A fresh snow

I woke up this morning and things seemed lighter. The sun had not yet risen this midwinter Monday. But the windows had a bluish glow to them. It took me a few minutes sipping my coffee by the fire to realize why.

A fresh snow.

When the sun had been snuffed out last night, the ground was a dreary landscape of ice and brown, the wake of the last storm. Now there was a soft white over the still earth, over the maple’s branches, and dusting the evergreens by the river’s edge. The snow took what little light there was in this predawn, kissed it, and released it back as a hopeful radiance.

The snow of the ancient near east was a little more rare than what falls on my cold Canadian island. But how could divine revelation ignore its dazzling whiteness? For God’s hexagonal thoughts were from the foundations of the world made to crystallize upon a seed of mercy.

“Come now, let us reason together. Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be white as snow,” writes the prophet Isaiah, messenger of the Most High.

Imagine being called before a judge to reason out your pathetic case, only for him to quote poetry at your offences, the crimson fury of Sinai’s fire extinguished by a mantle of snow.

And in one of the most lavish of all the Sovereign’s invitations, snow is the Word of God itself, irrevocable in its purpose to quench the thirst of the earth and summon life from its soil.

In the wisdom of Providence weaving the narrative, Isaiah must have known the wonder of snow. Did the LORD delight to surprise him as a boy with a morning such as this? A strange light from without, before the lamps were lit? Did he hear the flakes falling as whispers of an unusual grace?

God’s lovingkindness cannot be thwarted by the darkest stain in the most famished heart. Snow upon snow, the windswept ugliness of barren ground is covered, till the sun turns the gift of heaven into water for its renewal.

The flakes keep falling, falling falling. The morning is ever lightening, and the world about to sparkle with the rising glory. “Come, come!”

 

~lg

S.D.G.

Book List 2017

Here’s a list of the books I read in 2017!

Fiction:

Most of these I read with my book club, which is continuing to be a great source of reading material and thought-provoking discussion.

The Iliad (Homer)
The Brothers Karamazov (Fyodor Dostoevsky)
Anne of Ingleside (LM Montgomery)
Northanger Abbey (Jane Austen)
The Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Grahame)
Oliver Twist (Charles Dickens)
The Man Who Was Thursday (GK Chesterton)
Wives and Daughters (Elizabeth Gaskell) – in progress
The Odyssey (Homer) – in progress

I enjoyed all of these books, though I think I have 2 favourites: The Iliad and The Wind in the Willows. I’m sure my selection of The Iliad has as much to do with the group of women I’ve been reading with and our rich discussion. But really, Homer is a classic for a reason. A favourite moment from that book was when the river Scamander had Achilles in its watery grasp. Homer is a master of painting vivid and action-packed scenes.

This summer I finally got around to reading that “children’s” classic The Wind in the Willows. I read much of it on our front porch swing, overlooking our own river. The language was beautiful, the escapades hilarious, the characters well-drawn, but it was the atmosphere of the book that had me at hello. The reading was also enriched by Circe Institute’s Close Reads podcast, which has a series on the book. I especially enjoyed the comparisons to The Iliad and The Hobbit!

Non-fiction:

The first three I read in preparation for my first book review in a scholarly journal, published in December (The Canadian Journal of Pentecostal-Charismatic Christianity).

Out of the Mouths of Babes (Thomas Robinson & Lanette Ruff)
Preacher Girl: Uldine Utley and the Industry of Revival (Thomas Robinson)
How To Read a Book (Mortimer J Adler) – selections
Unglued (Lysa Terkheurst)
A Tale of Three Kings (Gene Edwards)
The Happy Dinner Table (Anna Migeon)
Stepping Heavenward (Elizabeth Prentiss)

Favourite: Stepping Heavenward. I read Unglued and Stepping Heavenward for many of the same reasons. Unglued was helpful in its own way, but for me, watching a character struggle and grow through sanctification is far more powerful than reading about how to become sanctified. This is one I want to re-read, almost right away, and journal some of the passages that resonated with me.

Advent reading:
Hallelujah: A Journey Through Advent with Handel’s Messiah (edited by Cindy Rollins)
All Creation Waits (Gayle Boss)
Waiting on the Word (Malcolm Guite)

Favourite: I enjoyed all of these Advent books. It’s my third year through Waiting on the Word, and every year I am enriched by the poetry and meditations. But All Creation Waits came to my attention unexpectedly through The Mason Jar podcast, and I knew right away I had found a kindred spirit in this book. It’s a living book where the natural and spiritual realms come together in a unique way. The illustrations really add to the beauty of the book as a whole.

