The Love of Advent

Have you ever talked to yourself?

Asking for a friend. ūüėČ

Really, though, I can think of many times throughout my life where self-talk took on the form of a prayer, when I realized I was no longer trying to work out the situation in my own mind but, in fact, crying out to God.

Today’s poem, on this Christmas Day, examines the inner thoughts of Mary, the mother of Jesus, as she walked out those early years with her son and life settled into a sort of normal, the everyday experience of a young mama watching her toddler sleep.

Did she ponder the future? Of course she did. Did she hope her son would not suffer as greatly as the prophet, Isaiah, foretold? What mother would not? Did she long for time to slow down, for her son to stay little and not have to face the brutality of the grown-up world which made survival difficult, at best? This I can certainly believe.

The love of Advent encompasses so much more than we can fully comprehend. A holy God made flesh, a child born to die, a mother obediently walking a road that will surely end in unspeakable pain,

“All because your Abba loves this broken world…”

Merry Christmas my friends. Let’s lean into the story of Christ, allowing God to speak into the deep places we are often tempted to close off from Him. Celebrate, feast and, above all, worship our Savior/King for doing the unthinkable and loving us at our very worst. He is worthy.

LOVE

In the night the angel came and bade us go.

Up and out of Bethlehem

Down, down to Africa

Where my son would be safe for now

He sleeps, now, on his side,

Palms pressed together and cradling the fullness of

His rosy cheeks.

His eyelids flutter as he dreams, then he sighs.

Watching him brings peace to my troubled heart.

How many little ones did Herod slaughter?

Oh my God.

This little boy, is he aware of what he has begun?

This miraculous one who emerged from my virgin womb

Looks at me with eyes clear as a summer day

And when he laughs I am drowned in the love

Of Heaven’s son.

What will come of him,

This child who holds my hand in a crowd?

The prophets foretold much suffering.

Is it wrong that I long to pray for you to change your mind?

Born to die,

My heart knows it’s true.

Oh little one, are you yet aware of what lies ahead,

All because your Abba loves this broken world?

As I brush your cheek with the back of my fingers

Tears flow again.

The burden I bear as your mother is almost unbearable.

Yet I praise Him.

I am honored, my son, my messiah

To bear you through childhood.

Love fills my soul and I magnify the Lord

Who blessed me above all women to raise you.

The JOY of Advent.

“He’s here.”

Can you just imagine the wonder in Mary’s voice as her firstborn son emerged from her womb and she held him at her breast for the first time? ¬†Don’t you think the sounds around them faded into the background and all she heard was the thumping of her own heart and the still-wet baby whimpering as his first cries died down into peaceful slumber? ¬†When I stop to let my mind envision the details of his birth (because so few are really given to us), putting myself in Mary’s place and listening with her ears, looking around with her eyes, I find a lump in my throat and the desire to fall on my knees to be overwhelming.

God with us.  The Word made flesh.  Born into utter poverty and humility but no less the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  Our Jesus, the most valiant of warriors who would eternally conquer sin and death because we simply could not.

He’s here.

Oh, the love, the matchless love of Christ.  Sit with Mary a while, will you?  Imagine what it must have been like on that Christmas night when the longings of all generations were fulfilled in one miraculous moment, when a virgin gave birth to the Son of God.

 

JOY.

He’s here.

Oh, Joseph, just look at him.

My heart is bursting,

overflowing with love

and joy.

 

Shhh, do you hear it?

Listen, beloved.

They are singing

just beyond the hills

where the shepherds sleep.

 

The song is new.

Harmonies so perfect 

I sigh a smile

and the baby 

opens his eyes.

 

So tiny, yet ancient.

My mind cannot grasp

who I hold in my arms

yet I know I am in the middle

of history, HIS story.

 

Oh God, I am not worthy 

yet here I rest

agains the fragrant hay

with Heaven-song all around

and your Son gazing into my eyes.

