Did you hear? My blog has officially moved to Wordpress! You will still find me at theredlettersblog.com, but this blogspot site will no longer be updated. I started this blog waaaay back in 2007. It's lived through a lot of life with me. I hope you've found glimpses of God and some good news here. I will keep writing and sharing, so please come and join me at the updated Red Letters! When you get there, make sure to subscribe, so you won't miss a thing.
It’s only the middle of November, but the journey to Christmas is already well underway. Is it just me, or have things gotten a little louder, a little faster, and a little crazier?
Are you feeling the pressure to create the “perfect Christmas?” Wondering how you ended up with a to-do list longer than Santa’s? Hoping to make everyone’s Christmas morning dreams come true?
And what about your own hopes? When you step back from the frenzy of parties and preparation, do you dare acknowledge the longings that lay just below the glittery surface of things?
It’s easy to get caught up in the trimmings. But what about the heart of Christmas? What about your heart?
Christ, our God, to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise:
For the small, warm hollow of my baby's neck
For hot pink beets dug fresh from the cool earth
For a living blaze of orange in the farmer's field
For spiced tea and flavourful conversation
For flannel sheets flying high on the line
For the scent of the forest floor as children crush leaves underfoot
For neighbours' fires rising like incense in the dawn
For the table, hand-hewn strong, to carry these armfuls of thanks
It's no coincidence that this time of year turns my thoughts to thankfulness. It is well known that a habit of gratefulness has many benefits. This time of year we are also still working to get our new routine into place, finding our rhythm in this particular season of life.
I thought it would be a good time to become a little more intentional with another habit of prayer - noon thanksgiving. (To read more about habits of prayer, click here.)
For me, thanksgiving is a fitting way to mark this "hour" of prayer. Here's why:
1. Noon is usually busy! We are finishing up our morning activities and moving into lunch preparation. I'm usually in the kitchen, often multitasking. But offering a few words of thanks to God does not actually take that much "extra time." It's something that can be woven into whatever I'm doing. (This is an example of how we can practice the presence of God.)
2. Noon is usually visible. 12:00 is easy to spot on the clock. Everyone sees the hands pointing up and they get hungry. It's a good trigger to pause. It's a good reminder to lift my thanks up. It's also tied to the eating of lunch, and one of the best ways to get a new habit going is to piggyback it onto a well established habit. (I won't be forgetting to eat lunch anytime soon, trust me. I'm a hobbit at heart.)
3. Noon can be a little stressful. By this point, enough things can have gone wrong to start to sour the day. But a little thanksgiving can rescue it. Gratitude fills my thoughts with the good, the true, and the beautiful. Gratitude can change perspective, and that can change my attitude (coincidently, the only one I can control).
And so it seems a fitting time to give my thanks and praise.
A fitting time to gather the little treasures of the day and turn them over in my hand.
A fitting time to take note, to take joy, to take part in all the goodness the Father lavishes on us.
A fitting time to look up and simply say, "Thank you."
The bread is warm, and the coffee is fresh, and morning prayer is sung by a cooing six-month old. Outside the rain is pounding and drumming, but inside we are snug and safe. What more could I ask for? I have been given this, and so much more. At times I wonder why - why me? Why so much? The baby smiles at Daddy, and I think my heart just burst for joy.
I have not always felt the joy. There have been seasons where the discouragements loomed large and shut out the light. There have been days when all I have been given has been a burden I nearly collapsed under. There have been times when joy was hard won moment-by-moment. I do not take it for granted.
And yet, here it is. I have chased it down only to find it handed over as pure gift. I have felt its call from the far country, and sold everything to dig for the pearl of great price. I have known it as the tender unfurling of a fruit blossom, fragile and quiet, and I have known it as a great thrumming song of victory wild.
I have learned I cannot create it. I cannot conjure it up. Its essence is otherworldly, yet it takes on form in such ordinary pleasures. It is embodied by what I can sense, but it is not limited by circumstances. It is one part of the Spirit-life that grows only when the seed of all I am falls into the ground and dies, hidden, waiting, waiting for resurrection. And yet I can, and must, cultivate it. I must tear away the vines that choke, grasping the thick trunk of mistrust to pull it up by its root.
