Advent and What You Should Expect When You Sit With God

Leaves brightSun shines golden through gray storm clouds in California sky. We need this rain–replenishment for this parched ground. A squirrel tightropes across our backyard fence. I watch him pause and select berries from tree branches drenched and low. Water has been pouring from heaven this week, and we are grateful. Keep raining, God. Soften the dry land. Fill the lakes and the rivers. Let the creeks run, overflowing with drops falling steady and swift from your sky.

I sit amidst boxes of Christmas decorations not yet unpacked, thinking about what it means to sit with God. I consider what I expect when I am with Him. How does he show up? How do I know when I am with Him? If He is an invisible God, the Holy Spirit within us drawing us deeper to the Father, what do I see when I am with God? How does He manifest himself? How do I stay with Him, in His presence, no matter where I am?

During this season of extra-busyness, I can easily feel like a failure. To be a good Christian I am supposedly required to read an Advent devotional every day, do my best to decorate the house and boost up my hospitality. I am supposed to consider how to give to others, like Jesus did, have my heart be broken for the lost and lonely and the sad. I am supposed to listen to Christmas music and do fun Christmas-activity-stuff with the kids. I am supposed to be extra happy and not stressed and organized and filled with inspiration and gratitude for all that God has given. Oh, and I’m supposed to bake, too.

I want to do a lot of these things. I want to have a house sparkling with color and good smells when my kids get home from school.  I want to read beauty-filled words near a Christmas tree and watch the lights dance through fragrant boughs. I want to encourage people and speak truth and let the Father’s abundant love flood me so I overflow with his love to others. I want to walk into a room and be a blessing, remembering that I am a daughter of a King who has fought for my heart when He came as a fragile baby in the not-so-quiet-chaos of an animal-filled barn one night long-ago.

But how?

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Justin wrote this week about our family’s desire to serve and bless others this Christmas–to forget ourselves and receive Christ when we love others as much as ourselves. 

But how can I love another person if I don’t spend time with the One who is love? How can I love anyone this Advent season when I haven’t let God’s love to me pour in?

This Advent, there is one thing I need to do more than anything else: I need to spend time with my Savior, just us two. If I am to love anyone, especially during this extra-busy-Christmas season, I might need to strip everything else away And from there? From that place? I will have a lot of love to give. Maybe gifts will be given, maybe cookies will be baked, maybe lights will be strung, maybe carols will be sung. But one thing is sure: I will be equipped to love.

So now, here’s the question I get asked a lot: what does it mean to wait for God? What does it mean to expect him or pursue him? How does this invisible God manifest when we are sitting alone with Him?

Although we each experience God’s presence differently, I most often experience him when I am in a posture of listening for his voice. And to listen for his voice requires me to be quiet–my soul within me to quiet–so I can think of him. It is simply my choosing to think about God that turns me towards where He is.

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The Holy Spirit in me is awake and stirring, waiting for me to turn towards God, waiting for me to want to be with Him, look for Him, listen for Him, see Him.

When I am desiring to be with God, and I am in a posture of stillness in his presence, He helps me be open to Him. Open to hearing Him, in my heart. Open to seeing Him, in my mind. Open to going with Him, in my imagination. I allow Him to cleanse me of distraction; I surrender to Him my presence, and He helps me be present to Him.

This Advent, in my waiting for Jesus, I will be choosing to be present with Him, thinking about Him, looking for Him, longing for Him. Practically, I will go to a quiet place each day of Advent, for 15  minutes or more, doing nothing but being with Him. And in that posture, in that active choosing and desiring to be with Him, I will see His face; I will hear His voice; I will be restored. I will remember who and whose I am.

How do you feel about Advent this year? What do you expect when you sit with God?

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Also, come on over to visit me at my friend Dolly’s place.

Finally, Friday is the last day to purchase Loop and receive six 8 x 10 art prints, for free! Click here for details.

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Then. Always. Now.

Then. Always. Now.For P.

conversation 21

[T]hings have quieted down now, God. All five kids have been gone for years. D has been around more. I’ve missed him, although you know how I don’t like to admit that to him.

When D and I are together, I remember what it is about him that I’d always loved. He had a smile that captivated me, and eyes that made me feel like I was the only one in the room. He was jealous for me, passionate in his pursuit of me. When he got lost and struggled to find out who he was for all those years, I could hardly bear it. And, while I didn’t realize it at the time, I was shutting down a part of myself–the part that desired love but didn’t know how to show it.

