Prayer

Making Space for Hope: Advent Week One

It is the first week of advent and just now, five days in already I have had some time and space to sit down and be still. To think a little bit about this season and what I am hoping for this year. People keep asking me if I am ready for Christmas and to be honest it hardly feels like December yet, so no, no I'm not. Basically our life is the same as your very own. Our days are full, we juggle some mix of parenting, work, volunteering, appointments, keeping everything somewhat clean and kiddos tummies full, managing minor and major crises in-between the connection and laughter. We are in the mid life years where our days often start before the sun comes up and find us about ten pm, hours after the sun has set in our northern latitude finishing up supper dishes during the first chance we have had.

Mid-life is a daily practice in being present and in making space where it seems there isn't any to be made.

I so often feel we live in a world that wants us to rush on from one thing to the next. Christmas decorations are for sale before Halloween is over, a symptom of a culture encouraging us to keep looking endlessly forward for our contentment and our joy instead of finding it right here in this very day. This is why I love advent so much, I believe. It is a season of counter-cultural beliefs and practices. As much as it may not be advertised as such advent is intended as a season of reprieve from all the doing and never enough and endless thinking about the next thing. A time to step away from the always seductive promise of bigger and better stealing both my contentment and my life.

If I remember to let it be so advent is a season of stillness, of waiting and repenting and sitting right where I am under the wonder of the full moon with the one who made me. A time for moving slower, pondering more.

Advent is a time to find just one reason to hope in a world where there are a million not to. A time for softening my heart a little bit more towards God who came as an infant - as a vulnerable minority refugee. It is a time to both ponder and act on ways I could further align my own now softer heart with the ways of God I don't always understand. A time to look for ways I could help plant or water one more seed of subversiveness to help kingdom come.

Advent is about opening my eyes to see the beauty of creation and love and mercy all around me, to drink those things in with my spirit, to remind me there aren't only hardships and heartbreak and horrors. Advent is about making space for hope and being still with a God who always works towards good and finishes what is promised.

 

(Mostly I 'do' this by sitting quietly, or not so quietly depending on which children are awake/around, praying and reading from one of these books or listening to something - no rules, nothing set in stone, just which ever one catches my spirit when I make space to sit down and be still.)

A Widening Light by Luci Shaw,editor

Book of advent themed poetry by assorted authors, all with eyes to see creation and God and faith in new and life giving ways, perfect for reading and pondering one at a time in a snippet of time.

Circle of Grade by Jan Richardson

Every blessing in this book has moved me to tears or towards hope. Richardson incorporates both beauty and heartbreak, which to me is the only type of honest blessing there is.

Watch For The Light

Daily writings for the whole pre-advent through epiphany season by assorted authors. I don't read them everyday but when I do they always give me something challenging to think about.

Wintersong by Madelieine L'Engle and Luci Shaw

Journal entry snippets, poetry, essays from two of my favourite writers. If you haven't read these women you are missing out on mid-life artist/faith wisdom from L'Engle and stunning nature/faith reflections from Shaw.

Listening to:

Pray As You Go podcast

Simple Advent playlist on Spotify

Advent 2016 thoughts on hope

Advent 2014 thoughts on hope

And continued here

 

 

Hope (surprises part III)

Advent came so early this year and I have never been so glad for it. In my faith tradition and many other Christian ones, advent is the season before Christmas when we lean into the darkest part of the year and light candles, reflect and take action for hope, peace, joy and love while we wait for Jesus to come.

This past Sunday almost a week ago already started the week of hope. There are so many reasons we need hope aren't there? Maybe it is social media, or the election in the US and all that has brought to light or just my own sad heart but the world seems full to overflowing with tragedies. It can be hard for me not to feel overwhelmed and powerless and paralyzed to do anything.

Personally to say the least I've had some challenging weeks. A week or so before advent began I told a friend the day after I googled about my tumors - when I was trying to hone in on what I needed I said - 'it's hope I just need some hope'. It wasn't an official prayer and yet there it was. I had no idea how to find it. I was hopeless.

That night another friend stopped by unexpectedly and in the midst of my tears she told me she had been up all night researching and this wasn't why she came over but she felt after listening to me she had to share some more positive statistics than the ones I had read. There it was - hope. Someone prayed for me over the phone. Hope. My husband bought me an encouraging and honest and positive book about surviving cancer. Hope again. A friend sent me a gorgeous piano piece she had been playing in prayer for me. Hope. Everyday someone new tells me they are praying for me. People are open and honest and real. People send you funny and cute messages and talk to you about normal things. Hope, hope, hope.

