Breath

All of creation waits with inhaled breath.
Wait
Coming
Advent
We wait as in the space before the upraised baton falls in the darkened symphony hall.
We wait as in the space before stepping over the threshold of home.
We wait as in the space before the first glimmer of dawn sparks into the darkest part of the night.
We wait with inhaled breath for the breath of God to arrive.
Breath
For the breath of God to arrive and breathe in the air of this world and breathe out the grace of heaven.
As we bundle ourselves against the cold and breathe out frost into the air, so we can’t help but breathe in a breath of hope even as we bundle our hearts against disappointment.
But God is a God of hope, so we can breathe easy and unbundle our hearts to the warmth of His love.
Hope
Grace
He did, after all, come once before and draw our air into His lungs and in so doing, foreshadowed the way He will come once again and exhale perfection into the very breath of the fabric of our world.
And so, as we wait with inhaled breath, we breathe out love and grace to those we see around us so that they, too, can breathe in a breath of hope
and wait for the breath of God to arrive in our world once more.
Here

My Capricious Heart

I’m back.
Tentatively, yet determinedly back.
I’ve been a little paralyzed, waiting for the perfect post to form itself before writing. I’ve been a little hesitant, thinking I should have time to dig deep into books before pouring forth out of my emptiness. I’ve been a little prideful, believing that my troubles are not of value to others because they do not deal with death or poverty or persecution.
I will cast off these lies and write. I will write and pray that God will use what is inside of me whether or not it is perfect or brought from research or developed from great suffering.
Since when can God only use greatness for His purpose?

Moving

Packing

Still Packing

Unpacking

Swimming in Packing Paper

Drowning in Packing Paper

Moving is hard.
There is a loneliness that comes from knowing that deep, local friendships lie months, even years away. There is fear in the understanding that your introverted self is going to have to be bold and take risks in order to find those new friends. There is a sadness when grieving the friendships you left behind.
There is the ache of watching your children struggle, seeing them cry before trudging off to a new school and holding them when they rant and rage with an anger that is really stress they don’t know how to handle. It hurts to hear them talk about what they miss from our old home.
There is the exhaustion of too many sleepless nights. Sleepless from a six month old baby who still wakes up multiple times a night, sleepless from older sisters who wake with nightmares or because they can’t find the bathroom in their new place, sleepless from your own desire to unpack just one more box and try to make this house a home.
And?
Moving has within it a hope for future grace.
There is the freedom of a house in which your children have the space to spread out a bit, a house big enough to host a gathering without sitting in each other’s laps, a house with room for you to grow.
There is the excitement of a town you know you can enjoy, a town that’s just the right size for you, a town with potential for serving and for fun.
There is the joy of being near my brother and his family, the joy of good neighbors who might become good friends, the joy of a job my husband enjoys and doesn’t dread every day.
Underneath it all there is the peace, when I look for it, of knowing that we are where God wants us to be. My heart is capricious and ever-changing; the loneliness and grieving will not always be so strong. Until my emotions catch up, I will know that God has purpose for us here. I will know that He will use us in beautiful ways we don’t yet see and that this is what will make us happy.
Until that happens, I will trust Him and cling to Him even when my heart would tell me otherwise. The joy and peace will come. This I know and this I hold on to.

The First Few Months

These first few months are really hard.
Crying
Smothered
Sleepless nights, hours of crying, lives revolving around nursing and napping, siblings who are desperate for attention…even the bad kind.
These first few months are really beautiful.
Snuggled
Adored
Baby weight snuggled on your chest, satin soft skin wrapped in blankets, warm breath from tented mouth on your cheek, siblings huddled around in adoration.
There is much that is difficult and frustrating, bringing tears and even depression.
And.
There is an obvious beauty, a very clear purpose and reason to the difficulty.
Purpose
It makes me wonder whether this is the way God sees what we call ugly. Whether He can see the obvious beauty, the very clear purpose to the very hard things in life.
Perhaps we struggle only because we feel the sleepless nights and cannot yet see the first toothless smile.
Perhaps we would find more joy in our ugly places if we would trust that God has beauty planned ahead.
Perhaps we would find more peace if we would trust that God can turn even the hardest bits of life into a reason that is adored.
Adored
Even if that reason is not discovered this side of death.
Think of those first few months…
Hope
and hope.