 

Take my hand, Joseph,

see the love I hold for 

you, so brave 

to take this on.

This burden of grace.

 

Look upon the face 

of God,

this beautiful son of ours

who nurses peacefully 

as the melodies fade.

The Peace of Advent

Mary’s relationship with her cousin, Elizabeth has been a source of fascination for me as Christmas nears. God provided much-needed community for the mother of Christ in Elizabeth, someone…the only one…who could begin to relate to what Mary had been chosen to walk though. As I tried to imagine their conversations, whispered by firelight after Zechariah was long-asleep, this poem was fashioned:

PEACE.

Who, besides you, would understand?

This holy secret, silent, yet unknown outside of my womb.

The angel spoke your name, Elizabeth.

He told me of your wonder

and of the babe.

Just look at you.

He kicks and your belly writhes and the smile

oh, the smile on your aged face.

Your wrinkles deepen as laugh-light sparks

from your faded eyes.

Renewed, you are.

Made new, fruitful, forever a part of the grand story,

His story,

of redemption.

Hold my hand.

Tell me what I already know

but need to hear afresh.

How God supplies the strength we both will need.

I am not afraid,

yet I am.

The war in my spirit rages

as the flesh across my belly tightens and bulges.

But here you stand before me,

evidence of our God weaving the promise

of atonement within me.

Within us.

These infant sons we bear,

destined for pain.

We walk the first steps with them on a path

rocky with hate and rejection.

Yet I see in you an acceptance

the peace of God that flows through your fingers to mine.

I feel His presence, overshadowed by Him since that night

the Spirit made me His mother.

Who, besides you, would understand?

I find it not a coincidence that you, my cousin, are the bearer

of the messenger.

Two women, forever connected by destiny.

Your companionship eases my heart.

Your trust increases my own.

Your embrace enfolds me in peace

that I may walk with my eyes fixed on this sacred privilege.

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…

 

How to Simply “Fall”

Summer went out with a hissy fit.  The last few days were hotter than blue blazes.  We sat, melting, on the sidelines of a soccer field and I drank a half-gallon of water within an hour plus I got a sunburn.

Just a week later, on the heels of a thunderstorm, Autumn moved in.¬† I put out my mums and scarecrows and decorated the mantel with a colorful orange and yellow-leaved garland.¬† The days are beginning their slow cooling, with highs in the 70’s and sunset coming earlier and earlier.¬† Fall is always my favorite.

There are a thousand things I love about this season.  Some physical, many symbolic.  I want to do all the Fall things, eat all the Fall foods, but you know as well as I do that it is just not possible to do everything.

I am notorious for overloading my to-do list.  Whether it is recipes to try, traditions to uphold, or activities for our family to enjoy I set high expectations and even higher ideals, only to be frustrated when I fail to meet them and another beautiful season has come and gone too quickly with me busier than I wanted to be, distracted and unable to sit and just watch the leaves turn to the glory of God.

This year we are in a new house, a new neighborhood surrounded by green hills about to explode with color and a big sky above with constellations glimmering by moonlight. ¬† I don’t want to miss a minute of it.

So how do I simplify?  How do I make the Holiday season memorable for my family without stressing us all out?  How do we make each moment count without obsessively counting those moments and lamenting as they slip through our fingers?

Consider this idea:¬† Choose what you are not going to do.¬† I know that sounds odd.¬† With the advent of Pinterest and all the other social media that reminds me of the amazing things everyone else is doing (making me think I should be, too) I can misguidedly believe that my kids are missing out if we don’t do x, y or z.¬† But what if I say no?¬† What if I say lets SLOW and hey, guys, y’all go ride your bikes and meet up with friends while I finish my book on the back porch.¬† What if celebration means we don’t actually¬†go anywhere to enjoy Fall, but stay right here…put down deep roots and watch the hills explode come October?

