It’s happened. Our beloved guest, Summer, has slipped quietly out the back door. Good-bye blazing sun. Farewell popsicles, pedicures and pool parties. So long blissful river days with my crew. Speaking of my crew…back to school for them. Already? We were really enjoying our little groove. Their absence stings as it slowly rips at this mama’s heart. So here I am, ripped open, dispirited and kind of annoyed. There is a rather obtrusive nine month waiting period that now stands between me and Summer’s return. No more family games of flashlight tag outside past bedtime or spontaneous, mid-day Bible studies in our jammies. And it will be too long until we get to spend treasured time with far-away family. Yep, Summer has left. I should be happy, I know. Fall, a beautiful and peaceful season here in Southern Oregon, is just around the corner. But I’m just not feeling it. Maybe getting outside will change my state of mind.
As I set out for a quick morning run, the Autumn breeze greets me like an old friend. Warm and embracing, like a hug. I can feel God’s presence in that hug. Still thinking about how Summer zipped by too fast, Ecclesiastes 1 pops into my mind. “‘Futile! Futile!’ laments the Teacher, ‘Everything is futile!’ A generation comes and goes, but the earth remains the same throughout the ages. The sun rises and the sun sets; it hurries away to a place from which it rises again. The wind goes to the south and circles around to the north; round and round the wind goes and on its rounds returns” (vv. 2,4-6). I run on, contemplating the seasons and how they come and go. God gently reminds me that Summer is sure to return in all its same splendor. And vibrant Fall has so much in store. Right here on this country road, God whispers to my heart, “Just as you run forward, not backward, so are you to look ahead, not behind. Be thankful for what I gave you in Summer, but be ready for what I have for you ahead.”
Still laboring through my funk (and my run), I begin to ask God what the point of all this is. “If nothing is new under the sun, and if everything is futile, then what is the reason we are here?” I ask. I feel myself agreeing with King Solomon, “All this monotony is tiresome, no one can bear to describe it” (Ecclesiastes 1:8). Another school year. More schedules to keep. Many more lunches to pack. Homework. Laundry. Alarm clocks sounding. Do it all over again. It whirls by faster and faster. People giving up. Marriages dissolving. Kids losing. Hearts breaking. See it all over again. Father God, help me see the foundation in all this.
That delightful Autumn breeze keeps up with me as I run, reminding me of something. Something strong, steady and alive: hope. The thought of hope nearly knocks me motionless. Just as one season softly slips away, we are given the gift of another season. And another. And another. Until our beloved Summer returns, just as promised. We can trust that a season full of blessings will return. More importantly, our loving God is there in every season. In the seasons of laid back afternoons. In the seasons of hustle and bustle. In the seasons of heavy storms, and of new beginnings. He is there. I know this with every ounce of my being. What the world has to offer is meaningless, yes. But God rolls in seasons overflowing with relevance and purpose.
I begin to feel a little lighter as I quicken my steps home. I hurry through the front door, straight to my Bible, opening it to Ecclesiastes. I know that in the last two verses, king Solomon proclaims the lesson he’s learned while living through monotony. Here, he ends his lamenting with, “All has been heard; the end of the matter is this: Fear God (revere and worship Him, knowing that He is) and keep His commandments, for this is the whole of man (the full, original purpose of His creation, the object of God’s providence, the root of character, the foundation of all happiness, the adjustment to all inharmonious circumstances and conditions under the sun) and the whole duty for every man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13 AMP). Worship God. Acknowledge Him and do what He says. Our foundation. The reason we are here. We must turn our eyes upward toward Him, the giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17).
Seasons are a gift to break the monotony, without breaking our hope. There is such beauty, such glory to be grasped in each season. Even in the cold, dark seasons. Through all the changing colors, temperatures and activities, hope remains. Through all the changing circumstances, hope is strong. Through all the changing conditions of our hearts and minds, hope is always within our grasp. It is eternity we hope for. Better days. No weeping. No pain. Joy unspeakable. We have the hope of heaven, in the warm days and in time slowing. We have the hope of heaven in the dying and falling leaves and in the rush of brisk air. We have the hope of heaven in the thunder and blizzards and heavy snow falling. The hope of heaven is seen in fresh rain and young, green buds. Hope will not slither away out the back door with Summer. Hope is here to stay.