Waiting

It is a time of waiting.
Waiting
It is a time of waiting in darkness, of waiting in grief, of waiting in loneliness.
Darkness
We are a people living in a land of darkness, in a land of the shadow of death, and as much as we would wish to skip the waiting and rush straight into the glorious light of Christmas, we are still living in Advent.
Living in waiting
It is same as our desire to skip over the ugly of Good Friday and rush straight into the beauties of Easter Sunday. Yet we cannot get to the power of Easter without first living through the pain of Friday.
And we cannot get to the light and wonder of Christmas without first living through the darkness and tenuous hope of Advent.
Living in Advent
Even our Christmas hymns hint at this. They speak of a longing for deliverance, a yearning for Immanuel, God with us.
O come, o come Immanuel and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here.
No more let sins and sorrows grow nor thorns infest the ground.
It is a time to linger with the deepest longing of our heart:  the longing for God to come, the longing for God to make our world and our hearts right again.
Our world was a land of darkness with only the whisper of a light to come that anyone was able to hold on to.
Whisper of light
And then.
And then the end of the story broke gloriously into the middle of the story. The Christ, the Messiah, the end of our story came bursting through with light and stars, with angels and worship.
End of the story
The light came and shone upon the people living in a land of great darkness. The light arrived and we saw that the darkness was not the final word.
Light
We still live in a land of darkness, but now we have more than a whisper. Now we have a glimpse of the Light Himself to hold on to. We have seen the breaking dawn and we know the end of the story.
It is still a time of waiting for yet another Advent.
It is still a time of waiting in the darkness. If we cannot linger through the darkness of our world’s need for the light, if we cannot dwell long in our own need for the darkness of our hearts to be banished, then we cannot ever reach the hope and joy of Christmas.
The deepness of the darkness is what shows us the glory of the light.
So wait. Linger in your waiting.
And then, when Advent is over, when Christmas Day finally arrives, you will be able to revel in the joy and hope of the light that came and that promises to come again.
Light for all time
This time to banish all darkness for good.

Art credit: The Adoration of the Shepherds by Charles Le Brun

Hope Changes

Hope.
Tulips
It changes nothing.  It changes everything.
How do you endure?  When everything around you is falling apart, when all that you love on this earth fails you, how do you keep going?
It happens to all of us.  At some point in our lives, whether early in life or late, we sit in stunned silence while our world crumbles.
Pummeled
What do we do?  What do we do when we or one we love is living in the middle of unimaginable pain?  What is it that keeps us going, that lets us perservere?
Hope.
It changes nothing.  It changes everything.
Hope doesn’t heal the sick or take away the pain.  It doesn’t fill the stomach or bring your loved one back.
Focused on Death
It changes nothing.
Hope gives you a glory-full vision of the end of your story.  It gives you a glimpse of the beauty, the joy, the perfection that is promised.
Focused on Hope
It changes everything.
When you know the end of the story, when you know that Christ wins and that we will be with Him forever, it gives us the power to bear anything.  Anything.  When you can see the end of fear, the end of despair, the end of pain, when you can see the adventure, the rest, the wholeness that waits for you, you are sustained in the now because you know that this, too, shall pass.
So hope.  Hope in what is promised.  Hope in what God has promised through the power of the resurrected Christ.
For you who have just received that 3 a.m. phone call, you who walk dazed from your doctor’s office, you who saw your child drift away, you who wish desperately for a child, you who sit weeping in a corner, who think that you will always be alone and unloved, for all of you who live in darkness and doubt…
Broken
there is hope.  Beautiful, glorious, resurrection hope.  So breathe deep of this hope.  Let it fill you up with peace and joy so that you are able to endure all things.  For He who is our hope is coming.
Hope
It is promised.  It shall be so.

