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.

discovering that ridley and I both hide in the closet

It’s been a dark, stormy day here – the perfect kind of day for continuous mugs of hot tea and books read under quilts and new words tripping across the computer screen. The gutter outside my window hums, and I can tell by the ripples in street puddles that the drizzle is still going.

Our cowardly pup hides in a dark closet. Eric slipped the dog bed in there this morning before he left for work, knowing that Ridley would seek refuge there (that is, after he learned that I would ignore his pestering paws begging to join me on the bed).

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There are days when my heart acts in the same ‘fraidy manner, cowering in a closet to shut out the storm. 

“Hope” has been a confusing word for me lately. I don’t quite know what to make of the concept. I am certain that we are called to place our hope in God, not in our circumstances, but translating that into real life has felt fuzzy. How do we hold onto hope in the midst of disappointment? How do we believe that God is able to do what we ask, yet not be devastated when He chooses to answer differently?

Connected to wrestling this idea of hope is wrestling my understanding of God’s promises. We are told to remember God’s Word, to call to mind His promises, yet we often unintentionally manipulate those promises to be self-beneficial. We forget to take into account correct context and the fact that many other places in Scripture state that, as Christians, we shouldn’t expect an easy breezy life.

But how do we hope for answered prayers in the midst of the trials we know we will walk through?

I read a really sweet blog post about the experience of walking through the wait for pregnancy. The writer spoke of her dreams for what that season would look like, and what realities she knew to expect, and the presence of God in the midst of her pain. But one statement stood out to me in a way that made my heart hurt. She referenced the prayers Hannah was praying for Samuel and said that in the midst of pain, we should whisper our own prayers for our promised one.

And this statement hurt because I knew it wasn’t true.
My “promised one” isn’t a reality.
God hasn’t promised me a child.

I am sure this writer had good intentions, and she may not have realized her error in thinking, but God hasn’t promised any of us a healthy pregnancy or a dream job or financial security or a successful marriage.

Hannah prayed earnestly for a child – so earnestly that the priest Eli thought she was drunk. When he spoke with her and heard of her sincerity, he blessed her by saying, “May God grant your petition.” She left the temple still having no promise from God about her request, no timeline with which to set her expectations. The Bible then tells us “in due time” that Hannah conceived — but not necessarily immediately. Certainly not in the timing she wanted. Hannah prayed earnestly, in hope, without guarantee that her prayers would be answered in the way that she desired. 

We read Jeremiah 29:11 and cling to the “promise” that God has plans for our success and prosperity, not realizing the context of this verse relates to God telling the Israelites (through the prophet Jeremiah) to settle in during exile, because they will not be leaving in their lifetime. The Israelites found themselves dealing with the hope that rescue was on the way but at the same time grief that they wouldn’t experience that rescue the way they were hoping to. Their rescue did come, but it came in the form of God’s presence with them while they remained in a foreign land among a pagan people. Sometimes that’s how our rescue comes, too.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego hoped in God, knowing He was capable to save them from the fiery furnace but also acknowledging He might not choose to. “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18). Tim Keller commented that, essentially, these three men were saying, “We serve and love God for Himself and not what we get out of Him.” 

And that is how I want to rest in God’s promises.

My hope is found in Who He is, not in what He can do for me. And when I fix my eyes on Him, I find that He is true to all of His promises concerning Himself — regardless of our circumstances, His character remains certain.

He is a God of unconditional love – a love I cannot understand, cannot mimic, cannot describe. (1 John 3)

He is a God of grace, undeserved favor, sufficiency to walk through the fiery furnace. (2 Corinthians 3:5, 12:9)

He is a God of presence, Emmanuel. He walks with me in the midst of trials. (Isaiah 43:1-3)

He is a God on our side, telling us to approach His throne with confidence because Jesus intercedes for us as our better high priest. (Hebrews 4:15-16; 7)

He is a God with a plan for His glory, and even if we can’t see the full picture, we can trust that His “working all things together for good” has more to do with His purposes, with an eternal perspective and a “good” that is beyond our earthly definition or understanding. (John 12:27-28, Romans 8:28)

Going back to hiding in the closet —

I confess I still don’t quite know how to manage the balance of hopeful expectation in what God can do and what He actually chooses to do. I don’t know what I should be feeling as I pray in expectation but also pray in surrender.

But the dark closet is where I find myself waiting, and the more I fix my gaze on truths about God, the less I fix my gaze on myself, my plans, my wants. The more I look for His presence, the less aware I am of the storm outside. My joy comes from His presence and not from my circumstances.

