O Come, Emmanuel

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A devotional I have been reading this year for Advent includes the O antiphons, the prayers of the Christian church, which they prayed during the Advent season for centuries. Traditionally, they were sung each night from December 17 through December 23 in preparation for Christmas: O Sapientia [O Wisdom], O Adonai [O Lord], O Radix Jesse [O Root of Jesse], O Clavis David [O Key of David], O Oriens [O Dayspring], O Rex Gentium [O King of the Nations], and O Emmanuel. A fuller explanation and translations can be found here.

One of my favorite hymns during this season is O Come, O Come Emmanuel. With it’s haunting melody and beautiful words, it rings with the longing and expectation of the world for the coming of the Savior. Each year I sing it, thrilling that Jesus has come, that He did not leave us in our sin and misery but came to save us from ourselves and our rebellion against Himself. I rejoice that He will come a second time in glory and majesty. The hymn comes from those antiphons. Each one tells us something about Christ and then says “come”.
Centuries before Christ was born, the prophet Isaiah wrote:

Arise, shine; For your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you. 2 For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, And deep darkness the people; But the Lord will arise over you, And His glory will be seen upon you. 3 The Gentiles shall come to your light, And kings to the brightness of your rising. – Isaiah 60:1-3

His prophecy was fulfilled in Christ, who said in John 8:12: I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.

O Light of the World, You whose glory shines brighter than the sun, come. Lord Jesus, come to us in the darkness of sin, in the darkness of the long December nights, in the darkness of our selfishness and loneliness and bitterness. Come and heal us. Come and make us like You. Come and make us shine as lights in the darkness around us. Come…

May your Christmas be full of the One who came to save us and may your New Year be full of His mercy, grace, and peace. .

First Sunday of Advent

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While reading the weekly Scripture and prayers for the first week in Advent, I found this:

Grant us, O Lord, not to mind earthly things, but to love heavenly things; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.                                                           Leonine Sacramentary, 7th century

It reminded me of Paul’s words in Colossians 3:

Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.  For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.

Which earthly things are keeping me from loving heavenly things? How can I let go more and more of earthly things that have no value while increasing my love for heavenly things which are eternal?

These are questions to ponder this season I as think about all that Christ gave when He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death in order to save us. The first step of that humiliation was when He became a helpless infant on the first Christmas. Like Mary, let us ponder these things in our heart during this Advent season.

Stand and Stare

October 18, 2018 at 0807AM - God_s majesty in today_s sunrise. I marveled all the way to work.

Sunrise over the Rappahannock River

Life is so busy, isn’t it? We run here and there—work, home, school, children, errands, entertainment, church. There is always something that needs attention. Or we need to catch up with our friends and followers on social media. Or catch the latest movie. Or make sure to tidy the garden before the first frost. Or the million other things we need or want to do.

So many times I run like a hamster on a wheel to do everything required. Between my responsibilities at work and home, there is little or no breathing space left in the schedule. Mail and newspapers alone can get out of control quickly. I need to cut back plants and weed the garden, as well as run errands and help my husband with needed paperwork.  Then there are the untidy closets and drawers, beckoning for me to come and sort things out, to donate and discard, and to tidy them so that we don’t wasting precious minutes, wading through junk.

I want time to read for fun or edification so I try to carve out time for reading every day. Creating a new blog post or working on a book I’m trying to write also take time. I’d like to get back to knitting and sewing and make curtains for the bare windows in my book room.

I spend precious time in the kitchen, cooking meals for the family, baking food for them and others in need, and endless cleaning up after those many meals and snacks.

If I do everything I need to do, never mind want to do, I notice I’m running myself ragged, like a piece of rope, frayed until worn to only the merest thread holding it together. I feel like that piece of rope all too often, and I know why I do. It’s because, in all of my to-do lists and musts, I have forgotten to stand and stare.

Have you read Leisure by William Henry Davies?  I don’t remember when I first read it, but it resonated so strongly that I have never forgotten it.