She sits, day in and day out, barely moving an inch. She settles down deep into her nest made of straw and feathers from her very own chest. She takes the brunt of the cold, harsh winter, so the young ones beneath her are shielded. The ducklings, they are not fully developed yet. They have yet to break forth into this wide world. This mother…she waits. Patient, determined, self-sacrificing, she gives up her life in order that they would have life. The other ducks are waddling about and flapping their wings with excitement in the lush, green field. They are thrilled with the abundance of bugs to eat and the refreshing pond that awaits them. The gate is open, she could join them. However, this mother chooses to stay planted atop her eggs until they are ready. She resolves to put off the wonderful things that beckon her. The grass, the bugs, the pond…they will still be there when her sitting is over. She sits content as she embraces her current task…to develop, to protect, to nurture her young. All the while, knowing her time will come. Her time will come. As I watch her, I feel a strange correlation. I can relate.
Fourteen years ago, as I walked down the aisle toward the man of my dreams, I had ambitions, goals, and at the very least, a year of college left. Three months after we said “I do,” I found myself gripping a little white stick with a pink plus sign in fear and trembling. My husband, three years older than me and settled in a career, rejoiced. I cried. I wasn’t ready to be a mother. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. I was supposed to finish college, then enter a thrilling career as a woman in a white lab coat who studied behavior, compiled data, and wrote books about her findings. I eventually warmed up to the idea and pushed through my last year of college with an itty bitty learner growing inside me. I walked across that graduation platform, great with child under that black tent of a gown. Just one month later, I became a mother.
Nothing could’ve prepared me for how quickly and deeply I’d fall in love with my first born. I plunged into motherhood with great ease. That’s not to say it was all easy, or that I didn’t still dream of what may be out there for me beyond these tender years. Your time will come, the Spirit would admonish, through long nights of little cries. I would race to remedy the empty bellies, soaked through jammies, and swollen, hurting gums. I would swaddle, rock and caress as they drifted back to a state of all is right in the world. This is the time you were designed for right now. This moment…soak it in, find joy in it, lose yourself in it, for it will be over before you want it to be… the Great Counselor would advise. So I did just that, I absorbed motherhood. It became who I was, the very essence of the blood running through my veins. I embraced my calling to develop, protect and nurture my little human beings. I put my yearnings for green pastures of a career aside, and sat still on my nest. I agree, it’s over all too quickly.
This past fall, I watched my youngest bounce eagerly toward the giant double doors of elementary school. The last of my ducklings has waddled away from the protection of my bosom, my heart, my core. I feel as if a part of me is dying. At times, I feel like our duck when she steps away from her nest briefly to eat or drink, my feathers get ruffled and I’m a bit out of sorts! What now? I seek direction, look for answers in His word, listen in the quiet for His voice. I am reminded that while there will always be death, there will also be new life. New creation. New perspective. New opportunity. Your time has come, whispers The Lord. It’s time to acknowledge the giftings and passions I’ve so carefully placed in you. Don’t worry, you will not be leaving motherhood, for it is your highest calling. They are still a part of you, growing with you. They can walk, and they will follow. So, follow me on this new path. Your time is here. What has just happened? All from watching a mother duck? An epiphany of sorts, here in this sweet little cottage. I love when The Lord speaks! He has spoken here greatly. The green pasture feels good beneath my feet. I have waited and I am ready.
A daughter’s eyes are like mirrors. A daughter’s eyes…they can be reflections of your very soul. She takes you in, then gives forth what she sees. Those moments you catch a glimpse of yourself in her…they can make you smile, and they can be downright sobering. She is, perhaps, the one mirror that doesn’t lie. Several mirrors strategically placed throughout the house, and the one that is the truest representation of me? Surely not any that are bolted tight to a wall. The one that is the most accurate is the one that moves, and by moving I don’t mean swaying crooked on the hanger. She moves with me, as I enter different rooms, different moods, different stages, capturing my best…and my worst.
