Advent is coming + a free download

One of my writing goals for 2018 was to write an e-book. Joyous wedding preparations declared dibs on the first half of the year. But in October, visions about Advent started to percolate, an idea was born. Then 3 weeks of fatigue from a strange virus left me wondering if my window of time and opportunity had passed.
Lately, I have realized how often I break promises to myself so I rose early to write and came home from work to write even more. I must admit, I had a lot of fun thinking about Advent from my childhood through adulthood.
Tomorrow, the calendar turns to December and the procession to Christmas day quickens. Sunday marks the first day of the Advent season, which is the first day in the church calendar. Essentially it is a new year before New Year’s Day 🙂 There are 4 Sundays in Advent and many church traditions celebrate by lighting candles, singing specific Advent carols, reading scriptures, praying and a whole host of other ways as well.
Sometimes the most challenging part of Advent is it happens during the crush of December. Why not spin this reality and respond by acknowledging the fullness of December and endeavoring to counteract it by spending time pondering the birth of Jesus?
As the image above displays, I have written an e-book called
Behold
An Uncommon Advent Guide.
I have compiled 4 weeks of short readings and meditations to draw you away from incoming stress and towards resting in the peace Christ came to bring. This is not a daily devotional but weekly reflections.
On the sidebar (or at the bottom of site if using a mobile device), you can download your free copy and print as you desire. With the help of my son Caleb, we kept the color minimal to be visually restful and not empty a computer ink cartridge.
I hope you will enjoy this gift for my faithful readers. I am so immensely grateful for your continued reading.
Blessed Advent and Christmas to you!
Helen

a meandering path

A short time ago, I wrote a post about how God can be trusted.

Somehow three hours later, I returned to my default.

I slid off the edge of trust and into an abyss of mistrustful thinking.

Once again I couldn’t grab any sense of control with my fingers and my thoughts wandered everywhere but towards truth.

It was painful, crippling and humbling.

Not only do I need to practice what I preach but read what I write and believe it.

I am grateful this spiral didn’t last long but was a reminder of how quickly I can return to faulty and familiar ways.

*****

Three times in this past week, my eyes came upon words which helped me to recover, reminded me of where my trust should reside and provided comfort despite my propensity to tumble.

The Word

“I have not spoken in secret,
In a corner of a land of darkness;
I did not say to the descendants of Jacob,
‘Seek Me in vain [with no benefit for yourselves].’
I, the Lord, speak righteousness [the truth—trustworthy,
a straightforward correlation between deeds and words],

Declaring things that are upright.

+++Isaiah 45: 19 (AMP)

This verse was a good reminder of how God speaks words of truth directly.
He is not playing hide and seek with His people.
If I am actively listening for His voice, I will and for my benefit.

A STUDY

My God does not speak in whispers and accusatory hisses.
My God only speaks in promises. He only speaks over me.
He is a promise-maker and a promise-keeper.

His language is promises.
To hear God speaking, we must become familiar with his promises.

+++Hannah Brencher (from First Be A Follower)

When I am overcome by fear or struggle, if I reflect, the words circling my mind are not affirming, life-giving or encouraging. God’s words are full of promises not defeat.

A STORY

I’m a reader but  when I suffer a book slump, I have found reading middle grade fiction, especially fantasy, snaps me out of my book fog. I picked up Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow from the library last week.

