Ann Voskamp Made Me Miserable Today

It is the day before Advent begins. Honestly…even with the few posts lately leading up to this…I am feeling that scattered, frustrated sense of not being ready.

 

The intentions are always, always good. The interruptions are always, always present. The list of things to do in the holiday season always, yes always, seems to long and to hectic.

 

We have appointments today, meetings tomorrow and Friday we drive to Cincinnati for a hockey tournament. Thus begins Advent season in our household. Plus, the dishes were not finished last night, the laundry is piling up…and the kids are hungry.

 

Do you feel that as well? That slightly anxious feeling building, telling you that you will not be able to pull of this Advent nonsense? You’ll be lucky to get the presents purchased and wrapped and the tree decorated. Hopefully all the decorations will be up before Christmas actually comes knocking on the door. Oh, and of course you need to find some way to give outside of your family this year…someone to help, some organization to encourage. Yes. Shoot, that should have been the priority, right?

 

Ugh…it’s closing in a bit, isn’t it? 

 

This morning I read Ann Voskamp’s blog about Advent, about the amazing preparations in her household for the Night before Advent. The box and the lights and the hot chocolate.

 

And I felt miserable. 

 

And then I felt foolish for feeling miserable. But, honestly, I thought: “Hmm, where in my house tonight could I set up something so peaceful and beautiful and wonder-filled?” Then I remembered that tonight is Wednesday night, a notoriously rushed and busy night in our household as the boys finish up assignments for tutorial tomorrow.

 

Still with me? Already feeling overwhelmed and Advent has not even begun?

 

Guess what? We’re right where we should be.

 

I spent part of the morning reading Bana Alabed’s tweets from Aleppo. That feeling of being miserable abated. I thought of the folks in Gatlinburg, TN and around the country who have lost everything to fires over the last few days.

 

Perspective.

 

And here is why I say we are right where we should be:

 

We need Someone beyond ourselves to help. We need God. We need salvation and comfort and peace…and we cannot muster it up within ourselves

 

And that is the entire point of Advent, as Voskamp points out so well…

 

“It’s Coming”

 

Oh my soul needed to hear that this morning. Even with all the reading I am currently doing about Advent, all the poems I have read and all the thoughts I have gathered…I need to hear the whisper: “It’s coming.”

 

God has seen us in our anxiety and our frustration and our fears alongside our hopes an wonder and loves. He has seen us and He has come. We need this season to remind us. We need the patience of Advent to walk slowly toward the birth of the Savior so we can hear that whisper twenty-four times:

 

It’s Coming.

 

The hope, the restoration, the healing, the peace…it is coming. It will probably not look like what we expect. A babe in a manger? Not expected. But it is coming.

 

So stick with me. Find some room on the couch tonight and think about Advent. Figure out a way to incorporate it into the next twenty-four days. Figure out a way to turn the family’s attention away from wish lists for stuff, and toward a patient waiting for the reality of God With Us. Go to Ann’s blog, seriously…she has amazing resources to help us this Advent season. You can even print some things off right now to have ready for tomorrow.

 

We can do this. Take a deep breath and don’t worry about the fact that the Advent Calendar is still stuck in some box of Christmas stuff. Light a candle and drink some hot chocolate…even if it is in the midst of dishes and and laundry.

 

Pause. And reflect. And be aware of that deep need we all have for the coming of the One who can bring the healing and the peace we so desperately crave.

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He Came When The Need Was Deep and Great

Each year I post the following poem. Each year I think, ‘Yes! In this time we need to hear this.’ Those around us are in pain, and the things are unsteady.

We need to hear the call that God has come into the midst of the chaos, and has made a way to peace. He has come not to simply fix things from afar, but stepped into our midst and touched our pain. He understands our grief.

The incredible mystery of the Incarnation…of God in flesh. We need to pause of Advent to remind us of the depth of that mystery. We need to catch our breath in anticipation…to be ready on Christmas morning to rejoice! And of course it is not that December 25 is the day, that we know with certainty that is when He came…but that is the day we recognize. That is the day we celebrate.

Sometimes I hit December 25 and I am exhausted from the holidays. I am tired from the decorating and the energy of shopping and the awareness of friends who truly struggle through this season. I hit December 25th and am ready to pass out on the couch.

Advent provides an alternative to that. Spending the next 25 days (starting on December 1st) anticipating the celebration. Taking the pause in our schedules of parties and programs and shopping and planning to reflect. Slowing down what can be so hectic to listen and remember and be amazed.

Every. Year.

