Last First Day

He awoke this morning before I did. His shower taken, lunch packed, and first-day cinnamon roll eaten before I made my way downstairs. No longer the sleepy-eyed tow-headed toddler in Superman pjs. He stands over six feet and is freshly shaved. The boy has become man, and it’s his last first day of school.

Our prayer over him this morning was simple.

Lord, make this year not about earning good grades or getting into college, but about leaning into you.
Give him knowledge – so he may grow in wisdom and wonder of the world.
Fuel his love of learning.
Protect his tender heart.
But allow heartache and hard days to do their necessary work. The painful chisels chipping away at the old and leaving an image that looks more like you.
Stop me when I step in and try to disrupt your work.
Give us much laughter.
And big dreams.
And eyes to see the miracles unfolding in unlikely and ordinary places.
Do what you must to grow him into the man you created him to be.
And thank you for the privilege of being his mom.

Soli Deo gloria.

Have a great last first day, Will.

 



If you liked this post, you might like these:

"Under Where?" is Available - and Worthy of the Accompanying Hoopla
Joy in the Shadows
Foreshadowing

December 23rd

We’ve known this day was coming.

The anniversary.

And now it’s here.

One year ago today, my day started quietly. David had left for work. The kids, still weary from end-of-semester tests and sugar-saturated Christmas parties, were sleeping well into mid-morning. Rather than wake them, I decided to let them rest. I lit a candle, poured a hot cup of coffee, and sat down with my computer. Thoughts that had been tugging at me, like a toddler demanding attention, had tightened their grip. Thoughts that would only be satisfied when proper attention was given – which meant wrestling through and sorting out on paper. Words tumbled out and landed in their proper place. It was an exercise I’d been through countless times. An hour later, I clicked “Save”, closed the computer, and turned my attention to the final details of Christmas preparations. I’d been writing about imagination and fear. Sometimes, what seem to be our most routine mundane moments are, in reality, the most significant.

At 10pm that evening, our world changed forever.

After coming home from a typical workday, David took the dog on a walk – in the rain in the dark, through the trails in our neighborhood. Only minutes after coming back home, he started getting ready for bed. He turned toward me, eyes wide and glazed. He knew immediately. Strangely, so did I. After helping him stumble over to the bed, I called 911 and our family’s journey took a sharp turn from the path we’d been walking the past two decades. The new territory awaiting us was more arduous and less predictable than any we’d dared to imagine.

I’ve watched others encounter similar tragedies. I’ve prayed for their families and hoped for the best. Yet I’m embarrassed to admit that along with my concern, I’d breathe a secret sigh of relief. It didn’t happen to us. I couldn’t imagine enduring the despair and uncertainty. I couldn’t imagine my children having to walk through the darkness. A few seconds of consideration was all I could bear.

But on December 23, 2015, it did happen to us.

The unimaginable became our flesh-and-blood reality.

The circumstances were dire. His physical condition was tenuous and no doctor could provide assurance. David did, indeed, walk through the valley of the shadow of death. In the dark quiet room of the neuro-ICU, we all waited – hoping that he’d pass through and come back to us.

Our Christmas morning in the neuro-ICU. Unthinkable. Full of beauty and hope.

A harrowing January wasn’t the end of our journey. At some point in the following months, we realized it was just the beginning.

David’s road to recovery had blind curves and steep hills. The same was true for our recovering family. We’re exploring the same territory, yet we each navigate in very different ways. Recovery from trauma happens in inches, not miles. Little by little we push forward. There’s still a long road ahead.

As we pause to reflect on what the past year has held, I return to same ritual that began last December 23rd. On the small brown couch in our library, Christmas tree peeking out from the adjacent room, coffee dutifully beside me, and computer glowing on lap. Distilling the vastness of the past year seems impossible. Yet one truth is tugging, demanding to be heard.

Last year, I wrote about the dark side of imagination, which is fertile ground for fear.

Throughout this year, we’ve learned a twin truth: Imagination has limitations. We can only see – and can only imagine – a finite slice of the reality in which we live.

There’s so much more:

Comfort that can cover and soothe the most gaping of wounds.

Provision for every specific need. Creative in form and often from an unexpected source.

Joy and tears-rolling-down-cheeks laughter to be found in the most unlikely places. Like the neuro-ICU.

Hope that’s more powerful than the darkest fear imaginable.

– – –

That’s the miracle of our year.

That’s the miracle of Christmas.

We were in desperate need. Love came down. He saved us.