All you need to know about the plot is the main character, Morrigan, believes she is a cursed child but she has been rescued from the family and city which gave her this identity. She must conquer a number of trials to be granted admission to the Wondrous Society.  At this point in the book, she fearful her patron will not be present for her last trial. She has the following exchange with Fenestra, an enormous feline or a Magnificat (stick with me).

~~~~

He’d promised her. He’d promised.

Just like he promised to take you to the Nevermoor Bazaar, said a little voice in the back of her head. And look how that turned out.

But this was different, Morrigan told herself. This was her trial. The big one—the one he’d sworn he’d take care of, the one he’d said she didn’t even have to think about. She’d done her very best not to think about it, but now what? She couldn’t do it on her own. She didn’t even know what her talent was supposed to be.

“Fenestra, please!” she yelled, and the cat turned to glare at her. “What’s he doing, where did he go?”

“He said he had something important to do. That’s all I know.”

Morrigan’s heart sank. More important than being there for the most important day of her life? More important than keeping his promise?

She felt wrong-footed. Seized by the sudden terror of her predicament, she entirely forgot why she had been looking for him in the first place.

She was on her own. She would have to do her Show Trial without him. She was on her own

Morrigan slumped down into one of the leather armchairs by the fire. Her whole body felt as if it were made of lead.

Fenestra stood up suddenly and appeared above Morrigan’s armchair, bringing her enormous furry face down to the girl’s eye level. “Did he say he’d be here for your trial?”

Tears pricked Morrigan’s eyes. “Yes, but—“

“Did he tell you he’d take care of it?”

“Yes, but—“

“Did he promise you everything would be all right?”

A few hot tears spilled down Morrigan’s face. “Yes, but—“

“That settles it, then.” With a placid blink of her huge amber eyes, Fen nodded once. “He’ll be here for your trial. He’ll take care of it. Everything will be all right.”

Morrigan sniffled and wiped her nose with her shirtsleeve. She squeezed her eyes shut, shaking her head.

“How do you know that?”

“He’s my friend. I know my friend.”

+++from Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

When faced with struggles, ask the following questions:

Am I all alone?

What do I know to be true?

What true words can replace my words of fear,insecurity or lies?

Who am I? Who does God say I am? Does each answer agree or contradict?

Can I trust my Friend today?

May we each continue on the path of complete and continuous trust in our Maker, but may we also accept grace when we meander.

Amen.

 

an open book

 

black twist pen on notebook

On a stunning late June afternoon, our daughter Courtney became a wife.

Spoiler alert: It was the most amazing day sandwiched between two equally wondrous days of celebration.

Our family won’t easily forget the joy of witnessing love by raising glasses, cheering, dancing and feasting as our family enlarged for the better.

However, the months leading up to the big event were filled with countless sleepless nights.

Not because of attempting to lasso a budget although the rope often felt out of reach.

No matter how I tried, I could not envision what or how this day of days would look or feel.

Since I couldn’t visualize those 6 hours, I threw myself into list making during my waking hours and sadly my sleeping hours also kept a tally.

My sleep was compromised simply because my mind was restless for a glimpse of the future.

One night in late January, sleep seemed pointless due to my overactive brain, I left my pillow behind and entered the darkest gap between night and morning and tucked myself under the dining room table before my journal.

I wrote in bold letters:

ALL THE THINGS THAT CONCERN ME

I wrote it all down.

There was nothing too insignificant or monumental that wasn’t scribbled on two pages.

I laid every care, fear and worry upon the lines of that open book, like a prayer or a hyperventilating plea sent in the direction of heaven.

Then I went to sleep.

I would like to report to never having another night of tossing and turning.

I did but the space between waking and falling back into dreamland was narrower.

For the majority of my life, I have trusted God.

Trust has been reflexive like a doctor’s hammer tap below one’s knee but often a whispered hope.

This summer was one in a collection of remembering the God I trust.

Sometimes my trust in God has put the emphasis on my actions instead of tilting the weight off my shoulders and witnessing the character of the God, who can be trusted.

*****

When I was young, my mother taught me to thread her needle.

After I mastered this skill, she showed me how to tie a knot on thread draped through the needle’s eye.

I remember watching her fingers, thumb and thread and it seemed the most mysterious display, especially when my clumsy hands tried to duplicate the feat.