Part of the anticipation is the awareness of our need. The deep awareness of our wounded world. The chaos around us, the fears and the unrest. The struggle that many are facing. Right now, today, in the midst of that, God has come. He is not a distant God, He is not afraid or aloof to our fears and pain and sorrow. He stepped in to the midst of that and provided a way to peace. A way to healing. That is worth thinking on, and worth rejoicing.

First Coming

He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace.
He came when the Heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release.

He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine. He did not wait

till hearts were pure. In joy he came
to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
he came, and his Light would not go out.

He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

Relearning Advent

I posted yesterday about Advent. The need for anticipation in our lives, and the need for awareness of God’s very intentional love.

Lots of my friends do not participate in Advent as something structured. I always intend to, and very rarely am able to follow through with consistency. Still, the desire is there for that hallowed space of 24 days marked by a different approach. 

So. This year again I attempt. Advent Sunday began yesterday, but the 24 days of Advent will begin Thursday. There’s still time to think about ways to mark this year as different.

Here is a post from a couple years ago with some ideas to get things started. Mostly, let’s just make a point of pausing the noise so we can find that place of anticipation of the coming of Jesus. Let’s catch a glimpse of that wonder and amazement. 

What is Advent?

Pause. Hold Your Breath.

 

She had been sick for a couple days, so she had been sleeping in bed with us. Early in the morning she was in that sleepy, half-awake mode. She reached over and pulled me to face her, and placed her little hand on my cheek.

 

It was intentional, it was tender, and I didn’t want to move. I didn’t want to breathe. I wanted to remain completely still and just be present to this little soul who loves me so well. I wanted to feel that little hand on my face, to just let everything pause.

 

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We so deeply need this. We need to feel that intentional touch of love.

 

This season seems to be crying out for that awareness of being loved. That awareness of being seen, and of being known. People are crying out to be heard. Literally. Our fears and our anxiety and our anger, alongside our hope and our desires, are all clamoring for attention. The result is chaos, it seems. The result is this feeling of being unsettled.

 

We need that touch that pauses everything. That touch that makes us hold our breath and pay attention.

 

And so…Advent arrives. The season calling us to pause, to listen and to hold our breath as we wait.

 

 

I don’t know about you, but I so need this pause right now. I need to feel deeply the love of God in the same way I felt Maddie’s touch on my cheek…that intentional moment of awareness of His love.

 

The Incarnation.

 

That moment when God revealed to us His love in a more intimate and deep way than anything we could have imagined. In the midst of the busyness of this season, and all the turmoil of emotions we have just experienced, and continue to experience, with this election…pause.

 

I love the following from Frederick Buechner, returning to it each year as an anticipation of this season. Advent requires us to be intentional and to listen. We, as a society, are not great at waiting and being patient. We are not great at listening and being silent. We are not great at anticipating…so this is an exercise requiring some discipline. But, oh how our soul needs this. Buechner:

 

Advent by Frederick Buechner

The house lights go off and the footlights come on. Even the chattiest stop chattering as they wait in darkness for the curtain to rise. In the orchestra pit, the violin bows are poised. The conductor has raised his baton.

In the silence of a midwinter dusk there is far off in the deeps of it somewhere a sound so faint that for all you can tell it may be only the sound of the silence itself. You hold your breath to listen. You walk up the steps to the front door. The empty windows at either side of it tell you nothing, or almost nothing. For a second you catch a whiff in the air of some fragrance that reminds you of a place you’ve never been and a time you have no words for. You are aware of the beating of your heart.

The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.

The Salvation Army Santa Claus clangs his bell. The sidewalks are so crowded you can hardly move. Exhaust fumes are the chief fragrance in the air, and everybody is as bundled up against any sense of what all the fuss is really about as they are bundled up against the windchill factor.

But if you concentrate just for an instant, far off in the deeps of yourself somewhere you can feel the beating of your heart. For all its madness and lostness, not to mention your own, you can hear the world itself holding its breath.

Make the space and the time to listen this season. Find the writings and the songs and the images which draw you in. Be aware of that touch of love from the Father, and hold your breath. Don’t move for a few minutes and just be aware. It changes everything.

Behold the Lamb of God, Andrew Peterson

Happy Birthday to the one who holds it all together…

I am late. I have the habit of wishing a Happy Birthday to those in my household here, on this little blog. I have the habit of thinking over their lives and recognizing the people they are, and are becoming.

 

There was a birthday this week, and I didn’t write. At least not until this morning. The week was a whirlwind. We started Monday recouping from a hockey tournament which took up the entire weekend. The eldest’s team went undefeated, by the way. Pretty great.

 

Then there was a small event on Tuesday which occupied a bit of our attention.

 

Wednesday and Thursday and are a bit of a blur.