Ann Voskamp writes about hoping instead of giving up and uses the image of the planting of flower bulbs in late fall.

“No!” Little One wails. “Don’t put the flower so far down in the dark!” She tries to wrest the bulb from his hand. I scoop her angst all up close.

“But it has to go down in,” I brush the hair out of her eyes, kiss tip of that pug nose. Because sometimes, Child —  hope’s waiting is dark.

She turns her face up towards mine and our cheeks brush.

“Will we have to dig them up to get the flowers after the snow?” I squeeze her tight.

“No, Girl. When He’s ready — all that beauty will come up through the black earth as if by themselves.” […]

We bury hope in a tomb of its own.

Like the faith diggers do every day. We bury our swollen prayers in Him who’s raised from the tomb.

We lay our hope, full and tender, into the depths of Him and wait in hope for God to resurrect something good.

Good always necessitates long waiting. […]

Every person needs hope planted at the bottom of their hole.

Because that is the thing:

Hope is what holds a breaking heart together. 

Hope in a Big God is what frees from big fears.

Hope is a thing with keys…..

And we live in wait —

because there’s an old and steadying wisdom cupped in the curve of just those two words, ‘Hope and Wait.”

“And we live in wait.”

Because He Who promised is faithful, and He will surely sanctify us as we wait (1 Thessalonians 5:24).
Because He longs to be gracious to us, though we may not understand His timing (Isaiah 30:18).
Because He is the type of God who uses periods of trials, of the wait, to refine us like gold (Job 23:10).

How can you approach God in confidence of Who He is, not looking for what He can do for you but simply knowing Him for Himself?
What truth do you need to believe about God regardless of how He answers your prayers?
How does He fulfill promises of His character in your everyday life?

willing to remain in the fog

It’s a perfect fall morning for the porch swing, a jacket, and a cup of hot tea.

I suppose that most mornings in this house have felt perfect for enjoying the front porch, ever since we moved in mid-April. The dog most always joins me here, sunning himself on the concrete or taking careful watch for lizards. Here is my favorite writing spot. Honestly, I started a blog back in college just to write for myself. I have found that, as a writer, I write to process and discover and hear from God. I hit “publish” in case God wants to use these words to encourage someone else, but the main reason I write is for what it produces in my own life. I learn as I see the words scrawl across the page, connecting my head to what’s going on in my heart.

However, the past week or so, every time I have attempted to write, I have felt paralyzed by something unknown. I haven’t felt like myself, perhaps due to not being able to translate all that has been going on in my head into written words. I’ve been distracted, which is why this was originally written pen to paper – a notebook leaves no opportunity for social media or comparing what others have written to my own meager space in this corner of the internet.

I have felt like I am in a sort of a fog that is not clearing — and frankly, it’s frustrating.

I know I won’t always be able to see down the road and envision what’s ahead. But it’s been difficult not being able to clearly look back at where I’ve been, either. The past can at least give some clarity that I have moved forward, that progress has been made or growth has occurred. But even that feels like a blur to me right now.

I can feel myself struggling, wrestling with the Lord, begging Him to clear the fog.

If I am in a season of waiting, I at least want to know what the purpose is. I want to figure out how to make the most of it and how to enjoy it.

What do you have for me, Lord?
What should I be doing?

“Just wait,” He tells me.
“Stop trying to figure it out. Stop squirming. Be that contented weaned child in Psalm 131.”

Life feels hazy for me right now. Maybe you are there, too. One of my college girls recently realized that her plans for after graduation needed to change, though not for a clear replacement or compelling purpose. Her future feels more uncertain than ever as even graduating on time seems like less of a possibility. She struggling, too, to process the “whys” and the “what nows.”

We like to have answers, and if we don’t have answers we at least like to be in the problem-solving process.

But maybe God is calling us to just be in the fog. To acknowledge the lack of clarity and the fear of not being able to see in any direction, and to be okay with that.

Maybe God uses the fog to keep us present.

Without increased vision, we can’t compare our surroundings to that of someone else, or even to our past self. When we can’t see, we can’t wish we were further ahead because we don’t even know what it looks like yet.

The fog forces me to be “all here.” It reminds me that I can’t change my surroundings, and it increases my trust for all that I cannot see.

And, when I stop to just be present, I realize how beautiful the fog is. It seems to be God’s way of making the present feel more magical, and I find it more enjoyable to not see what’s ahead when I look at it from that perspective. I can see myself in a fairy tale story, and I can then recognize the ability of the Author is more important than the character’s understanding of the plot. The Author will get her there in the best way, because He is the One crafting the story.

There’s beauty in the unknown.
Don’t miss it.