From our family to yours, we wish you a very Merry Christmas.

– – –

“He hoped the people saw him in church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant for them upon Christmas Day to remember who made lame beggars walk and blind men see.” Dickens (of Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol)



If you liked this post, you might like these:

Mini-Me
Tell Me a Story
He is Going Before You

He is Going Before You

“Is Daddy going to be ok?”

At 10:30 p.m. on December 23, one of my children was brave enough to utter the burning question that I didn’t have the courage to ask. I was scrambling to get out of our house and follow the ambulance to the emergency room. Only minutes earlier, my healthy, strong, full-of-life husband had suffered a stroke. I had no idea what the next hours and days would hold. But the question demanded an answer.

How does a parent offer hope and comfort when the reality of circumstance is a dangerously wild animal—unpredictable and threatening to destroy more than we could bear to imagine?

We plan and read parenting articles and labor over decisions that we think will define our kids’ lives, but the truest tests of parenting (and of life) arrive unannounced and unanticipated. Pop quizzes turn out to be final exams, revealing the truest truths about what we believe.

Every fiber of my momma-being wanted to reassure my children that everything would be ok. That they had nothing to worry about. I wanted that same reassurance for myself. But somehow, we all would have known that I was offering a shiny pink band-aid to cover the gaping wound inflicted by the children in the Garden.

“I don’t know,” I responded. “But we’ll pray that he’ll be ok, and no matter what happens, the Lord loves us and will provide what we need.”

In the days and weeks that followed, my hopeful declaration proved to be true. The Christ we’ve read about and talked about and sung about is, indeed, alive and with us. He loves us and provides, even in the most unthinkable circumstances, all that we need.

The Gospel of Mark assures that “He has risen…he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you” (16:6-7 ESV).

Eugene Peterson offers a tangible, real-life application:

In every visit, every meeting I attend, every appointment I keep, I have been anticipated. The risen Christ got there ahead of me. The risen Christ is in that room already. What is he doing? What is he saying? What is going on?. . . I have taken to quoting before every visit or meeting: ‘He is risen. . . he is going before you to 1020 Emmorton Road; there you will see him as he told you.’ Later in the day it will be: ‘He is risen . . . he is going before you to St. John’s hospital; there you will see him, as he told you.’ When I arrive and enter the room, I am not so much wondering what I am going to do or say that will be pastoral as I am alert and observant for what the risen Christ has been doing that is making a gospel story out of this life.

The promise is true.

“He is risen. . . he is going to the bonus room before you, where you’ll tell your children goodbye and answer hard, hard questions.”

“He is risen. . . he is going before you to the emergency room.”

“He is risen. . . he is going before you to the neuro-intensive care unit.”

“He is risen. . . he is going into your children’s bedrooms, steeped with fear and tears on behalf of their beloved daddy, before you.”

“He is risen. . . he is going before you to every speech therapy and cardiologist and neurologist appointment.”

“He is risen. . . he is going before you to all the places where you’ll be faced with unknowns—about health and work and life in the future.”

It’s the answer to all the pop quizzes that life will spring upon you and upon me:

He is risen.

And he is going before you.

Tell it out with joyful voice:

He has burst His three days’ prison;

Let the whole wide earth rejoice:

Death is conquered, we are free,

Christ has won the victory.

FullSizeRender-14

New Year’s Eve 2015. May we never forget.

_ _ _

Given all that has transpired in our family through these past months, I haven’t written anything since before Christmas. It was my great honor to write this piece in collaboration with other artists from my church community as part of an Easter devotional series, Out of the Depths. Take a few minutes to listen to Christ is Risen. Words by Cecil F. Alexander. Music by my friend, Stewart Fenters.

Said the Angel, He is Risen (Lyric Video) from Church at Charlotte on Vimeo.



If you liked this post, you might like these:

Books for Boys: Why it Matters
Peter's Dilemma
The Lanyard

Fear Not

I wrote this post the morning before Christmas Eve. At 10pm that night, my husband had a stroke. Changes in circumstance can’t change what is True. We were, are, and continue to be grateful.

– – –

A vivid imagination can be a heavy burden to bear.

My daughter has a mind that doesn’t stop. Her creativity is a joy – and a mess – to behold. This Christmas season, she concocted a new tradition: Crafting ‘til Christmas. She researched and planned a list of daily crafts for us to make together. Despite my inner “I don’t have time for this” pining, I chose to partake. Our dates, marked by hot glue and tissue paper (and the occasional emergency run to Michael’s craft store for reinforcements), have filled my soul. To say that I’m in awe of her creativity is an understatement. Her vision for transforming raw materials into something beautiful inspires me.