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I've written this before and it is still true. When I think about what I hope for it’s this: wholeness for people and planet. Kingdom come. I think this is why Barbara Kingsolver says the most you can do with your life when you have figured out what you hope for is to live inside that hope. ‘Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under it’s roof.’

Ann Voskamp  calls us the Esther Generation, reminds me that I am living in the palace and that God has put me here for such a time as this. The hurting world needs us and aren't these kind of the same thing? Find what we hope for and live right there putting some skin into the game?

When my eyes are opened I look and this is what I see: hope. Instead of overwhelmed inaction I see people living nitty-gritty with what they believe. I see them sponsoring refugees and listening to a crying friend over coffee and getting up hour after hour after hour with their sick babies.  I see them picking up groceries and helping move and also giving grace when things are too stretched to contribute beyond your own family or your own self. I see people seeing others, and telling them thank you and buying fair trade and donating money and demonstrating compassion.

There it is: prayer answered.

 

Surprises Part I  and Surprises Part II

It's the twelfth day of Christmas

It's the twelfth day of Christmas and my tree is still up. So are most of our decorations too, although I have started to collect those by the stairs to the basement, where they sit waiting to be put away. The clutter is starting to get to me  and I'm longing for sparse, cleaned out spaces. Yet I keep hoping for a few more  peaceful, reflective moments by the tree in the dark with only the tree lights bringing illumination - so up it stays. IMG_1452

Our Christmas was normal in the sense that there was much beauty. Watching the golden glow over everyone's face from the candles and the vibrations of the voices singing silent night acapella during Christmas Eve service always leaves a holy lump in my throat. We went cross country skiing in the crisp light, shining half way through the trees in the woods where I feel so alive. My kids asked to buy thoughtful gifts for each other with their own hard earned money. There was no bickering. Aaron made an amazing dinner. I was once again left filled with awe over God come down as a baby - try looking at a baby and not believing in good, in hope, in miracles.

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Our Christmas was normal in the sense that there was much brokenness. My extended family had to cancel our plans for a celebration together - our first in five years because my mom's recovery from her last surgery related to a tumor found this summer was much rougher than expected. Once we had come to some sort of resolve about my mom, and our loss of family plans, my dad collapsed unexpectedly doing Christmas Eve church. (He's a pastor have I said that here before?) He spent the rest of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in ICU while his heart kept slowing much too slow, so slow they had to encourage it to keep going, awaiting pacemaker surgery that will keep him alive on Boxing Day.

My guess is your Christmas was somewhat the same. Your brother in law talked obnoxious politics. You had time with a special loved one who lives far away or who might not be around much longer. Someone drank way too much, way too often. Reading about the grinch's heart expanding mended your own - just a bit. You had to host, or you couldn't.

There was that moment when you connected under the full moon with something holy. You had to see people you are related too, instead of the people your heart yearned for. Your kids loved all your simple traditions and told you that they were just so happy being together. Someone you love is sick or abused or lonely or dead. You received a gift that showed how known you are. Something(s) like this.

Because this is the normal isn't it, even or maybe especially at Christmas. Beauty and brokeness all around. Heaven and hope mixed with sadness and disappointment and loss. Full moons and bright stars and a refugee baby who holds promise of kingdom (not yet fully) come.

I think that is why my tree is still up - I want a few more days to ponder that promise of love came down to bring new life in the post holiday season stillness. I want a few more days to ponder how much I have and yet how much I still need the grace of that promise. I need a few more days to re-believe that one day all will be counted for beauty.

Flowers and prayer

Turns out flowers remind me to pray. This year since the peonies bloomed in June I've kept a vase of flowers in the middle of my kitchen island. They are anchored in the middle of my kitchen because they are beautiful yes but also to remind me to continue praying as I go about my day. A little talisman reminding me that even when it feels like I can do nothing and the whole world is going to shit - I am wrong. I can do something. I can pray.

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These days there is basically nothing I understand about prayer except that it helps me see God and my soul tells me it isn't ever futile. I don't know how it works. I don't know why miracles sometimes happen or why sometimes in spite of prayer tragedies happen.