Art credit: last photograph by R.K. Sewell Photography (photographybysewell.webs.com)

God In the Personal

Cancer.
Such an ugly word.  A word that is filled with fear and pain, hopelessness and loss.  A word in which the treatment is as bad as the disease, a word that contains no promise of a cure.
We’ve lived through cancer twice now in my close family.  Once in one who had lived a long and good life and who chose not to fight.  Once in one who had just begun her life as wife and mother and who fought with every bit of strength she had.  Both times, our cancer word contained death and loss.

Papa

Kristina

Perhaps this is why when someone I know learns firsthand of the horrors of this word, it stirs up something inside of me.   We all have causes and issues that make our hearts feel more weighty, that bring us to tears.  Causes alone, though, don’t have the power to stir us up the way an individual can.  I give money to causes, but a cause will not change me in the way that a person can.  God works through the personal to deepen our hearts in a way that a faceless cause never can.
Perhaps if I see pictures on the news or in the papers of victims of earthquake, flood, drought, I will write a small check for the cause of world hunger, and I may even refrain from meat on Wednesdays; but as long as I am responding to a cause it will not affect my entire life, my very breathing.  It is only when I see discrimination and injustice in all its horrendous particularity as I walk along Broadway, that my very life can be changed.  If it was necessary for God to come to us as one of us, then it is only in such particularity that I can understand incarnation…But a response to a cause will never change my life, nor open my heart to the promptings of the Spirit. ~ Madeleine L’Engle  in The Irrational Season
The differences in the pieces of life we each have lived allows different causes to stir each one of us to action.  Cancer, especially when this word contains a parent with children living at home, has become one of those for me.  One reason is that this word doesn’t have to end in death, you see.  Sometimes there is hope.  That hope, however, can be expensive.
May I introduce you to my friend, Mark?

Mark

Mark and I worship together and I know him best from making music together in the arts ministry at our church.  He is a musician by trade, performing and teaching in order to support his family.
Mark is a husband to Jana and a father of five beautiful children, three of whom still live at home.  His wife, Jana, is a self-employed speech pathologist who contracts with several different school systems.

Mark's Family

A musician and a self-employed speech pathologist don’t get very good health insurance.
Mark was diagnosed with cancer in 2007; his cancer word will not have within it a cure without also containing a bone marrow transplant.  He has not yet found a suitable donor.  Mark participated in a clinical trial that held the cancer at bay for several years.
Until this past December.  The cancer returned.  Mark still does not have a bone marrow donor.
He found another clinical trial, but this one requires that he live in Houston while receiving the treatments from MD Anderson.
A musician and a self-employed speech pathologist also don’t make crazy amounts of money.
He moved from hotel to hotel for awhile, living wherever they could find the cheapest price each week on Priceline.  He was finally able to find an apartment, but it is in a crime-ridden area of town.  He has been hassled several times when returning from his cancer treatments, and he can’t leave his windows open at night.  In Houston.  In the summertime.  He is trying to find work, but it is difficult to find teaching gigs in a new place when you are in the middle of cancer treatments.
So here they are.  Mark, living in a dangerous part of Houston all alone without his family to support him as he gambles for his life.  Jana, caring for their kids on her own while traveling hours everyday to and from work.  Both of them living 900 miles apart and trying to hold the fraying pieces of their lives together while living with the fear that their time together is slipping through their grasping fingers.
We can’t do much.  We can’t take away the cancer.  We can’t take away the fear.  We can’t take away the loneliness or the desperation of being a single parent or a distant parent.
We can do a little, though.  We can take away the one piece of their pain that has to do with their finances.  They are not big spenders.  They are frugal and they know how to stretch their paychecks.  And they will need a bit more while Mark is living in Houston.
I have never done this before on this blog.  I may never do it again.  But I know these people.  I have served with them.  And God is working through these individual people to change hearts and lives.  Will you join me in helping them?  You can give online at GiveForward.  (If the link does not work, copy and paste this address: https://www.giveforward.com/fundraiser/4th4/mark-cornell-benefit-fund)
I know that we can’t do it all, that we can’t eliminate all hunger, thirst, suffering, pain.  This often frustrates me, but I am struck by the thought that Jesus didn’t do it all either.  He didn’t heal all of the blind while here on earth.  He didn’t heal all of the lepers or all of the lame, he didn’t feed all of the hungry.
I don’t know why He didn’t make all of the sad things come untrue immediately, but knowing this helps me to be content with not being able to help everyone but to, as Jesus did, help one beautiful person at a time.