But there’s a downside to having a robust imagination. Particularly when the world around us is flooded with news of mass shootings and threat indexes and refugee children freezing to death. My daughter has entered the twilight of adulthood. She’s just waking up from her little girl slumber, where all is well, to discover the harsh realities of the grown-up world. It’s a shocking awakening.

When talking about the hardest things with our kids, we balance our conversations on the head of a pin. Tip too far to one side, and we’re unfairly (and unwisely) sheltering them. Tip too far to the other side, and we’re prematurely introducing them to the depths of human depravity.

Parenting from a posture of wisdom is an ongoing struggle: we want to balance truth with discretion. My daughter needs to know much. She doesn’t need the gory details. But sometimes, the gory details have a way of finding the cracks in our carefully constructed parental presentations and seeping into her great big beautiful imagination. Snapshots from a television screen or bits of overheard adult conversation become seeds, quickly planted, in her fertile mind. The same rich soil that produces beauty and craftiness and endless ideas is also the ideal environment for growing unspeakable images and haunting nightmares. A vibrant imagination can be a heavy burden to bear.

I’ve struggled with how to handle my daughter’s fears. Perhaps that’s because I’ve struggled with how to handle my own.

God is good. But life can be unspeakably hard. Both statements are true.

“The world is rated R, and no one is checking IDs. Do not try to make it G by imagining the shadows away. Do not try to hide your children from the world forever, but do not try to pretend there is no danger. Train them. Give them sharp eyes and bellies full of laughter. Make them dangerous. Make them yeast, and when they’ve grown, they will pollute the shadows.” N.D. Wilson

At some point, we all wake up to discover the world is rated R: through images of mass shootings and stranded refugees, unexpected diagnoses and failing bodies, and relationships crippled (or broken or shattered) through betrayal or neglect. Our minds provide fertile soil for grown-up nightmares. We learn to deny the pain, or too often, we begin to believe the lie that it will never end.

Yet there is Christmas.

Light comes into the darkness. Hope is born. Promises are fulfilled.

When we experience the bleak circumstances in the world, in our homes, and even in the darkness of our own hearts, we are tempted to believe that those snapshots define reality. As if starting to read in the middle of a book, we don’t have a larger context for the events that are taking place. Our vision and our understanding are limited.

Christmas tells the fuller (truer) story.

It reminds us that we have an anchor as ancient as “In the beginning.”

It guarantees hope for the future when He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. It promises us that He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall their be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

So this Christmas, and every day to come, let’s remind each other of what’s True. Since the children in the garden, the world’s suffered brokenness, violence, despair and loss. But darkness will not win. The battle is over. The war was waged and won by the baby in a manger.

The stories are true.

Fear not.

“… And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’” Luke 2:9-11

 

– – –

If you would like to get an update on his progress, feel free to visit David’s Caring Bridge page. 

 



If you liked this post, you might like these:

Lessons from the Master: Freedom from Ties that Bind
"Under Where?" is Available - and Worthy of the Accompanying Hoopla
Packing Up

Ambition: An Invitation to Read, Consider, and Discuss

Ambition-Cover-Final-lg

Are you ambitious?

What’s your gut response to that question?

Mine is conflicted.

Ambition – Derived from the Latin word ambitio, from ambio, to go about, or to seek by making interest . . .This word had its origin in the practice of Roman candidates for office, who went about the city to solicit votes.

 

A desire of preferment, or of honor; a desire of excellence or superiority. It is used in a good sense; as, emulation may spring from a laudable ambition. It denotes also an inordinate desire for power, or eminence, often accompanied with illegal means to obtain the object.

– Webster’s 1828 Dictionary

 

We can be quick to denounce ambition as a character flaw. One that leads to pride, greed, and the discounting of others. Perhaps I can be too ambitious – for security, for comfort, status, or on behalf of my children.

Or, we can esteem ambition as the fuel that propels us toward fulfilling our potential. It sustains, motivates, and inspires. Perhaps I’m not ambitious enough – to believe that my gifting (and brokenness) can benefit others, or to commit to the hard work and inconvenience that a life marked by stewardship requires.

Both views are true. Both views are incomplete. The truest truth of ambition is found in its nuance. When I’m willing to sift through and examine the layers of nuance, I begin to catch  glimpses of the truest truths about me.

