The Heavens Declare: A Guest Post

I stumbled upon Ashley Hales’ blog a while ago, and I so admire her honesty and the way she reflects on ordinary life. Her blog also creates a beautiful space for other writers to share their work, and I am honored to share a piece there today!

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It happened the way the best love stories do. It was sudden. It was unlikely. It was life-changing. It happened on an ordinary drive home, on an average evening. I fell in love with the sky.

I am not talking about just any sky. My sky hangs over a gravel road, seven miles from the nearest town and sixty miles from the nearest Target. It is almost in Canada, on the prairies of far northwest Minnesota. That is where I grew up. When I describe it, people raise their eyebrows. They wonder why anyone would choose to live in the boondocks, where soybean fields, long winters, and flatness are our strongest assets. We seem far removed from anything of interest, much less beauty. I used to agree with them. That was before I learned to see. That was before I began to love the sky.

Click here to read the entire piece!

 

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Blessings

Blessings. noun. A bestowment of good, a prayer asking for God’s favor.

Alex Loach via Flickr

Alex Loach via Flickr

This Monday, you’re restless. You want to do something, but you don’t know what. You’re hollow, but you don’t know what will fill the loud, echoing emptiness. You’re wrestling, and you don’t know how to win. You’re feeling alone, and you don’t know how to find hands to hold. You’re stuck, and you don’t know how to find momentum.

When you’re in these places, you try. You spin your wheels and make the lists and try, try, try to fix things.

But you can’t. You won’t.

Sure, you can do something. You can partner with God. You can make those plans and call those people and type those words and move when he kicks your butt off the couch.

But you cannot heal your own fragile soul. You cannot make yourself whole.

That restless yearning? That hunger for more, more love and more trust and more deep, rich life? Doll, you can’t fix that.

Only he can.

Let him do his work. Let it be slow and surprising. Let him crack your fragile heart so he can mend it, making it more whole and more beautiful than before. Let him hold you and comfort you and spread his peace like a blanket over you. Let yourself be broken and beloved, both at once. Let him be with you and for you and in you. Let him be God.

Blessings on your week, friend.

Interim

Interim. noun. An intervening time, a temporary or provisional arrangement.

jblaha via Flickr

jblaha via Flickr

On a tired evening, I read a post by Emily Freeman. She shared these words, from John O’Donohue in To Bless the Space Between Us:

You are in this time of the interim where everything seems withheld.

The path you took to get here has washed out; the way forward is still concealed from you.

You cannot lay claim to anything; In this place of dusk, your eyes are blurred;

And there is no mirror. As far as you can, hold your confidence.

Do not allow your confusion to squander.

This call which is loosening your roots in false ground, that you might come free from all you have outgrown.

I stopped scrolling mindlessly. I read those words again. I let them sink and felt them resonate.

Because I am in this time of the interim.

The last of summer just slipped through my fingers. Not long ago, we had a golden day, a gift in Minnesota October. It was eighty degrees and sunshine and bursts of fall color. I sat outside in shorts and read Fitzgerald. And then, the next morning, the wind snatched the door from my hands as I left my apartment and blew in steel gray clouds. The temps waver now. We have blessed mild sun today and I forget my jacket most mornings, but the leaves are crumbling. I know what’s coming soon. I’m bracing for it.

I’m nearly done with my seventh week of student teaching. I’m prepping and teaching all but a tiny handful of kiddos. The battle does not rage, but rolls on, day by day. We’ve finished 18 hours of conferences, so many hours in the small room for the number of families who show. The assessments for state licensing are so much work, typed in 11-point font on too many pages, with so little payoff. Sometimes I feel like a real teacher, worrying what videos my third grader is posting of herself on YouTube and wondering how to authentically incorporate music for the boy who sings Wiz Kalifa while staring at his journal. And sometimes I feel like a fraud. I have no paycheck, no year-long commitment to this school and these students. I am still a college student, tied to supervisors and seminar hours and my university email.

I don’t know where I’m going. I have eleven more weeks of clarity, three with my elementary kiddos and eight in  7th grade Language Arts. And then my life is blank, all haze. Job boards and program applications offer many options and little clarity. “It will be interesting,” I say. “It will all work out.” I believe it because I have no choice, because belief precedes sight in my brand of faith.