Someone asks, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” She proudly replies, “A Mom.” She believes being a mother is the most wonderful, most fulfilling career. I smile, because she’s right. I beam with delight, knowing she is able to see this truth in me. I giggle as she puts on her mini, matching apron and prepares to make chocolate chip cookies. She wants to do it all by herself, “like Mom does.” I smile, as I’ve prayed that she’d one day emulate my love of cooking for my family.
She’s laying out a new outfit to wear back to school, after Christmas break. Preparedness. Zeal. That’s my girl, I’m convinced. As I round the corner into the other room, I hear five little words that stop me in my tracks. “Now I can beat her.” (‘her’ had a name, but I’ll leave it out here) My feet screech to a halt and I back up until I can see her big hazel eyes looking up at me. “What did you say?” I ask. She repeats what I thought I heard, in a very sure tone. “Beat her in what, sweetie?” I investigate, hoping to find that she was describing some sort of game or P.E. activity at least. My dread is confirmed as she answers, “With my pretty, new outfit.”
Wait a minute. This is coming from the lips of a six year old child who judges no one. She is a fervent lover of all, this child. She walks around with the doors of her heart flung wide open, ready and willing to accept any and all. This is coming from a child who left the comfort of her good friends on the playground, to go and offer to play with a lonely ‘mean’ girl because she felt compassion for her. Once, during a game of pick up sticks, this sweet child began putting her most valuable sticks on my pile, so that I’d out score her! This child…she has compassion for bugs even! If there is an animal or creature of any kind that is suffering, she instantly, tearfully insists we do something to help it.
I can’t understand where a comment like this is coming from. My heart is crushed, in a single moment. I turn inward, searching for answers. Why? Where have I gone wrong? Does she get this from me? Do I do that? I defend myself to me, and think, “Surely, I’ve always had gorgeous, amazing girlfriends in my life, whom I’ve been proud to accompany in spite of being in my frumpy sweatpants!” Then, the truth hits me in the chest like a ton of bricks. Sadly, I have been guilty of this in my life. If we are truly honest with ourselves, we’ve all been guilty of this. We’ve pulled out our measuring sticks and compared our lives, our homes, our cooking, our kids, our pant size, our glittery shirts…to that of others. I begin to feel the weight of this moment, and the magnitude of damage it could cause if allowed to slip away into the whirlwind of the evening.
My heart hangs low so I kneel down to scoop it up, to scoop her up. Oh, tender heart…don’t you know God considers YOU the most beautiful of all His creations, no matter what clothes you are wearing? Whether they are from that glamorous store in the mall, or that second hand store we visit down the road, is insignificant. God looks at the heart. God sees YOU on the inside. He looks at HER heart, too. He considers her the most beautiful of all His creations as well. Don’t you know, dear heart, that two are better than one? Two of you girls, shirts adorned with sparkles or not, are better when banded together. For, if one falls down, the other is there to lift up, build up, help walk. We are not meant to whack each other with hurtful rods of comparison, no!
The only thing of any value that we clothe ourselves with is Christ. As His beloved ones, we have the luxury of being able to wear heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and love. In clothing ourselves with Christ, we are able to bear with one another, forgive one another and give thanks for one another. In clothing ourselves with Christ, we become one. Oh daughter, please get this: clothe yourself with Christ, and you will radiate beauty! Clothe yourself with Christ, and when you walk into a room you’ll turn heads…toward Him! Clothe yourself with Christ, and win souls for His kingdom! Please, grasp this truth! Her blooming soul seems to understand as she listens to my words but sees my heart. She softly responds, “Okay, Mama.”
Moments… some shameful, some glorious…where you’re standing before the one and only mirror that doesn’t lie. I walk away from the mirror, knowing that I have a monumental task before me as a mother in bringing up a daughter. My desire is to put on Christ daily, so that my precious girl will learn to do the same. I want her to reach for Christ, the only garment that will shine forth true beauty, in a world size closet of fancy imitation items. Lord, help me to dress my best in YOU, so that I can shine your beauty into the only mirror that matters…my daughter.
(To all my email subscribers: my apologies that you received my ‘rough draft’ first! I was so excited to be writing again, that I sent it out before it was ready!)