How would you define ambition?

The (many and varied) answers to that question reflect that which we value most. It’s a question worth exploring. A question that’s complex and multi-faceted and best approached from a number of different vantage points.

Please consider joining a group of folks as we read and discuss Ambition, a collection of essays written by members of the Chrysostom Society. You’ll hear from a variety of writers including Luci Shaw and Eugene Peterson, each looking at the topic of ambition from a slightly different angle. You can purchase your book here. If you order now, you should receive the book in time to begin reading with us. The reading schedule (which is subject to and most probably will change) is as follows:

November 9: Essays 1,2
November 16: Essays 3,4
November 23: Essays 5,6
November 30: Essays 7-9

– – –

Consider asking a few friends to read along and discuss together. If you’re on Facebook, request to Greener Trees Reads and you’ll be added to the group. Greener Trees Reads was born in 2011, when a group of friends wanted to dig deeper into The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers. We quickly found that reading together helped us:

1) Read more carefully 
2) View the text from different perspectives (therefore seeing them more fully) 
3) Get to know one another along the way (an accidental, but wonderful, byproduct).

In the last few years, the books we’ve read together have included: Refractions by Makoto Fujimura, The Art of T.S. Eliot by Helen Gardner, So Brave, Young, and Handsome by Leif Enger (our conversation took place over at The Rabbit Room), Through a Screen Darkly by Jeffrey Overstreet, The Supper of the Lamb by Robert Capone, Breath for the Bones by Luci Shaw, and Silence by Shusaku Endo. We’d love for you to join us.

 



If you liked this post, you might like these:

Lessons from the Master: A Study in Contrast
An Unfinished Work
The Problem of Forgiveness

The Lingering Scent

A few weeks ago, our family read the story of Mary who, in an act of extravagant love, anointed Jesus with expensive perfume. In Behold the King of Glory, Russ Ramsey writes, “As the scent electrified the senses of everyone present, Jesus called it beautiful. Creation testified to a Maker who delighted in beauty for beauty’s sake… Jesus said to Mary’s critics, ‘She has given me this gift because she is preparing me for my burial, and history will never forget her act of beauty.’”

Our reading left me wondering. What would Mary’s beautiful act look like in our current culture?

Within days, I was given an answer.

* * *

Later that week, we had friends visiting from out of town. They were only here for a few days, and most of that time they spent exploring and enjoying the city. At the end of their trip, we were grateful to have them join us for church. As we sat side by side, I was conflicted. I love these friends and was delighted to have them step into our community for a few hours. But during the service, I was distracted. As the guitar strummed and the room swelled with song, I scanned the rows of chairs and saw not flesh and blood, but rather story after story. We’ve walked and crawled and danced among this community for twenty-one years. We’ve witnessed devastation and miracle. Heartbreak and redemption. I wanted to lean over to my friend and whisper hints of those holy narratives. For her to catch a glimpse of the beautiful, messy, struggling, transformed saints covered in flesh and cloaked in their Sunday best. I wanted her to hear the significant ways in which God had touched and changed lives. For the Father to reach down from above and kiss her forehead through the stories of his people.

The service ended and the spell was broken. We moved from the worship service to our adult Sunday school class. The leader announced that we’d be taking a break from our current teaching series, as we did once every month, in order for members of the class to come up and share a bit of their journey. The couple who took the seats up front had been acquaintances for years, but we hadn’t known them well. They were engaging and honest as they shared about coming from very different backgrounds, struggling to reconcile creative calling to the realities of limited job opportunities, and growing to find God’s provision in the most unexpected places. Yet in the span of the forty minutes they’d been given to talk, there was one particular moment on which the eternal and the temporal hinged.

The wife had been recounting the arduous journey of adopting from Liberia. After more than a year of preparing for and growing to love two children as their own, they learned that one, their new son, wouldn’t be able to return to America with them. In an honest moment of desperation, the mother cried out to God. A God who she trusted to be both good and sovereign. How could their situation possibly be His best?

While journaling her thoughts during the flight headed to Africa, something in her heart shifted. Or perhaps it was awakened. Just as her heart was gripped with anguish on behalf of her son, the Father of all aches – even more deeply – for every last one of his children. Through her excruciating pain, a young mother had been given a glimpse of the beautiful heart of God.