Education:

I am essentially slow reading my way through Charlotte Mason, one volume on my own, and one with a group. I’m continuing to draw wisdom from these books for our home education and parenting journey.

Home Education (Charlotte Mason) – in progress
Parents and Children (Charlotte Mason) – in progress, reading with a group of parents
The Happy Dinner Table (Anna Migeon) – I know I listed this above, but I have to mention this application of Mason’s methods to the realm of eating have done as much to help me understand her principles of education as any other book about her methods!

With the children:

Farmer Boy (Laura Ingalls Wilder)
Mr. Popper’s Penguins (Richard Atwater)
Little Threads (Elizabeth Prentiss)
Milly-Molly-Mandy (Joyce Lankester)
Winnie-the-Pooh (A. A. Milne)
Letters from Father Christmas (JRR Tolkien)
On the Banks of Plum Creek (Laura Ingalls Wilder) – in progress
Understood Betsy (Dorothy Canfield Fisher) – in progress

Audio Books:

This has been a new way of “reading” books for us. Many of these we listened to on our family vacation to Ontario this spring. Others we’ve made our way through on our regular drives to town and around the island. The Saturdays was a particularly fun listen.

A Little Princess (Frances Hodgson Burnett)
Peter Pan (JM Barrie)
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (L Frank Baum)
Pippi Longstocking (Astrid Lindgren)
Anne of Green Gables (LM Montgomery)
The Saturdays (Elizabeth Enright)

Goals

At the end of last year, I said I had wanted to read more classics, more theology, and more Charlotte Mason. I definitely read more classics, thanks to my book club. I did continue to read Mason, though at a slower pace, which I think has been just as profitable. I didn’t really get to any more theology, though I read two books about an interesting period of Christian history (evangelism in the flapper age), which had some theological implications.

What about 2018? 

I don’t have any grand reading plans at this point, certainly nothing systematic. However, I would like to finish a few of the books I either received or began reading in the last year or two and haven’t finished yet! (Thanks to Nelleke for this suggestion!)

To finish reading:
The Broken Way (Ann Voskamp)
Joy and Human Flourishing (edited by Miroslav Volf)
Evangelical, Sacramental & Pentecostal (Gordon T Smith)
Orthodoxy (GK Chesteron)
Home Education (Charlotte Mason)

I’m looking forward to more classic book club reads this year, and to hopefully finishing The Odyssey, which is rather different from The Iliad, in a neat way. Fewer epic similes, more fantastical creatures. I’m finding it connecting on a more personal level. (Apparently I connect more to fantastical creatures than bloody battles. But maybe I am also more sympathetic to Odysseus’ struggle than I was to Achilles’.)

I’d also like to delve into the world of writer’s craft. I’d love any suggestions in this area!

What did you read in 2017? What’s on your list for 2018? Happy reading!

 

~lg

S.D.G.

Strange wonder and secure welcome

“[W]e need this life of practical romance; the combination of something that is strange with something that is secure. We need so to view the world as to combine an idea of wonder and an idea of welcome. We need to be happy in this wonderland without once being merely comfortable.”

G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

* * *

While part of Chesterton’s introductory defence for the writing of Orthodoxy, I think this also speaks to the unique power of the incarnation.

Jesus – like us in so many ways, and yet so completely other. In Him we find both the strange wonder and the secure welcome.

 

~lg

S.D.G.

Immanuel Every Day: How to Practice the Presence of God

{ Welcome to the 24 Days to A Christ-Centered Christmas Blog Party!
I’m glad you’re here. Thank you to Ana for inviting me to such a fun party. }

Immanuel. O come, O come, we sing each Advent night as we light our candles at the table.

Immanuel. Rejoice! rejoice! we shout on Christmas morn when the miniature baby makes his appearance in our nativity scene.

Immanuel. God is with us! This is the good news of Christmas. This is the holy wonder of the Incarnation. But it’s more than just the baby in the manger. It’s more than warm fuzzies under the twinkly lights. It’s more than a two thousand year old miracle.

Immanuel means not only God with some other people back then, or God with us in some abstract theological way. Immanuel means God with us right here and now. If Jesus has really done this – brought us into the embrace of the Mighty God through the flesh and blood He shares with us – then it’s a miracle we can live out any day, not just Christmas Day.

Immanuel means we can live out our ordinary lives in the presence of God.

