The Hope of Advent

ELIZABETH, THE MOTHER OF JOHN

(Inspired by the book of Luke chapter 1)

 

Along with all the world she stands pregnant.

Beneath her heart beats the tiny one of the messenger.

This old woman once belittled by the townsfolk,

A raisin dried in the desert sun,

Now stretching and blooming with life,

Elizabeth holds her noble head erect and proud

Knowing she bears a holy burden

A voice cries out and the babe once still,

So small that only a few have noticed the swelling,

Leaps for joy! 

All four limbs stretch

To their full length in the first steps

Of a dance begun by the angels

Deep within the womb

Of his mother.

The eyes of the women meet,

Filling the distance with shared wonder

As they cross the sands to meet face to face.

Holy Week Reflections: The Grace of Dawn

The last of the dark clouds drifted across the rising sun, just over the trees topping the hills.  Beams of light flooded the room as the sun, at last, broke through and shone freely.

Such is the season of Lent.

In this Holy Week, as I reflect on the last days of Jesus’ earthly life, I am struck by the symbolism God has placed in all of nature.

In this season of life, as naiveté  is stripped away and the world groans in longing for His return, I am struck by my need to remember that my Jesus is acquainted with sorrows…accompanied by grief.  He sits with me in compassion and understanding because He knows.

He has suffered and sits with us in our suffering.

I have lit the Lenten candles each morning, watching as each day the new candle adds light.  I look to the Light as I pray before the candlelight, settled in my dependency, determined to keep walking forward.  I dwell, fascinated by the curling smoke as the candles are extinquished one-by-one, for a few long moments.  I sit in holy grief, knowing my sin nailed my savior to that cross, yet sit in hope, knowing that he won.

He rose.

And I am free.

Lent, unlike Advent (which is filled with child-like anticipation of the Newborn King), is heavy.  It is the knowing of my faults, the realization that His suffering should have been mine.  It is taking the time to sit in the weight of my sin while knowing, with each passing day, that my sin has been nailed to the cross and I bear it no more.

Praise the Lord, Oh my soul.

Lent is stepping into the suffering of Jesus, because He stepped into mine.  It is identifying with the cross, allowing Him to bear mine.  It is looking ahead, to the day when He stood, filled with breath and life, and walked out of that grave and took me right along with Him.

Lent is hope.  It is promise.  It is Grace.

It is the golden ribbon of morning puddled along the far black horizon, taking shape as Hope dawns faithfully day after day.

He is risen.  He is risen, indeed.

If You Lack a Mentor: In Gratitude to Sally Clarkson

As a now “older mom” among many of my friends, I found myself in an odd and often lonely season of motherhood.  It is so easy to make friends when our kids are little.  Playdates at the park or story times at the library are the perfect conditions for forming friendships around the common experience of mothering.  But there comes a time when the kids grow up and our day-to-day interactions with them vary to such a degree from what others around us may be experiencing that mothering can no longer be an easy common ground from which a friendship can spring.  The friendships are based on other things.  Good things.  But not necessarily common parenting styles (or outcomes!).

Then there was the realization that, as an “older mom,” I lacked a mentor for myself…someone who has weathered the storms and walked through the hardships that are the reality of raising children to adulthood.  The lack was not out of desire to have one, but out of the practical nature of my life these days…finding time to sit and chat over coffee is difficult to do.  Homeschooling four children, parenting five, shuffling kids to ball practice, dance, music, youth group, doctors’ appointments, etc (and carving out time to practice my cello!) consume my daytime hours very quickly.  Then factor in the reality that we recently moved into a new neighborhood in a new town and, well, building a mentoring relationship just takes time.  Time that I haven’t had.

Do you relate to this?

Enter Sally Clarkson.

sally clarkson

I had heard of her for a couple of years and knew she had homeschooled her children ALL THE WAY THROUGH HIGH SCHOOL.  Nothing less than a heroic feat, in my book.  Because teenagers.

Anyway, I began to listen to her podcast, “At Home with Sally” and in this older woman, who I have never met, I found what I needed.

A mentor.

