What’s in a Name? Only Everything {an Advent Post}

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There can be no manner of doubt a name is more easily remembered when its meaning is understood.      –A.J. Macself, from the Foreword, “Plant Names Simplified”

I forgot to plant my amaryllis bulb the week of All Hallow’s Eve. I wrote about the practice in my Christmas season book, how planting a crinkly, brown bulb with antenna-like roots can be a lesson in patience and waiting during the Advent and Christmas season. But I was too busy to remember. Goodness.

So, I potted the inglorious bulb the other day after soaking the accompanying ground-up coconut shreds in warm water, watching them miraculously expand and nearly overtake my 32-ounce glass measuring cup. Amaryllis duly snugged into plastic container, I pondered something while I cleaned up the mess in my sink.

What does ‘amaryllis’ mean, anyway?

I’m fond of learning the Latin for plant names, shrubs and trees. As an amateur gardener, I pride myself on the pronunciation and meaning of the various denizens of my yard and garden. And some of the names are not Latin at all, but simply named for people or a place.

–Susan Magnolia

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-Japanese Stewartia

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-Shindishojo Maple

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-Lonicera (Honeysuckle)

Ready for the Sights of the Season (sort of)

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!”― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol   

I’m sure you’ve noticed….the fervor of the Christmas season often assaults us from September’s end all the way until December. The other day while shopping at Costco I felt just that–overwhelmed by an onslaught of Christmas music, faux decorations and mountain of toys two aisles wide. While I rounded the corner next to cases of hummus and casserole fixings, I sighed and pondered our desperate need for a slower walk into the coming season.

I wish more folks in the world ordered their lives around the church calendar and its feasts rather than the calendar of consumerism. Along with harvest decorations and the Halloween costumes there’s mechanical Santas and fake flocked Christmas wreaths at nearly every department store around.

I suppose Costco prescribes to Dickens’ philosophy above, that of keeping Christmas (almost) the entire year. While I support the spirit of this sentiment–being filled with peace and goodwill towards all men–the crush of gift-giving and pressures of picture-perfect holidays miss the point completely. We would do well–I would do well–to remember the need for a slow walk into the season; Advent is the perfect place to begin.  

After All Hallow’s Eve (Halloween) we observe All Saints Day on the church calendar, an occasion for remembering all the saints, known and unknown. After that is the last church feast day in Ordinary Time-the Story of the People of God, Christ the King Sunday on November 24th. We are then ushered into the season of Advent and the months that encompass the Story of Jesus from his birth until the celebration of Pentecost. This graphic below is helpful to me, a clueless Evangelical, when it comes to understanding the church year. Perhaps you’ll find it an aid to your understanding as well.

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photo credit-Renovare.org

As with much of Christianity, the church year can be radically countercultural, a much-needed light showing a better way to live. In a culture that is often too hurried and distracted, the church year helps us pay attention because it draws our focus continually back to Christ.    -K.C. Ireton, The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year

5 Favorite Things About Fall

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There are so many reasons I love this time of year–it’s hard to choose, but here are my top five:

  1. Pumpkins Who knew there were white pumpkins and bumpy pumpkins and sorta-blue pumpkins and well, all manner of heirloom squash family members?? God’s creativity abounds in the gourd department, no? The displays at Trader Joe’s and elsewhere are a delight for the eyes. (But no Pumpkin Spice anything. Sorry Starbucks. And sorry, Hostess. Pumpkin Spice Twinkies? Um, no.)

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2. Half-a-pie moons in the night sky, crisp, clear mornings. Dew on the leaves in the garden.P_20180920_095150 Purple asters, full, ripe raspberries, colors beginning to creep up the foliage in the Japanese Stewartia.P_20180920_123823The world is getting ready to sleep.

I praise God for the way He speaks to us in creation. As nature is cycling through her seasons, the picture outside my window sends a visual message that murmurs just below the surface: I need to s l o w down. The waning hours of daylight are a subtle hint.P_20180919_081748From Websters, ‘Dormant’–asleep or inactive, latent but capable of being activated. From biology, a relatively inactive or resting condition in which some processes are slowed down or suspended. It is good to not always be in a hurry, the world whizzes by fast enough as it is. Tarrying awhile inside or out helps us to see that while we sleep God is still at work. Capable of being activated.

3. Cool nights mean fragrant candles, warm socks, and cozy fires. 

Burning Candles

There are fewer hours of daylight, forcing us inside to rest and redraw boundaries. Again the period of dormancy and slumber outside provides a reflective way to re-center ourselves physically. While my nature is to please everyone and Do All the Things that people ask of me, the natural environment moves me to a mental and spiritual process of gathering myself in. I’m grateful for the natural slowing down of Autumn when we’re inside more and attentive to the quiet. This posture leaves me more margin in my life to say ‘yes’ to God and what He’s called me to do, instead of overextending myself when I shouldn’t.

4. Cooking, Baking = Creativity.

We’ve had some humdinger, hot summers in Seattle the last couple of years and the last place I’ve wanted to be is in the kitchen. Now that the days are much cooler, I relish the chance to return to cooking and baking, especially on Sunday. That probably sounds odd, but it’s how I sabbath in the Fall. Rest to me looks like creativity–make something or organize something. I spend most of my days working with words, which requires a lot of attention to this old brain. Working with my hands leaves my mind free to process, another way to build white space and margin into my days. Plus, banana bread. It’s a win-win.