As our field glistens green again and remnants of last week’s snow storm drip into murky puddles, I think about water. I am parched. I can’t remember the last time I took a drink of water. I’ve slurped steaming coffee. I’ve ransacked bowls of cookies, pretzels and M&M’s at holiday parties. I’ve inhaled carrots and dried apples while racing out the door. “How about some water?” my body screams. I contemplate staying to fill up my water bottle, but figure there isn’t enough time for that. The human body can go 3 days without water before dehydration takes over. I shrug, and opt to drink tomorrow.
I sit for a moment, after a hot shower. Oh, how it feels so good to sit. The winter bite has made this mama’s busy hands red and raw. I tend to my cracked knuckles with some caramel-apple scented whipped-wonder. My scrubbing, rubbing, wringing, loving hands are satisfied, for now. However, my body still cries out for more.
It is then that I realize, I’m not only parched physically. Spiritually, I’m brittle, down right cracked empty. The dust down inside might burst out of my mouth in a puff if I speak! My soul yearns to be drenched in the ever flowing water of life. The kind that washes over every ounce of my inner most being. The kind that purifies, dissipating every speck of sin stuck in those hard to reach places. The kind that rushes in like a flood, rises quickly, then bubbles over onto everything around.
In my moment of stillness, The Lord cups my face in His gentle hands and urges, “Drink, child of mine. Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14)
His words move deep, and I melt into the strength of His promise. I’m never guaranteed tomorrow, so I’ll drink now. Everything else can wait; the cleaning, the wrapping, the shopping, the planning. He seems to make time stop when I make time to be with Him. The human soul can go days, weeks, years without Christ, but each minute that passes, it is dying. A soul without the Giver of life is shriveled up, dead inside.
A sister texts, she is so overwhelmed she could cry. Each item on her to-do list seeming to weigh a ton, she shovels her way through. I encourage her to STOP, right then, and make time to drink. There’s a rushing stream of crystal clear water for all who feel they are stuck in a desert. We all find ourselves wandering vapid through wastelands at times. The spring of water is waiting, if we’ll come. “Just as a dear longs for running streams, God, I long for you.” (Psalm 42:1)
I can feel the weight of all my toxins and impurities flow up and out, as I drink the presence of my King. Our King that is coming, yet already with us.
‘Twas the 6th of December and all through the town,
People were dancing joyfully as white stuff fell down.
Projected to come was four to eight feet
Of fluffy eye candy you could almost eat.
First, little specks, then big cotton balls!
It covered the land in no time at all.
Mothers quickly burrowed through bins of snow gear,
As children anxiously awaited the snow they’d cohere.
A day of to-do lists, errands and chores
Quickly transformed into playtime galore!
With school being cancelled, we had the whole day
To run, dig, build, sip, bake, snuggle and play!
The oldest bursts in exclaiming, “We must capture this now!
The detail of this one perfect snowflake, oh wow!”
A glorious day on the farm, indeed.
Like entering upon a kid’s blissful dream.
Saturday and Sunday brought more of the same,
Cocoa and coloring, snow forts, cookies and games.
Sleeping in, Christmas movies, waffles and soup.
From a most busy season, a chance to rest we recouped.
For some who found it hard to sit down,
The choice wasn’t theirs, but the driveway’s they couldn’t get down.
The light, delicate snow that had delighted all on Friday,
Was frozen solid, making it unsafe to drive on the highway.
So much more than school was suddenly cancelled.
Practices, scrimmages, concerts, church and most plans to travel.
Restaurants, small businesses, church buildings and streets
Were unusually quiet, as our ghostly town fell to sleep.
But, the luxury of rest some souls just couldn’t afford.
They had to get to work, find daycare, or just simply got bored.
For some who ventured out, braving slippery streets,
A great, giant ditch in their car they did meet.
Accidents, spin-outs, sirens and lights
Sprinkled our town, causing worry and fright.
Frozen pipes made for no water for unfortunate ones,
Including us, but to Grammy’s house we could run!
Never before had a bath felt so first-class.
Why is it things magnify more appealing, just out of our grasp?
Monday and Tuesday, five days in all,
Many things were cancelled, they continued to make the call.
Some were ecstatic, I’m looking at three of them now.
However, some ranted and screamed, “Ridiculous! Why can’t this town own a snow plow?”
As for me, I sit here with Java in hand.
Reminded of how God has a plan.