But if I can be a little honest here where I feel a little safe, I must admit I'm growing to love it that way. My made from stardust self is growing to embrace the mystery and the uncertainty and to keep on praying anyway. I'm starting to see prayer as both an incredibly obedient and an incredibly gutsy act of faith. Thinking about the idea that we pray because we are so loved by God that we are invited to join into a incomprehensible holy act can take my breath away. Thinking about people and God outpouring love together makes me weep.

So I replaced those flowers every week and I prayed. I prayed for Syria, I prayed for our earth, I prayed for all the hurting and hungry. I prayed for my friends, their parent, their children. I prayed for my parents, my children, my husband. I prayed for myself. I lamented and I rejoiced and I said prayers of thanksgiving that we are all abundantly loved by a God of new life. I prayed that I keep being both brave and trusting enough to participate in the mystery.

Part one on flowers here

Flowers

When we moved out to our acreage five summers ago I didn't really care about growing flowers. I spent the first three years trying to establish a veggie garden and planting more fruit trees and bushes. There was an extremely neglected flower bed outside our front door - the one we hardly ever use but I ignored it in my pursuits to grow things that could feed us. Last summer I finally had kids that were old enough to have energy left over to care that I felt embarrassed about that neglected spot in our yard so I planted a few rose bushes I found on sale.  Those few bushes I threw in to cover my shame ended up bringing me so much goodness I've inadvertently become a flower gardener.

Turns out it's quite therapeutic for me to head out every morning in my bare feet to see what is blooming, pull a few dead heads here and there while I sip coffee in pjs. Sometimes I get warmed through and through by the sun. Other days I put my old housecoat my grandmother gave me when I was a teenager and the rain drips down into my eyes. Of late I have to watch that I don't slip on the ice that has formed on our deck during the night as it melts beneath my still bare feet. Turns out all of it feels like heaven.

Turns out I love the colours and the growth, looking for new plants and trading with friends. Turns out growing flowers helps me feel present and alive. Turns out I hear God out there.

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Looking for hope

It turned out to be a hard week to write about hope. This week my little view of the world seemed to have more than it's share of loss, mourning, injustice, hardship, sadness, sickness. When I think about what I hope for it's this: wholeness for people and planet. Kingdom come. I think this is why Barbara Kingsolver says the most you can do with your life when you have figured out what you hope for is to live inside that hope. 'Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under it's roof.'

How many of us have the gumption, the strength in spirit really to do that - to say 'I hope for goodness, wholeness, light and well being and most of all I hope for love' and stay there living with it in a week like this one. In a world like this one.

When I was depressed I couldn't. The mind lies to you and says there is no hope, there is only more drudgery. There is only more getting through, there is only more of this. There might only be more darkness.

I'm still learning this the thirties are more than tired - they can be a breeding ground for mental illness.

I'll end with this: I believe in Jesus but sometimes I feel like I can't see. So I look for the light he brings instead. I see it in money raised for a new widow. I see it in people speaking up and demonstrating about oppression. I see it in meals cooked and kids looked after and 'how are you doing' texts sent with some chocolate on the side. I see it in fair trade Christmas gifts and spending time with family who are hard to love and cups of tea shared with friends. I see it in parents who work hard at jobs they wish they didn't have to go to. I see it in diapers changed and toddlers consoled and books read. I see it in prayers prayed and love sent. I see it when I look in your eyes.

On life and death

Lent came late this year and my beloved grandmother was hospitalized the day after Ash Wednesday. Today she passed.

We are not a people made for death. It chafes and stings and exposes all our rawness. It brings all the brokenness of this life down heavy.

We are a people who long for wholeness and joy and wellness. We are a people who long for love overcoming all things. We are a people made for Easter. We are a people made for kingdom come.

So thank you grandma. Thank you for your faith and your hope and your example of peace. Thank you for introducing me to diet pepsi and new books and for our summer spending money. Thank you for always asking about my boyfriends and then my husband and then my babies. They loved you too. Thank you for your generous spirit and for all the times you choose joy. I meant to ask you about doubt but never got the chance. Thank you for helping save my faith anyway. Thank you for your love.

Eshet Chayil, go in peace and wholeness. Welcome home.

And till we meet again, I love you and I miss you.