It is not sadness which is joy’s great enemy. It is lack of trust. Sadness is a rain that can water the ground and make it soft, make joy bloom all the sweeter for its flood. But disbelief is true lack - lack of water, lack of light, lack of compost. Disbelief is drought. Disbelief is darkness. Disbelief takes the discarded scraps of life and holds them bitter tight, squeezes them into a putrid slime that is death to the struggling seedling. But trust - ah, here I am only beginning to learn - trust takes the fallen leaves and embraces the decay of my frailty, entrusting them to the earth’s slow renewal.
Trust is surrender, and surrender is the beginning of birth. Surrender is the beginning of beauty, even in what’s broken. Surrender is the beginning of joy.
The baby laughs, and I hear the voice of my Father in her. Even her cry is His benediction, as I embrace the life He has given me and seek Him in her eyes.
Today, joy is my companion by the fireside. And perhaps tomorrow I may have to go out into the storm to follow its call. But I am learning to trust. Learning to take joy even when the winds are howling. There is a path of life wherever God is present. The deepest secret of joy is its Source, and He says, “Lo, I am with you always.”
Here we are on the first day of autumn, nearing your six month mark. You were my spring equinox, ushering in the greening of my soul and the budding of my limbs. The wind howled and the rain froze, but you and I had our vernal nest, warm with the newness of our shared birth story.
And then we grew into summer, into daisies, and geraniums red as any beating heart. We felt the sand and tasted the strange salty sea, and you were wide-eyed in the sun.
You have grown through these two seasons, and now with the turning of the leaves there is eagerness in your eyes and determination in your grasp. You would gobble the whole world up if you could, but I hold you firm and say, wait, wait, not just yet. The ducklings are not yet ready to fly south, and there is still light for our morning cuddles.
Oh baby girl, still so small, I cannot keep you from everything that is to be. Stay close, stay close - the frost will come, but then we will light the pumpkin lanterns, and I will give you the moon for your plaything.
When you are lying against me,
satisfied and still,
save for the swelling of your breath,
nothing else in all the world matters.
Not my scribbled lists and leftover tasks,
nor the disorder in my thoughts.
Only your perfect form,
the faithfulness of your pulse,
this hushed and holy joy.
Here is an oasis of being,
a Sabbath amidst the striving.
Here is a haven of rest,
you and I,
Understood by kindred cells -
How can so much living be stuffed into the days of summer? I am a suitcase bursting at the seams, a well overflowing, a garden escaping the chicken wire bounds.
I have sat on the front porch with nineteen family members (so far), and walked the red beaches and rocked in the blue harbour. I have said my ethereal farewells to the cat that never made it home, and deloused 1.4 pounds of a fresh barn kitten. I have seen the glorious sunset spilling from the heavens over the north shore cliffs and lighting my daughter’s eyes with its secrets. We’ve danced to fiddles in the rain, and filled the house with music, and feasted on the fruits of our little land. We’ve dedicated a baby to God, and sung loudly of His faithfulness, and delighted in her perfect smiles. I have seen the fishing boats go out to meet the sun at its earliest rising and rowed under the village bridge with homemade oars. I have listened to the tales that only grandparents can tell, and embraced four generations of familial love, and received the prayer of my father’s father over my children and household. I have slept in a tent and under the thunder-drummed roof and next to a baby’s snores, and some days have woken to tired bones and headaches, but the eastern light makes shadows of the leaves on the bedroom wall and I remember to be grateful.
This morning I hear the wind chimes singing the song of the rain to come. It’s a morning for cuddles and another cup of coffee and feeling a bit sad at the emptiness of the house. But here is still fullness of grace. Blessing upon blessing, that’s what these summer days are.
It’s been internet ages (aka almost three weeks) since I’ve posted anything! What ever happened to the end of June? What happened to my month of prayer?
Well, summer happened, that’s what! We’ve been camping, beaching, gardening, and partying. We’ve had a couple rounds of family visiting from away. We’re going to Fiddle Fest! Summer has its own rhythm. Some days it feels like swinging between crazy-busy and hazy-lazy. It’s not a bad thing at all, just different.
