deck the halls, deck your heart

Decking the halls is one of my favorite parts of the Christmas season. We traditionally go the day after Thanksgiving to cut our tree down. We get it home and up in the stand, then take a break because we have usually experienced some thick marital tension build up in the process. (I’m waiting for someone to make an affordable alternative to the tree stands where you slowly screw into all sides of the tree.) Usually I tell Eric to go on a bike ride to release all of the stress that has built up just from trying to get the tree to sit straight, though this year was miraculously the easiest we have ever had it—probably the first year we haven’t argued or encountered some sort of disaster (like the year there was a hole in our tree stand and all the water leaked out for a week before we realized it was more than an unusually thirsty tree…). Later that night, we turn on Christmas music, decorate the tree, then watch a Christmas movie together.

But that’s just the tree decorating. For the next month, I slowly add more and more Christmas into our house. I love scavenging for evergreen branches to make wreaths and garlands. I light candles to enhance the evergreen smell in our home (hello Bath and Body Works’s Fresh Balsam), wrap presents in coordinating papers, string lights throughout the house, and anything else I can think of that will make our space cozy and Christmassy.

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I don’t do it all at once, because that’s part of the fun of December–part of the fun of anticipating the arrival of Christmas. Of course I know that decorations aren’t what Christmas is all about. But I have found that “decking the halls” for Christmas is one step in the direction of “decking my heart” for Christmas.

It’s easy to get caught up in places to go, activities to do, presents to buy, and food to bake during the month of December. And these are all fun things–I would argue, even spiritual things–as we enjoy the gifts of family and community. These sort of things add to the experience of the Christmas season and tune our hearts into the fact that there’s something different about this time of year.

But there is an even deeper way we can prepare our hearts in order to fully engage in the significance of the Advent season. I think of the line in “Joy to the World,” telling us to “let every heart / prepare him room.” It starts with some internal “house cleaning,” first being aware of the things that tend to distract us and draw us away from our longing for Christ. 

It’s been helpful for me each morning to sit quietly in the dark living room lit only by the lights from the tree, breathing deeply in between sips of coffee. I slowly acknowledge the places my heart feels anxious or distracted or tense, confessing these to the Lord and asking him to help me surrender those things to him.

Then throughout my day, I am trying to be aware of the moments when I feel stressed by plans, or perhaps distracted by new things I can put on my Christmas wish list, or obsessions over making something perfect. This continual awareness of my sin tendencies keeps me in a place of confession, because to be honest I am daily encountering the ways that I make the season about myself instead of about Christ. As I do this more and more, I am able to let go of expectations and selfishness, re-centering my heart in the Lord.

It’s not just about clearing things away, though. I’ve found that the second part of “decking my heart” is the anticipation and expectation of his presence. I am motivated to identify and remove my distractions because I believe that God will show up, and in “preparing him room” I find my desire for his presence grows.

You know how, when you are waiting for something, you are suddenly hyper-aware of anything that could indicate that it is coming? I ordered something online the other day, and on its scheduled delivery date, I found myself frequently thinking that I heard the UPS truck drive by, or that there was a thump outside the front door as if a package were being set down.

It’s as I pay attention that I am more likely to catch glimpses of God. Of course he shows himself to the unsuspecting, to those who aren’t looking for him. We can’t narrow down his ways to a pattern or formula. But I also believe that he shows up as we start to change our focus, as we move our eyes toward who he is and as we ask him to show us what he is doing.

And that anticipation, that looking that accompanies longing, is what Advent is all about.

I’m not sure where you are as we enter December, what you are experiencing or saddened by or longing for. I find that those things are all more tender during the holidays. I’m more aware of what’s going on inside me, and while this can mean that I am more quick to cry, I am also more receptive to the comfort of the Lord. Clearing space and paying attention helps me enter into the expectant waiting of the season, and my prayer is that throughout the month my heart would grow closer to his and that I would see him as the object and the fulfillment of all of my longings.