What if I pick one or two delightful Autumn treats and we only indulge on Sundays?¬† Maybe we don’t need four dozen cut-out and artfully iced cookies.¬† Maybe one dozen will do. ¬† I have been following the Trim Healthy Mama plan since June and feel better than I have in years.¬† Do I really want to undo all the good health I have attained because it’s getting cold outside?¬† Remember how awful sugar made me feel the last time I gave in?¬† It’s just not worth it.¬† I can make a hot Trimmy and enjoy every sip without guilt.¬† The ingredients for healthy homemade biscuits and gravy are in my pantry right now.¬† Soups and stews are so easy to make without ingredients that will spike my blood sugar.¬† It can be done!

Pumpkin farms and petting zoos abound around Nashville.¬† Scenic day drives and salted caramel everything are all around me.¬† There is no shortage of opportunity to go and see and do and get really, really tired.¬† But I have two dogs who enjoy being petted.¬† My kids have, sadly, outgrown the pumpkin farm phase and we just buy ours at Wal-Mart.¬† We have seven beautiful horses living in the pasture right in front of our house.¬† Trees cover the hills all around us and my porch is the perfect spot to enjoy the cooler evenings with a fire going in the firepit.¬† Why do I think “out there” is where the fun and memories lie?¬† Not that there is anything wrong with ANY of these activities, but sometimes the wisest and most restorative thing we can do is sit right here and just be together.¬† Let the boredom creep in.¬† They will survive and, likely, thrive in it.¬† Let long stretches of silence go uninterrupted.¬† Sip a sugar-free mug of hot chocolate and munch on a cinnamon muffin that blesses your body while your breath fogs in the crisp Autumn chill.

Cuddle the kids.  Even the big ones.

Keep Autumn simple.¬† Don’t worry about what everyone else says they are doing.¬† You do what brings peace and rest and the presence of God into your home.¬† Slow down.¬† On purpose.

Your family will thank you.

 

 

Finding Joy in Seasons of Grief

Throughout the weeks of Lent I spent the first minutes of each morning before lit candles and a cup of coffee with a simple, yet profound, book in my lap:  The Promise of Lent Devotional-A 40 day Journey Toward the Miracle of Easter by Chris Tiegreen.

I remember well the day I purchased it.  It was displayed on a table in our local Lifeway Christian Bookstore, next to a devotional based on the writing of C.S. Lewis.  Now, being a proud Rabbit Room member and lover of all things British, my first instinct was to grab the writings of Mr. Lewis, call it a no-brainer, and head to the checkout counter.  But something about that little purple book by an author of whom I had never heard with a golden crown of thorns gracing the otherwise plain cover caused me to pause and pick it up.  I flipped to the devotional for Day 1 and knew, immediately, that this was the one I was supposed to have.  With my apologies to C.S. Lewis, I bought the little purple book and dove in, day by day, as Lent marched me forward to the Cross.

God is so good.  With each day and every page, I was reminded of simple truths, known in my mind but often forgotten in the heat of the moment.  (You may have seen some of the quotes I shared on Instagram and Facebook throughout the 40 days of Lent.)  Truths such as these:

  1. You are called to celebrate the revelation of the coming kingdom long before you see it.  Your new citizenship is far more glorious than your old.
  2. Those moments of crisis are a mark of all good fiction, and they are also a mark of God’s best stories.
  3. The world says, “How dare you call me sinful?” and stays enslaved.¬† We say, “Yes, I am that and more,” and are set free.
  4. The dawn is most beautiful after the darkest of nights.
  5. The ways of the world have to surrender to the decrees of the insistently, stubbornly, relentlessly faithful.

And then this sentence…on Good Friday as the beautiful strains of Andrew Peterson’s new album,¬†Resurrection Letters, Volume 1, washed over me and brought me into a beautiful place of worship…”Friday is not the end of the story.”