Relationships get complicated. We muddle through the everydays of long-distance and wonder if it’s worth it, if it will work out. This is no easy business, the in-between of “I like you” and “I do.” I’m feeling desperation to be permanently attached to someone, to come home to the same arms every night. I see it happening for friends on my Facebook feed, while I sit solitary in my apartment and burn with quiet cynicism. It’s not yet time for me. Maybe it won’t ever be. For now, I buy a plane ticket and pray and try to build a life anchored on more than one boy. But still the distance, the unknown, the unfulfilled ache.

I don’t know what I’ve outgrown. I can’t go back, to classes with familiar professors and the friendly faces in chapel and close circles with girls in the dorms. I don’t want to. But there are holes left. I used to know my place in community, sitting on industrial carpet under twinkle lights, or standing in line to buy cookies from the cafe after chapel. Those everyday intersections are gone. The connections remain, a little dusty but still whole and real. I need to reach out. I need to be known.

This is the space between student and adult, between classes and jobs, between past and future. This is the interim. This is life. We live and move in the moments between, the moments of not yet, the moments of mystery and blind faith. And through it, the blurry and the broken, we keep moving. We keep growing. We keep trusting that God makes cosmos from emptiness, life from dust, and beauty from our cracked little souls.

Blessings

Blessings. noun. A bestowment of good, a prayer asking for God’s favor.

Flickr via Riccardo Cuppini

Flickr via Riccardo Cuppini

This week, may you feel God holding you fast in the midst of uncertainty.

This week holds so many unknowns. You will be surprised. You can’t avoid these surprises, even though they make you shifty. Even though you make your kiddos practice predicting what will happen next in the books you read, you can’t predict the plot of your life. You can’t guess exactly where you will feel pain or stress or joy or heartache or triumph. You don’t and can’t know what will change in the next seven days, or seven weeks, or seven months.

And guess what, babe. You don’t need to.

You only need to know that God has you in this moment. He is giving you what you need to make it through this minute and through this day. He does not promise sustenance for weeks at a time. He promises bread to satisfy your hunger for today, grace enough to fill you for today. So take what he gives you. It will be enough, if you let it.

May his sustenance surprise you. May his peace in chaos abound in you. May his reliability and trustworthiness sustain you. May you know, in your head and your heart, that you will never fall from his hand. May you feel his blessings on your week.

See

See. verb. To percieve with the eyes; to view; to visualize.

Image via Pinterest

Image via Pinterest

It’s early when I leave the house. The sky has tired of hoisting the clouds high, and they hang between trees and over highways. They hold the sun’s waking light and my dim headlight beams captive. Slowly, I drive through the fog. I can’t see what’s ahead, machine or deer or intersection. I see only gray light over gray road. I am a speck in the center, between where I came from and where I am going.

I remain in-between now, slinking into a foggy new year.

I’ve left behind the cozy, familiar light of last semester. It was a sweet time, balanced between beloved people and hard-but-good work. Then the lasts began to fall heavy as December stretched on: last movie night with my roommate, the one who’s graduated now. Last time my boyfriend, who will soon be long-distance, will swing by after his night class. Last drive to a placement without the title student teacher. The light of memory glows, but it softens by the hour. It will slip further out of reach when I drive back onto campus, towing clean laundry and fresh challenges. I can’t go back.

But I don’t know what lies ahead.

The year spreads before me, a grid of unfilled minutes and days. I can scrawl some events across the white space: a spring break trip, a friend’s wedding, a start of student teaching, a graduation. In theory, I’m moving toward elusive adulthood, things like apartments and big-girl jobs and morning commutes. But from what I see, the minutes are mostly blank. I can’t imagine what they hold. I have no vision, no phrase, no grand resolutions for this year. How can I plan for something I know so little about?

I’m stuck, fearing what I cannot see. I imagine the worst.

I peer into the mist, trying to read it like the swirls in a fortune teller’s ball. I don’t know what will jump at me from the cloudy corners. Will I drift away from those I hold dear? Will motivation find me for my final semester of classes? Will student teaching be a success? Worry of hidden, phantom monsters grips me. I wonder if failure and loneliness and pain lurk just out of sight.