The prayer journey is ongoing. I’ve been reading several books that have been expanding my ideas of prayer in indirect ways. I’ve been mulling. Meditating. Morning prayer really is the one practice that gets the day going on the right track. Some of my other prayer time “anchors” have become unmoored with our different routine. But I’m trying not to “get my shorts in a knot” (as my mother used to say!) about it. I know that when summer is over, we’ll all settle back into more predictable days.
In the meantime, God is still there. And we’re still talking. It’s not about becoming a slave to particular prayer practices. Those practices are tools. Those practices are tracks to my desired destination, but they are no substitute for the welcome upon arrival.
This thought by Sarah Mackenzie has been keeping my company the last week or so. It’s from her great little book Teaching From Rest. In it, she talks about the seeming impossibility of our task as mothers. To a certain extent, our inadequacy is a given. Our own resources are never enough. She writes,
“I don’t really have any idea how I’m supposed to tackle everything ahead of me in this day, this year, this decade when that’s all I’ve got. It’s just a couple of loaves of bread and a few fish.
Apparently, that’s all He needs.
We are weary because we forget about grace. We act as though God’s showing up is the miracle. But guess what? God’s showing up is the given. Grace is a fact.” (pg. 15, emphasis mine)
Ah. I’ve been letting that sink in a bit. It might be easy to think that all my good habits and discipline are getting me closer to God. And it may be true, in part. Those are all ways that I respond to His call to “draw near.” They are for my benefit. But beneath and above and around it all is the reality - He is there. I don’t have to conjure Him up. His presence is the given. “Grace is a fact.”
I could beat myself up over the fact that I didn’t have a regular devotional time at all this past week. Or I could be thankful about that book I read on the way to the beach that caused me to wonder about God in a different way. I could recognize the love of God in the faces of family members we don’t get to see very often. I could marvel at how one passage of Philippians that I read two weeks ago is still giving me something to chew over.
There’s so much grace all around me. So much God. He is never far, even on the days I forget to pray. I can relax a little, knowing that my inadequacy is a given. But so is grace, and because of that, I can rejoice a whole lot.
There are days I seem to be living life in fast forward. It can wear me out and chew me up. Voices garble, movement is jerky, and in the frenzied passing of scene after scene, I may have lost the plot.
I need a pause button.
I need a way to stop the madness, be still. I need a way to refocus. I need some quiet. I need to breathe.
I need to pray.
Prayer is the pause button for all the crazy.
Prayer changes the channel.
Prayer connects me to a source that gives, rather than drains.
This pause puts the day in perspective. God gives me His eyes to see the details that matter. His voice is made clear over the constant chatter, and it is music to my ears. He reminds me of my place in the story. He gives me peace.
And when I push play again, the pace somehow evens out. Life is not flashing before my eyes, and I am no longer the helpless spectator.
Prayer is the pause that invites God to enter the scene. It is the space for Him to jump back in, so we can walk together, work together, play together.
It’s morning, and time for prayer. I uncurl, adjusting to the light. I lay flat, not really ready. I try to form thoughts, but they are slow and drowsy. My brain can’t focus. And so I pray with my body.
I stretch. Awake.
Awake me to Your presence. Wake me to the shining light of Your smile. Awake me to Your truth, goodness, and beauty. Wake me to Your voice. Wake me to wonder, wake me to you.
As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness;
I will be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake.
He awakens me morning by morning,
He awakens my ear to listen as a disciple.
The LORD’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
I stretch upward. Offer.
I offer all that I am for all that You are. Weary arms, feeble knees, wandering feet. Day breaks and I pour out this offering once more. As I raise my offering, raise me to life.
Present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God,
which is your spiritual service of worship.
And you shall love the LORD Your God with all your heart, and with all your soul,
and with all your mind, and with all your strength.
I stretch outward. Align.
Align me with Your plans and purposes for this day, and these people. Align my energies with yours so that I will not grow weary in doing good. Align me with Your heart.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works,
which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
For it is God who is at work in you,
both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
I stretch. In You I live and move and have my being. In all that I do, let me move toward You. Ready for this day.