Sally raised four children who all turned out to be amazing, gifted adults that love Jesus and love their mama.  But that is not why I love her.  I love Sally because what she did was not easy.  Learning disabilities, mental illness, tragedy and hardship were all part of her story of mothering.  She is honest about those things, honest about her failures and successes.  She looks back through the lens of experience and wisdom and gently reminds us that, though there are things we can do to foster life in our homes, above all our kids belong to the Lord and we can trust Him with them. Somehow, in her quiet voice, she speaks loudly into my flaws and struggles, encouraging me to not let failure prevent me from taking the next step, or from loving when it is hard.  She has taught me that much of my tension comes from being highly idealistic, which is not a bad thing but can certainly be frustrating to certain members of my family.  Ahem.  She models selflessness and faith and the gift of hospitality as a form of worship.  She reminds me to light candles and warm up the pancake syrup because those little things speak into the hearts of my children and draw them close.  In the difficult seasons of my life, Sally reminds me to hope and to never, ever give up.  God uses broken vessels.

I’m most definitely a cracked pot in His Kingdom!

I don’t know if you have a mentor.  I certainly hope you do.  But if that is something you wish for I would love to introduce you to Sally.  She doesn’t know me, has no idea this little corner of the internet even exists, but I feel that so many of my friends would benefit from letting her speak truth as we drive our kids to appointments or get ready in the mornings. Nothing can replace real-life relationships and face-to-face conversation, but someone like Sally has filled a much-needed gap in my life.  And while my “real” friendships grow and develop I feel that what I am learning from her will serve me well as I move forward into this next phase of life.   I will share the links below.  I receive nothing for this.  It is purely out of a desire to bless you that I share Sally Clarkson with you.

Life With Sally – a membership site worth every penny.  https://lifewithsally.com/

Whole Heart Ministries – helping Christian parents raise wholehearted children.  wholeheart.org

At Home with Sally and Friends – if you do nothing else, subscribe to this.  I anticipate each new episode every week, listening to many of them over and over.  Rich with stories, hope and encouragement, Sally’s gentle voice is always calming to my often fretting heart.  http://sallyclarkson.com/podcast/

 

 

 

Eyes forward.

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”   Revelation 21:5

In the crazy of moving during this, the most busy wonderful time of the year, I have struggled to keep my sacred mornings with the Lord.  In fact, four days before we moved my desk got packed up…including my Bible.  Now, I always have the online version but I so prefer the actual physical book in my hands, the weight of the Word on my lap.

I woke up each morning, not with relaxed anticipation of time spent with Jesus (which had become my blessed norm over the past months) but with lists of lists spinning through my overwhelmed mind.  And celebrating Advent, in the insanity of packing every. single. thing. we owned and moving it thirty minutes up the highway to a new house in the hills surrounding Nashville, fell to the backburner.  I purposed that as soon as we moved in we would make up for lost time.

As soon as we had left the old behind we would begin anew.

And we did.

As I wrote in my last post, we moved in with lights and candles and trees all in place and ready to point us to the coming King.  We feasted and sang and baked and gazed in wonder at the expanse of sky above in the absence of the once-familiar trees.  It was sweet and began our life in this new place with good and needed memories.

And now, the New Year is upon us.  For the past few years I have asked the Lord for a word from Him.  A glimpse at what He might have ahead for me, a focal point for my prayers and vision as I walk into January.

I haven’t received it from Him just yet, but I know I will.  He has been perfectly faithful, every time I have asked, to give this to me.  So I watch and pray and listen, knowing the newfound quiet of our surroundings can only help me hear the voice of my Father.  (Though, I do have five kids and three dogs so…quiet is a very relative term!)  As we leave this old year behind, shutting the door on the successes and failures, joys, heartbreaks and grief, we have an opportunity to begin anew on January first.

Does it mean I forget the hard?  Well, yes, maybe it does…or it just might mean I should.

In Philippians 3:13-14 Paul says, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

I believe this is a worthy goal for us as we begin the new year.  2018 does not have to be overshadowed by the pain hangover of 2017.  Instead, we can allow the struggles to push us onward and upward, remembering why and for Whom we are here in the first place.

Because if we remember the “why” we are less likely to fall into bitterness and discontent.  And if we remember for Whom we are here, well, it makes it awfully hard to be selfish.

Not that I struggle with selfishness.  *sarcasm*

So I’m seeking the Lord today, asking for His word for me to be made clear before the New Year dawns.  If you are doing the same, I would love to hear what the Lord gives you!  What a gift it would be for us to pray for one another as we begin this fresh leg of our journey.