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My daughter Leah and I in the kitchen. A very long time ago. (I mean, look at the floor. Can we talk about the floor?)

5. Fresh Starts

Rosh Hashanah–When I taught in Hebrew school several years ago I welcomed the immersion into Jewish practices surrounding the beginning of the year. Rosh Hashanah literally means ‘the Head of the Year’ and signals the beginning of the Jewish New Year. How interesting that this head of the year coincides with the first day of school, a time for new beginnings, no matter whether it’s Kindergarten or college. When I read back through my journals each year I find a record of God bringing the most dramatic changes in my life in each successive September. As a Christian I love the way God weaves the Hebrew festivals into our New Testament understanding of Scripture. Our lives as believers in Messiah Jesus are a reflection of the type and shadow of those festivals God gave His people from the very beginning. I love being part of that. 35a52-sam_0246

You can find out more about Rosh Hashanah here.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God has set eternity in our hearts. I think that’s why we sense God’s call to us, soul-deep, in this season. How about you? What are your favorite things about Fall?  I’d love to hear in the comments. And as always, If you’ve liked this post, would you consider sharing it with a friend? Email, Facebook, Twitter buttons are right down below. Thank you ever so much!

Remember to sign up for my bi-monthly newsletter “Random Acts of Writing” (next edition in November.) You can sign up right here.

Worry & Wonder–Holy Week

“Only in those moments of vivid experience that made her come alive was she at home in her own country.”    –Marianne in Green Dolphin Country, Elizabeth Goudge, Hodder & Stoughton, 1944

Friend T and I were chatting on Instagram the other day about my favorite author (see above). There’s no writer I can recall whose stories have deepened my vision of the Gospel and my appreciation for the beauty of language quite like Elizabeth Goudge.

But my heart is also quieted today, a heaviness at the back of my bones, weighted down by worry for the world and the myriad of ways we are messing it up. I’m afraid to read the headlines (we’ve canceled our daily paper) and when the news scrolls across my computer screen I click through to a different page. There is it the present reality of war and famine afar and the deranged antics and societal injustice at home. Big heavy sigh.

It seems foolish and insensitive to trivialize the trials of this day and age by attending to other simple joys: the gentle breezes waving fir branches outside my window or the way a chickadee alights on a bird feeder, the bright burst of daffodils against the grey. But the mundane holds a bit of miracle this week before Easter. Indeed, the miracles are there in all our days if we but look.

Attending to the richness of words in a good story is another way to pushback the unseen edges of this cool, gray day, much like reveling in the bright color of the salmon-y pink blossoms of quince bush in my back yard. (this is a friend’s clematis by the way, not my quince.)

Remarking on such simple joys may seem frivolous to some. Blossoms, books, birds.

But it’s not frivolous, no. For one, noticing the glorious passages in a good book can call us to remember that beyond the bleak and gray of the day in front of us there is Easter on the other side. For, if an author does it correctly, resurrection will show up in the language and in-between the lines of a good story.

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“All good stories lead to God,” my friend Laura opines. I’m inclined to agree.

But really, why discuss the finer merits of a passage of literature when these are such somber, serious times? Shouldn’t we be d o i n g something?” Well, yes these are somber, serious times. It is Holy Week after all, the days we dwell on Christ’s passion prior to His resurrection.

But often the wisest recourse we have is to remember to fill up our own souls with the staying power of beauty and truth.

So, I give you this, in addition to the joy of remarkable, inspirational language, there are also the right-in-front-of-us gifts: days of new sunrises, friends and family nearby to laugh and pray with, the morning’s hot coffee in a special mug, a favorite book on my lap.

These are also days when the word of God holds out hope, our very breath and life. The one and only Good Book.

When we have the companionship of others on this journey–always with its terrors and triumphs–we can often find a common denominator to lift us up and keep us in place with the anchor of a well-loved book. A favorite line or passage in a poem or paragraph, the sing-song of dialogue that makes us laugh, an author’s way with language as she paints a picture of a season’s wonder and discovery. Together we remember there is beauty above the here and now. We remind each other, “Let me tell you about something I read….you’ve got to hear this.”

When we share the good news of a great story, lines that comfort, encourage and inspire we are partners of a piece of small joy, if even for a moment.

My prayer this week and in the weeks ahead is that you would find a good story to sink yourself into (alongside the Source of all good stories, The Book of Books, of course.)

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The promise of Easter is the power to change how we see the world through God’s eyes. There is victory on the horizon, whether it’s right now or in the not yet.

May you find a good story to anchor your life, not because you want to escape this world but because in its pages you might find what you’ve been missing.

And if you need a place to start for recommendations–good fiction and Christian non-fiction, Sarah Clarkson (aka ‘BookGirl’) has her recommendations here.


Tell me what you’ve been reading~I’d love to hear in the Comments. Maybe I could read over your shoulder?

