Called to Advent–Devoting

Da Vinci Study of Woman

…and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.
1Timothy 5:10

One of my greatest concerns about our modern age is the misdirected devotion to all things material, trivial and shallow. A walk through the grocery check out line is most enlightening about where our priorities lie. Mainstream magazines have increasingly become tabloids and tabloids have become even worse than before. There is more skin and cleavage revealed in the check out line than on most beaches. And these magazines are not being marketed to men (look for them at the magazine racks reading about sports, the latest hot cars and newest electronic gadgetry).

Why do women revel in stories of other women’s cosmetic choices, fashion fiascos, romantic disasters and heartbreaks, then move on to devour articles on ten ways to *whatever* is the latest pleasure fad, and finally how to lose 10 pounds in five days?

Where is the cover story of the faithful widow who is well known for her good deeds for the poor, her hospitality to strangers, her servant heart in tending to her neighbors, her devotion to caring for children apart from her own? Where is the feature on self-sacrificing individuals who live simply (not because it is the latest trend), eat sensibly (not because their doctor told them they must), who don’t have a magazine named after them (sorry Martha and Oprah), and who give themselves away day in and day out?

For that matter, where is the front page story of two transient travelers refused housing, with a teenage mother having no choice but to deliver her first born in an animal shed with only starlight for illumination?

It just might make interesting reading during those ten minutes in the check out stand.

And is something worthy of our devotion.

What think we of Christ? Is He altogether glorious in our eyes, and precious to our hearts? May Christ be our joy, our confidence, our all. May we daily be made more like to Him, and more devoted to His service.
Matthew Henry– 17th century Presbyterian minister

Called By Advent–Calling

Leonardo Da Vinci's Hand of John the Baptist

A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD ; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Isaiah 40:3

“You would not have called to me unless I had been calling to you,” said the Lion.

C.S. Lewis in The Silver Chair

We think of our “calling” as an almost mystical sense of what we are meant to do or become. God calls us by name and dwells with us and among us. It is an irresistible invitation to share with others. So we are called to calling.

Our voices cry out in loneliness, in fear, in gratitude, in joy.

We have heard His voice and become His echo on earth.

Since no man is excluded from calling upon God the gate of salvation is open to all. There is nothing else to hinder us from entering, but our own unbelief.

John Calvin

Called By Advent–Blessing

Photo by Bent Fork

Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing…
1 Peter 3:8-9

We are called to be a blessing, even when we are hurt, tromped on, and spit upon. We are to choose compassion, humility and love even when the temptation is to be vindictive, stubborn and resentful.

We cannot resort to hurting back. We must not console ourselves with retribution. We must go beyond our human nature and love those who hate us and comfort those who want to make us miserable.

Being a blessing means letting go of anger and embracing harmony so others experience the beauty of grace.

Never say there is nothing beautiful in the world anymore. There is always something to make you wonder in the shape of a tree, the trembling of a leaf.

Albert Schweitzer

Called By Advent–Accepting

Leonardo Da Vinci--The Annunciation

Luke 1:38
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”

Advent is described as an anticipatory time of waiting and preparing for the Child to be born. There is almost a passive sweetness in just “letting it happen” as it was written and taught to us. But Advent also reminds us of His eventual return and as such it becomes a call to action. We must get off our duffs and get ready.

There are scores of words that describe what we are called to do while we wait, preparing for the second Advent: believing, blessing, comforting, departing, enduring, expecting, feeding, forgiving, glorifying, hoping, identifying, journeying, keeping, loving, listening, marching, naming, obeying, pondering, quieting, renewing, repenting, stretching, trembling, treasuring, trusting, unfolding, voicing, watching, worshiping, exalting, yielding, filling with zeal. It’s more than plenty to keep us busy.

There is nothing passive about Mary’s response to the angel’s message. She actively and willingly is accepting the call to become someone new.

And so must we.

May it be.

So be it.

Hallowed Hollow

When our ancient Spitzenberg apple tree came down in a windstorm this past week, there was no time to provide any sort of memorial service, or otherwise dispose of the remains. My husband started in on the job Thanksgiving morning and I watched through the kitchen window as I cooked for the family members soon to arrive. As he made several chain saw cuts through the trunk to make pieces easily moveable, the extent of the astonishing hole in this old tree became visible. It was suffering from an extreme equivalent of human osteoporosis with a brittle skeleton that somehow had lasted through innumerable windstorms until this week, even while still bearing apples, still trying its best to be fruitful.

The brittleness extended right down into the roots, and they too gave way so easily in the wind that the tree literally broke off at ground level and leaned over, propped up by much healthier and resilient upper branches that held apples only a few short weeks ago.

When it fell, the trunk oriented itself so it provided a view right through to the barnyard down the hill, telescoping what the tree had surveyed for so many years of its life. Clearly this had been a holey trunk for some years; within the cavity at the base were piles of different size rocks stashed there by the Lawrence children two generations ago and more recently our Gibson children. There was also a large tarnished spoon, lost decades ago into the dark center of the apple tree and now retrieved at its death. At some point in the last twenty years, a Gibson child playing a farm version of frisbee golf must have flung a bucket lid at the hole in the tree, and it disappeared into the gap and settled at the bottom.

All this, like a treasure trove of history, was just waiting for the time when the tree would give up its secrets at its death. There were no gold or silver coins, no notes to the future like a glass bottle put out to sea. This well hidden time capsule held simply rocks and spoon and lid.

