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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How to Live a Listening Life

My husband and I sat across from each other with menus and a white linen tablecloth between us. Soft tones murmured around us as glasses clinked and waiters shuffled by with heavy white dishes. In an attempt to muffle the ambient noise, I tried to cup my hand around my ear without looking obvious. I leaned in close to hear the conversation clearly, and I smiled when the words floated across the table directly to me.

My husband glanced at me and closed his menu with a snap. “Will you please pay attention to me?” he said, and my eyes flickered to his face. My hand fell from my ear as a sheepish smile crossed my face. “Hon,” I reminded him, “you know my spiritual gift is eavesdropping.”

We were a week into our vacation Stateside after spending the previous year living abroad in Switzerland, and I planned to absorb all of the random chit-chat and conversation. My American ears longed for the sound of ambient chatter. I’d spent the last year in a fog of misunderstanding. Small talk, eavesdropping, and snippets of conversation were no longer a part of my everyday experience. My adopted country and I didn’t speak the same language.

I hadn’t exercised my so-called gift in months, but I also hadn’t become aware of the fact that the loss of spoken English had sharpened my other senses. I’ve heard this is true for those who lose their sense of sight or taste or hearing. Suddenly, everything else comes into sharp relief. Our un-compromised senses compensate, and where there is loss, there is also an intense focus.

What remains is everything we’ve been missing.

Eugene Peterson writes, “We live in a culture that knows little or nothing of a life that listens and waits, a life that attends and adores.” This is my version of aspirational living. I want to live a listening life. A life that sees the value in silence, waiting, hope, and adoration. A life wide awake–one that honors this world and the One who created it, with its attention.

In Switzerland, with the loss of understanding, I was able to give the rest of the world my attention. Musical notes as opposed to lyrics. The sound of jackhammers and birdsong and laughter on the street as opposed to a passerby’s conversation. I noticed the way the clerk in the grocery store inclined her head to the customer or how the man behind me in line handled his vegetables–carefully organized by shape and size on the conveyer.

I spent far more time outside, adopting the Swiss motto, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing,” and I noticed what each passerby wore. Red beanie. Checked scarf. Thick treaded boots. Triple-layer down coat with a logo in the shape of a wolf paw print. I drove to the store and bought the same jacket.

I peeked in grocery carts. I absorbed body language. I followed footprints as I ran through the forest. I looked where people looked. I stopped where they stopped. I saw Switzerland–in all of its glory and decay and stunning beauty. I saw and heard and touched and smelled all of it.

I regret nothing.

I regret all of the time I spent inattentive, not listening.

We can’t adore the world if we refuse to wait for it. It unfolds like paper-wrapping and ribbon tied around the gift of ordinary glory. This is counter-cultural work. It is the work of the Spirit whispering this reminder: see, smell, hear, taste, feel. This is how we learn to love our neighbor. This is how we live life more abundantly. This is listening.

How, then, do we wait in the listening? I moved back to America four years ago, and I am just now learning to listen to my life in Switzerland. I sat with it. I turned it over in my pocket. I placed it on my nightstand. I stared and stared and stared at those years, and I am just beginning to make sense of them. How much more so the rest of my life before them? How much more so today? Tomorrow?

The gorgeous, the grotesque, the mediocre– the listening life is one that pays attention to all of it. And someday, after waiting and turning it over, and paying attention, comes understanding.

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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.

On Being Kind to Ourselves

To celebrate a special day last week, I gave myself an entire day of permission. I gave myself permission to do whatever pleases me, and to refuse anything that does not. This means I spent the better part of my birthday ignoring the dishes calling me from the sink and the silent washing machine begging to be put to use. Their voices shout, loud and demanding, so I filled the empty space with other people’s voices from the pages of a book.

I gave myself permission to read for an entire day while the kids were at school. In a manner befitting Marie Antoinette, a manner of utter indulgence, I drove to my local library and gave myself browsing rights with no time limit. I gathered an armful (eight, to be exact) of books I want to read and I brought them all home. One is a large, coffee table book of an artist’s rendering of the green pastures and white-capped mountains Switzerland. The thought of browsing through it page by page, allowing it to spark vivid memories of our time living there, gives me pleasure.

More than giving myself permission to enjoy the gift of time on my terms, I promised I would only say good things about myself all day. This played out in the battle field of my own head. I decided to reject every negative thought about my own shortcomings, every ugly thought about how frustrated I am with my meager accomplishments, every bitter word I speak about my own self. Not only did I reject these thoughts, I forced myself to replace them with a kind word, a gentle internal gesture of gratitude for the person I’ve become.

It was nearly impossible.

It felt more indulgent than anything else I experienced that day. Even the celebratory slice of carrot cake, thick with whipped cream cheese icing was easier to place in my mouth than a kind word about my own self. I hadn’t realized how ingrained the negative thought patterns have become. Why is it so hard to simply like one’s self and celebrate her? It feels undeserving somehow, and yet I am made in God’s image. I am known and loved by Him, and by family and friends too. Yet, it’s difficult to extend myself this same love, difficult to say “I am loved. I belong here. I have good and important work to do.”

I gave myself one day of permission to simply be me, to enjoy the things I love, to look in the mirror and call this creation good. It was such a small thing, but it shifted something hard and cold inside of me. Today, I want you to give yourself permission too. It may not look like an armful of books, or Swiss art, or carrot cake. But it should certainly begin with kind words of love for your self. Begin to cut new paths of good, gentle, joy-filled words about the inner person you know yourself to be. Become a raconteur of your life’s story. You’re the only one who can really tell it.

………

***As I process my recent disappointments, I’ve received so many words of encouragement from readers and friends. At the same time, my inner dialogue has been harsh, filled with “if only” statements that never end well. I resurrected this post from the archives because I need the reminder to be kind to myself and to speak life to my own soul.

Maybe you need it too?

 

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When You Feel Ill-Equipped to Lead Others into a Deeper Faith

The year I turned 24, I spent an unreasonable amount of time debating what color my hair should be. I indulged a mild obsession with the TV show Friends and regularly debated the merits of a Ross-and-Rachel combination. I quit my nursing job with good friends, sweet patients, and flexible hours to accept a temporary desk job, hoping to make more money in a less physically demanding environment. In September of that same year, after a summer of swollen feet and watching sitcom re-runs from a side-lying position, I gave birth to my first baby…

To read more on how we grow into our roles as parents and spiritual guides to our children, join me at In Touch Magazine.

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