Christmas in January

The decoration box was lugged to the attic yesterday. It was a festive month of wreaths, greens and magical lights on the dock.

Alas, here we are with yet another Advent finished. Another Christmas season complete.

She had the baby.

There’s a “pregnancy” to Advent that provides an accessible reason to wait - a tangible conclusion to our waiting. Jesus, the Christ child, is born into flesh.

We feast; we savor; we unwrap presents, and presence, astounded that He is now here. With us. Immanuel. What now though, when the manger must be departed from, the evergreen aromas swept away? When the womb feels without again, the year ahead unknown?

Maybe Jesus is easier to trust in a pregnant story. Maybe He's easier to fathom with all the songs and light and magic of the season. But as a real, born person, He can be harder to grab hold of. As the incarnation realized, His following can seem more complex.

Maybe some parts of Christmas were never meant to be stored. As decorations make their way to the chilly cedar attic, maybe some themes should remain, like hopeful waiting and God being in our midst.


Jesus said, “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness” (John 12:46).


Would you help us believe this as true today, Lord, not just for the Christmas season, but for the whole year through? Amen

-Abbie

Walking as Prayer

 

"Ask, and it will be given to you: seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened." Matthew 7:7-8

 

It’s easy to forget how profound a simple walk can be. How prayerful, even, given the intention.

Strolling on a trail recently, I asked God to help me see Him more clearly. It felt more akin to a passing thought, than bold prayer petition, but nevertheless, I asked. I didn’t encounter any burning bushes, or descending angels, but it was obvious by the end of my short time in the woods that God had heard and answered me.

The seven leaves shown here grabbed my attention, wanting to be seen, found, and pondered in their brilliant stories of the Fall - their brilliant telling of God’s story of the Fall. 

A more bizarre find, however, was the paintbrush, tucked beneath a pinecone and apparent only by its red handle. Could this be a way of seeing You, too, God? As I further pondered Creation, and how even a painter’s most brilliant depiction of it falls short, the answer seemed obvious enough.

Prayer isn’t just for Sunday mornings, or the confines of a church building. Prayer is communing with God, and can happen whether on a walk, staring at a leaf, or sitting affront a canvas. It’s an ebb and flow between you and your Maker, talking and listening, listening and talking.

New seasons in the natural order can be a bridge to new seasons in our spiritual ordering. As we embark upon Fall, maybe you’d be up for trying “a walk with God”. Unlike the usual walk merely for the sake exercise, what might it look like to change things up a bit...to intention your walk with this passing thought, and bold prayer: “God, would you help me see You more clearly during this time?”

(If you happen to want to do so here at the Retreat, there’s a lovely half-mile trail behind the playground. Among other things, it will take you to a most picturesque outdoor chapel, as well as various benches and peaceful views.) +

-Abbie

Permission to Rest

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” Matthew 11:29-30 (MSG)


We recently returned from a four-day retreat & training on spiritual formation and soul care at the Potters Inn in Colorado. It was eye-opening, and a great encouragement to continue doing what we’re doing at Wesley Gardens, developing and creating space for people to get away and find true rest. For even as Christians, we’re often exhausted, busy and enslaved to work.

In Chinese, busyness translates into two characters: “heart” and “annihilation”. None of us wants our hearts to be annihilated, but apart from some intentionality and surrender, it’s where we’re heading. The Sabbath is one “rhythm of grace” given to aid us otherwise. The ESV references “rest” 521 times, and “Sabbath” 150. Apparently God cares about them. One seventh of the week, He invites us to “press pause”, acknowledging His story, and allowing us to lay down our defenses because of what He’s done. Avoiding the Sabbath is usually either a trust issue, or a pride one. Either we don’t believe God can keep the world on its axis if we take a day off, or we’d rather be in control than spend a day learning to rest with Him.

Solitary branch near the Little Pavilion

Solitary branch near the Little Pavilion

The word Sabbath comes from “Shabbat”, which literally means to stop - to cease from our usual rhythms of work. For us, this looks something like worshiping with the Body (if our Sabbath falls on a Sunday), then pursuing portions of rest throughout the day (roasting coffee or browsing an architecture magazine (Micah)...journaling or baking cookies (Abbie)). One of us may cover the kids and allow the other some solitude. We nap if possible, and leave space for spontaneity and play. Sometimes we’ll share a meal with someone(s) life giving, take a walk in the woods, or head to the beach. The bottom line is, for one day a week, we intentionally strive to enter God’s rest (Hebrews 4:11).

Our creator rested after the work of creation, and commanded us to. From the work that is wearing for us, whether bills, spreadsheets, laundry, or grocery shopping..., God permits us to give ourselves a break, trusting they’ll kindly wait until morning. Babies and children will call for some creativity here, and at any stage, really, a Sabbath will require tweaks and grace and may not ever fit squarely into a box. Again though, the goal is not perfection, but finding rest in His.

What might it look like for you, or your family, to practice Sabbath’ing this Fall? (Please let us know if we, or Wesley Gardens, can aid in allowing this to happen.) +

Gratefully, Micah & Abbie

Hospitality as a Spiritual Discipline

 

Hosting guests has always been a priority in our family; now it dovetails as a priority in our work. It would be easy enough to vacuum and make beds in our guest room, or the Guest (Big) House at Wesley Gardens. But could there be more to genuine “hospitality”?

 
Little Cottage porch

Little Cottage porch

 

Guests bring an extra energy to a home. They bring new perspectives on how to chop an onion, or choose a Presidential candidate. They can also bring exhaustion, more work, and more temptation to “entertain”.

en-ter-tain (v) 1. to hold the attention of pleasantly or agreeably; divert; amuse.

For many of us, guests awaken our drive to entertain, and too often rob us of truly being with and participating in the lives our guests.

Entertaining isn't all bad, but it's also a fragile good. Generally speaking, guests are a gift to be hosted, not a short-lived presence to be entertained. We enjoy offering a clean house, unique centerpiece and tasty food, but the problem arises when we elevate our guest’s experience, over our guest. Simplicity and minimalism are treasures in the chest of human longing. Actual presence with another human being is a rare gem and marked diversion. Hospitality, that is.

hos-pi-tal-i-ty (n): the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.

Hospitality is something Christians are asked to show one another without grumbling, thereby contributing to one anothers needs (1 Peter 4:9 & Romans 12:13).

Whereas entertaining asks the aesthetics of our homes to rule over the true state of who we are, hospitality bids the true state of who we are to open the door of our homes. It insists on vulnerability. At times our offering will feel menial, burnt, or still dirty in the sink. At times we'll have to choose relational intimacy over the possibility of being seen in the truth of our messy homes, or selves. We’ll have to let go of how polished, or “Pinterest’y” our space is, remembering simple expressions like lighting a candle, or placing a jar of wildflowers, go farther than we think.

We want folks who stay at Wesley Gardens to feel cared for deeply, not entertained, as our culture knows it. In light of that, here are some questions we’ve begun asking ourselves:

· What is it I'm striving to accomplish when I invite guests into our home?

· Do duties and expectations trump attempts to love well the guest in our midst?

· Am I aiming to provide a perfect experience, or a real experience?

· Am I more concerned with guests’ experience of me, or my appearance to them, than I am of offering a safe, genuine place, expressive of Home?

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unaware. Hebrews 13:2 +

-Abbie