We hustle and toil, we contrive and we burn,
Thinking, “It’s all figured out, I’ve got nothing to learn.”
But then nature’s flurry knocks hard, so we stop in our tracks,
Forced to sit in silence, faced with the facts.
We are not in control, not as much as we thought.
A glorious plan the Creator of the universe did wrought.
A plan for the land, the animals, the sea,
And there’s a plan, most importantly, for you and for me!
You can count on it to be good, steadfast and true.
It simply requires a willing heart from you.
With a heart bursting wide-willing I come,
May my heart beat love, hope and faith like a drum!
I will wait with joyful expectancy,
To see what the world does with this child for whom there was no vacancy.
The child, a Savior, the pinnacle of God’s plan,
To gather His people to His loving, gentle hand.
Whether we scurry about with our calendars full,
Whether we’re on vacation and out of school,
Whether we’re up at dawn or sleeping still,
Whether it’s sweltering hot, or if there’s a chill,
May we trust in God’s plan throughout every single day,
Knowing His purpose is ours if we’ll stay,
In the grip of His Grace, in the presence of His face.
“O, my strength, I watch for you; You, O God, are my fortress, my loving God.”
The season of advent is here. It’s a time of expectant waiting, of joyful anticipation of our great King’s coming. It’s a season meant for being filled with hope, as we look for Jesus. I have to be honest, as advent approached this year, I wanted to run and hide. I had visions of squeezing activities in between homework, basketball practices, ballet, school programs, shopping, church, meetings, parties, and more. Last year, advent was scouring Pinterest, double booking, and switching days because “Oops, I forgot we had that tonight.” It was racing to the store for that missing ingredient or glue for the glue gun. It was planning the class party, decorating the teacher’s bulletin boards, and making sugar cookies and salt scrubs and handmade ornaments. All the while, still wondering, “Will this be enough?” Not to mention, repairing and moving out of a 1,600 sq. ft. house into a cottage less than half that size, in cold and wet mid-December. Advent meant pressure, stress, and frustration. I just wanted the season to be over. With these memories swirling through my head, I told myself we were not adhering to an advent calendar this year. Bah Humbug…I know. When I suggested this to my kids, it was clear they remembered advent differently. In unison, they blurted out, “Whaaaaaat?” Advent to them was chocolates tucked in sparkling, little boxes, with a note revealing a special pursuit. Whether it was watching Polar Express while sipping hot cocoa in our jammies, or choosing a foster child to bless from the angel tree at the local grocery, it was festive and fabulous! So, they pleaded and I melted like a stick of butter on a warm stovetop. “Okay, we will do advent, but I’m going to fine tune it a bit,” I declared.
As I began delving into advent, I was reminded that it doesn’t come with a requirement to bustle around busy…only an invitation to be still and wait patiently for a gift. I don’t have to fill up my days with tasks made of green and red or sugar and spice, but I can sit and be filled with the simple joy of knowing Jesus came as Emmanuel, God with us. He is the gift that I already possess. I almost missed out completely. I was tempted to shut down and hide away from advent this year…from the honor of celebrating His glorious coming. I decided not to obsess over a large to-do list, but not to turn a blind eye to the richness of this season, either. I want to truly grasp the gift of being able to wait patiently with joyful expectancy. Of course, being patient is hard. Waiting can be strenuous. How will we wait for Him? Will we, like a bear who turns toward his cave for winter slumber, become disinterested in the happenings around us? Will we choose to “sit it out” until conditions improve, until the sun shines warm once again? Will our bodies run only on survival mode, cold and hearts beating slow? This is not living. Often, it is in periods of inclement stillness, that His greatest blessings beg to be grasped. If we are patient, the fog will lift. Displayed in the Bible, is a magnitude of patience which encourages me greatly in these seasons of anticipation. There are several examples of people who endured long periods of waiting.
God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations. God spoke, “To your offspring I will give this land.” Abraham waited, and waited…and waited to become a daddy. Many years into their marriage, Abraham and Sarah grew weary of waiting. No child. Sarah grew bitter, discouraged. Taking their eyes off God, they took matters into their own hands. But this sinful detour did not stop God from delivering upon his promise. At 100 years of age, Abraham became a father to Isaac, a promised son whose name means “laughter.” Of course, Sarah laughed with corrosive criticism at the thought of having a baby at such a worn and depleted age. However, God honored the covenant between Him and Abraham, in His time. Significantly, Abraham and Sarah learned to trust God during the process of waiting.