My friend soaked up the mother’s words, said her goodbyes, and returned to Tennessee to resume life as normal. Only something was churning inside her. The Lord’s faithfulness in the midst of unspeakable pain had purpose. It was a reminder that she needed, and that we all need, to hear. Being true to her beautiful, gracious, creative nature, she began to scratch lyrics to the song sung from the heart of an aching parent. She called upon her friends – world-renowned musicians, whose immense talent is surpassed by their humility and devotion to the Creator. Within days and across hundreds of miles, they had composed and recorded a song. My friend, who had never met the mother, had poured out her talents in response to the glimpse of Glory she’d been given. She quietly offered the final product, a video containing the lyrics, as a gift. It was an extravagant, spontaneous act of worship like few others I’ve experienced.

“Art, like Jesus’ tears and Mary’s nard, spreads in our lives, providing useless beauty for those willing to ponder. Many consider the arts to be the “extra” of our lives, an embellishment that is mere leisure. Yet how many hours of sacrifice go into being able to play a sonata by Chopin? Or a dancer’s flight on stage at the Lincoln Center? What many consider extra, and even wasteful, may come to define our humanity. That evening at Bethany, in that aroma that Mary spilled, there were Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings and Johann Sebastian Bach’s cantatas floating in the air as well (thanks to James Elaine, curator and artist, for this observation). Every act of creativity is, directly or indirectly, an intuitive response to offer to God what He has given to us.” Makoto Fujimura

 

To God Be the Glory.

 



If you liked this post, you might like these:

The Invisible Thread to Nashville... and Back
Blogmosis
Delightful

Building Bridges

bridge We knew that marriage wouldn’t be easy. Or we thought we knew. We said our vows and enjoyed our honeymoon and set about the business of building a family. We each brought a blueprint of the envisioned finished product. Surely our blueprints will be similar, we assumed. Surely we want the same thing. We each toted tools that had been accumulated through the years. Knowledge, wit, gifting. Persistence, resolve, denial. Tools used to shape our renditions of how life “should” work and look and feel. Surely, if we combined our resources and committed to the process, we could construct a bridge over the abyss between souls.

We planned and hammered, measured and cut. We worked hard in our own ways – so hard our hearts bore painful blisters. Yet we continued to labor. Months into the project, it was clear that the foundation of our bridge was unstable. Try as we may to walk lightly, life’s storms were too strong. Life’s weights, too burdensome. On paper, our plans for the bridge called “marriage” were similar, but the ways in which we set out to build were radically different. I demanded. You denied. I spoke. You were silent. The bridge became longer through years and memories, but longer doesn’t always mean stronger. The structure was sufficient, but it wasn’t ideal.

Yet as the years unfolded, we began to change. Grace intervened. We saw more clearly. Some of our tools had been more harmful than helpful and were discarded. Others needed to be refined, developed and shared. We watched friends build well and learned from their example. We reconsidered the process, the blueprints, the design.

The sturdiest bridges in the world, the ones that have outlasted empires and elephants and natural disasters, are bridges constructed with arches. The keystone in the center of a compression arch bridge bears the weight of the rest of the bridge (and its load). The heavier the load, the more pressure. The more pressure, the stronger the structure becomes.

“The good that emerges from a conflict of values cannot arise from the total condemnation or destruction from one set of values, but only from the building of a new value, sustained like an arch, by the tension of the original two.” Dorothy Sayers

 

As we welcome our twenty-second year of marriage, I’m grateful. For a husband who is willing to be broken in order to be rebuilt. For the pressures of life that require a support greater than we could possibly muster. And most of all, for and unwavering Keystone. One who bears the weight of the world – including all our hopes and dreams and failures – until the day when all will finally be made new.



If you liked this post, you might like these:

Why I Need an Editor
Posture
Less than Ideal

Books for Lent

The season of Lent begins this Wednesday, February 18th.

If you’re looking for resources for personal reflection or family devotion, I thought I’d share what we’ll be reading:

91yVulBsEWL._SL1500_-194x300

Behold the King of Glory by Russ Ramsey

This book’s companion Advent devotional, Behold the Lamb of God, has become a staple in our home. Ramsey’s writing is rich with imagery and steeped in sound theology. He invites, challenges, reveals and inspires – all while drawing us more deeply into the Greatest of Stories. For more about the heart behind and content found in Behold the King of Glory, you can read Ramsey’s recent interview with Barnabas Piper.

wordinthewilderness

The Word in the Wilderness: A Poem a Day for Lent and Easter by Malcolm Guite

Last year during Lent, our family read through the corresponding sonnets from Malcolm Guite’s Sounding of the Seasons together. In response, the children illuminated a few of the readings that were particularly meaningful to them. Although a stretch for all of us, Guite’s poetry played a significant part in preparing our hearts for Easter. The Word in the Wilderness includes poetry and meditative prose from Guite as well as a number of poems from classical and contemporary poets.