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On rediscovering joy

It's our last day at the beach. I'm sitting by the water, feeling it lap up onto my toes and legs. It leaves wet sand behind, the type I love to let run though my fingers. It starts out solid but when you lift up your hands it pours its way back into the water. I've watched and learned from my kids this trip. I studied my three year old jumping and splashing in the waves. Feeling the water on her toes, cold at first but quickly warming so  she feels only the push and pull of the water. I saw her fill buckets with water, carry them up the beach and pour into a hole she dug to see the water drain away.

I waited while my just turned six year old feed and befriend one of the stray cats. She is patient day by day until, finally he purrs and rubs on her leg. Only then does she reach down and scratch his ears. I watched her paint a palm tree and a sunset and her stuffed kitty cat. Together we marvel at the sheer majestic movement of a sea turtle in the water. I recorded her dancing down the beach and laughing with glee as she glides through the waves on her board.

I sat beside my eight year old as he inhaled books. I joined in (for a while) while he boogie board for hours and hours and hours. Observed his studious yet friendly nature as he watched the local kids to learn how to spot and catch and ride the perfect waves. My heart felt full as he talked about how beautiful the sunset was one night.

Joy is how kids move and breathe and live.

We can all see this. Babies squish their avocado between their fingers and toddlers pat your face while they are nursing. Kids find the corner of mud in the garden just to feel it squish between their toes and dance with no thought of their skill.

I'm watching and letting them inspire me.

So I swim far out into the sea and dive down over and over again. The water pillows my body and caresses my face. As I go lower the water gets colder and I marvel at how I can feel the levels of temperature change. I swim as deep as I can go before my lungs feel heavy. Then I shoot back up and my face breaks the surface. As I gasp for breath the salt water stings my eyes. I float on my back and watch my toes above the water while the sea sparkles on forever. I sing and cry and feel alive.

On rediscovering joy

I'd love to hear what brings you joy? Do you feel content with the amount of joy in your life or like me, could you use some rediscovery?

On Soulbreak

We tend to call it heartbreak but that really isn’t what it is.  A heart pumps blood around; but our soul, that pumps something else altogether.  We can’t live without our heart but we aren’t alive without our soul.  Our soul is what God placed there, the part of me that lets me know He is, the part that lets me know I am more than just molecules joined together. Soulbreak – it happens all the time – really it’s practically as commonplace as it is life shattering - through parents fighting or leaving or worse as children, through peers laughing or ignoring as teens.  Through the first boy or girl who we gave a little bit more of ourselves to, then we ended up having to dumpster dive that precious piece  from the garbage, stinky and bruised.  Through loss of a loved one (through death or sometimes worse they aren’t physically dead but they are lost to you anyway).  Through addiction, selfishness, ignorance, greed, pride and many, many other ways we break our souls and our souls are broken.

My soul is what gets angry and asks God lots of hard questions because so much of this life  just – does - not - make – any – sense. My soul wants the freedom to wail and rock my body with abandon. To clothe myself in dirty rags and feel the gritty, greasy ashes I've scattered over myself coat my palms as I tear at my hair. Worship through my wordless broken lament.

Souls are strong.  It takes a lot to break one all the way through.  Despite all odds we get up in the morning and just – keep – on – going.  To have souls like this shows we are made in His image because we long for meaning in life, even when we should feel too crushed to continue.

Souls can see glimpses of beauty and joy,  peace and wholeness on the most unsuspecting of days.

I arrived home from vacation

I arrived home from vacation to this: ImageSomewhere under that pile of weeds (chickweed and stinging nettle mostly) is my veggie garden.

There are so many things I love about gardening. Looking through seed catalogues with my kiddos in the depths of winter, picking and dreaming of what we will grow in the summer. The happy day when everyone in the family pitches in to get all the promising seeds into the newly tilled ground. Watching with joy as we see the seedlings emerge. Cheap, organic, zero carbon footprint food that fills our plates all summer and our freezer, cold room and jars for the winter. The flavour that can't be beat of fresh from the garden food. Seeing my kids pick and eat all sorts of things they wouldn't if they came from the grocery store. Having a little bit of self-sufficiency and passing on those skills to my kids. Discovering wild critters who have made homes in and among our plants. Yes gardening can be very, very good and often zen. Peaceful. Life-affirming. Joyful.