Carol of Joy

Carol Of Joy
by Eileen Berry

Green leaves all fallen, withered and dry;
Brief sunset fading, dim winter sky.
Lengthening shadows,
Dark closing in…
Then, through the stillness, carols begin!
Oh fallen world, to you is the song–
Death holds you fast and night tarries long.
Jesus is born, your curse to destroy!
Sweet to your ears, a carol of Joy!
Pale moon ascending, solemn and slow;
Cold barren hillside, shrouded in snow;
Deep, empty valley veiled by the night;
Hear angel music–hopeful and bright!
Oh fearful world, to you is the song–
Peace with your God, and pardon for wrong!
Tidings for sinners, burdened and bound–
A carol of joy!
A Saviour is found!
Earth wrapped in sorrow, lift up your eyes!
Thrill to the chorus filling the skies!
Look up sad hearted–witness God’s love!
Join in the carol swelling above!
Oh friendless world, to you is the song!
All Heaven’s joy to you may belong!
You who are lonelyladenforlorn
Oh fallen world!
Oh friendless world!
To you,
A Saviour is born!

Merry Christmas!

(If you are viewing this in an email or reader, click here to view the video of this song)

On Them Has Light Shone

 We are people walking in darkness.
Walking in Darkness
Our souls are dark with selfishness and pride. We are blinded by our own interests so that we cannot truly see anyone else, so that we cannot see God. We seek and chase after happiness, darkened in our false understanding that we can find anything good outside of Jehovah.
We dwell in a land of deep darkness.
Land in Darkness
We live in a world where children are born needing new hearts, where babies emerge into poverty and hunger. We ache with the knowledge that storms destroy, that hurt people wound, that cancer kills.
We hang our heads to the ground in shame and weep in this darkness brought about by our own turning away from God. Where is hope?
Hope Dawning
Lift up your head, world that is heavy with darkness. Look up and see a great light.
Great Light
Rise up from the ground, you who are burdened with shame. On you a light has shone.
A Light Shone
A light has dawned. A great light has emerged out of the darkness. His name is Christ the Lord. He is Savior and Messiah. He is Mighty God and Prince of Peace. He brings peace to this world and peace to our souls. He is Ruler and King, He is Servant and Love.
We no longer must dwell in darkness but can run strong in the light.
Unto us a son is born, unto us a child is given.
A Child is Born
The light has come and we are free. Free from darkness, free to love.
Where is hope? Hope is here.
For unto you is born this day a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
Christ is here.
He Has Come!
Christ has come!

Christ has come!

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.

(Isaiah 9.2)

Art credit: Fifth and last photos by Kirk Sewell Photography.