If you’re looking for something to read with younger children:

65883_w185

Vinegar Boy by Alberta Hawse

Amon

Amon’s Adventure Arnold Ytreeide

Both Amon’s Adventure* and Vinegar Boy transport the reader back in time to experience the culture, social climate, political dynamics leading up to the crucifixion through the eyes of one who was there. Either would be an excellent choice for families with children of all ages.

*Amon’s Adventure is a companion book to the Jotham’s Journey Advent series by Ytreeide.

* * *

Do you have any recommendations for reading during the Lenten season?



If you liked this post, you might like these:

Books for Boys: Why it Matters
It Takes a Village
December 23rd

Foreshadowing

FullSizeRender
Merry Christmas  from the Silanders – 2014

Every year, the onset of Advent brings with it a small degree of (self-imposed) pressure to make the most of the season. We’ll never have another Christmas when the children are their current ages. I want them to remember. To capture smells of peppermint cookies and fresh pine, sights of white lights and red bows on the trees, and sounds of Yo-Yo Ma, Sufjan Stevens, and Andrew Peterson’s Christmas music. To tuck away their experience in an emotional time capsule – one that can be excavated when life down the road gets hard and they need to remember.

We may not have another Christmas when we’re all in good health. Or in our current home. The list of what could, and probably will, change in the next twelve months is longer than Santa’s scroll filled with names. Once the season slips by, it’s gone forever. I want to live fully in the moment – in the story unfolding before me – but I can’t help grieving the little (and big) lost opportunities.

This year, we won’t be sending out Christmas cards. I just couldn’t pull it together to get a reasonably good family picture taken, much less to order color-coordinated cards, then address, stamp, and get them in the mail. It’s a small thing, really. But there will never be another Christmas 2014 – the last one with a ten-year-old in the house, and the last one before our eldest son gets married. And I missed capturing it in a glossy 4×6. The calendar flips and the children grow up and we say goodbye to a season that’s gone forever.

It’s hard not to look back.

Among the many decisions to be made each Advent is, no surprise, is what we’ll be reading. This year, it will be a lesser-known Christmas story by Charles Dickens and a re-read of This Way to Christmas by Ruth Sawyer. But of particular importance is the choosing of an Advent devotional. We’ve accumulated quite a selection. Personally, I keep returning to God is in the Manger by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And for the family, despite the countless options available, we keep returning to the Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones.

Our children are hardly wide-eyed little ones anymore. There will be no baby doll paraphernalia or Rescue Hero action figures found under our tree. Rather than spending these days reading (and rereading) cherished Christmas picture books, we’ve been wrapping up school projects and tweaking papers. Much to my enjoyment, my thirteen-year-old has been taking a Literary Analysis class from which much of our daily dialogue flows. Words like “protagonist, conflict, and foreshadowing” pepper our conversation. I miss the fair-haired little boy sitting on my lap while we read, but I’m sure having fun with the larger version’s rascally smile and quick sense of wit.

Earlier this week, in order to catch up with the reading schedule (yes, running chronically behind), we read a few chapters out of the Jesus Storybook Bible. Then we read a few more. Here’s how they ended:

IMG_2686

IMG_2685

IMG_2682

As we closed the book, my boy turned his face toward me, and rather pleased with himself, proclaimed, “Foreshadowing.”

This year, he has learned a new word that represents a much more complex concept. Through months of example, analysis, and practice, my son has developed the skill of reading words on a page – then looking beyond what is seen to anticipate what is to come.

Perhaps that’s the purpose of the Advent season: to prepare the eyes of our heart to look beyond what we can see. To anticipate the coming of the One who makes all things new.

If it’s been a hard year, take heart. Advent is for you.

For you, friend, who feels the pressure of having to get it right. In your relationships, your career, your parenting, your choices. In the million minor daily details like creating and sustaining holiday traditions.

For you, friend, who’s grown weary of longing. Who feels paralyzed in the twilight between hope and despair. Who flirts with the temptation named numbness, which protects from pain, but suffocates joy.

For you, friend, who is fighting for your marriage. The marriage that felt so solid to you and looked ideal to others. The one that is gasping for life in an atmosphere running dangerously short on oxygen.