I realized as I stared into the gulf of empty trunk that I’m hollow too, more hollow than I care to admit. Like so many of us, stuff is hidden deep inside that we’d just as soon not have discovered. Our outside scaffolding braces against the buffeting by the winds and storms of life, as we cling to this mortal soil. It is clear we’d be much stronger if we were wholly solid throughout, filled with something stronger even than our outsides.

But we tend to get filled up with a lot of nothing, or even worse than nothing, a lot of garbage. This is stuff that weakens us, furthers the rot, shortens our fruitful life, doing nothing to make us more whole and holy.

I’m looking more critically now at what fills my empty spots since staring down the barrel of that old apple tree trunk. May the hollow be hallowed.

O Little Child Christmas Carol

Adoration of the Child by Gerrit van Honthorst

This is a lovely carol written by Lora Pappajohn and Alan Woodland, played by 11 year old Emilie Whitman on her 2003 CD “Emilie’s Christmas”. This sweet lullaby deserves to be heard again and again, year after year, so here it is:


Oh Little Child

Oh little child it’s Christmas night
And the sky is filled with glorious light
Lay your soft head so gently down
It’s Christmas night in Bethlehem town.

Alleluia the angels sing
Alleluia to the king
Alleluia the angels sing
Alleluia to the king.

Sleep while the shepherds find their way
As they kneel before you in the golden hay
For they have brought you a woolly lamb
On Christmas night in Bethlehem.


Sleep till you wake at the break of day
With the sun’s first dawning ray
You are the babe, who’ll wear the crown
On Christmas morn in Bethlehem town.


Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia. Alleluia


A late November storm blew in last night, carrying blasts up to 70 mph. Our power went out twice during the night and in the dark of early morning, all I could see were rivers of rain running down the south windows of the house. It was in dim dawn that it became obvious–the wind had swept what it could with its indiscriminate ferocity. The full garbage can was pushed over, releasing wrappers and soaked kleenex into the surging tide, sweeping out to the road to attach, waving in surrender, to the barbed wire fence on the other side. Lawn chairs that had been piled against the garage were toppled and broken, arm-thick maple branches lay fractured in the driveway.

The saddest casualty was right outside our kitchen window. A ninety some year old apple tree had toppled in the night, silently giving up under the barrage and pressure of the blow. The old Spitzenberg tree, the favorite variety of Thomas Jefferson, had been failing over the last ten years. It was rotting centrally with holes that housed squirrels and their treasure trove of filbert nuts, and bearing fruit that was startling red and sweet but diminishingly small and scabbed, dropping to the ground beneath like so many drops of blood. Blue jays loved the branches and quarreled relentlessly with the squirrels over prime real estate and mountain view property in the crown of the tree.

No more. As it was eased on to its side in the night storm, swept up in the torrent of air and rain, it went quite peacefully, gracefully with nary a broken branch as they reached out to touch the ground, almost gratefully, breaking neatly at the base of its trunk, not even disturbing the sod. The roots remain covered underground, still clinging to rocky soil, with no where to pump to any longer. The old tree had simply bled out.

Before it becomes firewood, we will cut scion wood for grafting to preserve this antique apple, attaching it to a younger vital stronger tree for future generations of humans, squirrels and birds. It will live on bearing fruit in a way that makes me almost envious. My fruit bearing years are long past. I won’t be salvaged when my innards fail me and a puff of wind topples me over.

The salvage is needed now before I’m swept away by the storms.

A Light in the House

photo by Nate Gibson

Today one of my favorite writers about life on the farm, Verlyn Klinkenborg in the New York Times Opinion Pages, muses about sometimes forgetting to turn the light off in the barn and making the trek in the dark to shut it off. I wish I’d written this:

“Usually, after turning out that forgotten barn light, I sit on the edge of the tractor bucket for a few minutes and let my eyes adjust to the night outside. City people always notice the darkness here, but it’s never very dark if you wait till your eyes owl out a little….I’m always glad to have to walk down to the barn in the night, and I always forget that it makes me glad. I heave on my coat, stomp into my barn boots and trudge down toward the barn light, muttering at myself. But then I sit in the dark, and I remember this gladness, and I walk back up to the gleaming house, listening for the horses. “

A Light in the Barn

My favorite thing about walking up from the barn at night is looking at the lights glowing in our house, knowing there is life there, even though each child has flown away to distant cities. There is love there as Dan and I rediscover our new “alone” life together. There are still future years there, as many as God grants us to stay on the farm. It is home and it is light and if all it takes is a walk from a dark barn to remind me, I’ll leave the lights on in the barn at night more often.

Thank you, Verlyn, once again, for helping me see in the dark…

The Rhythm of Remembrance

Vietnam Women Veteran's Memorial

“For in self-giving, if anywhere, we touch a rhythm not only of all creation but of all being.”
C.S. Lewis

I’m unsure why the United States does not call November 11 Remembrance Day as the rest of the Commonwealth nations did after WWI. This is a day that demands much more than the more passive name Veterans’ Day represents.

This day calls all citizens who appreciate their freedoms to stop what they are doing and disrupt the routine rhythm of their lives. We are to remember in humble thankfulness the generations of military veterans who sacrificed time, resources, sometimes health and well being, and too often their lives in answering the call to defend their countries.

Remembrance means never forgetting what it costs to defend freedom. It means acknowledging the millions who have given of themselves and continue to do so on our behalf. It means never ceasing to care. It means a commitment to provide resources needed for the military to remain strong. It means unending prayers for safe return home to family. It means we hold these men and women close in our hearts, always teaching the next generation about the sacrifices they made.

Most of all, it means being willing to become the sacrifice if called.