May the God of angel armies bless and keep you in 2018.  May you know who you are and Whose you are as you walk each day with Him.  And may the Peace of the Lord Jesus be with you and sustain you throughout this new year.

The Making of a Home

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.  And you know the way to where I am going.

John 14:3-4

If you had asked me what the absolute worst time I could imagine to squeeze in a move to a new house could be I would have, without hesitation, said Christmas time.  Need I list all the reasons?

I think not.

But here we are.  In our new home.  Just moved in with only days before Christmas morning arrives.

Call us crazy.  We might be.

God has a way of stretching us when we least expect it and, more often than not, the stretching is accompanied by great blessing.  In fact, sometimes it is because of great blessing.

We scaled down quite a bit in house size.  That meant some extreme and brutal purging in the midst of buying Christmas gifts and decorating our new home.  Talk about conflict.  I’m not exaggerating when I tell you my brain is just plain tired.  Don’t even ask about my body.  But the process has been so good and sanctifying.

First of all, it spawned this little corner of the internet.  My quest to simplify our life and to find contentment and inspiration in the everyday normal of life brought me here, to you.  Second, I was convicted to the core about how much stuff we had accumulated.  Stuff I had honestly forgotten I even owned and, obviously, did not need.  I was determined to move only that which was needed and brought joy.  That may or may not have traumatized our resident hoarders.  (Ahem.)

We sold what we needed to sell and gave away the rest, which was a lot.  Friends and Goodwill benefited greatly and we spent weeks moving one SUV-load after another to our new space.  As Christmas neared, I spent two days putting up trees, the special decorations that speak “Christmas” to our family’s hearts, and dreaming of the first magical days in this house with a view.  Horses grazing out front, hills and trees and sparkling ponds out back.  A porch with a swinging bed where my daughter contentedly strums her ukulele and laughter echoing down the wooden stairs as the kids explore and discover their new favorite spots to land.  Moving in with Christmas already in place has been so good and helpful for our transition.  Having our traditions waiting was a gentle buffer to the stress a move brings.  I am grateful for that.

And now I can look out my window and watch the sun rise over the hills, the smell of coffee brewing in the kitchen and the eggnog-scented candle burning next to the sink.  I sigh and thank God, once again, under my breath as I take in this beautiful and quiet moment on an Advent morning.

Christmas was waiting, here, for us, when we arrived.  All that meant joy and Jesus in this season was prepared beforehand so that our arrival would be seamless.  Home, with all of the trimmings and sparkle and tradition, was ready.

Though the original Advent took many by surprise (remember, there are 400 silent years between the Old and New Testaments) the reality is that the preparations had been underway for thousands of years.  From the day Adam and Eve fell into sin, God had begun the countdown to the arrival of Jesus to redeem and restore mankind to intimacy with Him.  The star was ready to shine.  The manger was built.  Mary was chosen and Joseph placed in to “such a time as this” before anyone in the world realized what was coming.  God was moving and working behind the scenes, preparing Christmas for his Beloved.

For you and for me.

And as we arrive, one by one, in His Kingdom by faith don’t you imagine He rejoices as we cross that threshold of eternal life?  Don’t you think it pleases His father-heart to no end when we gasp in wonder and realize what He has done for us, embracing the gift of Jesus and walking through the doors of eternity to begin life with and for Him?  I do.  Most definitely, I do.  Our God is full of good gifts and lavishly loves us.  He gives us beauty and feasting and music and laughter for us to enjoy, together, as a family.  These holidays are just a foretaste of what is to come and, today, I am going to linger a little longer at the window and watch the wind blow through the horses’ manes as they graze.  I am going to sip my coffee slowly and inhaled the sweetly scented candle as Christmas carols play softly in the background.  And I’m going to thank God for leading me down this road to a more quiet and less cluttered life that frees me to be in the moment, fully, with the ones I love the most.

Merry Christmas, sweet friends.  You are loved.

Advent and going back to basics.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and we are packing up everything we own and moving right smack dab in the middle of it!  Christmas is my absolute favorite holiday and, despite the craziness associated with moving a family of seven and downsizing, no less, I just couldn’t let it keep us from celebrating it as normally as possible.  Not only will it make the transition easier for our kids, but it will be the beginning of many years of beautiful memories in our new home, Lord willing.   I have been determined to preserve the traditions that are meaningful and get the tree(s) up in our new house even before we move in.  So the Christmas stuff may or may not have been moved into our house ahead of my clothes!