Two thread lengths tethered only by the eye of a needle, each side placed between my thumb and second finger, as they slid back and forth until a knot formed.

At first it seemed improbable, impossible.

A folded piece of fiber remained uncontrolled.

But after practice and failed attempts, knot making became automatic.

I wouldn’t give a single thought when presented with a needle and thread today.
But if I dare to  pause long enough to observe the reflexive movements of my hand, I still marvel when a knot appears due to the gentle gliding of two parts of one hand.

I believe in the God who knows how to thread the pieces of my life through their appointed spaces.

I believe in the God who expertly knots every dangling fear, insecurity and worry.

I shudder by how easily I grow accustomed to his handiwork, some seen and often more shielded from my view, all accomplished by the rubbing of his fingers to and fro over my life.

*****

During the final moments leading to the wedding, I was given time to spend with Courtney in the balcony area of the venue. I looked at her and decades of prayers flooded my soul and were placed alongside my love for her. We spoke, we laughed and desperately tried not to ruin our make-up. It felt like an eternity had passed once I walked down the stairs to see the procession lined up, excitedly chatting as they waited for me. I took my place next to my tall son in the front of the line. I was certain the sacred space with Courtney had put our schedule in jeopardy but I lifted my eyes to the wall clock and it was exactly 4pm.

When does a wedding start on time?

That day.

I am not writing to share how God crossed out or put a check mark beside every one of my journal full of concerns, yet He did.

I am writing to admit none of my sleepless nights accomplished anything but darker under eye circles.

I am writing this because although it sounds cliché, God is never late or too early.
In fact, His timing is impeccable.

I am writing this not because God gave us the most brilliantly happy day, yet He did.

I am writing this because He pulled out all the stops for a brilliantly happy day in the midst of a multitude of sad days past, present and undoubtedly in the future.

He gave us merriment hemmed in beside the hard places which have taken up residency in our lives and seem to have no intention of hanging a vacancy sign.

I want to whisper and shout about my days to God, knowing no utterance is too trivial for His hearing.

I want to be an open book.

As I surrender my lists to Him as an act of trust, the privilege is mine to see the God who can be trusted to gently slide His hands across each strand of my life and affix it to Himself.

It seem improbable, impossible.

In His mercy and kindness, He ties knots of faithfulness all over the threads of my life.

Each one is a full stop in the story of me, allowing me to pause, stare back in wonder of the God who can be trusted.

 

Photo by Mohammad Danish on Pexels.com

Twelve Years

It has been a few months since I last logged onto my blog.

After I verified my identity, (thanks WordPress for rubbing my absence in), I was greeted by an anniversary missed.

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Twelve years.

Twelve years of sharing words, stories and small glimpses of God at work if only attention is paid.

Twelve years of a trembling pointer finger over pressing the publish button and hoping for readers and simultaneously hoping no one read the deepest words from my heart.

Twelve years of cultivating, nurturing and waiting on a dream.

Although those “in the know” deem blogs as having run their course, I am glad blogs still exist and am witnessing many writers returning to the movement of which I am one in this number.

The space of not blogging feels much like not having a conversation with a friend for an extended period of time. Once seated face to face, where do you begin, when there is so much to say?

I suppose it’s wisest to push past regret or shame and simply begin again. Start talking or writing knowing all the gaps won’t be entirely closed with one return conversation but there’s movement; a narrowing of the previous chasm.

My last post in June detailed discovering dug up nasturtium plants. At the time, I believed the event to be isolated. However, it was a nearly daily occurrence this past summer, a major irritant during a hot and smoky summer. Carl and I placed fencing along the driveway to discourage the digging and it didn’t hinder the activity of squirrels and/or raccoons.

When I speak or set an intention, I believe the work is done. I said it, it will happen.
I planted the seed, was a caretaker in the growth, let their be flowers without end.
I don’t expect disruptions especially when I can see the sprouts then leaves and finally the vivid color of buds.

Some of the nasturtium plants died after the repeated upheaval.

Some flowered on very small spindly plants.

However others grew with abandon, stretching tendrils on either side of the initial seeds, leaping over fencing to spill onto the driveway with a profusion of blossoms.

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Dreams aren’t solely about speaking words into existence.