 

 

Merry Christmas, Dear Readers

It seems very fitting that Christmas Eve should be on a Sunday, when we gather for worship, wherever that is. A morning to set our hearts right in a posture of worship and thankfulness is a good way to ease into the gift giving and receiving activities before us, whether we gather tonight or tomorrow with family and friends.

As I prepared my head and my heart this morning for church I found Handel’s Messiah on Youtube and through the miracle of livestreaming from my tablet, was able to listen on my Bluetooth speaker while I put on makeup in the bathroom.

Yay, technology.

There are 4 sections in the Messiah oratorio based on scores and scores of Biblical passages. The tenor was heading into a familiar part, “And the glory of, the glory of the Lord, shall be he he he he he he reveal-ed.” He carried out the trills and notes as the music called for and I just shook my head as I listened.

What men and women can do with their voices.

The Messiah’s most recognizable musical passage is, of course, the Hallelujah Chorus. There’s a Messiah Sing-along near our house every year at Christmas time and I’m bound and determined to participate one of these years, just to join in the fun of that chorus. The thought of standing next to other vocalists of all abilities and stripes while we attempt to do justice to the music has always appealed to me.

Of course, we can never do justice to that great music here on Earth, altho’ we may try. It is said Handel saw Heaven itself opened up while he was composing each part. I’d like to ask him about that some day….

My favorite actually-singable Christmas songs change from year to year; sometimes it’s James Taylor’s Christmas or Jewel or Pentatonix or the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree jazz quartet. Then I listen to Josh Groban’s ‘Noel’ or Andrea Boccelli singing with the Muppets and think, “That’s my favorite.” But I forget the classic Peter, Paul and Mary PBS Special recording and there I am humming along with a smile on my face.

They’re all beautiful and inspiring pieces of music, but nowhere near the Messiah. And while I aspire to be able to sing along with Handel (maybe in Heaven?) I am grateful for the more down-to-earth folks that allow me to join them via the magic of recorded sound.

I hope your hearts and homes are full of song and sound this special time of year, dear friends. May I say I appreciate you reading along this year and appreciate your kind words always in this place? I appreciate you more than you know.

Merry Christmas!~

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love,

Jody

 

Christmas: Mystery, Miracle or Magic?

“Did not a great grey servant

Of all my sires and me,

Build this pavilion of the pines,

And herd the fowls and fill the vines,

And labour and pass and leave no signs

Save mercy and mystery?”

                                                –G.K. Chesterton, from the Ballad of the White Horse, Book IV

The holiday weeks are often heralded as the most wonderful time of the year; God knows we also W O R K to make it the most wonderful time of the year.  Unspoken pressures and unrealistic expectations—whether from others outside or inside ourselves—can back us into a corner and leave us, if not defeated, a little discouraged.

We want magic to last forever, especially during the Christmas season.

Whether you’re a grandparent, an auntie or uncle or mom and dad, everyone does their best to manage the tricky equation. There’s the balance of dealing with the pressure to provide nonstop happiness with that elusive, endless magic we’re sure is just around the corner. All the while we try to hold to the heart of Christmas—remembering Jesus.  Most often though, all that fun, excitement and magic-making leaves us feeling exhausted and overwhelmed while the joy and peace we crave are lost.

What we really want at Christmas is a way to remember what matters, and maybe a new attitude about it all. (Lord knows, changing my head AND my heart is no small miracle.)  So, how do we manage the magic? If it doesn’t last through Christmas, how do we hold on to the wonder?

Two ways: We enter into God’s mystery by mining His word and leaning into the miracles in our own hearts.

In this season of Advent, we’re encouraged to light our wintry way with God’s Word.

Reading on the first Sunday of Advent, there’s the explosive promise of Hope in Isaiah 64 to wait for our coming Savior,
“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,  so that the mountains would quake at your presence–
as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil– to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down,
the mountains quaked at your presence.
From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you,
who works for those who wait for him.”

The Advent readings for the month continue.

Second Sunday’s Prepare rings out in Isaiah 40, the Third Sunday’s Rejoice pours forth in Luke 1 as we read of Mary singing and rejoicing in Christ’s birth. And on the fourth Sunday we light the final candle to celebrate Love, God’s gift to us in the form of Jesus.

These passages contain much to meditate on; guided by the Scripture we are provided a place to pause over the mystery of God made flesh.

The reality of God’s word is as long-lasting as eternity. There is nothing temporary about it.

Another sure thing that will never fade? The personal miracles God has done in our lives. Whether it’s a change in our thinking or our attitudes, a new way of relating, a bigger heart for giving (and forgiving), those are all Godmade gifts that last when we receive His work in our hearts.

Christmastime contains the opportunity for mystery, miracles and magic.

But magic like the flicker of a firefly’s light is momentary. I want memories of a forever light that has not only come into the world, but will never fade away.

The mystery and miracle of Christmas.

*****

This post is taken from a message I gave at Lake Tapps Christian Center in Bonney Lake, WA, sharing about my book “Living the Season Well-Reclaiming Christmas”P_20181114_114840-3663114983-1542741044454.jpg

 

You can order signed copies of LTSW for $10 by clicking HERE with your request and I’ll be in touch.