Some personal reflection questions I’ve been considering for myself:

  1. What in your heart’s “house” needs to be cleaned out to prepare him room? What about this next month adds stress or anxiety? What distractions do you find are continually present that prevent you from slowing down to spend time with the Lord? What materialistic tendencies are driving your desires related to Christmas?
  2. What spaces are you creating to look for him during this holiday season? Where can you quiet and still your body and your mind and your heart?
  3. What can you do to cultivate your desire for the Lord and your awareness of this season of Advent, identifying in the wait of Israel for salvation and our wait for the return of Christ? Are there specific passages or books or songs or places that draw your heart more deeply into him?

Previous Advent posts:

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rejoicing while we wait

I didn’t know it was possible to experience such sweetness in the middle of the story, in the places without resolution or certainty. Yet the Christmas season seems to be the perfect place to wrestle with and settle into contentment in the tension.

In high school, I went on a mission trip to the Czech Republic with my youth group. I loved building relationships with friends from a different culture, and we would often talk about the ways we did things in America vs. Europe. A Czech student told me that one thing he had observed about Americans was how we always wanted happy endings. He referenced our Disney movies and talked about how the traditional fairy tales often had different endings, or at least went about in other ways to reach their conclusion.

His example was the ending of The Little Mermaid, as in the traditional story the Prince marries someone else (not Ursula in disguise–that plot twist was created by Disney) and Ariel becomes a spirit in the sky.

In college, as I was doing research for a lit analysis, I discovered that in the Grimm Brothers’ story of Cinderella, one of the stepsisters cuts off her big toe and the other cuts off part of her heel so that the slipper fits, and the trail of blood is what gives both of them away.

Neither of those examples made the Disney cut. And for good reason–children wouldn’t like it. Honestly, I wouldn’t like it. We typically want to see stories wrap up the way we expect, the way we want our own lives to settle up. There’s a happily-ever-after bow that we expect to be tied onto the end of our stories, and until that bow is there, we find ourselves feeling as if something is not right.

In one sense, this longing can remind us that the story is not over. But in another way, it can keep us from appreciating where we are at right now, as if we can’t be okay in the middle of the story if we don’t know the ending (or if the ending doesn’t look to be happy).

I notice this as people talk to us about our infertility. I am so grateful to have friends who are still praying for us to conceive and become parents. That is still the desire of our hearts. But that can sometimes feel like the only option, the thing we are waiting for in order to be happy, and before that happens, we have to be doing everything we can to get that happy ending.

When we are in a place of contentment despite this unfulfilled desire, I feel I have to defend why we aren’t continuing to take steps to try new things. Why we aren’t moving forward with procedures that can attempt to overcome the obstacles in our bodies. Why we aren’t ready to pursue adoption.

Our friends want that happy ending for us. I want that. But I am learning that it’s not as much about happy endings as it is being present in the story. As Americans–and especially as American Christians–we aren’t always good at this. It’s as if our faith adds a new dimension onto this perceived need to be happy, to be able to say “God is good!” no matter what. And he is. But in the familiarity of this, or in using it as a band-aid to hide our disappointment, we can sometimes miss the beauty of the tension found in our longing.

The traditional Christmas hymn “O Come O Come Emmanuel” captures this tension in a sad yet lovely way.

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel

This hymn is a realistic reminder that we are caught in a not-yet-fulfilled desire for Messiah’s return, just as the Jews in the Old Testament were waiting for the first appearance of the Messiah. This is what Advent is all about, a recognition of our wait and his promised coming.

And yet, in the middle of the wait, before the promise is fulfilled, the command from these lyrics is to rejoice because he is coming. There is hope in the wait, and the ability to rejoice while we the wait is prompted by a recognition of what’s lacking tied to the hope of its fulfillment.

It’s not an ignorance of what’s lacking, or even a forced decision that the lack really doesn’t matter that much so it shouldn’t keep us from rejoicing–both of which are temptations I have felt to help me cope in my own waiting seasons in life.

