The First Sunday of Advent: Hope

Oh my love,
let us start anew.
I have cast behind my back
all that has kept you from me

I would rather rend the heavens
and come down to save our love,
then see you walk away.

For I have heard
the unspoken cries of your heart,
you who long to see my face.

Come, let us turn toward each other
and be firm to the end.
Faithful
as we wait.

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On Being Single and on the Cusp of My Thirties

I should be freaking out right now, right? Worried that all the good guys are being taken and my time to have kids shrinking. My life getting smaller and smaller as all the opportunities I had when I was younger start to slowly disappear. I am being left behind while all of my close friends fall in love and get married and have kids, and I am left wandering the beach of singleness alone.

Well, I think all that’s really a lie. My life is not getting smaller. It’s not like there’s only so much love to go around and once I’ve past my twenties suddenly the opportunity for love and marriage and kids will dry up.  Those are just unwarranted fears.

Yes, it is a little harder as I lose close friends who were also single, and as I still long for someone to share life with in all its ups and downs and ordinary days –to have this closeness with someone that you love. It is lonely in that way.

But I think it is a lie that just because I don’t have any relationship plans on the horizon and can’t foresee this sort of thing, that it will never happen.

It’s a lie to believe that I am alone or unloved.

The other day a friend of mine was lamenting the fact that she couldn’t go on the high quality vacations that she so loves and had been planning for because she is now pregnant, and having a baby changes everything. Vacations are different with kids. Finances are different with kids.

It let me see the unexpected loss of following God’s will, of dreams and plans you didn’t expect to lose and weren’t asked to give up suddenly no longer a possibility.

It’s a part of growing up I think, or at least something that everyone goes through at some point in their lives. The realization (and fierce disappointment) that life will not go as you thought it would, but it’s beyond your control. That you can’t do with your life what you wanted to. I think it’s something that all of us have to grapple with (and sometimes never stop grappling with).

I think at these points you can choose to surrender and say, “God, I am heartbroken that I can’t do this with my life. But if I can’t do this, let me do something that is for Your heart, that will use me in ways I didn’t expect, that will use all of me.”

I did not expect to be still single at 29 or to have so few romantic experiences in my lifetime up to this point. I gave up going to a school in London and making writing or publishing a career because I knew that God was calling me in a deeper way to motherhood, to that being the focus of my time and talent. I have known the disappointment of losing dreams, of being emptied of desires you had not realized were so strong, in order to live a life more deeply in tune with God.

But I can say, that I have found myself capable of so much more than I ever thought, of horizons brighter and farther than I would ever see on my own (without God giving me eyes to see), of life with new meaning.

My life is certainly not sad or lonely. I know with certainty that married life is in my future, thought I have no tangible evidence to prove to you that this is true, no outward sign to show it. I only have God’s words to me. But it is this that I am choosing to listen to, to believe this truth about my life and not what the world surmises about it.

To me being single and on the cusp of my thirties is a point when I have reached a maturity in my faith to know and trust that the work God has done on my heart and in my life is just beginning to bear fruit; it is a point in which I can see the strength God has given me to walk this road particular to my life, a road that goes beyond marriage and kids to my life and role in eternity, and to trust that there will be strength enough for the rest of the journey.

Running before Dawn

For not being a morning person, I find it a little odd that I actually like running before dawn, but I do.

There’s something about starting out in the dark, with only the moon and streetlamps to light my way, in the coldest part of the morning when even animals are still safely wrapped in sleep and only a few lone cars trespass the streets.

I’m alone with my thoughts and the music.  An introvert’s dream.

There’re no distractions.   No faltering in my speed.  I don’t have to constantly pause to check that drivers have seen me or if they will let me cross the street first.  I don’t have to run around other pedestrians and their dogs or play that awkward game of trying to outrun another runner who’s ever so slightly off pace but who’s suddenly decided to run the exact same route as me.  No trash trucks or construction crews or random marching bands.  Nothing.  The streets are blessedly silent and free.

And though it might seem like hard work to get out of bed and go out into the surrounding darkness when I could just as easily stay under the safety of my quilts, there’s something to look forward to that makes it more than worth it.  (Besides the introvert’s paradise of thinking without interruption.)

But don’t get me wrong, sometimes it takes discipline.  It takes discipline to get up on the first or second alarm and get out the door in time to run before work.  It takes discipline to keep running the whole route when I could just as easily turn at a different street and cut my run short, or not take all the hills if I don’t feel like it.  But pushing past what I think I can do feels great afterwards, and not just because I put in a good run.

Because, you see, after I crest over the top of that final (and steepest) hill, I’m facing home.  I’m facing east.  And the first colors of dawn are just lighting up the horizon.  Not the bright oranges that mean the sun is about to show herself, but the pinks and light blues that speak more softly of the approaching day.

In that moment when the night is behind me and all that is ahead is growing light…  well, that is peace.

It’s these first faint streaks of dawn in an otherwise artificially lit night that make it worth it.  They are hope, a certainty that the sun is rising.  Though they are far away and only a beginning of the change from night to day, little more than a whisper, they are enough:  The change has begun.  And it is irreversible.

There’s something powerful about starting my day with this physical experience of hope that is akin to joy, with the certain knowledge that life is changing for the better, moving towards only good (provided I keep my focus on the light).

Because all too often we think of life as on its way to a sunset or we get lost in the muddle of the distractions of the world and forget what we are made for, where our lives are going.

It’s true that physically we reach our peak somewhere in our twenties and it’s all downhill from there.  But emotionally and spiritually, that is not so.  We always have the opportunity to grow more.  Our lives are a journey made for walking into the sunrise, of gradually being able to see more and more light, of being renewed and restored until we are, quite literally, perfect.