I know my faith should buoy me. After all, Jesus said something about the blessed who believe without seeing. But I don’t think he was talking about my limping faith, the kind that hopes for billboards pointing the neon-lighted way to happiness and holiness. I’d rather be Thomas and skip the extra bite of blessing. I want proof, physical evidence of Jesus walking with me.

Ye of little faith, indeed.

I grasp towards clarity and control, believing that if I can see, I can make right. If only I knew the problems and emotions and dangers I would fight, I could prepare. I would wield lists and resolutions and problem-solving plans.

In my striving, I forget that I control and can fix little. I cannot slow time, snatch precious moments and cup them in my palms until readiness to move on blooms. I do not dictate the weather or my friends’ time or much of anything. Even if I could see what lies ahead, I could do little to affect it.

I also forget that not known does not mean not good.

This year, like all years, will be a mixed bag of hard and good. It holds hugs and dirty dishes and yawns and good books. The alarm will go off too early. I will run, feel my blood pump and mood surge. I will spill things. Loneliness will bite on long afternoons filled with homework. Trees will sprout leaves in the spring. Beauty and goodness hide in the shadows, mixing with heartache to form a real life.

I do not know exactly what this year in that life will hold. It will be foggy the entire way, though I try to wave away the mist and peer further ahead. But I hear echoes, ringing from above. They whisper that it will be okay. And though I can’t see, I choose to believe.

Nativity

Nativity. noun. According to Google, “The occasion of a person’s birth.”

 

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What were you thinking, in your last moments in heaven?

You must have known what was about to happen. You settled in the womb of a human girl. You, who created oceans and redwood forests, were no bigger than a speck of sawdust. As you grew, you made your mother’s ankles swell and back ache, right up until your birth. And that was no party either.

We make that story sound so rustic and sweet. At the nativity scene, the hay is fragrant, the sheep nuzzle you gently, the stars twinkle like Christmas lights. Your adoring audience enter the scene softly and kneel, glowing in your radiance. It’s like a lovely, pastoral barn baby shower. The country charm of your birth would have been splashed all over Pinterest and sparked the latest trend in midwifery.

But let’s get real. In modern terms, your birth would have raised eyebrows among the proper set. According to the retelling of the nativity my pastor shared last week, your momma might have been a young Latina who rode with her flannel-wearing fiancé on a motorcycle to Bethlehem. There was no room for them in janky motel rooms, so you were born in a parking garage. Sketchy-looking homeless men left their garbage can fires and bowed before you while Joseph warily looked on.

This whole story is ridiculous.

The lips that breathed world-forming words cannot speak. The eyes that saw the creation of seas and sky cannot see past a mother’s face. And if that’s not crazy enough, your first moments as a human were uncomfortable, unsanitary, and unpleasant. You deserved the best our weary world could offer: expert birth coaches, plush blankets, a cushioned cradle. And instead you got a frantic father, scratchy straw, and a feed trough laced with cow spit.

This real, gritty nativity chafes against my comfortable, middle-class ideas about Christmas. I’d prefer ornaments preserving Baby’s First Christmas, 0 A.D., and flannel onesies. The innkeeper could have at least strung up some mood lighting. There is no sparkle, no glamour, no grandeur to this story.

The rest of your life was just as messy. You were a refugee, got acne, felt sawdust stick in your eyes, befriended a guy named Judas, died cruelly. You felt the same hunger and disappointment and loneliness and pain we all do.

As you looked from heaven, the last glimpses from omniscience, you saw all of this, the limiting bonds of human form you would strap yourself in.

Why did you do it?

My Sunday School coaching makes me think I know the answer. I nod and say that you loved us, you wanted to be with us, you wanted to say “I understand,” because you would and do.

But those answers still ring hollow when faced with the reality of the Lord of the universe crying between cows. The mystery of Emmanuel, God with us, is one I cannot solve. I can rattle off verses about your love and say that I’ve felt it. But I cannot comprehend what wild, tender, ferocious love would look down at the mess of humanity and willingly dive in.

Today, we are still a mess. Like ancient Israel, we wait for whispers of hope, that you have not forsaken us. The news blazes with gunshot wounds and angry protests and hungry children and raging militants. My own life, though small and simple, shouts in need of salvation. My soul longs for fulfillment, craving peace and stability and quiet reassurance that hope can break through darkness.