Instead, we acknowledge our need for Christ and rejoice as we wait for him because it has been promised that he is coming again. And I am experiencing God’s presence in the wait as I ask for even more of it. That’s what I find myself praying as I sing this hymn–“O come, God with us, and be with me as I wait for you.”

All of our lives we will live in some sort of unresolved tension. Happily ever after won’t fully come until Christ’s return. But that doesn’t mean that the rejoicing is on hold–in fact, that anticipation can make rejoicing now even sweeter.

I don’t know what your lack is right now. I don’t know what you find yourself waiting for or longing for. But I do know that all of our desires are met in Him (Psalm 10:17, Psalm 145:16, Isaiah 58:11), and in the middle of the wait, there is joy to be found because God is here and he is coming again.

“Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!” (Psalm 27:14)

advent: hope in the darkness

This semester, I have been studying the book of Amos with the college girls I meet with at UCA. I really enjoy the Old Testament, so I was excited when they told me they wanted to pick one of the minor prophets for our discussions, since they were books they didn’t know much about.

I’m going to be honest, though. There were a couple of weeks where I was a little doubtful that this material was helpful for them. I mean, I 100% believe the entire Bible is inspired-by-God. I believe it is useful for “teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). I believe that God’s Word does not return void – that it will accomplish His purposes for which He sends it (Isaiah 55:11).

But, all that to say, maybe Amos was just a little too far removed from our everyday lives. I mean, Amos is full of accusations of Israel’s sin and God’s impending judgment. The nation of Israel has continually rejected God’s attempts to get their attention, with famines, with droughts, with pestilence… in the midst of all of these devastations, “yet you did not return to me” (Amos 4:6-11). God’s sovereignty is made known, but so is His wrath, and that’s a little uncomfortable (and not to mention depressing).

Things are dark for the nation of Israel in the first 8 and a half chapters… but that last half of chapter 9, the last few verses of the book, is the turning point of redemption and promise.

“Behold, the eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the surface of the group, except that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,” declares the Lord… “I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant them on their land, and they shall never again be uprooted out of the land that I have given them,” says the Lord your God. (Amos 9:8, 14-15 emphasis mine).

When we sat down to discuss this passage this week, we all excitedly said the word FINALLY!

This promise of hope, which was partially fulfilled when the Israelites returned from exile and which will not fully be fulfilled until Jesus establishes His kingdom here on earth, snatches my breath away.

Hope shines most brightly in the darkness. By that, I mean that promises of coming redemption mean the most when you recognize your need for that redemption, when you have been waiting for something to change, when you need comfort that everything is going to be okay.

Hope is not something people generally talk about when everything in life is going fairly well – no one’s life is perfect, but in the seasons of calm, you can acknowledge that God has brought you to a place of rest; your hope feels fulfilled, and you aren’t looking towards what’s coming.

But when things are difficult, and you are tired of carrying your burdens, you need hope more than ever. You are desperate for the reassurance that God is still in control and God is still at work in your situation. You need something to cling to, a reminder that even if things are about to get darker, they will eventually get lighter again.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil… For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:2-3, 6)Version 2

Advent is upon us, and I am reminded not simply that Jesus came, but Jesus came as the fulfillment of a promise. He was the hope that the nation of Israel was clinging to, even if they didn’t know exactly Who or how that hope would be fulfilled. He told them in the beginning that Someone would come to crush the serpent (Genesis 3:15), that there would be victory, and Israel had to cling to the fact that God had not forgotten to be faithful.

The above passage in Isaiah is surrounded by prophecy of a coming invasion and the reasons the nation of Israel is facing judgment. Not even all of chapter 9 is a feel-good passage. But woven in-between the messages of the struggles ahead, God gives His people promise that He is still in control, and He is sending relief.