For you, friend, who received the diagnosis. The diagnosis that’s only supposed to be delivered to “other people.” The one that brought life to a screeching halt and has permanently rerouted your plans for the future. The one that terrifies to the core and steals dreams.

For you, friend, who is broken and wounded. Who feels too tired to move forward. Who is weary and losing hope, because life isn’t what you’d thought it would be. Who lives in regret of lost dreams and what could-have-beens.

It’s hard not to look back and remain tethered to the past. It’s hard to believe that life is more than the joy, sorrow, hope, fear, delight, regret, love, and loneliness we experience.

But Advent is here. Readjust your eyes. The text is pointing to a Truer Truth than the sum of what we can see.

Foreshadowing.

Light will drink up darkness.
Hope will snuff out despair.
Love has already won.

The stories are true. 

He’s been whispering them since the beginning of time.

IMG_2683



If you liked this post, you might like these:

Blogmosis
Moving Forward
Raising Arizona: An Appreciation

Every Valley

"Every Valley" by Sam Silander, 9 yrs.

It’s a strange thing to be making cookies and wrapping presents,
When wars are raging,
When families are crumbling,
When parents are burying their children.

The news is hard to watch this week.
Tears come easily, yet so does relief…
Which brings with it a twinge of guilt.

How do we reconcile the great cosmic chasm –
Our world has more than its share of darkness, pain, and evil,
Yet we move in and breathe the reality of Starbucks, Amazon, and Buddy the Elf.

Perhaps it’s more of a dual reality to be acknowledged than a chasm to be crossed.

This year during Advent, we’ve been working our way through listening to Handel’s Messiah (schedule found below). Each day, we’ve been listening to a few of the songs after reading the corresponding passages of scripture.

We’ve read, then listened, then listened again. I’ve heard the music of the Messiah throughout much of my life, yet this year, it’s as if I’ve really heard it for the first time. As we’ve listened intently to each song, a divine magic has transpired. Handel’s music, echoing its ancient truths and promises, has become our own. To enjoy, to discuss, to savor, to absorb.

The children composed poems in response to several of the songs.  I’ve woven a few of them together as a memorial stone for this Advent season. This is Handel’s Messiah, as seen through the eyes, heard through the ears, and experienced in the hearts of my young ones:

Heaven kissed earth
He came as a whisper, a snowfall, a spark

 He was born in a manger
Dingy
Dirty
Dusty

 Heaven crawled through the dust
He played in the garden
He healed the sick,
Yet his work was not done

 He was beaten and whipped
Crushing
Cruel
Cold

He wore a crown of thorns on his head
Stinging
Sharp
Steel

He let himself be hung on the cross
Piercing
Painful
Perfect sacrifice

He rose from the dead
Amazing
Awesome
Awestruck

He will come again victorious
Blinding darkness with light,
Death will gasp its final breath
Evil forever defeated,
Then all the wrongs through history
Will finally be made right

 Ribbon will wind through
The hot dry desert
Rainbow to straighten curves

 Every mountain will become low
Every valley high
Every mansion will become small
Every cottage will grow

 The hungry shall have banquets laid out before them,
The imprisoned shall have their chains dashed to the ground

The large rocks will shrink
Pebbles will grow to boulders
All will be even

The valley will rise
Mountains will disintegrate
All will be even

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

 

We spent days contemplating the implications of twelve words uttered by the prophet Isaiah, “Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low.”

Every valley.

Do we really believe it? Down deep where our core beliefs compose the background music that sets the tone for our everyday lives?  Even when wars rage and children are murdered? When evil rears its head and seems to be winning? When our lives, our plans, our dreams are crumbling?

Every valley.

That’s what He came to do, after all.

To heal the blind.

To bind up the brokenhearted.

To make all the wrongs right.

For in this, we can place our hope.

So bake your cookies,
and wrap your presents,
and sing the carols for the world to hear.

Through each small hopeful act,
You’re shining a light into darkness,
Taking part in raising valleys and lowering mountains,
Preparing a way in the desert
For the One who was,
And is,

And is to come.

 

 

Artwork by Sam Silander, 9 yrs.