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Do we make time to stand and stare? Do we make time to:

  • look at the beauty of a sunrise or sunset instead of fleetingly glancing out our car windows as we rush off to the next appointment
  •  pause by a rose bush and touch the pale pink petals while inhaling the sweet scent of a newly opened bud
  • walk through the dew-drenched grass in the early morning and listen to the birdsong echoing all around us, praising the God who made the world
  •  sit on the porch during a thunderstorm and watch the lightning and streaming rain from a place of safety, but open to the wind and sound
  • look at the sunlight streaming in the windows over a table with a stack of books and a teacup, full of hot tea, waiting for us to stop and take a sip, then another and another while inhaling the steam and cradling the warm bowl of the cup in our hands
  • sit quietly in the evening with a glass of wine or water, meditating on the past day and thinking about all the little things for which we are grateful
  •  spend a few moments every day in thanksgiving for the simple pleasures, which are all around us and so easy to find if we choose to look

Do you take time to stand and stare?  Or do you, like I, forget that life is so much more than busyness and obligations and duties and shoulds and oughts? How many times do we forget that sometimes it is our business is to be quiet, to wait, to wonder, to meditate, and to think great thoughts? Let’s not spend this precious life merely racing from day to day without standing and staring and noticing our surroundings.

How do we make the time though? With so many people needing us and tasks set before us, how do we turn away from the neediness of our worlds?

I don’t have all the answers but I think that if we want to meet the needs of those around us, we will do it better if we have a regular time to stand, to think, to plan, to wonder, to understand the whys of what we do rather than just throw ourselves headlong, to meditate on the truths of what we believe so that we can more fully follow through on those beliefs.

It is easier, for sure, to rush through life without thinking. But join me in rebelling against that hamster-wheel type existence. Stand. Stare. Look. Think. Enjoy.

Life will be richer and more full of joy and wonder if you and I take the time each day, if only for a moment or two, to stand and stare.

Measuring my life by loss

Ugo Bassi

Measure thy life by loss instead of gain;
Not by the wine drunk, but the wine poured forth
For love’s strength standeth in love’s sacrifice;
And whoso suffers most hath most to give.

–Ugo Bassi, Sermon in the Hospital

I first read this quote many years ago in one of Elisabeth Elliot’s newsletters and had to rethink how I looked at my life. How could I measure my life by loss, by wine poured forth? Shouldn’t I count my blessings? Wasn’t it a pessimistic way of looking at light to measure my life by loss? Weren’t we supposed to rejoice always?

As I mulled over the idea and referred back to Scripture, I discerned what Ugo Bassi and Elisabeth Elliot were saying. The seed that falls to the ground and dies is the one that bears much fruit (John 12:24). It is the Christian who hates his life who keeps his life. The person who takes up his cross to follow Christ is the one who finds life (Matthew 16:25). Dying on the cross led to Christ’s resurrection from which He gives us new life.

The natural world requires a seed to be planted in the earth and die as a seed to produce a plant. The spiritual life requires the same dying to self so we may live. Paul writes in his epistles that we must consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God (Romans 6:10). Elsewhere, he says we have died and our life is hidden in Christ (Colossians 3:9).

The more I read Scripture and studied the lives of Christians who came before me, the more I understood this principle of death out of life. It isn’t until we allow the old man to die with the sins and desires and idols we pursue instead of God that we truly begin to live. John Owen talked of mortification. Mortification comes from the Latin word, mors, mortis, which means death. It is in the dying that there is life. It is in the pouring out of our lives as drink offerings we find purpose and meaning.

Wanting to delve further into this idea, I found the original text of the Sermon in the Hospital by Ugo Bassi, where I read:

But if, impatient, thou let slip thy cross,
Thou will not find it in this world again,
Nor in another; here, and here alone
Is given thee to suffer for God’s sake.
In other worlds we shall more perfectly
Serve Him and love Him, praise Him, work for Him
Grow near and nearer Him with all delight;
But then we shall not any more be called
To suffer, which is our appointment here.