Hope becomes more valuable as you are immersed in desperate situations, places where your only option is to cling to God.

If you are walking in darkness (literally), you unconsciously strain your eyes in hopes of finding light. And as I walk through season of darkness metaphorically, I find I do the same thing, continually looking for something, anything that shows that there is purpose, or there is hope, or there is a relief ahead. I am eager to find that light.

This Advent season, I am reminded that Jesus is that light.

Not a relief from daily struggles. Not an answer to the uncertainty ahead. Not a change from unmet expectations. But Jesus Himself – He is the light in the midst of the darkness, and the more willing I am to acknowledge my desperate need, the more beautiful it is that He is the answer to that need.

“In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5)

joy in advent’s dependency

We cut down a Christmas tree and decorated it two weekends ago. I decked out our new mantle, as well, with red and black plaid ribbon woven into a cheap fake garland (ribbon added to hopefully make it look less scrawny). Christmas music is a background soundtrack each evening, and in that sense I feel “ready” for the holiday.

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In a deeper sense, though, I am ready for advent.

Advent feels sweeter to me this year, and I don’t know why, other than crediting the Lord for preparing my heart for this season. In the past, I have loved the idea of being intentional to celebrate Advent with devotionals and candles and liturgies. And yet I always look back on December wondering why it wasn’t as spiritually enlightening as I wanted it to be.

But this year, I find myself longing to move from idea to experience, to savor Christ in a season all about the longing and the wait.

The longing for what is coming but is not here yet.

As I dive into Scripture this month, I more clearly notice the yearning and the groaning of Israel for redemption, which has been promised throughout the Old Testament. A Redeemer to bring peace to a nation whose history has been riddled with conflict and exile and rebuilding and darkness. A Rescuer to provide salvation. A Righteous Ruler to restore what has been broken.

In Advent, we focus on the coming of Christ, waiting for the celebration of Christmas as the Israelites waited for Jesus’ birth, then as they (unknowingly) waited for Jesus’ death. We also find ourselves still waiting for Jesus’ return and the total fulfillment of this broken world being redeemed.

Advent has been fulfilled and yet – in another sense – has yet to be finished.

And as we wait for the redemption of this world, we experience hurt and sorrow and unmet desires. John Piper said, “God prepares a person to receive Christ by stirring up a longing for consolation and redemption that can come only from Christ.” It’s easy to look around at the world around us and recognize that things aren’t as they should be, and the hard yet beautiful thing about this is that it draws us to a deeper place of aching for Christ’s return and rescue.

Something I am appreciating about waiting is that it forces me into an awareness of my dependency and my lack of control.

In waiting, we declare a dependency on something or someone else.

Waiting takes place when we have a goal or destination but something is preventing us from getting there. Whether it is waiting in traffic on I-49 after work or waiting for a new job or waiting to get married or waiting for your marriage to get better, there is some factor outside of our influence that causes a delay.

{This is going to get personal.}

We are waiting to get pregnant. Have been “trying” for eight-ish months at this point. I quote-unquote due to the odd terminology of the verb “try” for the desire to start a family. From our experience, so far, I am realizing that it is less about trying and more about giving God an opportunity to work, because trying indicates a level of control I have realized we don’t actually have.

While I have hinted and briefly mentioned examples here previously, I haven’t wanted to incite sympathy for this current path we are walking. I have wanted to avoid people responding to my words with advice on what we should change to make conception easier, or in response have you experience a saddened emotion when you think about the Barneses. Because, as it is, I feel joyful when I think about what God is doing. And I love even getting to celebrate with friends who are getting pregnant.

Because, while it honestly is in the front of my mind a lot, our story is much bigger than that desire.

During Advent, as I have reflected on waiting and longing and the lack of control, I have experienced an incredible peace with our circumstances. Emmanuel, God with us, has felt so tangible to me. This doesn’t mean that I haven’t experienced sadness. In fact, for someone who is way more “thinking” than “feeling,” the sadness has been one of the hardest parts for me to manage. I have always thought that, if I trusted God, my emotions would agree, and I wouldn’t be sad.

