Journeying to Bethlehem: An Advent Audio Devotional

Hello, dear readers! I have a small gift for you this season. I’ve been quietly working behind the scenes on audio Advent devotional just for you!

Is Advent one more thing you don’t have time for this holiday season? Are you unsure where to begin? Are you already tired of the ads, the over consumption, and the expectations associated with Christmas?

Do you want to center your thoughts more on the joy and expectation of waiting for the arrival of the promised Messiah? Me too.

Beginning November 26th, all subscribers to the blog will receive a weekly Advent Devotional sent straight to your inbox. Every Sunday, for five weeks, I’ll offer you a few words to help you connect with the heart of the season, and put busyness and excess in its place. This Sunday, I’ll introduce you to the series, and we’ll journey to Bethlehem together from there.

No money, no time commitment, no fuss. Just pop in a pair of earbuds, and join me for a few minutes every week as we prepare to make room in our hearts for Christ.

If you’re not a subscriber to the blog yet, sign up for the free devotional here . If you’re already subscribed, I’ll meet you in your inbox on Sunday.

As always, thanks for reading (and now, listening!). I hope this new series will be a gift to you this season.

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One: Living in Harmony with our Inner and Outer Lives

“Ah, not to be cut off,

not through the slightest partition

shut out from the law of the stars.

The inner–what is it?

if not intensified sky,

hurled through with birds and deep with the winds of homecoming.”

~Rainer Maria Rilke (Ah, Not to be Cut Off)

I know urbanites who possess the soul of a farmer, stay-at-home mothers with the soul of a CEO, and 9 to 5’ers who dream of life as an artist. I know parents whose desires sit at odds with the act of parenting, pastors separated from the life of Christ, and families disconnected from the love that once bound them together. It seems many of us are living divided lives, detached from each other, our spirit, or our own desires.

At times, I find myself living in this same divided state–one in which the deepest desires, longings, and needs of my inner self are not expressed in the self that empties the dishwasher every the morning, teaches the technicalities of college writing, and fills  in the squares on the calendar with the same activities on endless repeat. I long for the serendipity of glancing in the mirror to find my inner and outer selves perfectly aligned.

For most of us, the divided self is the one that sings slightly off-key. We sense a dissonance in our life’s song, but we can’t quite find a way to connect the person we know ourselves to be on the inside, with the person we present on the outside. We wish for harmony between them, but we’re content to remain at odds with our very self. We think it’s either too hard, or too tiring, or it requires an upheaval of our structured lives to live in harmony.

And for some of us, this might be true. To live with congruence might mean letting a relationship go or encouraging the growth of a new one. Perhaps it means switching jobs, or homes, or towns. But, more than likely, it means simply dropping the pretense and allowing our dreams to be our dreams, our desires to be our desires, and our needs to be our needs.

It is living with what is, while carrying hope for what our lives could be. But where to begin? Most of us can’t and shouldn’t turn our lives upside-down overnight. So how do we begin to sing our divided self together?

We remember ourselves.

We take the memories of our younger self, or most whole self, and we allow them to remind us of who we are and what we love. We remember the way a story slid beneath our skin and sparked us alive, or how slipping into the cool water of a lake transformed us into a fish. We stop cutting ourselves off from the little version of our big selves, and we remember who we were meant to be before real life intervened.

We speak words that are congruent with our inner life. 

Which is to say, we speak the truth in love. We say the things we mean–our yes means yes and our no means no. We tell the truth about ourselves. We stop ruthlessly editing our lives for fear others won’t believe us, desire us, or understand us anymore. It is impossible to live a life of inner harmony, when we spend all of our energy worrying about pleasing other people. This requires a healthy dose of wisdom and maturity, and a reliance on the Holy Spirit. We aren’t here to make others comfortable. We are here to live out the fullness of Christ at work in our lives.

We grow to love our shadow selves.

An undivided life is one that embraces both the best and worst of ourselves. We accept that part of living a life of harmony and congruence means receiving our fears, wounds, and limitations. These are just as much a part of us as our strengths and potential. We recognize our woundedness and our limits as integral to the formation of our character, and we allow the shadows to become an expression of the light of Christ in our lives.

When we find our inner self and outer self at odds with one another, it’s time to listen to our life, and ask where do we hear harmony and where is there dissonance? We must envision what congruence looks like, and take a first step, however tentative, in its direction.

A Moment to Breathe: A Book Giveaway

***This giveaway in now CLOSED. Congrats to our winners, Sandra and Sierra!***

….

“Inside, I’m dying with fear,” he said. “I think we all are.”

I read these words in a recent NY Times article, spoken by a seventeen year old boy living in a tumultuous political climate, and I felt them bore deep into my body. Every time I read the news or turn to twitter or scroll through my Facebook feed, my bones melt under the flame of fear. I struggle to stand beneath the weight of all the hard news, the horror, and the helplessness I feel in the face of it.

Inside, I am dying with fear. Fear that I know too much to be silent. Fear that I don’t. Fear that hand wringing and pearl clutching will become my permanent posture. Fear that I’ve given up hope. Fear that this is my children’s inheritance–a broken world of cracked images. Fear that if we no longer recognize the Imago Dei, how will they?

Frederick Buechner wrote “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” and I cling to these words as if they came straight from the mouth of God himself. Perhaps they resonate because this is the essence of the message we discover in God’s love letter to us. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. But, Jesus. The Christ. Redemption. Don’t be afraid.

When the cares of the world of the world feel like too much, I take solace in scripture. I find myself most often in the Psalms, where I reach across centuries and cultures to knit my soul to those experiencing every emotion from lament and anguish, to joy and triumph. I know we need action and real solutions, but this is the place where my heart releases the posture of wrung out hands and embraces a posture of possibility.