Canst thou not suffer then one hour, — or two?
If He should call thee from thy cross to-day,
Saying, It is finished ! — that hard cross of thine
From which thou prayest for deliverance,
Thinkest thou not some passion of regret
Would overcome thee? Thou wouldst say, “So soon?
Let me go back, and suffer yet awhile
More patiently ; — I have not yet praised God.”
And He might answer to thee, — ” Never more.
All pain is done with.” Whensoe’er it comes,
That summons that we look for, it will seem
Soon, yea too soon. Let us take heed in time
That God may now be glorified in us;
And while we suffer, let us set our souls
To suffer perfectly : since this alone,
The suffering, which is this world’s special grace,
May here be perfected and left behind.

This world is the place where we have the opportunity, the privilege to share in the sufferings of Christ. Once we are in heaven with Him, there will be no more suffering, no more tears, and no more sorrow. This time on earth is our only opportunity to show the world we follow our Master, that we can experience difficulty and loss, hardship and pain while holding onto joy. It is only in this life we can die, take up our cross, and follow Jesus into the valley of the shadow of death while continuing to trust Him, have confidence in His unfailing love, and rest in His sovereign goodness.

Will you be a witness to the goodness of God amid hardship and pain? Will you trust that He knows what is best, that the circumstances you are facing aren’t a surprise to Him, that He will bring good out of whatever difficulty and evil in your life? Will you let the Lord refine you like silver until you reflect the image of Christ and are holy as He is holy?

Then one day when you are in the throne room of heaven, you will hear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Master.”

 

 

Cultivating Friendships

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Friendships are like gardens. When we first plant our flowers or vegetables, we spend time preparing the soil, digging, and watering. But then, summer comes, we are busy with other things, and it’s all too easy to neglect our flowers until they droop and, sometimes, die.

Just as we need to continue to weed and water and fertilize our gardens, it is also necessary to spend time and energy on our friendships lest they fade away from neglect.

In these days of “crazy busy”, it can be hard to find time for friendships. By the time we finish work, paid or volunteer, take care of our homes and families, and fulfill our responsibilities, it is difficult to get out of the house one more time to see a friend. However, while all of those things are important, so are our friendships.

It was easier when my children were young and I was home with them. We had play dates, and the mothers chatted. We hauled the kids to the YMCA for pool time or ping pong or racquetball games, and the mothers exercised together. There were multiple activities at which the parents grew to know one another for a season or for several years, depending on the activity.

Now that my children are grown and gone and I’m working outside the home, finding time for friends is much more difficult. Making new friends is even harder.

One of my personal goals for 2018 was to make time for friendships, old and new. I am doing this in a variety of ways: walking about once a week with my closest friend, having coffee or lunch with at least one friend a month, and occasionally watching someone’s baby with a mutual friend so we can both get baby cuddle time and have time to talk, too.

Another way I found time to cultivate relationships was to throw a spring tea this past March. A dear friend and I worked together on it, which gave us time together, and then on a Saturday, we had a small group of women come share tea and delicious food with us for the afternoon. We scattered groups of chairs in several rooms so everyone had an opportunity to sit down with someone they hadn’t seen for a while. My friend and I had the joy of talking with our dear friends and giving them an afternoon of beauty, tea, and conversation.

Not only did I have the opportunity to cultivate my friendships, I helped others to cultivate theirs as well and created memories to add to our histories together. It was well worth the time and energy.

All of us can find a couple of hours a month to spend with a friend. Do things together that you have to do anyway like exercise or grocery shop. Grab a quick cup of coffee on your way home from work one night a month. Join a book club or Bible study that meets regularly so you see the same faces repeatedly and have the time to get to know them. Spend the time with a friend in real life that you would have spent on social media.

As Laura Vanderkam says in her book 168 Hours, there are 168 hours in a week and not all of them are spent sleeping and working. Dedicate a certain amount of time to your friends and you will find that the time and energy spent is multiplied in pleasure.

How do you make time for friendships? Let me know in the comments. I’d love to have more ideas to reach my goal for 2018 and add to my treasury of friends.