But here I am, trusting God fully, yet more prone to weepiness than I ever have been. I normally have to understand something in my head before it reaches my heart, and this I don’t understand. Thankfully, I have enough “feeling” friends in my life who have helped me process through this and have validated me, relieving a fear I think I have unconsciously had in the past that feelings can’t be trusted.

In Advent, I am understanding the phrase used in Luke 2:25 where it says Simeon was waiting for “the consolation of Israel.” I am longing for the comfort, like John Piper said, that only Jesus can give. While I don’t expect God to always do what I want, I have experienced His consolation as He walks with me through every trial, every situation – including the unmet desires of my heart to start a family.

As we wait for our circumstances to change – and as we ultimately wait for Christ’s return – God walks with us through the wait. He reminds us that He is trustworthy and He is faithful to His character. It took several hundred years before the prophecy of Christ was fulfilled, so we know God has His own timetable, but we also know that He sustained the nation of Israel during that time. He will sustain you, too.

And while He may not answer your prayers in the way you want Him to, He will answer. He will show up. And He will use you in His grand story to make His name great.

So as you walk through this month of anticipation for Christmas and all that Christ’s coming means, think about what you are currently waiting for in your own life – then confess to God that you relinquish control to Him, because you ultimately can’t solve it anyway. Allow your wait to draw you into a sweeter dependency on Him, and expect Him to be present with you as you wait.

a coming joy

Sun shines through single-paned windows, warming my legs and catching the glitter on our Christmas tree. The shadow of my pen has been chasing curls of words across lined pages this morning as I have been thanking God for Christmas.

The significance of this morning’s sun can be known in context — for the past 10+ days, that ball of fire and gas and warmth has been hidden by what must be enormous clouds to prevent even glimpses of light rays. To say that it has been gray would be an understatement — not only cloudy, but cold and windy and damp. Each morning, I woke up expecting to have the same weather as the day before. The only variation was whether it would be drizzling or only misty, as the moisture has been constant. I wasn’t dreaming of a white Christmas — my wish was for sunshine.

This morning, the sky was orange and blue, as if the clouds and sun and sky knew that it was Christmas.

But of course, the One Who Controls the Weather knew.

What an incredible picture of hope. In the midst of a dark and dreary world, hope can be hard to see. But “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). Today, we experience the certainty that we have hope.

I know this time of year is not joyful for everyone. One of my close friends is still walking through the recent death of her mom, and I don’t expect that the holidays will be easier for her for many years. Many are mourning the loss of loved ones or the reminder of dashed dreams. Maybe you are looking back at the past year and not finding yourself where you wanted to be at this point in your life. The point of Christmas is not that today should be the happiest day of the year, but that it should be a reminder of the hope we have and the joy that is coming, a joy found only in a Savior.

Over 2,000 years ago, the nation of Israel was desperately longing for the fulfillment of a prophecy that would change their world. Their nation was split into two thanks to political rebellion (thus walking away from God’s plan for them), and that’s when the trouble really began. Both kingdoms were defeated by various pagan nations. God’s own people looked to other kings and peoples and gods for help, yet they were taken into captivity and away from their homes. And when they realized that they had strayed from a God Who protected them and loved them, they cried to Him for help.

The prophecies in Isaiah don’t promise immediate redemption for the people, but they foretell of reconciliation “in that day” – “The Lord will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father’s house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah” (Isaiah 7:17). They had been treated unfairly, yet they were promised a ruler who would rule by God’s Spirit. “With righteousness He shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth” (Isaiah 11:4). He would bring peace and restoration and rescue from oppressors.

Don’t we still long for those things? This broken world oppresses us with hurt from relationships, stress from finances, sadness from death, and discontentment from disillusionment. The things we turn to for completion and happiness never fulfill the way we thought they would, and we find ourselves in need of something more, something we can’t attain on our own. Peace may come in small doses, but it is always destroyed by something new. Almost anyone can relate to the wish for something to change in your life.