Immanuel is a reality for your every day, whether that’s in the craziness of last minute shopping, or in the quiet letdown when the decorations are put away for another year.

It’s a nice thought. One of the nicest there could possibly be. But how do we actually live it? How do we live aware of Him when we are awash in the messy churning of real life? And what does it look like when we barely have a spare minute to ourselves, let alone a sweet hour of prayer?

I used to feel guilty when, as a new mom, I didn’t have the time anymore for lengthy, uninterrupted “quiet time” with God. I wanted that time with him, I so desperately needed that time with him, but I couldn’t seem to make it happen.

And then I discovered a little old book with a timeless idea.

It was called Practicing the Presence of God, and it was written by Brother Lawrence, a dishwashing monk who lived a few hundred years ago. He learned to recognize God as “intimately present with us” at every moment of the day. This is what practicing the presence of God is. Slowly, this concept began to transform how I thought about my time with God. I began a new practice – call it a habit, if you will – of living my days along with Jesus. Of living with Immanuel, the one who wants to live with us.

So how do we go beyond singing about Immanuel to living a lifestyle of Immanuel? I’ve put together a little list of the things that have helped me learn to practice the presence of God.

I’m sharing what I’ve learned in the hopes that it will bring you closer to Jesus as well, not just at Christmas but all year long. I’m not perfect, not by any stretch. Just a fellow pilgrim, on a journey toward deeper relationship with Christ.

1. Rethink Your Time

Here’s my little secret. You can spend more time with God, and it doesn’t necessarily involve getting up an hour earlier. (Good news for those among us who are slow starters!) Instead of looking at your schedule trying to figure out where you can “make more time” for God, look for opportunities throughout your day to live more of your time with Him. (Have you ever actually succeeded in making time? Me neither. It doesn’t seem to be a gift we mortals are blessed with.)

Making time doesn’t work well, and neither does dividing it. Sometimes we get caught in the trap of thinking some activities are “spiritual” and others are not. But we don’t need to divide our time, or or lives, into these two categories. God created us to live whole lives, with Him at the centre, radiating through all we do. Brother Lawrence felt just as close to God when he was scrubbing pots and pans as when he was worshiping in church, and we can take a page out of his book. Don’t wait for the house to be quiet to open your heart to God! He doesn’t mind the noise.

One of the best ways to think about practicing the presence of God is this: Open a conversation with Jesus when you begin your day, and keep it going. And remember, the conversation goes both ways. Speak to Him, and keep your ears open for His voice. I’ve heard it in many surprising ways. He uses even the mundane details of life as His mouthpiece. Instead of looking for some “ideal” time to spend with God, bring God’s reality into every moment of your everyday life.

2. Tie an Anchor

While it’s true that we can live alongside God during our day, it’s vital to have some time set aside to anchor ourselves in His Word and prayer. Think of this time as tying a knot into the very person of Jesus. This is what will keep you grounded in His truth. This is what will send your roots deep into His love. And this is what will keep you firm when the day threatens to sweep you away.

A daily habit of Scripture reading and prayer is foundational. It doesn’t have to be long. A few moments of focused time will go a long way in aligning your heart with God’s. You can read Scripture on its own, or track along with a devotional that is meaningful for you.

(Abraham’s Advent is a devotional I created for this season, and you can find it in the shop. Use the code WELCOME to receive 20% off until December 25.)

Abraham's Advent Cover

If you’re new to a daily habit of Scripture reading and prayer, here are a few tips:

First, choose the same time each day. That will help make it stick. Second, you can tie the habit you want to form with something you already do every day – your morning coffee, making your bed, an evening cup of tea, or something else that will trigger you to move into that time of Scripture and prayer. Piggybacking a new habit onto an old one will help. Third, be patient with yourself. New habits take time to form. If you miss a day, don’t beat yourself up over it. Just tie that anchor the next day and keep going.

For me, morning prayer is the best way I’ve found to anchor myself in the presence of God. This is what opens the conversation with Jesus that I return to throughout the day.

(If you subscribe by email to the blog, you’ll receive the free printable “Move Into Morning Prayer,” which can help get your day moving in the right direction.)

3. Take a Moment

So you’ve opened the conversation with Jesus, and you’re trying to be more aware of His presence as your faithful friend in ordinary life. But what happens when your day starts going south, or you’ve realized all too late that you’ve lost that connection with Him and are flying off the handle? This is when you need to take a moment.