You do not back down, glance away from humanity’s clamoring, writhing under sin. Two thousand years ago, you slipped straight into the muck. You did not shy away from stink and germs and temptation and betrayal. Neither do you shy away from the mess of our world and my life. You promise that you are still here today, remaining God with us.

Sometimes it’s hard to see you. Had I been in Bethlehem on the first Christmas Eve, I doubt I would have ventured to the stable to visit. I would have covered my ears to the pounding at the door, blamed the flashing lights on obnoxious drunken travelers, and curled deeper in my blankets. I would have hugged my mirage of security and peace tight, unaware that the source of true Peace was lying helpless among animals. Today, I need to see you, to unwrap the real nativity from its glittery trappings that hint at magic but never fulfill.

As Christmas draws near, help me see you in the midst of the mess. Teach me to marvel at the mystery of God with us. Draw me to you, the sacrificial baby borne from heaven to the dirt and pain of real life. Help me accept your gift of incomprehensible, earth-shaking love.

everyday

everyday. adjective. The routine or ordinary, as contrasted with special occasions.

image via Pinterest

image via Pinterest

The morning air is cold. I pull myself out of bed by the rungs of the bunk above me, my eyes tired. The sky outside is all icy morning light and bare tree branches. I trod to the shower to warm and wake. The water is too hot. My skin prickles, the frost of sleep melting from my shoulders and my lids slowly lifting.

I make tea last-minute on my way out the door. A splash of milk, a small spoon of sugar, a tea bag tossed in a travel mug. In class, I breathe out, cooling boiling water. I scorch my lips. I drink it in, spice and sweetness. For a moment, I think of China: hot, sticky mornings in hotels with boiled eggs and rice, asking for yi bei cha.

I sit behind the TA desk, buried behind folders and a Dell. The professor I work for monologues about her busy schedule. I grade grammar homework and nod along. My red pen scratches, halting as I untangle sentences aloud. When I was taking the class, I thought the TA was all-knowing, a real grammar goddess. Now I doubt myself, scribbling over badly added scores and forgetting what grades I’ve posted online.

The harsh afternoon light is softening when I sink into the couch. Laptop cords, binders, and books circle me in a net of responsibility. I am torn between deleting emails and finishing assignments and checking Facebook. Conversations pull my eyes away from the screen, back to real life and real people who gaze steady right back. Sometimes the words end exactly at 11:00 pm. Sometimes they stretch past my bedtime. I forget to do the dishes.

I sit under blankets in the glow of Christmas lights. My journal fills with words that unwind messy thoughts and beg for wisdom. I look back, tracing God’s fingertip through my hours. Some days I see him in blazing Technicolor. Others I see only a faint pencil outline. I wonder where he’s leading me.

This is my everyday life. I don’t always notice the beauty in it. It’s easy to miss in late fall, when the flaming leaves have frozen and fallen and the semester gains speed each week, sifting through my grasp like sand. Sometimes I’m blind to the sparkle on yesterday’s snow, the wide-open, wondering eyes of my students, the small and myriad ways God is slipping blessing into my hands.

But whether I notice or not, these everyday snatches of beauty are there. They, the steady and ordinary, lend solid support to the life I’m building. And these ordinary moments have potential to be extraordinary. Evenings in sweatshirts with messy hair can be as meaningful as fancy nights when I wear lip gloss. The pink-striped clouds at sunset can shout of God’s radiance as strongly as a swelling praise chorus. The smile of a third grader can buoy my heart like a shot of espresso to the soul. In the season of thanksgiving, of calling out blessings, I want to see more of this ordinary beautiful. I want to see how God is stepping into my small life and moving in my everyday moments. I want to remember the rich, deep ways he continues to bless me, day after day.

Open the eyes of my heart, Lord. I want to see you.

Blessings

Blessings. noun. A bestowment of good, a prayer asking for God’s favor.

Image via Pinterest

Image via Pinterest

Sometimes Mondays are hard. Today seems to be another un-extraordinary beginning. The week ahead seems to stretch long, the days colored light gray and smudged with sameness. You look ahead to homework, and work, and little else.

This is not how you want your week to look. You wish that your days were always Saturday-night sparkly. You wish that your evenings were full of things jazzier than homework. You wish your weeks always felt inspired and crackled with potential.

But constant excitement is not your life right now. It is not what God has called you to. He has called you to this, here, now.