Jesus’ birth was the answer to the Israelites’ prayer for a Savior and King. He was the fulfillment of the hope they had been clinging to, yet He wasn’t there to set everything right in this physical world. Jesus Incarnate was here to bring hope for our spiritual need. Christmas morning was the promise that God had heard His peoples’ prayers and was responding in love, but the hope wasn’t fulfilled simply with Jesus’ birth but later through His death. His birth meant that He could atone for our sins with His death thirty years later. 

This Christmas morning, I am reminded that we are still waiting for that Savior. Our eternal destiny is secure, but our world is a mess. Christmas doesn’t make the mess disappear, but reminds me that our hope is found in what Christ will do when He returns. We have hope because of His birth and death, and that hope will be fulfilled at Christ’s return and reign.

He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” (Isaiah 25:8-9)

Just because it’s Christmas doesn’t mean everything will be made right, like it is in every Christmas movie: Christmas morning comes, and families are restored. Marriages last happily ever after. Children are safe and sound. Finances are secure. But Christmas means that we can shift our focus from the disappointments of reality to the expectation of His promises. 

Because the gift God gives is better than anything you will find under your tree today, and the hope He offers brings a peace this world has yet to experience.

what my hands have made

If you had a way to check my location history (or, sadly, my bank account), you might see that Hobby Lobby is the place I frequent the most during the months of November and December. Walmart would be a close second, I am sure, but this time of year is when I often find myself staring down aisles of garlands and glass jars and felt and fabric, wondering which project I should tackle next. I take pride in my homemade ornaments and decorations throughout this home, and I love finding new pie recipes to test on dinner guests and parties during this time of year. Many a cold, gray day is spent with a cheesy TV Christmas movie, hot chocolate, and strands of hot glue and fabric scattered over the coffee table, and I like it that way.

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Just a few weeks before Thanksgiving, I started a study on the book of Isaiah, and it’s pretty intense – in a good way. I am learning to look at this book in a historical context and literary context, and the intellectual side of me is thriving in learning more about God through the structure and content of Isaiah’s prophecies. Since I learn something new every week, though, I am finding I need to flip back through and remind myself of all that God is teaching me, and it’s pretty timely with Christmas approaching. So much of Isaiah’s message is to point Israel to their current sin and rebellion and consequences, then point them to a coming Savior and Messiah. Advent devotionals and church sermons and Christmas carols all constantly quote Isaiah, and I am finding that it is allowing me to go deeper into preparing myself for the celebration of Christ’s birth next week.

As I was reviewing notes from past chapters, Isaiah 2:8 stood out to me:

Their land is filled with idols; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their own fingers have made

The nation of Israel was split into two nations during this time: The northern kingdom of Israel, and the southern kingdom of Judah. Israel had turned its back on Judah, and both countries were experiencing the consequences of their various sins, namely the worship of other gods and their desperate attempts to find rescue from alliances with other nations. They were no longer worshipping Creator God, Provider God – they were looking to pagan gods and rituals to solve their problems.

And as I survey our tree filled with homemade ornaments, the penny-pincher tree skirt created from a tablecloth, and the burlap stockings sewn with leftover wedding fabric three years ago, I wonder how the Israelites, with all of their incredible history, could ignore God and turn to things they, too, made with their own hands. While Hobby Lobby may feel like a magical place this time of year, there’s nothing in there that could be pieced together to create something to compare with the world our God has created. It baffles me that someone could carve something out of wood and stone then worship it as if it contained some piece of a deity. Unless, I suppose, their deity was represented by rock.