Priorities:)

In the controlled chaos of packing/moving/homeschooling and all the busy of our normal life with five athletic and extremely social kids I had to take a good look at Christmas this year and narrow things down…a lot.

I tend to be a “bandwagon celebrationist.”  (Yes, I just made that up.)  Whenever the latest book, devotional, or idea for celebrating a holiday in a meaningful, Christ-honoring way comes across my newsfeed I’m all, “Yeah!  I need that!  THAT is the key!  THAT will make our Christmases unforgettable!  I must add that to the 6 devotionals, 7 trees and fourteen advent wreaths we already have!”  (Kidding…about the wreaths, anyway.)

I’m always looking for the next great idea and then Christmas comes…

The half-read devotionals lay stacked on the side table.  Candles failed to be lit all of last week.  And, shoot, I was going to make that newest recipe for the holidays and the ingredients sit, untouched, because I ran out of time.  It’s too much.  And in the middle of my great intentions sits a festering seed of frustration and failure.  Jesus loses his place, once again, because I crowded him out with all of this “busy work.”

As I have packed and pared down our lives for this move, it has been eye opening.  First of all, I had way too much stuff.  It’s embarrassing.  Second, the determination to keep Christmas and be able to enjoy the season in the first days of life in our new home has made me realize that there are a few things of real value to our hearts, but many more that are not.

I have filled up a lot of giveaway and throwaway bags and it has been so freeing.

I got rid of the old, dusty wreaths and garlands.  All the ornaments that were, to be honest, ugly.  Even the stuff my kids made over the years, so many things that I couldn’t even remember who made them or when.  I chucked them in a bag and didn’t look back, only keeping the special ones that brought a smile to my face and warm fuzzies to my heart.

Kind of like Marie Kondo, without talking to my stuff.

Why do I make occasions like Christmas so complicated?  Why do I feel the need to fill this already beautiful season with experiences and create Pinterest-worthy memories?  Why are the holidays so exhaustingly busy?

Because we forget why we are celebrating in the first place.  And…we forget exactly who we are celebrating.

Jesus is not complicated, friends.  Everything about him is beautifully simple.  His birth, his life, his ministry, his death.  It was all very straightforward.  No frills.  He had a message and he taught it.  He had a mission and he completed it.  He knew why he was here and he let nothing distract him or deter him from it.  Jesus is not complicated, but he is beautiful.

And that is the key, if you ask me.  Creating beauty as we walk out the season of Advent can be so simple and meaningful.  In fact, I believe we can create beauty without opening a single devotional book or suffering guiding our kids through a single craft-making session.  Just this morning, as I was contemplating the words I am writing now, I asked my twelve year old daughter what she remembers most about Christmas as she has grown up.  What has been meaningful, and what has she thought was a waste of time?

Her answer surprised me.

She listed two meaningful traditions among the many we have upheld:  Watching Christmas movies together and putting twinkle lights all through the house.

The wastes of time in her eyes?  “Prettying up the tree.  Really, Mom, I just love the star on top and the ornaments.  It doesn’t need all that other stuff.”  This, from my artsiest and most creative child.   Do you know how much time I spent last year arranging and fluffing two different colors of extra-wide, sparkly ribbon on our big tree until it look just right?  She just cared about the star and the ornaments.

This is so profound to me.  We need less, friends.  Less gifts and more time spent talking about the meaning behind all of our celebrations.  Less hustling and bustling and more time to rest, to be restored and remember our First Love.  Less trying to fulfill our kids’ every wish and more attention on the longing fulfilled when the Son of God emerged from Mary’s womb in a stable surrounded by the lowliest of creatures and visited by the forgotten of society.

Jesus deserves our very best, but best does not mean busy work that will be forgotten next year.  It means sincere, heartfelt adoration of our King.  It means offering ourselves fully and slowing down long enough to let His still, small voice speak into our spirits.  That is what we will remember, and that is what our children will look back on fondly.  Simple beauty.  Candlelight and snuggles in front of a fire.  Words of life spoken in the quiet.  And laughter.  Always we must make time to laugh because following God is JOY.

Advent is about the waiting, the longing for the Promise.  In creating simple beauty we can find that place and be truly transformed as we recognize, anew, the incredible gift of God’s son.