My family has now been gardening long enough now to have a history. For many years we had a plot at my communities wonderful community garden. Everything grew beautifully (except that one year the tomatoes got late blight). The dirt was some of the best in our area, few weeds, no need to water and tons of harvest. We got a large percentage of our yearly vegetables from our plot. Enough carrots, bean, tomatoes, squash and potatoes to last us almost until the next summer. Many more things to eat fresh all summer. And we eat a lot of veggies.

Two years ago we moved out to the county. There wasn't a big garden at our property, but I had dreams of one. There was an existing raspberry patch, which is so bountiful this year and a few neglected flower beds with overgrown perennials, which I am in the process of replanting with herbs and colourful flowers. A bed beside the garage that I ripped overgrown shrubs from now holds many tomato plants. The first summer (the one we moved during) we kept our community garden until we could put in a veggie plot at our new to us house.

When last summer arrived we scraped the turf off a section of land and had garden mix hauled in. Everything was planted and coming up beautifully, until we received record rain fall for the entire summer and the garden mix turned out to be almost all clay. My garden was one big weedy mud pit all summer, from which we harvested a half an ice cream bucket of potatoes and the same of carrots because most of the veggie plants drowned. The only saving grace was the separate tomato patch which kept us in canned tomatoes, sauce and salsa all year.

(My sister said with wisdom I believe, when I was telling her about my garden last week, that you often get more veggies from a small garden area than from a big one. It is easier to make sure your dirt is nutrient dense, weeds are picked and pests are dealt with. Resulting in bigger yields. Yes I agree with her. Learning the hard way.)

I felt frustrated and sad that a whole gardening season was for nothing. I had really hoped for my biggest harvest ever, and instead had my smallest. But we are not moving anytime soon, and I am determined to make this garden grow, so this spring we hauled in peat moss, compost and sand. My husband tilled it in and we planted in the improved soil. Some seeds came up, some didn't (too old I am thinking). And all year there has been my never-ending forest of weeds. If you can believe it my husband had roto-tilled between the rows and I had weeded just two weeks before the picture.

Thankfully we have had some successes. Our first asparagus crop. Bowls of fresh strawberries for the past week. Raspberries now, as many as we can eat and enough for jam and smoothies all winter. Spinach and lettuce (more than we can keep up with) starting in June. Tomatoes are looking great. And some veggies are starting to thrive amidst the weeds. I am now the Ann Voskamp of gardening, counting each gift tirelessly.

Gardening this year has also been really hard work. Weeding is my least zenish aspect of gardening and I have been doing a lot of it. Way more than I would ever care to do. But, I am stubborn enough that I won't give up, and I tackled the rest of the weeds today with my husband, kids running around in between the rows, helping intermittently. After many, many hours this week my garden is mostly weed free for now.

Weeding is good for one thing. It gives me time to think. Time to pray. Time to rejoice. (Babies! Ocean! My family! My friends!) Time to lament. (Mosquitoes! Broken relationships! Not figuring out God!) Time to reflect on why I am persevering with this whole gardening thing instead of just hitting up my local grocery store. Time to connect with my kids and husband. More time to pray. Gardening as spiritual discipline.

Truth is it feels a bit sacrificial, in my small, spoiled, North American way to bend low, cake my fingernails with mud, and grow something my family can eat. Do something that isn't fun for me. Until I get these weeds under control and the dirt rich and fertile, the time trade off is more than it would cost to buy at the store, or even the farmer's market, and I see value in that. I like doing something for much less than I would make at my job because it is more on par with how much others in the world make.

I like how the struggle to get things to grow, makes me think of others around the world who grow things because they have to in order for people they love not to die, not because it is a hobby, or they want organic. I like how this motivates me to pray for them and their kids while my hands are stinging from the nettle I just pulled. How the minor stinging and the mud and the sore back remind me how extremely easy my life is in comparison to so many others. How it reminds me of the physical sacrifice, the sacrifice of time, that others make for all those cheap, abundant things to be available at the store.

I like how my kids see me doing something hard, help do something physical. I hope they are learning, that I am learning, that life and relationships won't always be easy and hard work is necessary, hard work is good. That it can take hard work to find beauty. That it will take hard work to change the world. That it will take hard work to change ourselves. That there are ups and downs to almost everything in life and that is normal. As I pull each weed I pray for them, I pray for me, I pray for everyone, as I pull and toss. Don't give up hope. Pull, toss. Don't give up hope. Pull, toss. Don't give up hope. This growing can be hard. It can be good and holy and beautiful too.