Joseph was another soul who endured a lengthy period of waiting. He literally lived patience, with every breath he took. Betrayed by his own brothers, he was sold into slavery and locked in a dungeon. Hold on, wasn’t he a promised leader of God’s people? I’m sure he wondered how he could possibly lead a people, even one person, from a prison cell! Perhaps he even cried out? He worked faithfully, doing everything his master required of him. Thirteen years it took to go from pit to palace. Finally at the age of 30, Joseph was made overseer to the king of Egypt. In that position, he was able to save God’s people from famine. Was it this patient endurance that gave Joseph the courage to not only forgive his brothers for what they did, but bless them?
We also have Job. The expanse to which this man waited on the Lord is astonishing. He lost his crops, his property, his cattle, his servants, and most agonizing…his children. Job’s buddies believed that for a man to be hurled that kind of harsh wave, he must’ve sinned big. They tried to pry out of him what he did. However, he maintained that he was upright. He wrestled with God over this devastating force of destruction. Nonetheless, he never blamed God. Further still, he trusted in His perfect plan. What he speaks to God during this bewildering time is perhaps one of the greatest verses in all the Bible. “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” (Job 13:15)
Lastly, Jairus comes to mind. Jairus, a patron of the synagogue, came running through a massive crowd of people to find Jesus. He was desperate for Jesus to heal his dying little girl. Jesus agreed to follow him to his home. On the way, however, Jesus got stopped several times. Once, by a woman who needed healing from sickness. Of course, he attended to this humble woman. Meanwhile, word came back that Jairus’s daughter has died. Jesus was Jairus’s only hope. Now, it was too late. However, they continued to the house, where Jesus awakened and healed the girl. I don’t know about you, but if she were my child, I would have been panicked and most likely irrational. I might have told him, “Hurry up!” This could possibly be the most intense form of waiting.
It seems there is always something of great meaning to behold while we wait. There’s more to God’s silence than the feeling of His absence. He is not departed from us. He is here, beseeching us to open our eyes and see His beauty all around! I tell myself this very thing as I sit in a period of waiting. We wait on whether the urban growth boundaries will change, allowing us to build a more feasible sized home here on this little slice of heaven. If the answer is no, then what? If not here Lord, then where? We are content here, and we are happy to rest in you. Then, there’s your voice prompting us to consider adding to our brood. How can we do that, Lord, in 700 square feet? We are a people who desire to do the will of the Father. So, we will wait…and watch…and keep our eyes fixed on you. Oh, what a beautiful sight! The laughter, the peace which abounds here…we wouldn’t trade it for any mansion. The friendships formed and nurtured, the wonderment at how things fit in this small space, our sweet Grammy, being able to heal from a disease that once gripped my world…all priceless gifts given by an awesome God, while waiting! This is what advent is all about. Expectant waiting for a gift. Waiting with joyful anticipation for our Lord’s coming. His showing up…because He always shows up! The period of time between the last inspired word of the prophets to the events of the new testament was roughly 400 years. 400 years of silence from God, between the Old Testament book of Malachi and the New Testament book of Matthew. I imagine some of God’s people lost hope that He’d ever speak to them again. After this great intertestamental period, He spoke mightily. As He placed on the scene Joseph, whose name means “He will add” and Mary, whose name means “wished for child,” the earth rumbled with his voice. With the very vibrations of His beating heart. The waiting was over. Advent had concluded, the Messiah was born, and fulfilled were hundreds of prophecies of His coming.
As we are almost a week into advent, I am blessed beyond measure as my children race to open up their little boxes each morning. We’ve enjoyed sweets, delivered treats to loved ones, invited friends to church, and helped our elderly neighbors. I look forward to some fun adventures ahead, such as ice skating, driving to see Christmas lights, and a candy cane hunt at the park. We will continue to enjoy snuggling up with Ann Voskamp’s advent devotional, “The Greatest Gift,” for sure. There will be gladness oozing from my heart, coming from this season’s hope-filled waiting, in the silence before the whole world changed.