That phrase “the work of their hands,” though, strikes me as relating more to our day and age. We may not worship statues or canvases with painted resemblances of sun gods and beastly characters, but the things our hands create, such as success at work or academic achievements or even families and finances, often take our attention and our hearts away from the Holy God. I frequently find myself obsessed with material possessions or the life I want to create for us instead of finding myself at the foot of the manger, awed by a Creator God who contained Himself in a baby’s body to be with us. 

But Isaiah prophesies that the day is coming when Israel will recognize that these idols have failed them, that the gods they looked to for salvation will not bring peace, and they will turn back to the God Who opened the Red Sea, the God Who rained down food in the wilderness, the God Who brought defeat against a giant, and the God Who preserved a people for Himself. Their salvation will only be found in Him.

Our hope, in the same way, is not found in the magazine-worthy, Pinterest-inspired living room at Christmas. A savings account with that magic number will not bring security. A perfect job or fulfilling community group or new home cannot hold our hope. As ironic as it sounds, our hope is found in the baby we celebrate during this time of year – because that baby was God, and that God grew as a man to take our sin consequences upon Himself so that we might find rescue in Him from this world and from ourselves.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation. (Isaiah 12:2)

piecing this season together

patchwork

I’ve been driving in the silence lately.

No radio, no iPhone Pandora, no phone conversations.

But I’m listening.

This time of year, things are constantly changing around me. Unlike summer, where you wake up each day expecting to sweat, or even winter, when it doesn’t matter what you wear that day because your coat will cover it, fall provides something new each day. The colors of leaves change drastically overnight. It can pour buckets of rain one day, then soak the earth in an abundance of sunshine the next. Layers are critical because you never know whether the cooler temperatures are here to stay or if summer will pop back in before saying goodbye. (Just for the record, I am still holding onto the hope that summer hasn’t said her final goodbyes yet. I may have worn a puffy jacket for the past week, but today I felt freedom checking the weather then leaving that jacket hung on its hook when I left the house. 50 degrees never felt so good!)

In the hustle and bustle of getting ready for the cold fronts and the holidays, it becomes easy to miss what’s going on in front of me.

Many trees have surrendered to cold wind and shed their foliage, but there are still some brilliant colors lining the streets of my commute. I don’t want to miss the last glimpses of orange and yellow contrasted with the gray autumn sky. I don’t want to miss the angle of sunlight that so perfectly causes the hills to glow, turning browns into golds.

I am normally someone who enjoys singing along to the radio as I run errands and destress from the day. But instead of a song lyrics getting stuck in my head, I am hearing the whispers of a Creator and Father. I find myself unexpectedly talking out loud, thanking Him for eyes to see Him in the change around me. While He Himself does not change, He is the one responsible for weaving together the transitions in perfect pairings.

It’s like the collages I used to make in high school. It was “the thing to do” among teenage girls, before Pinterest ideas came onto the scene – cutting out pictures from magazines and mod-podging them together to cover binders and lockers and birthday cards. While the pictures did not all necessarily go together, they worked together to decorate my life and showcase my personality. Mine normally had daffodils and words in fun fonts and trees and dream dresses.

I feel like that’s what God is doing during this season. This weekend, we were dusted with a light snow, and that snow on orange trees was odd for this part of the country, but somehow perfect. Coats and scarves are coming out earlier than normal, but Thanksgiving is later, and my heart can’t decide between clinging to November or anticipating Christmas.

When I look at the world around me, stopping to really notice what’s here, it seems the world is sewing together what doesn’t match to make a perfect patchwork quilt. I want to cuddle into that quilt, to find my favorite squares and notice the colors I never would have paired together but that somehow workI want to drape it over my shoulders as a child with a cape and fully embrace this moment, this gift, this grace. I want to wear out that quilt until it is faded from love and use, not looking ahead at the next project of the Creator but being grateful for this one.

Driving in the silence has allowed me to hear more and see more and savor. I hope you are able to see and savor this season in all of its mismatched glory.

 

**linking up with Holley Gerth today: click the button below to check out her blog as well as other writers who are linking up to encourage others with their words