A Flickering Flame of Light

Much of the time it doesn’t work out this way because this world is so broken and can be so dark, but every once in a while you are allowed to be a part of, or at least catch a glimpse of, something that points toward something more, something bigger, something so sacred that you want to cup it gently in your hands, speak of it only in whispers, breathe soft so as not to disturb it.
A Boy
A Family
There is a boy.  A boy who grows up.  A boy who falls in love with and marries a girl.  A girl who discovers she is pregnant with a son and fast on the heels of that revelation discovers that she is dying.  There is a boy.  A boy who sinks down.  A boy who clings to his son in order to keep his face above the waves that are drowning him.  A boy who continues to seek God even though most of the time he is not convinced that such a God exists and all of the time feels an anger toward Him that threatens to burn his heart into ashes.
Compassion
There is a God.  A God who longs to be found, who deals gently and softly with those who are wounded.  A God who slowly soothes and cleanses and heals the heart of a boy using, in part, the heart of a girl.
A Girl
There is a girl.  A girl who has lost the mother she loves yet chooses to cling to the God who gifted her such a mother in the first place.  A girl who loved a boy yet was willing to give the boy up to God to be sure that his newly healed heart belonged to God alone.
A Wedding
There is a boy and there is a girl and, most of all, there is a God.  A God who is using a story and a wedding and a marriage to tell me and to tell you that there is hope and there is truth and above all there is love.  A God who wants you to know as you sit in the dark, hiding or weeping or perhaps both at the same time, that there is light in this dark.
Flickering Flame
Perhaps it seems like just a candle flame in the dark, flickering uncertainly as though a whisper might extinguish it, but I saw this weekend in the beauty of a wedding that this tiny flame will spread and will pierce the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it.
What I saw this weekend in the crazy-loud joy, in the riotous music and lights, in the feasting and laughing and wide-open grins made me want to jump up with my arms flung out and shout Silence!  Listen to the small voice, to the message so sacred and precious, so unbelievable and so true that it makes you stand rooted to the spot with Thomas and whisper My Lord and my God.
Alive!
Christ is risen.  Hold it gently in all of its holiness.  He is risen, and because He is risen, His love never fails. In your darkness, in your brokenness, in your fears and doubts and loneliness and amidst all of the shattered pieces that might never get put back together in this life, He loves you and His love never fails.
Much of the time it doesn’t work this way, but this weekend I was a part of something that points toward something bigger and brighter and truer.  It is precious and it is holy, so lean close and hear me proclaim in a whisper this thing that is unbelievable and so true.  Christ is risen.  He is risen and His love never fails you and even though we never fully emerge from the darkness in this life, one day there will be nothing but crazy-loud joy and riotous music and feasting and laughing and light, such bright and brilliant light that the darkness will flee in terror to the deepest of the depths.
Light
So take heart.  Be brave and strong and true, and let Him shape your hearts into hearts that are beautiful, hearts that bear to each other that precious, flickering holy flame of love.  Take heart.
Psalm 20
May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble!
May the name of the God of Jacob protect you!
May he send you help from the sanctuary
and give you support from Zion!
May he remember all your offerings
and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices! Selah
May he grant you your heart’s desire
and fulfill all your plans!
May we shout for joy over your salvation,
and in the name of our God set up our banners!
May the Lord fulfill all your petitions!
Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed;
he will answer him from his holy heaven
with the saving might of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They collapse and fall,
but we rise and stand upright.

 

Art Credits: Christ Healing the Blind Man by Eustache Le Sueur; Graphic of The Golden City

Hope

Can you feel it?

It is the satin of an apple blossom on your cheek.

Real

Can you smell it?

It is damp earth and greening trees.

Real

Can you hear it?

It is hints on the breeze of a song of new life.

Hope

Close your eyes

and breathe.

Hope

It is real

and is waiting beneath what you can see.

Hope

We are meant

to be real.

We are meant

to recognize the real.

Hope

Close your eyes to what you can see

and breathe in

the real.

Hope

Fill yourself up with what

is given at all times

and is surrounding what you may see.

Hope

Can you sense it?

Satisfy yourself with what is deeper for it

is real.

Hope

we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. (Heb. 6.18-20)

For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Rom. 8.24-25)

(poem and photos copyright by Made Sacred 2013)