I wonder if I am any good at loving him. I wonder if I am good at loving, at all.

It has been hard, these years, trying not to care even though I love with an intensity that makes my heart feel, sometimes, like it will surely explode. I know I have some healing to do about my parents. My grandmother loved me and held me and always wanted me close. But a part of me aches, I think, because my parents didn’t know how to love me like I am.

What do I do with all this love inside me, God? I decided, long ago, that the best way to love is to hold it all in. Is it okay continuing like this, trying to protect my heart? I think I do it at the expense of relationships that need me. How can I be present; how can I be all in; how can I pursue?

How do I show the people I love that I love them when I’m afraid to show all the love that I have to give?


Then. Always. Now.[M]y daughter, watch me coming. Watch me coming to rescue you. Watch me standing next to you, bending low and scooping you up, just like your grandmother did when you were a little girl. Watch me come to you, not holding back my love for you. I am yours. I am all in and I am with you and I am not going anywhere.

You are made with a fierce strength–but one that is now tender and raw and wounded. You have been trying to convince yourself you are okay, and you are. But let me be clear on this: you are only okay when you know that you are loved.

Do you know how much I love you, right now, just like you are, my darling? Do you know I always have?

Return now to the place where we began. Return to the place where  you first knew me. Return to the moments when you knew I was close and when you believed I was so far away. Ask me to show you where I was. Ask me to show you how I held you, what I was doing in that moment.

Because in the moments with your dad, his head bent low, his back to you in his chair, I was with you, my daughter.

Because in the moments with your family all around the table and the chaos and the fight to be seen, I was with you, my daughter.

Because in the moments when the front door didn’t open and you tucked the children in and you slept by yourself, so many nights, I was with you, my daughter.

And I want you to hear this, my darling. I want you to know this and live like you believe it: You were never too much, my dear. You were never too much to love. You were never too much to spend time with, have fun with, dance with, laugh with, hold hands with. You are beautiful and you are cherished. Then. Always. Now.

Let me show you how I cherish you. Let me show you how precious you are to me. Let me show you how you are captivating and I can’t keep my eyes off of you.

You are the one I choose.

You are the one I’ve always wanted.

You are the one I want to be with.

Then. Always. Now.


Song to listen to: “Rock of Ages (When the Day Seems Long)“, by Sandra McCracken


[T]his is day 21 of Voice: 31 Conversations: Click the image below to find out more.  Subscribe to follow along each day.

VOICE a journey towards life (1)

How She Loved You

How she loved you

For C.

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[I] watch these trees change outside my windows, God. The leaves turning from green to bright orange and red. There is quiet here, in this new place where all six of us moved. We are far from the city now.

The countryside sings tunes sweet and low—the creak of the branches in the wind, the frogs when night blankets the hills. There is music here I wish she could hear too, God. I miss her. I miss her voice and her smile and the way it felt when her arms were around me.

My mom.

She’s been gone now, twenty-one years. Remember how she battled? Do you remember how she believed—and we all believed—she would be healed? My heart aches for her. And I look at my daughters and my sons, three of the four whom she never met. Oh, how can I take it in how you let her meet my daughter, my firstborn, her first grandchild, in the same hospital where she was staying and where she died ten days later? Oh, God, you let her meet my daughter.

I wish she weren’t so sick so that she could have held her, too.

That daughter of mine is growing up so fast, Father. I can’t believe she’s moved out and on her own. Twenty-one years old, the same number of years my mom has been gone. How is it my daughter is already grown? Is this the same little girl I used to carry around and cuddle close? How is it so much time has gone by and I’ve raised these four and my mom has been gone this whole time?

Where am I going, Father? Am I doing okay? Am I raising these children in a way that would make my mom smile?

We’ve moved so far away from what I knew, and it feels right. But I still worry and wonder and hope this is all going to turn out more than fine.


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[O]h, my darling how she loved you. She loved you with an overwhelming love, a love that came from my heart in her. And she showed you that love, because I adored her too, my love. I know what it is like to give up something you love. I know what it means to have a beloved suffer and you wish it didn’t have to turn out the way it did. But I have been present with you, my love. I’ve never left you. All the hours in the hospital. All the nights when you were at home alone. All the times when you stayed up late at night in your room, worrying and wondering how to fix this, how to pray hard enough to make her well.

I know.

I know it was so hard and your heart hurt and you didn’t want her to go.

I know.

I give you new beginnings, my daughter. Each time you turn to me, each moment you surrender to me, I begin again in you. I gather you up, my love.