– – –

Day 1 (11 minutes):

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 40:1-5

1. Symphony
2. Recitative (Tenor) “Comfort Ye…”
3. Air (Tenor) “Every Valley…”
4. Chorus “And the Glory …”

Day 2 (6 ½ minutes)
Scripture Reading: Haggai 2:6, 7, Malachi 3:1-3

1. Recitative (Bass) “Thus saith the Lord…”
2. Air (Bass) “But who may abide…”
3. Chorus “And he shall purify…”

Day 3 (6 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 7:14, 40:9, 60:1

1. Recitative (Alto) “Behold, a Virgin…”
2. Air (Alto) “O, thou that tellest…”
3. Chorus “Arise, Shine…”

Day 4 (10 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 60:2-3, 9:2, 9:6

1. Recitative (Bass) “For behold, darkness…”
2. Air (Bass) “The people who walked in darkness…”
3. Chorus: “For unto us…”

Day 5 (8 Minutes)
Scripture Reading: Luke 2:8-14

1. Pifa
2. Recitative (Soprano) “There were shepherds…”
3. Recitative (Soprano) “And, Lo, the angel…”
4. Recitative (Soprano)” Ad the angel said…”
5. Recitative (Soprano) “And suddenly…”
6. Chorus “Glory to God in the highest…”

Day 6 (4 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Zechariah 9:9-10

1. Air (Soprano) “Rejoice greatly…”

Day 7 (7 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 35:5-6; 40:11, Matthew 11:28-30

1. Recitative (Alto) “Then shall the eyes of the blind…”
2. Aria (Alto) “He shall feed…” and “Come unto me…”
3. Chorus “His yoke is easy…”

Day 8 (3 minutes)
Scripture Reading: John 1:29

1. Chorus “Behold the Lamb…”

Day 9 (11 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 53:3, 50:6

1. Air (Alto) “He was despised…”

Day 10 (7 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 53:4-6

1. Chorus “Surely he hath borne…”
2. Chorus “And with his stripes…”
3. Chorus “All we like sheep…”

Day 11 (3 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Psalm 22:7-8

1. Recitative (Tenor) “All they that see him laugh…”
2. Chorus “He trusted in God…”

Day 12 (4 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Psalm 69:20, Lamentations 1:12

1. Recitative (Soprano) “Thy rebuke has broken…”
2. Arioso (Soprano) “Behold and see if…”

Day 13 (5 ½ minutes)
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 53:8, Psalm 16:10, Psalm 24:7-10

1. Recitative (Tenor) “He was cut off…”
2. Air (Tenor) “But thou didst not leave…”
3. Chorus “Lift up your heads…”

Day 14 (2 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Hebrews 1:5, 6

1. Recitative (Tenor) “Unto which of the …”
2. Chorus “Let all the angels…”

Day 15 (4 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Psalm 68:11, 18

1. Air (Bass) “Thou art gone up…”
2. Chorus “The Lord gave the word…”

Day 16 (3 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Romans 10:15

1. Duet (Soprano, Alto, Chorus) “How beautiful…”

Day 17 (1 minute)
Scripture Reading: Romans 10: 18

1. Arioso (Tenor) “Their sound…”

Day 18 (3 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Psalm 2:1-3

1. Air (Bass) “Why do the nations…”
2. Chorus “Let us break…”

Day 19 (6 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Psalm 2:4, 9; Revelation 19:6, 11:15, 19:16

1. Recitative (Tenor) “He that dwelleth in heaven…”
2. Air (Tenor) “Thou shalt break….”
3. Chorus “Hallelujah!!”

Day 20 (5 ½ minutes)
Scripture Reading: Job 19:25-26, I Corinthians 15:20

1. Air (Soprano) “I know that my Redeemer…”

Day 21 (2 minutes)
Scripture Reading: I Corinthians 15:21-22

1. Chorus “Since by man…’

Day 22 (10 minutes)
Scripture Reading: I Corinthians 15:51-53

1. Recitative (Bass) “Behold, I tell you a mystery…”
2. Air (Bass) “The trumpet shall sound…”

Day 23 (5 minutes)
Scripture Reading: I Corinthians 15: 54-56

1. Recitative (Alto) “Then shall be brought…”
2. Duet (Alto, Tenor) “O Death, where…”
3. Chorus “But thanks be to God…”

Day 24 (5 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Romans 8:31-34

1. Air (Alto) “If God be for us…”

Day 25 (6 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Revelation 5:12-13

1. Chorus “Worthy is the Lamb…”

(Reading schedule was discovered here: http://morningtimemoms.blogspot.com/2014/08/25-days-to-handels-messiah-advent.html)

 

 



If you liked this post, you might like these:

Glass Full
Ambition: An Invitation to Read, Consider, and Discuss
Fear Not