I need the words of the Psalmists of the past to speak into my present and remind me that there is nothing new under the sun.  Beautiful and terrible things have happened and will continue to do so. How will I be a part of creating beauty? How will I seek redemption for God’s kingdom here and now, while holding onto hope for the not yet?

I believe my place is to speak peace to the rising fear. It is to speak Jesus to the terror and horror of the news cycle. And not only to speak to the larger-than-life fears, but to speak to the small fears that blister our souls with their heat. I want to speak peace and hope to the fear that we are not enough, we are unlovable, we can’t change, we aren’t a good friend, mother, daughter, wife, Christian. These too are the fears that melt our bones, and keep us from becoming warriors for shalom in our own homes.

I recently had the pleasure of contributing to a beautiful devotional called “A Moment to Breathe: 365 devotions that meet you in your everyday mess.” curated by the (in)courage community. It releases today, and I’d love to give two copies away to readers. Eighty women contributed their words to create this devotional as a means of reaching across the divide. Just as the Psalmists are my companions, the writers of “A Moment to Breathe” would like to become your everyday companions too. We may not have the divine inspiration or the poetic cadence of the Psalms, but we have our hearts, handed to you across the page.

If you’re in need of a moment to catch your breath between news cycles and outrage and dishes and deadlines, please leave a comment below to enter your name for the book giveaway. If you prefer to get on with it, you can purchase a copy for yourself (and perhaps a sister/co-worker/friend?) wherever books are sold.

I will choose two winners to receive one book each by the completely unscientific method of pulling your names out of a hat. Or, more likely, a salad bowl. Giveaway closes on Tuesday, October 10th. Leave a comment below telling me how you combat fear in an age hell-bent on inflaming it.

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When Waiting is Your Destination

I recently lamented to a friend about my growing sense of impatience with the current state of my work life. I no longer have any deadlines circled on the calendar–every paper, article, and book project has reached a stage of completion or been scrapped entirely. Without dates scribbled and double-starred in black pen, I find myself at loose ends, wondering what comes next. The words of Patti Smith come to mind as my calendar–starless as a cloud-cloaked sky–fills with the redundant tasks of daily life.

Smith writes, “No one expected me. Everything awaited me.

It is the most radical thought I’ve had in recent weeks. After wrestling (with much fanfare and melodrama) through the stages of grief over the loss of a professional dream, and spending too much time stroking the wild-haired head of anger, I find myself once again in a place of waiting.

As I lament the familiarity of this space, my friend reminds me that waiting isn’t a passageway to a more spacious place. It is more than a temporary hold on forward motion.

Waiting is its own destination.

Carlos Ruiz Zafon wrote, “Waiting is the rust of the soul, implying that waiting is a time of decay, a time of gathering rust and dust, rather than a time of expectancy. Action doesn’t exist in decay, and waiting is a word of action. It requires an active and ready posture. It is an open-handed pause with the expectation that everything on the other side waits for your arrival once the good, hard work of waiting is complete.

No one expects me. No deadlines anticipate my pen to strike them through. I have no idea what comes next, and I’m beginning to see the freedom that comes with this active posture. Rather than inviting rust, I feel the slow rumble of ideas gathering in the sky. Creativity grows best in uncomfortable spaces.

Relief returns as I remind myself this is a place for renewal and strength-gathering. On the other side, everything awaits me.

……

“But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
    they shall walk and not faint.”

~Isaiah 40:31

How to Sit with both Sadness and Hope

 

“Grief may be joy misunderstood…” ~Elizabeth Barrett Browning

It’s nearly autumn in New Jersey. I sit under a canopy of leaves and watch as a single orange-tipped leaf floats to the ground in slow motion. It’s a season of small, delicate deaths–where the joy of reaping a harvest mingles with the sadness of the ground turning fallow once again.

This summer, my heart cradled hope in full bloom, like a basket of fresh-cut flowers. Yet, autumn has ushered in a season of dying one small death after another.

After months of planning and preparing, I opened the door on a classroom of college freshman and stepped in as a teacher rather than a student. I soon discovered teaching isn’t a part of my natural skill set. Rather than opening the door to an assumed strength, I opened the door to a weakness–the kind of weakness that makes me want to cut and run. I died to the confident vision I had of myself every time I stand behind the desk and sweat through a session.

Despite this rough start in the classroom, my inner self hummed and painted blooms on the walls of my heart. I carried inside me a private joy the color of blush pink English ramblers. After years of writing and re-writing content, my book proposal had finally made its way into the hands of publishers months earlier. All summer, I waited for news.

I learned this fall that my book will not be published. Nor will the next book I propose. Or the next. The reasons are best left contained within a trail of sad phone calls and emails. Again, I died to the vision I had of myself holding a copy of my book and smiling for the camera.

As these dreams have died, I’ve spent countless hours trying to spin new ones. But, it is autumn. A single leaf drops to remind me. In my sadness, I have found myself drawn to the story of Sarah, a woman who longed for and dreamed of children to circle around her ankles and call her Mama. A woman who, in her weakness, began to spin dreams that were birthed in grief rather than joy. For years, God’s promise to her went unfulfilled. She dreamt in partial solutions, and Ishmael was the result.

In my disappointment, I have wanted to force an Ishmael into my life. I have turned in circles looking for partial solutions when the only answer is to sit with my sadness and wait. I sit with Sarah and watch autumn unfold as summer dies to itself. I don’t want to force an answer apart from the will of God, and so I pray for a spirit of steadfastness and resilience instead.

The joy Elizabeth Barrett Browning speaks of lies in the knowledge that autumn lasts for a season. Spring and summer will come again. Warm winds will blow and seeds will bloom, but first autumn and winter. First dying to self, first sitting with sadness, understanding the heart of Sarah.

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