Dreams often require patient waiting, rearrangement and being a vigilant watchman.

A fence doesn’t guarantee a dream will grow and won’t be disrupted.

There will be naysayers.

There will be obstacles.

There will be less than ideal conditions.

We live in a time of instant access and it seems a mystery when our dreams don’t arrive on our doorsteps as quickly or as nicely packaged as Amazon guarantees.

Somehow, twelve years have passed and I failed to notice I was already living a piece of my dream. A dream which had been set in motion day by day and post by post even with large gaps from time to time.

Somehow, I had been busy looking at the holes and not the blooms which stretched forth from every press of the publish button.

Earth.

Seeds.

Life.

Leaves.

Flowers.

Death.

New seeds.

It’s the cycle of life and dreams.

Do you have a dream you believe resembles a hole but if you looked closer, is actually full of rich life-giving soil?

 

unseen

Our daughter Courtney was married on Saturday.

When I can wrap my mind around all I felt about that day, I will share that in writing as well.

But for now, I wanted to share a few thoughts.

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I took this photo in late April.

In all our preparations for the wedding, we were also trying to spruce up our much lived in home, inside and out.

I planted nasturtium seeds along our fence up to the place where the sunflower seeds would be thrown.

I lamented how nothing was happening other than a few new weeds needing to be plucked from the earth.

I had mostly given up hope but gave one last effort of watering and forgot about this plot of land, because of all the list making and such.

One day, I pulled into the driveway and upon exiting my car, my eyes landed on green.

Sprouts had pushed through my disbelief and emerged, like lily pads floating above a pond.

The month of May in Portland brought very little rain. These conditions seemed ideal and my nasturtiums grew and then didn’t. But I left them alone as they don’t demand a lot of fuss or rich soil.

By June, the plants seemed stronger and I felt confident they would be blooming to happily greet our visiting family.

The week before the wedding, they were in full bloom.

My parents arrived on Tuesday to begin the parade of wedding guests. On Wednesday morning, I opened a couple of wedding business related emails that contained miscommunications and anxiety began to crawl inside my stomach.

Carl came into the kitchen from the backyard and asked if I had been digging in the nasturtiums. I looked at him puzzled and said no.

As I stepped onto the patio, I could see small mounds of dirt, holes and nasturtiums strewn all about and a deep hole along one section of the sunflowers.

An animal must have been searching for something unseen.

Quickly I scooped up droopy plants and soil and tried to replace them and showered each plant with water, hoping to revive.

It may seem silly but I felt unraveled by this discovery. The emails had brought stress and coupled with this annoyance, I felt overwhelmed.

Time, however, does not stop or rewind. We marched on, tried not to grumble about misunderstandings because a wedding was coming!

A wedding that no matter how hard and often I prayed, I could not lasso a glimpse of what it would be like. I couldn’t envision the collection of people who would be witnesses. I couldn’t imagine how we would feel as we watched two lives joined and families who live on opposite coasts united. The not being able to see caused me sleepless nights. It renewed my awareness of my need for control.

What I know now is that early sight can obscure the full expanse of seeing a vision in totality.

I was not supposed to peek into the future. I was to continue to walk towards the unseen and believe.

Trust.

Hope.

Breathe.

I wasn’t given foreknowledge or foresight because I wouldn’t have believed what I saw.

I wouldn’t have appreciated the beauty had I not held fists full of dirt that marred my mood and view.

I wouldn’t have prayed as much.

I wouldn’t have realized how important it is to ask for help.

I wouldn’t have learned how sharing the load brings joy to the co-laborers and ease to my shoulders. We all need to lean on someone.

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I wouldn’t have opened my hands in surrender.

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I wouldn’t have appreciated beauty if it weren’t for the disruptions and destruction that crossed my path.

If you are straining for a better look at a future vision, don’t fret, we all tend to want to crane our necks.

This life is a mystery and it is littered with sights unseen.

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Open your hands.

Lift your chin to the sky.

Open your lips and let your held breath escape towards the heavens.

Allow the buried seeds of your life to stretch from darkness to light, from a whispered hope to the glory of vibrant blooms marking your path.

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He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

Ecclesiastes 3: 11