Foreshadowing

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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:

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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.

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Miracle

clouds bright sky miracle

My chin hit the pavement. The compact area of flesh and bone, no more than a few inches in total, absorbed the impact of my entire body in unhindered free fall. I was certain that my jaw was broken.

Scene I – The Fall

Last week, after several days’ procrastination, I could no longer deny the call of Eden-like autumn weather. I laced up my shoes and set out for a quick run. One step, then two. As I’d taken a thousand times before. But step three threw a rather large glitch into the dependable process. From the ankle down, my foot went numb. Rather than holding my weight and propelling me forward, it seemed to disappear. There was no mitigating stumble forward to be caught by the alternate foot. If I were watching through a window across the street, I’d imagine the scene would resemble the toppling of a cleanly hewn tree. Only faster. In an instant, I saw the crimson trees ahead, then blood on the pavement. Nothing in between.

Scene II – Emergency room

Waiting. Bright lights. Sharp pain transitioned into dull throb. Test results were announced. No break – only stitches needed. Dear friend came to hold my hand. All would heal.

Scene III – Recovery

Within hours, my speed of had dramatically decelerated. Everyday scenes, which normally roll by with a steady fluidity, were reduced to a series of plodding individual snapshots. My movements were slow and deliberate. Each minute had expanded, allowing a space for heightened awareness. I looked at my hand. Skin left upon the pavement was already being replaced.  Specialized white blood cells invaded my palm like FEMA infiltrating a disaster site. My jaw, which had taken the brunt of the impact, was already doing the silent, steady work of repair.

When I take account of the events that transpired, I’m stopped by the “what-could-have-beens.” The doctor said it could have easily been a broken jaw. Or a concussion. Or worse. My husband, who had been minutes from leaving town, could have been long gone. Rather than appearing at my door within minutes, my friend could have been too far away to help.

Yes, “what-could-have-beens” have the potential to cast a threatening spell of fear. A dark cloud hovering, power found only in its suggestion.

Scene IV – Surprise ending

Most days, I am tragically unaware that atoms of nitrogen and oxygen are dependably, tirelessly scattering the sun’s rays of light throughout the atmosphere. The blue sky is a miracle. But I just might not notice it until the clouds come.

For the past four decades, my lungs haven steadily taken in oxygen and disposed of carbon dioxide, providing a constant source of fuel for this organic machine.

My foot, the one responsible for my fall, has been faithful to support me for millions of steps.

My jaw, now bruised and swelling, has allowed countless meals to be enjoyed, loved ones to be kissed, and songs to be sung.

My nerves, skeleton, and flesh have worked together in seamless concert as I’ve danced, run, given birth, washed dishes.

Yes, I’m grateful that my fall wasn’t worse. At first, I claimed the absence of disaster as the miracle. But as my halted pace of life has allowed time for further consideration, I’ve been surprised by my shift in perspective. Or perhaps I should say my by my corrected vision.

Each step. Each breath. Each heartbeat. Each new skin cell. Those are the miracles.  Our dismissed blue skies.

The miracle is found in the

unnoticed

unfathomable

ordinary

of the everyday.

 



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Sweet Communion

The following is a guest post by Rebecca Reynolds.  In addition to being a gracious and thoughtful writer, Becca’s repertoire includes star-studded peep-o-ramas, circus peanut sculptures, and stunning portraits etched in Oreo cookie creme.  You can visit her blog at Little Boot Liturgies.

 

Sometimes M struggles with “lifting” candy. We were expecting this, because orphanage living caters to the shrewd. It’s fairly common for parents of internationally-adopted children to find stashes of food stuffed in hiding places all around the house. Kids do this because they want to make sure they have something to eat later if they need it.

Mosie doesn’t hide regular food, but he does lift suckers. If I get occupied with some chore around the house, I will hear little feet thumping through the dining room, hear the kitchen stool scooting, and soon I will find a pile of paper wrappers and sticks lying on the counter. He knows this is off limits. He does it anyway.

I’m more concerned about his heart than a little extra sugar. Truth be told, he’s so cute, it’s difficult to make myself deal with such a small offense. However, since the trajectory of his heart is developing, I kneel down and show him the wrappers. I let him know I’m in on the sham.

Then, I will re-explain that he can have candy, but that he needs to ask Momma first; and we’ll slowly talk through the dialogue that should have happened in the first place. I’ll make sure he can repeat it, ask him to apologize, give him a big hug, and give him a chance to do it right. Then – don’t judge me – I’ll give him a sucker so he can enjoy it sans guilt.