 

Friends, Mentors, and Guides

Pierre-Auguste_Renoir_-_Child_Reading_(Enfant_lisant)_-_BF51_-_Barnes_Foundation When I think back on my growing-up years, my most cherished memories are of the books that filled my life.  I began to read in kindergarten and after I learned, it was a rare occasion I wasn’t reading a book.  Curled up in a chair, lying flat on my bed, perched on a tree branch, riding in the car, at my desk in school—every location was the perfect place to read a book. I raced through The Black Stallion books, inherited from my father, and spent countless hours poring over the volumes of Grimm’s and Andersen’s fairy tales that had belonged to my mother. Christmas and birthday gifts always included beautiful hardcover books such as The Little Princess, Alice in WonderlandThe Wind in the Willows, and other classics. With my allowance, I bought myself the Nancy Drew mysteries that my library didn’t own and filled in the gaps in my collection of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne books.

Each trip to the library resulted in a new stack of books to savor, the highlight of my week. Books by Beverly Cleary, sequels to Little Women, and The Scarlet Pimpernel were titles I borrowed over the years. Staying home sick in bed meant time to reread my favorite Narnia book. If I had to miss church, my parents would bring home Bible story books from the church library to keep me occupied for the afternoon.

Every time we moved, one of the first things I did was to set up the bookcase that my great-grandfather had built in my new bedroom. Made of dark, heavy wood and held together only by slots and pegs, the bookcase contained all of my treasured volumes and remained the focal point of my room.

However, it wasn’t merely the books that charmed me or the stories they contained. The truths they contained, the characters that became my friends, and the worlds to which they introduced me that were the real treasures.

My imagination grew as I traveled to fabulous places. I went to Wonderland with Alice and met the Cheshire Cat, the White Rabbit, and the Red Queen. Dorothy’s adventures in Oz drew me to a place where monkeys flew, lions talked, and terrifying tornadoes became vehicles to other worlds. I grew to love the English countryside of Mary Lennox and Rat, Mole, and Toad. The American woods and prairies, as described by Laura Ingalls Wilder, became my playground too, in my mind, while I longed to go to Narnia with Lucy and Edmund, Susan and Peter to meet Aslan, Mr. Tumnus, and the Beavers.

Also, the heroines inspired me with their character and strength . When I was feeling put upon by having to do chores around the house and yard, I would imagine myself a princess like Sara Crewe in A Little Princess.  Instead of complaining about shoveling the walk, I would do it cheerfully as I thought Sara would do.  Rather than whine about a dinner I didn’t like, I would remind myself that at least I had good food to eat. When I was embarrassed by a pair of shoes I had to wear one year, I remembered Sara’s clothes being old and shabby.  Seeing how difficult it was for Sara, without parents to love her, I learned to better appreciate my own happy childhood.

After reading Anne of Green Gables in fifth grade, I not only found a heroine to emulate but also identified with her imagination and fanciful ways. I loved to read and put myself in the place of the heroine although I fortunately never sank in a leaky boat. I, too, spent hours wandering through the woods and fields near my home, and named my favorite haunts. Violet Valley, a small depression carpeted with violets each spring, was my favorite place. I would sink down among the flowers and pick handfuls of the purple and white blooms for my mother every year.  When I read the chapter Where the Violets Grow in By the Shores of Silver Lake, I was not only reading the words, but I knew exactly what it was like to sink down into a mass of violets.

Reading opened the world to me. I learned how to be more compassionate to those in need, to understand people from different places and cultures than mine. I was inspired to make jam, bake bread, and keep a house from some books. Other books prodded me to study hard and succeed at school. Still others pushed me to continue with my writing. I learned what qualities make a good friend and wife and mother.  Poetry opened my life to a richness of emotion and put words to things in my heart that I didn’t know could be described in words.

Spending so many hours reading during my childhood and adolescence was not only helpful in my growth academically and intellectually. I grew as a human being as I encountered the experiences and relationships of fictional characters. Books have been my friends, my mentors, and my guides.  The person I am today is due to the books and stories I have absorbed and delighted in throughout my life.