Those were my arms you felt, too, when she held you close. Those were my words of love, too, when she looked you in the eyes and told you it would be okay, that she was there, that you could tell her anything, that she loved you and she would never stop.

That mother’s love is a fierce love. It is a love that would give anything for her children. And she hated that she wasn’t able to keep staying here, loving you. But she knew me, and you know me too. Her prayers, again and again, were prayers of love for you. Prayers of yearning for you. Prayers of desire on behalf of you.

She loved you with a love that surrendered you to me. She loved you with a love that would have given anything for you, because of me.

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Those children of yours? This love is passed down, my darling. That love she showed you? That love I gave to her? You are showing it to your children. You are blessed with my presence. You are blessed with my love in you. You are blessed with my hope in you.

If you know me, if you hear me, if you follow me, believe me now. Believe I am here. Believe I help you to stand. Believe I am your steadfast anchor, your rock.

You are not slipping. You are not falling. You are not alone and fragile. You are given a love that holds you and protects you and goes before you. You are the one to keep leading, my dear. Keep leading them to me. Keep leading your children to me. By my love. By my words in you. By my whispers to you and my love upholding you. It is the only thing on which any family can stand.


 Song to listen to: “Majesty,” Caedmon’s Call


[T]his is day 19 of Voice: 31 Conversations: Click the image below to find out more.  Subscribe to follow along each day.

VOICE a journey towards life (1)

to believe in

My mom laid out the wrapped gifts under the tree while I sat frozen to the couch. My boyfriend was still there and wouldn’t leave. He didn’t have a place to go home to, and I didn’t know how to ask him to go.  It was 11 pm, too late for him to still be here, and now my mom was bringing out gifts from the bedroom, one by one, laying them out.

I  had been to the counselor already, just the day before. The plan was set to return after Christmas and get the thing done. But I was sixteen, and more of a child than I knew then. And while I knew there wasn’t a Santa at this point, or anything else left to believe in, after lying to my parents and the whole world already about who I was, I still wanted to believe in things I didn’t have a right to believe in. Magic and surprises and presents under the tree that weren’t there the night before.

I had been keeping a secret from my parents and my friends about who I was and the price, only now, seemed too great. My mom bending down to place presents underneath the tree when I should have been in bed. I couldn’t bear to ask her if I could help her. I wasn’t supposed to be there. I wasn’t supposed to be pregnant at sixteen and awake when I watched my mom play Santa Claus and she didn’t know who I really was.

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It feels so much easier sometimes to believe in a God who is distant. Believing we are loved based on our behavior, our merits, leaves us with a feeling of control, of self-righteousness. I was used to earning, working hard for attention and love. Somewhere early on, I had decided the praise I received from doing the right thing meant who I was was good, too. I wasn’t yet ready to believe I was loved without deserving it. I knew I wasn’t really good, wasn’t really pure and noble and kind. Sixteen years old and I was finally getting glimpses of the death that comes in trying to earn love, a gift that can never be earned.

A baby boy was born to save my life and the baby growing inside of me died because I thought that was the only way I might live.

There is no way to breath now. There is no way to live with excitement and hope, a grown woman now, excited for magic and beauty and the wonder of opening presents under the tree. . . without letting in love I don’t deserve, without realizing I am incapable of loving unless I know I am unworthy of it and my Savior died for me because He loved me anyway. Knowing we are loved, still, despite our sin, frees us to love and not strive towards anything not ours to give.

My two oldest children just woke up, and then the third, stumbling cheerfully into the family room where I am under the white fluffy blanket by our heater. They don’t know yet what they are capable of–all the beauty God sees in them, how they are built to love and be desperate in their surrender to a King who arrived the most beautiful in His humbleness, in His knowing He was chosen, He was free, He was loved. We are asked to love like a child, with eyes open to wonder, full of faith and acceptance for things we don’t yet understand. When childhood is stolen, through sin, the Father who loves to be with us, sing to us love songs throughout our day, asks us if we’d like the innocence back.

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Shall we stay here together, a little longer? Shall we wait together, your shoulder folded into my chest. Shall we rest? May I give you rest? It is time to slow now. It is time to stay close to Me. There is so much to do, I know. But is there? Do you trust your list of what needs to get done more than Me? It will not all get done. There will never be that perfect day to spend with Me. But this moment, this moment right here.

When I tell my children what I know about the God who sits under trees next to daughters who strive and strive to be loved, I don’t have to tell them the details of why I know what I know. I can show them in stories of trying to be loved when I was loved already, and in stories of love with arms wrapped around weary shoulders and whispers of love to rest tired heads.