This has been happening for several weeks now. During that time, I’ve intentionally kept the suckers where he could reach them. I want him to learn to resist them.

As our relationship has grown, I can tell that his dilemma has grown as well. At first, when he was feeling guilty, he would avert his eyes when I walked in the room. He would hang his head. His face would flush.

Then, something new began:

Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. (Enter little feet.) “Hello, Momma!” One hand behind the back, shifting from foot to foot.

“Hello, M. What are you doing?”

“Hello, Momma.” (Forced smile. Hand still behind back. Still shifting foot to foot.)

I know he has a sucker in the hand. I can feel the tension within him. He wants closeness with me. He wants the candy. He wants both.

My little son waits there with all the pain I feel when I want both. “Hello, God. I want You. But what I’m protecting from You tastes sweet, too.” So I stand at the fork in the road, with my hand behind my back (as if flesh could shelter idols from the All-seeing), teasing out the advantages and disadvantages of communion.

Suddenly, I see in those two little eyes an appeal. Not for candy, but for understanding. “Can you feel how hard this choice is, Momma? This awful dilemma? I want this thing. And I want to be free of it.”

We are the same, he and I.

So I put my hand behind my own back, and I look into his eyes. I turn around, showing him my hand, and that I know what he hides.

His mouth flies open. He is astonished. He is loved despite the worst. Relieved and undone, he seems not to know whether to laugh or cry. What a terrible, wonderful thing to be understood!

Quickly, I scoop him up, and I kiss him until he realizes that being known is a refuge in times like these. Because by bringing me the dilemma, he did choose me — before he even realized he had made a choice at all.

He brought me his weakness, and I gave him sonship. Also, I gave him candy.

“All of life is repentance, and repentance increases joy.  It’s not traumatic; it’s joyful and it’s healing.”  Tim Keller

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”  Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)

 



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When It Hurts

The following is a guest post written by Alyssa Ramsey.  Alyssa is a gifted writer with a beautiful heart.  I first (kind of) met Alyssa in a small group setting, where she briefly mentioned her challenge of finding time to create while mothering two small children.  At that moment, I knew that we would be friends.  And we are.  Visit Alyssa’s blog at www.cordsoflight.wordpress.com.

 

“Are you going to shot me?”

The words tumbled honestly, fearfully off my 4-year-old’s lips. Two nurses, syringes in hand, answered with practiced reassurance:

“You’ll be fine! Easy as pie! We’ll be done in no time!” Their words, intended to comfort, convinced my daughter of one thing: this was going to hurt.

She drew her legs up inside her green monster-covered hospital gown and clamped her arms around them. When the nurses laid her on her back, it was as a tight package of elbows and knees.

Then they got me involved. The nurses instructed me to lay sideways across her chest, pin down her arms, and block her view of the proceedings. Then they wrenched her legs out of the recesses of the gown. And the crying began.

I had tried to prepare her for this. “I know the shots hurt a little bit,” I’d said, “but they help you not to get sick. A shot is just a little ouchie, but getting sick can give you great big ouchies.”

But no one wants the pain. So she cried.

My face was bent low over hers as the nurses swabbed the alcohol. I spoke quiet words of comfort – breathed them out an inch from her nose. She wouldn’t look at me. She pleaded with the nurses for mercy.

“Here comes the first one,” they said.

My daughter’s body arced and twisted. Then, despite my weight across her chest, she pulled herself up to nearly sitting in a valiant escape attempt. Anything but the pain.

“Whoa, mom!” the nurses chided.

They don’t realize how strong she is, I thought.

I laid her back down and held her more tightly. I held her to permit the pain and to lessen it. I — the one who could have prevented this, the one whose knowledge and will had brought us here, the one whose presence was safety to her, the one who felt her pain as though it were my own – I, her mother, held her firmly in the path of affliction.

I spoke reassurance to her, though I was sure she couldn’t hear me for her own screaming.

Then came the second shot.

“Stop it! Please stop it!” she begged. And suddenly my eyes were wet, too. My instinct was to scoop her up into my arms, to end the agony, to rescue her. But knowing we were only halfway there – knowing that this was for her good – I allowed it to go on.

By the time she got the third shot, my daughter’s misery outmatched her vocabulary. With no adequate words for her horror, she heaved inarticulate moans of despair. I understood them. I’ve uttered them myself. In moments of darkest fear and deepest hurt, in the hour of betrayal, I’ve uttered them.