 

Thursday was the birthday. I needed a bit of a quiet morning to write this birthday tribute, and this morning is the first of the week. Listening to Leonard Cohen with the sun peeking in is a perfect morning.

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Yesterday was the husband’s birthday. He left for work, just as the sun was rising. Came home twelve hours later with a smile. He has been, for 19 years, the consistent one in the family. He continually provides for us, encourages us, cheers us on. He continually sacrifices so I can stay home and the kids can homeschool.

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He leads without realizing how eager people are to follow him. He is wise and kind, and people recognize that.

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This week sparks a new chapter in our lives as he began a new job, after 11 years at his previous employment. We will be moving closer to the big city soon, and things will change. We are excited about a bit less stress, and the opportunity to be closer to friends. Excited about a new chapter.

 

So, a little late, but Happy Birthday, Steve. Thank you for continually bringing stability to our home. Thank you for working so hard for us. Thank you for cheering so loudly for us. Thank you for always surprising us with new talents: drawing something amazing, or sitting down to the piano and figuring out how to play Benny and the Jets. Or Styx.

 

Thank you for raising three boys to be strong, compassionate men.

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And one little girl to know what a Godly, compassionate father and husband looks like.

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We love you. Happy Birthday.

Remember to Sing

Other than a few birthday posts, I have not written anything in some time. There have been a few moments where I had the nudge of a thought, but it slipped away before I caught it in words. I know that part of this owes simply to a very busy life right now with sports and homeschool and six people living in a house together.

There are fewer moments to think. They have to be sought after, and I have not had the energy to seek them.

Life has been stressful. The husband just quit a job of eleven years and began a new employment today There was stress in making the decision, and now we face the exciting stress of selling our home and finding a new place to live.

Stress is tiring. 

It sneaks up on us a bit, and we don’t realize the impact. For me, today, sipping a very good latte while staring out the window at trees filled with color I realize I have not read anything of real worth in quite awhile. I’ve been numb. Stress has snuck in and zapped my mental energy.
The stress of this election. No matter which side you are on, no matter if you are in despair or great hope – this election has been wearing on our mental and emotional strength.

So, I turned to a faithful friend. Chesterton. I randomly opened On Lying In Bed and Other Essays and read ‘The Little Birds Who Won’t Sing’.  Just like that my mind was sparked and thoughts began flowing again….life was spoken and the stress and wear pushed back.  Chesterton wrote about the lack of songs and chants in modern enterprise, compared to the songs of sailors and others. He concluded the short essay with this:

And at the end of my reflections I had really got no further than the sub-conscious feeling of my friend the bank-clerk – that there is something spiritually suffocating about our life; not about our laws merely, but about our life. Bank-clerks are without songs not because they are poor, but because they are sad. Sailors are much poorer. As I passed homewards I passed a little tin building of some religious sort, which was shaken with shouting as a trumpet is torn with its own tongue. They were singing anyhow; and I had for an instant a fancy I had often before: that with us the super-human is the only place where you can find the human. Human nature is hunted, and has fled into sanctuary.

That last line settled in my mind. Human nature is hunted, and has fled into sanctuary.

We need, so deeply, to protect that delicate and yet ferociously tenacious human nature, when it flees to sanctuary near us.

I was driving yesterday on a back country road and as a truck came toward me, the driver waved. I was so impacted by that simple gesture. Of course it helped that I was listening to Randall Goodgame and friends singing “Love One Another”. In that moment, I was overwhelmed by this sense that we are in this together. That simple greeting made me feel not alone in that moment.

I know, that sounds terribly dramatic. But I think many of us are feeling that swell of emotion just below the surface. A harsh word can spark a meltdown and rant. A simple wave and greeting can remind us to love one another. We are all bearing stress. We are all weary in certain areas.

We all find it difficult to sing sometimes. Not just in our occupations, but in our spiritual state.

There is relief, though. There is grace. There are songs…sometimes it takes a latte and fall colors to release them.

Sometimes we have to set aside what is weighing on us, seek sanctuary, and be reminded we are created in the image of a great Creator. We have to remember to sing. 

I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up and have not let my foes rejoice over me.

O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.

O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol; you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit.

Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name.

For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!  – Psalm 30:1-5, 11-12

Tomorrow will be a stressful day. Regardless of who you are hoping will win. Wave to someone. Greet someone with kindness.

Love one another.

Raise up your heads, look and find the wonder around you, and remember that our salvation is not in politics. Make sanctuary for the humanity around you as you go vote, or interact with those you encounter in your day.

And sing.

And read something that sparks life to your mind and your spirit.

And love one another.