A moment is often all we need. In that moment, we simply acknowledge our need and look at Jesus. Call out His name. Turn toward His love. Recall the words He’s already spoken to you, or hear Him speak again into your situation. Realign with His purpose. Offer your gratitude. Present your requests. And rest in His otherworldly peace.

You can make a habit of doing this, as many throughout the centuries have done with “hours” of prayer (specific times of the day where you pause to pray). Or you can just reach out when you feel your need. Either way, His is the loving, faithful presence that says, “You matter. You are mine. You are beloved. My strength is made perfect in your weakness.”

So often we resist the very thing that will bring our day back on track. We throw up our hands in despair, wallow in self-pity, or succumb to distraction. But we don’t need another coping mechanism. We need to take a moment and reconnect to the source of our life. You will always be welcomed with grace.

At the end of the day, living with Immanuel means living loved in every moment.

Imagine if God’s love became the predominant reality of your day. Practicing His presence can do just that.

Immanuel

Here are some practical suggestions for living your every day with Immanuel this Christmas season:

  • Put on Christmas music and worship while you wrap, or wash dishes, or drive to the mall, or whatever else is on your checklist today. Infuse your atmosphere with comfort and joy through music. And remember, dancing can reduce stress and lighten the atmosphere of your home, too!
  • Choose a passage of Scripture to meditate on over the season, and make it visible. Write or print it out, and put it somewhere you will see it every day. There are so many beautiful passages that surround the birth of Jesus! Mary’s song in Luke 1 is one of my personal favourites.
  • Take the opportunity to walk through an Advent or Christmas devotional. Pair it with your favourite hot beverage under the twinkly lights.
  • Take a moment by the manger. Chances are, you have a nativity scene set up in your house somewhere. Even if, like in my house, the baby doesn’t make his appearance until Christmas morning, stop and quiet your heart for a minute or two before the scene. Breathe a prayer inviting Immanuel to fill you with His hope, peace, joy, and love. Count some of your blessings. Refocus on the centre of the story and let Him put things in perspective.
  • Light a candle. With darkening days, candles are a fitting way to express hope. As you light the candle, thank Jesus for the light He brings to your life.

I believe with all my heart that we can live each day in the presence of God. What kind of day are you having? Busy? Stressed? Depressed? Lonely? Overwhelmed? Or maybe you are celebrating, or creating, or living full-hearted, messy-handed family life. No matter your day, it can be transformed by the presence of Jesus.

Rethink your time. Tie an anchor. Take a moment.

Live every day with Immanuel.

* * *

Thank you for joining me as part of 24 Days to a Christ-Centered Christmas! You can check out all the posts here at They Call Me Blessed.

There’s also a blog party Facebook group with all the posts and more!

Part of this celebration is a big giveaway – a chance to win $600 of PayPal cash! You can enter the giveaway through the image below.

Happy Advent and Merry Christmas!

~ Lindsey

S.D.G.

Joy to broken worlds

The third Sunday of Advent approaches.

Some of us come to the pink candle with lighthearted laughter, sped on our journey by the jocund Spirit of Christmas itself. But some of us have walked a weightier road this season, and we are not sure we have strength to bear this word –

Joy.

Because, what if the landscape looks nothing like you thought it would? What if your best beloved is no longer there with you? What if you reach out for your journeymate in the night, only to remember the bed is half-empty and your heart is wholly crushed?

Oh, where can joy possibly be then?

And yet it comes, not as a reveller in an ugly Christmas sweater, popping champagne at the party. It comes into the lonely midnight kitchen, pulls up a stool, and drains the dregs of sorrow with you.

Joy is a relational reality.

Joy says, “It’s good to be me here with you.” It’s not based on the road you’re walking, but who you’re walking with.

Often it comes in the silent presence of a loved one, or that friend who shows up at just the right time with a tub of candy cane ice cream.

When life is hard, joy doesn’t ask you put on a happy face. Joy will cry all its mascara off with you. Joy comes when you can live life without masks and still find safety in vulnerability.

Joy comes somehow through grief that is shared.

And joy breaks into broken worlds with this simple phrase, “The Lord is come.” He is here, and here is proof that you are loved, and no matter what you face, you face it together.

Even Christmas. Even this first Christmas without the one who lit up your world.

At the heart of things, joy is relational. Joy means living loved, through grief and brokenness and doubt. Joy means living loved, even without understanding it all. Joy means living loved, so that when laughter sneaks in at unexpected moments, you can welcome it too.

Joy is for you – not as a display of fireworks or a Santa Claus parade, but as a single candle that promises to stay no matter how dark it gets.

 

~lg

S.D.G.