Come close, my daughter. I miss the slowing. I miss the gentle rhythm of moving, my step, then yours, my leaning, then yours. Let this be the season of slowing, of sitting with me. Come, with anticipation. Come, with expectation. Come, with excitement. Come, with time to spend with Me. Come, with desire. Come, with surrender. Come, with longing. Come, with a seeking heart.

Come to Me, and I will sit down too. And we will sit together, side by side, and we will enjoy this day together. You will be so close you will hear the sound of my breathing. You will watch the movement of my lips when I speak. You will know the color of my eyes. And you will know the feel of my skin as I hold your hand in my own.

Can we sit together now, my dear?

I’m not going to miss my King this Christmas, this baby who lived looking to the One who knew who held him. There is too much life, this day, to stay the sad girl, up too late at night, in front of the Christmas tree, wishing she were someone different than who she is.

Does Christmas feel heavy for you this year? How are you doing at slowing and letting Him care for you? How can I pray?

Also, Kay B. won the Sarah Ha pendant giveaway! So happy to get that shipped off to you yesterday, Kay! Merry Christmas!

{The words in italics, above, were excerpted from Loop, “I’ve Written You a Love Song”. Have you subscribed yet? You can, here.}

how do we open the door?

Six years old, on the long bus rides to school, the Color People were my friends. I’d stare hard at the metal seatback in front of me until my eyes saw circular blotches of rainbow swirling on smoothed-bumped silver. They knew what I was thinking, what I was feeling. I would come to them and they would come to me. They knew what I needed, and all I had to do was show up. They required nothing from me. They simply loved–at least the version of love that comes from dots of color produced in the imagination of  a little girl’s mind on her way to school on the right side of the school bus.

With the Color People, I was not expected to behave a certain way or asked to do a certain thing to be accepted. I was accepted for who I was, no matter what I was thinking or feeling.

When friendships get hard now–real life friendships, the kind where two people come together and say real words aloud and move into each other’s real lives–is when acceptance of one another feels conditional. Love isn’t love–friendship isn’t friendship–if it exists only when things are easy. And I think it is tough for us to be real and open with one another when life is hard, when the finances are tight, when our heart is aching for a loved one suffering, when our family is difficult to talk to, when we feel we are alone and no one could truly understand.

We struggle to reach out for help and believe we can be loved when we are most desperate for help, when we are most wanting of love.

I think two things I struggle with in friendships are asking for help–and surrendering my desire to “fix” a situation when a friend of mine is hurting. I am reluctant to let people in often, because (1) I don’t want to be a burden and (2) I don’t like to admit I don’t have it all together. Can you see how I struggle with pride?

Not sharing my true self, my true mess, my true heart with a friend is so hurtful, both to ourselves and to the relationship. We can’t dig in deep and be real with one another unless we trust God is in the center of the friendship and He is big enough to take care of our mess.  He is our friend first. Unless I believe and trust Jesus as my friend, I can’t surrender pride, I can’t love and trust another, I can’t be a friend or let my friends attempt to love me well.

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:20).

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I am the friend who asks to be invited in. I am the friend in the quiet, the quiet within you, the guest outside the door knocking, waiting. I am here, not far away. And I don’t tell you I am waiting to be invited in because I want you to feel guilty or sad or discouraged. I am not telling you I stand, outside, waiting, for the purpose of making you feel you need to work harder, listen better, be a kinder daughter to Me.

I am your friend, and I love you. And I desire friends who love, who nurture, who pour kindness into one other. You can hear Me. You can be that friend, with Me.

I want you to know I am the friend who will not disappoint. I am the friend who will be strong when you need Me to be. I am the friend who will give you words of hope when you feel sad or disappointed. I am the friend who knows what you mean when you say “I am dying inside” or “I am so alone” and you are lost and afraid of the quiet.

I am the friend who can be heard, even amidst noise. Your heart can be tuned to Me, in any situation. But in the quiet, it can be easiest to hear Me. You can be busy and bustling around. But remember I am the friend who equips you to love others. And without you letting Me in, into your relationships, into your work, into your moments of doing and going and trying, you will feel hollow inside. You will feel alone.

I am the friend who knows everything about you and knows you can, indeed, hear Me.

Listen.

Shall I come in?

The words above are excerpted from Loop, “My Friend”, which went out to subscribers on Monday. What sentence did  you most need to hear? What kind of friend do you need right now? How do you struggle in trusting in that kind of relationship–what Jesus calls, “friend”?