This week, he does not require that you manufacture high-flying sparks and firecrackers and zig-zagging variety. He does not require that you are giddy about all that you do. Instead, he requires that you are faithful with the job, the hard and holy work, he has given you. And while typing another lesson plan and grading more grammar homework does not seem glam or particularly important, you are right where he wants you. These things have purpose beyond passing your classes and getting a paycheck. Maybe that purpose seems small and un-sexy, but it is there. It is worth finding and working towards.

This week, may you show up and put up with that hard work. May you go forth with purpose and learn to find the holy in what you do. May you continue in the call that God has given you in this week, as ordinary as it may seem.

Blessings on your week, friend.

Blessings

Blessings. noun. A bestowment of good, a prayer asking for God’s favor.

This post kicks off a project I’m going to try. On Sunday nights, I’ll write a prayer or blessing for the upcoming week, somewhat in the style of Emily Freeman’s For Your Weekend. So often Sunday nights are panicky and wound tight with worry, where I stress about the week’s upcoming craziness, lingering on the full-scheduled days and the to-do lists. I want to change that. These posts will be written for what my heart needs for the upcoming week, but I pray that they bless you as well.

image via Pinterest

image via Pinterest

Things are getting real. You’re beginning to see your calendar fill up and your life slip into familiar patterns. You’re remembering that you hate doing homework on Saturdays but pay for it on Sunday evenings, that you need tea in 7:50 am classes, that balancing school and work and friendships and doing the dishes gets dicey sometimes.

Take a deep breath. It’s going to be okay.

Do not think about the semester in sum, all of the assignments and pages and unknowns. Tackle one day at a time. Remember that the Lord’s mercies are new every morning. You won’t exhaust your week’s allotment of divine patience and grace by Monday afternoon, even if everything goes wrong. Rest easy. Jesus walks with you, equipping you day by day, moment by moment. When you look at the calendar blooming with colored pen scratches, remember that. Day by day, step by step, he is there.

Blessings on this week, friend.

Blessing

Blessing. noun. According to me and a hodgepodge of sources, “Good wishes, a bestowing of good, a prayer asking for God’s favor.”

Image via Pinterest

Image via Pinterest

Read this as a blessing over this new school year, written for you and me.

Dear one,

You are stepping into another school year, another beginning. You’ve bought new pens and stowed away your swimsuits. You’ve scratched your schedule on your ever-filling planner. As the first day of class slips past, this season feels fresh with possibility and heavy with unknowns.

The stiff new syllabi and duties and schedules aren’t broken in yet. They’ll rub blisters at first. You’re not a fan of transitions, the jostling of uncertainty and interrupted routines. But you’ll be okay. You’ll get past those first few weeks. The semester will soften and you will learn how everyday life looks.

As you walk through all of this beginning and newness, I want you to remember this, a prayer for you.

I pray that you would rest in how loved you are. Soak in the beautiful truth that you are not what you do. Remember that God sees you, not your successes and failures, and that he loves what he sees. Live like you have all the love and affirmation you crave, in your scurrying to class and your ordering chai lattes and your posting on Facebook. Don’t think that the cracks on your scratchy, misshapen soul make you unlovable or less than. It’s not true. Don’t think that doing more equates to getting more love. It doesn’t work.

I pray that you would love others more and better. Don’t be afraid of the new, when silences are loud and talk is small. You may stumble on sweet connections if you remember that awkwardness has killed no one yet. All the while, be thankful for the friendships that are broken-in and familiar. Do not take these friends, who know that you are noisy in the mornings and deeply in love with dark chocolate, for granted.

I pray that your eyes would be opened wide, that you would be awake to all that God has for you. Don’t scurry through life, eyes squinted in worry and blinded by busyness. Take the time to see God’s work around you, the yellow-tinted leaves and the freshman toting brand-new backpacks and the beating hearts and blooming stories of the students you teach. Snatch opportunities, even if they seem humble, even if they throw off your perfectly sequenced schedule.

I pray that God would whisper his presence throughout your days. Remember that he is with you always, even when your life turns crappy, you forget assignments, and you don’t touch your Bible for a week. In the unknowns that make you panicky, rest in his peace and trust in his providence. He will walk with you all the way.

Blessings on this beginning, my friend.