between. The leather-bound book of liturgies, a new-ish family treasure, was passed hand-to-hand as each person read a paragraph then placed a log on the fire. After more than a few giggles and a couple of quickly-dampened arguments, not to mention younger ones fearing the hot ash that leapt from beneath the flaming logs as the new ones fell into place, the first hearthfire of the season was beautifully ablaze and no one was in a hurry to leave.

We sat, talking and gesturing, then belly-laughing as our oldest told a wild story and it hit me hard that this is likely his last Autumn at home. Next year he will be in college. Come next Fall, he may just be visiting and everything will be different. He will be different. We will all be different.

I willed myself not to allow tears to form and almost succeeded. I looked upon my family, my whole family, with deep joy and gave thanks to Jesus who makes all things new.

We went to bed at peace with the day, the smell of smoldering coals filling the house for the first time this season and anticipating the first frost in the morning.

Sure enough, I was awakened by a blaze of pink illuminating my bed. I parted the sheer curtains and gasped as the sky exploded in beauty, mist rising from the still-warm pond and dancing in the barely frozen air. The grass was gray with frost and sparkled in the first light of dawn.

My soul delighted in this gift and, again, I whispered a prayer of thanks to my God who knows how much I love a golden sunrise. In moments like this, I’m sure I’m his favorite.

A Welcome Visitor

The poetry bug has freshly bitten and I have enjoyed stretching my creative muscles, finding new words and new ways to express the things that wander through my mind.  Here is one…about Autumn, my most favorite of seasons which has, at long last, arrived in Tennessee.  As the beauty of my surroundings increases in color I find myself turning away from my desk to take it all in with windows open, of course, and birdsong as the accompaniment to my early morning devotionals.  What a gift with which to begin each day!

A Welcome Visitor SS

Blessings to you as Autumn continues it’s beautiful march across our land.

Hutchmoot 2018

What is a Hutchmoot, you ask?

Ah…where do I start?  How do I describe something so profoundly beautiful and formative?  It’s a conference, sure, but it is so much more.

I will, at the very least, attempt to explain.

More than ten years ago, Andrew Peterson had an idea.

A God-given one, I am certain.

After walking the streets of Oxford, England and realizing the beauty that the community of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and friends had created that still, to this day, brings light and beauty to the Church, he felt the need to foster a creative community for the glory of God right here.  In Nashville.

Thus, the Rabbit Room was born.

As the online community grew and began to thrive, they began to hold conferences, naming them (of all things!) Hutchmoot.

Hutch:  a place where rabbits live

Moot:  an Old English word for meeting place.

If you are a part of the Rabbit Room community, “Hutchmoot” is a synonym for home.

I came with my thirteen year old daughter.  The creative one.  I brought her along for two reasons:

One, she is incredibly artsy and would be the most likely to tolerate the long days and heady conversations because she knows how to keep herself occupied with a sketchbook and pencils.  I felt she just might thrive in the safety of a church full of “creatives” and find her people.

Two, I didn’t want to go alone.

Me…This self-proclaimed extrovert who loves conversation and loud laughter had sudden bursts of introverted shivers when I thought of walking into a room of people with more talent in their pinkies than I have in my entire body.  I felt like a poser, a wanna-be.  I merely wanted to sit in the same space as these gifted ones and listen, hoping to absorb bits of their knowledge and be inspired to cultivate my own.

We arrived Thursday after flying home a day early from our family’s beach vacation.  Due to awakening at 5am to make our early flight we were exhausted, but anticipation fueled us as we made the drive to Franklin, Tennesse from our home just twenty minutes down the road.  Neither of us knew a soul, so I was grateful that we had one another.  Neither of us had any idea what to expect from Hutchmoot, so imagine my joy in realizing that in this place we would find our people and I would leave feeling that I do, in fact, belong.

It will take weeks, maybe even months, to process all that the Lord has done in both of our lives over the course of four beautiful days.

Feasting, music, art, story, laughter, conversation, books, books and more books, and Jesus.  Oh, the talk of Jesus, of God the Creator and the reason He gives these good gifts, these insatiable desires to create beauty.  Every session, every workshop never failed to circle back to the Gospel.  Eyes filled with kindness, words of encouragement to and from complete strangers, hugs and phone numbers exchanged because we just didn’t want this to end…this magic, this feeling, this community.

Hutchmoot is the Bride of Christ at her most beautiful:  serving, loving, sacrificing time and talent and leaning in close over steaming cups of coffee to hear, really hear, the stories of God’s people.  At Hutchmoot you are told you CAN do this beautiful thing.  I now believe God WILL use my writing, that in Him I can finish the book I’ve pecked at for almost two years.  I walked away knowing I am fully able to encourage you, my friends, in your walk with Christ and trust that these words of mine each week will get to the eyes of those whom He intends to read them.

And my daughter?  At Hutchmoot she blossomed and grew.  At Hutchmoot she danced for strangers and came out of her shell to talk the ears off of every adult who would listen and appreciate her art.  Every last one of them listened.   Not a single person failed to appreciate and encourage her childish boldness.  She found her people.  Aslan is on the move.

There is a comfort in being pursued, a rest in feeling known.  To begin a weekend in a room full of strangers and end it surrounded by familiar and dear faces is miraculous.  It is the work of the Holy Spirit and I, for one, am forever changed.

One last thing…as I type these final words the song, “Don’t You Want to Thank Someone” by Andrew Peterson is taking it’s turn on my playlist.  And the answer is yes.  A resounding yes, I do.

My heart is full.  My spirit is grateful.

Until next year, my new, rabbity friends.

 

The Backside of the Storm

Driving along Highway 840, a little slice of God’s country in the heart of Tennessee, my daughter chatted breathlessly about her ballet class.  The sun had just reappeared after a short but powerful storm that had left the highways clean and caused more than a few fender benders on the various interstates.

The hills around us sparkled in the setting sun and, as we rounded a long curve, the sky exploded.  “Look at the sky!” I exclaimed, hating that my hands were occupied with the steering wheel and my good camera was at home.  I considered pulling over to the shoulder in order to capture the beauty, but the best angle was right here, in the middle of the highway with the “v’ of the hills opening up on each side, perfectly framing the glory before us.

She gasped, a smile lighting up her eyes and me quietly happy that this child of mine has learned to appreciate a good sunset.  I’ve taught her well.  🙂

Behind us, the passing storm was still dark.  We had driven out of the rain and were now on the back side of it.  Tall, billowing clouds, once threatening, were now beautifully illuminated by the setting sun.  Orange, pink, and shimmering gold surrounded us and urged us onward, pulling our eyes ahead and our focus away from the passing darkness.

Always ahead.

Ever forward.

The Message translation gives this new life…

“I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.”  Phillippians 3:13

I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ.  In the midst of the storm, I was reaching,   Maybe even clawing my way forward, blinded by rain, but drawn by His voice.

“Come.”

The storm is passing.  More will certainly follow but, for now, there is rest.  A chance to catch my breath.  And the light from the SON is revealing the beauty on the backside of the storm.  The rain washes me clean, washes sin and hurt clean away and I stand in awe of the glory of the Son of God who loves me.  He calls me beautiful and surrounds me with beauty.  He makes all things beautiful.  For me.

For you.

Keep your eye on the goal.  You will weather the storm and it will pass.

It will.

And He stands there, the Son in the setting sun illuminated and surrounded by glory.  Look ahead and don’t look back.

Take a deep breath and inhale the clean, fresh air.

Rest.

IMG_7020.JPG
Taken after arriving safely home 🙂  Colors had blended into blues and grays but still, so beautiful.