Her pain was nothing new, and nothing to what’s to come. In her innocence and youth she was already feeling the consequences of the curse, the mark of destruction in her flesh.

Still, I held her.

I felt her body go limp beneath me. She had given up. Still I held her, my face only inches from hers and my weight pressed upon her heart. In her distress, the full intensity of my love was bent upon her. I remembered that my other child was also in the room, but this one, the one who suffered, the one who could think of nothing but the pain – my daughter – my heart burned for her.

When at last their torturous work was done, the nurses left the room as Corinne tumbled off the table and into my arms. I spoke my affection to her, but she avoided my gaze. Still, I held her, and since there was no one else to give comfort, she accepted it from the one who had allowed the pain.

I waited as my daughter processed her thoughts, not knowing how the trauma had affected her trust in me. Perhaps she would blame me for her suffering. Would she see it as betrayal? Could a 4-year-old understand why the pain was necessary?

Moments later, we left the office and walked out into the bright October air. The cool breeze soothed my burning thoughts and calmed my daughter’s quaking breaths. And then, with puffy eyes and aching legs, just one step past the pain, she gave me a gift.

“Sanks for helping me not to get sick, Mama.”

Belief.



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Lest We Forget

For years, we’ve created and methodically stored boxes of pictures, have taken great care in preserving papers and programs of our children’s accomplishments, and have accrued far too many trophies and ribbons representing participation in the activity of the season.  Why the hours and meticulous care in documenting our lives?  We don’t want to forget.
Last year was a year of transition for our family.  Within a year, we had experienced an almost move to Nashville followed by a real-life move within Charlotte, my husband’s transition into a new job after his year at home, and the upcoming marriage of our daughter (just to name a few).  We had spent the prior year assuring our children that God knew what was best for our family, and our job was to believe and follow.  The old hymn “Trust and Obey” became the mantra in the heart of our home.

I love it when whatever we’re learning through study collides with what whatever we’re experiencing in life.  I imagine that if we slowed down the pace of life, created margin in our days, filled our minds with truth, and waited expectantly, we would experience such a phenomenon with much more frequency.  We were studying the life of Joshua with a local Bible Study (this is the part where I put in a plug for Community Bible Study in Charlotte). The story had reached a pivotal point.  The children of Israel had spent the last 40 years wandering in the wilderness due to their own disobedience.  Finally, the time came for them to cross the Jordan River.  The Lord caused the waters to separate in order for them to cross over and enter the land of their inheritance.  After all they had experienced – the hardship, the disappointment, the heartache, and the longing, the moment had come. It would be a day that they would never forget.  God’s forgiveness.  God’s provision.  God’s faithfulness.  God’s abundance.  Or would they…

The perfect Father knew the fickle nature of his children.  So He commanded them to gather stones from the center of the river to set up a memorial to remind them, and their children, of His faithfulness.  I love the picture of…

~God’s desire to give us good gifts
     ~Our foolish choices that get in the way
          ~His provision in spite of our unworthiness
               ~Our fickle appetites and short memories
~And ultimately, His wise, kind heart that wants us to remember – for our own good and for His glory.

We’ve talked a great deal about God’s provision for our family in the past few years.  We’ve gathered at meal and bedtimes to ask for guidance and peace. The loss of (and acquisition of) David’s job, the sale of our house, and our move to a new one have all prompted discussions with others about His faithfulness in the midst of an uncertain chapter in our family’s story.  For many months, it remained front and center in our thoughts and conversations.  But just like the Israelites, we have short memories.  What seems unthinkable to forget today can all too easily become a faint memory tomorrow.

So, just like the Israelites, we decided to memorialize this amazing season in our family’s history.  I don’t want to forget.  I don’t want my children to forget.  I want them to tell their children.  Of God’s faithfulness.  Of His provision.  Of His abundance.  Regardless of circumstance.

One of my favorite features of our new home is the peaceful koi pond tucked away in our backyard.  It seemed fitting that our stones, which will mark for generations God’s goodness, come from that pond.
My favorite nook in our new home.
 The children selected their stones, we discussed the purpose, and they commenced their artwork.
Sam’s stone – “Because I’m happy”
Will’s stone – Our new house.
 The back – “God helped my Dad get a job
and helped us find a good house
to live in.  We have been very blessed.”
Caroline’s stone – Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus.
At first, I thought that she didn’t understand what we were trying to do.
And then I realized that she may have understood better than any of us.
We never made it to math that day.  Or spelling.  Or handwriting. But the lessons that we learned have been deeply engraved  upon our hearts.
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