Is it Friday in your life, where you are, today?¬† Are you standing at the foot of a cross, dreams shattered and heart broken, in disbelief?¬† Are you caught up in a storm, not of your own choosing, and tossed about on a sea of tears?¬† Finding joy in those seasons can be difficult, if not impossible.¬† How do you find joy in sickness, death (whether of a loved one or of a dream), a rebellious child, an adulterous husband, or poverty?¬† How do you see the “good” in the very, very bad?

There was nothing “good” on Good Friday.¬† To all outward appearances the Son of God ended up just being an innocent man murdered on a cross between two thieves.¬† Everyone who had believed in him walked away disappointed and afraid.¬† Their hope was gone.¬† The words he had spoken to prepare them for this day had pooled into a jumbled mess of confusion in the back of their grief-stricken and panicked minds.¬† There was nothing for which to be thankful.

Nothing.

But what they could not see was the other side of the veil.  Their earthly eyes, blinded by tears and worry, were not attuned to the hum of voices and the drumbeat of Heaven building up into a cadence of victorious joy that would burst through on the morning of the third day when the dead body of Jesus suddenly drew a deep breath and sat up, unwrapped the grave clothes that bound Him in death, watched the light of the morning sun break through as the angel rolled the stone away and walked clean out of that tomb.

It may be Friday in your life, and right now there is nothing good about that.¬† But will you choose to hope?¬† Will you cry out to the Father along with me, “I believe, help my unbelief?”¬† And can you rest on Saturday, just as our Savior rested, knowing that Sunday is coming?¬† Resurrection is coming? ¬†

He will make the joy so worth the pain.¬† It’s a promise.

Friday is not the end of the story.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.¬† He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.¬† He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”¬† Revelation 21:3-4

Spring Emerging: Finding reassurance in God’s faithfulness.

Every year, as Summer heat beats down and yet another plant dies from lack of water (because by August I stink at gardening), I vehemently declare that Autumn is my favorite. ¬†Cooler temps, sweaters and jeans, hot chocolate with marshmallows…and the Autumn leaves. ¬†Simply beautiful in every way.

But then Winter comes. ¬†At first it’s good. ¬†I’m excited about Christmas and fill my home with way too many decorations and cook all the cookies, despite my low-carb vow. ¬†I tolerate the cold nights by the fire and find joy in a plush blanket…

until January.

Then I’m over it. ¬†It’s cold and dreary and dark and all the bare trees, dormant grass and NO SNOW despite the frigid temps send me into a funk. ¬†(My area of Tennessee is notorious for cold, snowless winters.) ¬†I just want warmer days and sunshine. ¬†Is that too much to ask?

And just when I begin to think it’s never going to happen, I inspect the trees lining the sidewalk…especially the one the landscapers were sure had died…and there they are. ¬†Buds.

Redbuds, to be exact.fullsizeoutput_a616

This discovery turns my frown upside down and I get happy.

Suddenly, Spring is my favorite.

And it’s finally coming.

The air is getting warmer by the day and all of creation is pregnant with life and color!  Take a walk today.  Look closely at the branches and inspect the mulch, noticing the spears of new leaves peeking through and flowers getting ready to bloom.  Slow down and put down your phone.  Take in the sights and smells of the season and rejoice!

Hosea 6:3-Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.‚ÄĚ

As sure as the dawn, friends. ¬†Our Lord gives us these seasons in their predictability and consistency as reminders of His faithfulness! ¬†Is that not reassuring as we emerge from the cold of Winter? ¬†No matter how difficult this season has been, Spring is on it’s way! ¬†As we stop and take in the newness of the bright green grass and flowering trees let’s do just what the verse above said…let’s press on to know our Lord, for he is faithful and trustworthy and consistent in all His ways. ¬†He WILL come, just as Spring shows her face every single year in the blooms emerging from their winter sleep and the rains that feed May’s flowers! ¬†If we press on to know Him, we will be rewarded with what we seek. ¬†Intimacy, light, color and beauty will fill our spirits and we will walk in the warmth of His grace.

Happy Spring, dear ones.