And I need this reminder every day.

by time and airplanes and cars

And I have no explanation for the hope I’ve found.

Not when everything else tells me

nothing will change.

I have been stretched by time

and airplanes and cars.

And I cannot live

with you so far away,

always waiting for the next intersection.

I’m cleaning out my closet,

straightening book shelves no longer too tightly packed,

sweeping away old habits.

But how can I give away a ghost.

And I’ve been standing around,

fiddling with my keys,

waiting for you to claim me.

But my heart was meant to come alive

again.

And maybe the hope was meant

not for you, but for me.

Be surprised by joy.

And even though these clouds have passed over,

leaving behind parched and dusty soil,

patches of brown or wheat

in place of verdant green,

I flower still.

 

In these years of drought

You keep me alive,

surprising me with beauty and strength,

wild blossoms that will not wither.

For my roots reach to waters deep.

 

And if not for hope

that thickens stalk and leaf,

this heat would stifle my breath and seep

who I am out of me.

 

Yet I have found reason

to lift neck and hands high,

petals open

to raindrops and dust clouds alike,

a little flower exultant in praise,

confident in the promise of life.

 

For where can faith burst forth

except in dryness and desolation,

or life brim full,

if not in a void of earth.

Halcyon

More than your waves

Crashing

Louder than the roar

of your waters

Stronger than your torrents

Sweeping

::

I am pitched and cradled

Taken by the hand

And channeled

Surrounded

by grey sky and dark foam

and maddening throes

Where is the horizon

and a hope of light?

Where is the end of night.

O my soul, o my soul

Here in this tiny boat

water slides over wood

bone and clothes cling

and wrapped arms

Shiver

down to the bottom

Where is my God?

White sound answers

deafens and fills

Eyes blind

with waves grey and green

O my soul, o my soul

I chant

like a melody

or counter charm

quivering

Why are you downcast?

Why do you grieve?

though darkness surrounds you

remember

remember within

the halcyon

remember

and hear

the still, sweet song of grace

Wait for God

::

Here deep calls unto deep*

my soul to the Lord

the depths felt within

reach

to where no depth can hold

and the faint bar of light within

strengthens

to a quiet crescendo

Wait for God

*Psalm 42:8

What ever happened to the shepherds?

We never see them in the story again.  They were drawn to the Christ by angels, but what became of their lives after this encounter?  Did they follow Jesus’ life?  Keep tabs on this boy as he grew into a man — waiting for stories of a Messianic King taking the nation by storm, recognizing the whispers about this man from Nazareth for what they were?   Were they part of the crowds that followed him from town to town?  Or did they just return to their lives as they were, and wonder when news of a Jewish radical crucified in Jerusalem by the Romans for claiming to be God reached their ears.

There’ve been plenty of shepherds that God has appeared to in the middle of nowhere: Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, and Amos.  But these guys remain nameless.   And it’s a group of them, not just one of them that God singles out to move His people.  But nonetheless they are given a task:

“And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child; and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.   And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. “(Lk 1:17-20)

They’ve encountered the Holy Spirit shining around them; they’ve seen an army of angels, terrifying to behold, but beautiful in their worship to God; they’ve been told that the Savior of their nation and people has been born and are even given directions of a kind to find him and see him with their own eyes.  Besides Mary and Joseph (and let’s assume a few close family and friends –i.e. Elizabeth and Zechariah), and some wise kings/astrologers who figure it out for themselves, they are the FIRST to know that God is finally putting this salvific plan in process.

That’s pretty awesome.  I’d feel pretty special and privileged.  God had picked me out, out of all the people in the world, and all of the tribes of Israel, and all the shepherds wandering the plains, to see His Son and tell everybody that I know.  (I think it’s interesting to note here too, that we know nothing about these shepherds.  Were they even born of the tribes of Israel?  Were they even practicing, devout Jews?  Did it matter?  It was a pretty smart move by God –kind of like starting a rumor in a busy port town.  The message is carried from well to well, from city to city, and suddenly everyone is talking about this baby born in Bethlehem and questions are stirred up about this long looked for Messiah.)

It’s hard to think they were disappointed upon finding an ordinary baby, even an apparently poor one, lying in a manger and not even a real bed.  Despite his odd circumstances, they must have felt an incredible hope and a ‘great joy’ as the angel proclaimed.  They had hard proof that times were a-changing, that life would be different because of this Son, that God was going to save His people.

But what did they think twenty, thirty, or even fifty years later when nothing about their lives had apparently changed –when they were still shepherds, herding sheep, waiting for news of a conquered Roman Empire.  Did they dismiss their heavenly encounter as a dream?  Did they give up on the God of Israel?  Or did they remain faithful like Abraham, living lives that had quietly changed on the inside, staring up at the stars and remembering that fateful night when they had seen with their own eyes the glories of heaven.

Today we have Christmas lights and cheery music to get us through the darker days of late November and December.  But sometimes in January and February I wish that Christmas was a little later in winter so that more of the colder days could be lit up in warmth and hope.  When we’re kids we wish that Christmas could be every day.  But even after realizing everyone would be thoroughly tired of it if all the popular Christmas tunes and commercials and jingles and ads were hyped up year round, I’d still want the Christmas season (or really the peacefulness of Advent) to be longer than it is now.

If there could be a reminder in every grey and chilly day that heaven touched down to earth one clear evening thousands of years ago and brought peace and a deeper meaning to our dull and difficult days, I’d be alright with that.  If hope were as easy to see as a flickering candle in a window, I’d be alright with that.  Because maybe we’re all more like shepherds, wandering through life, moving from place to place, with only tidings of a great joy to guide us.