Make sure you check the upcoming post about the special giveaway coming up here. . . 

Leaning in with you,

Jennifersignaturescript

how to be fiercely vulnerable and beautifully brave

For a school assignment, she has to write about her name. So she sits on the floor of the kitchen, back pressed against smudged yellow wall, knees pressed into her chest. White notebook paper clipped to purple plastic clipboard, her big brother’s special mechanical pencil clutched in determined hand. She writes with confidence, the funny story I thought I might never tell her but had to, the way her daddy and I heard her name on Telegraph Avenue, at nightfall, holding hands at the edge of campus. We weren’t yet married, but we knew she was coming someday. The name a song sung out through dark, the call of a homeless man to his dog.

Abigail.

(You see why we hesitated, just for a bit, in telling her the story?)

A man we never met called out her name on the pock-marked streets of Berkeley, the city where my dad told me I should never go to school. Much too dangerous. Too crazy. Too weird. And then he said something else, the message clear although the words never said out loud: it’s not safe for you. He wanted his eldest daughter to stay safe, protected and shielded from this turbulent world he had come to know. After all, life is unpredictable, hard. You don’t know what’s around the corner, so you need to be prudent, cautious, reserved.

But then he said, “I trust you”. And I went and stayed, just one year, and Justin came to visit and we heard the name, Abigail, called out in the night–the name much more than a name . . . a possibility, a promise, a dream. She was a story begun in our hearts, the girl we wanted and waited eleven years to meet. The girl with bright blue eyes, sparkling the way sun radiates cresting waves as they kiss the edge of sea.

Abigail means “Father’s joy.”

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Pregnant with her, our third child after having two boys, I struggled to believe she was really coming. This girl of mine would be born, growing in my womb. The joy was too great, the dream too close. I wanted her too much.

Abigail. Father’s joy. Delight of my heart. . . We call her Golden Light.

She reads her story aloud to me as I place plates out for dinner. The story of her naming, the story of her daddy and I holding hands, long before she was born, dreaming of her, wanting her to come into our lives, wanting to hold her so much. And I tell her to keep going, keep writing, that there is so much more she has to say.

Write about what your name sounds like when you hear it. Is it music? Is it a song? I ask her about her nicknames, Coconut Bird, B, Goldilicious, Golden Light. I point her to the names He told us about the truth of her, what He sees in her when He thinks of her, the names He gave us when we prayed and had written on canvas over her bed and she has memorized and loves to recite aloud:

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When I leave for the airport this morning, her arms wrap around me with the fierce vulnerablility that makes her beautiful and makes her strong. Oh, I want to be more like her–holding nothing back and letting emotions pour out even though I’d rather hide, even though it hurts.

I bend low and tell her it is okay to be sad, but she also needs to be strong. I tell her she is Eowyn, in Lord of the Rings, a princess who loves with fierceness and with bravery and is willing to stand up for what she believes and go into battle on behalf of the people to whom her king has given her to fight. She can be sad, but she need not cower. She can be mad but she must trust the strength within her, the strength her King gives her, to be brave.

And I fasten around her neck, underneath her braids still wet from her bath, the necklace she wears when she misses me and I can’t be with her. On the silver disc are three simple words, “child of God”. I tell her to remember who she is and who has made her and then. .  . I tell her she doesn’t have to try to pretend to be anything different and be anyone different than who He has made.

She is made. She is made. And she is loved. And there is not one thing I would ever change, and I will miss her and wear my necklace with her name around my neck, too, while I am gone. For two days.

When I get back we will sit side by side at the football game, cheering on her daddy’s and my favorite college team, and we will listen some more about her name. And we will look back at the canvas, and revisit the stories about her, the dream of her, and the beauty that she is that I could never have imagined, on my own.

And here, I will lift up the words He continues to sing into our hearts about these daughters, these sisters, these girls of His who are not small and meek but mighty and beautiful and made. And only because they are His. And only because they are loved. And only because they are made.

And you, His girl . . .continue to write your name. The name He gives you. The name that is His and yours and His again. Because you are His. Because you, girl, are made.

I pray for each of us, as we continue to press in and listen and surrender and believe, even more, that we are loved and delighted in and chosen and wanted. Yes, you are wanted. You are no mistake. So let’s be fiercely vulnerable together, fighting for the truth of our names, the sound of it when He says it aloud: Daughter. You are the one I made. You are her.

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