How Absence Becomes a Gift

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Driving up to the entrance of the condominiums where we are staying in Phoenix, iron gates decorated with a red bow open slowly. Each time we exit and re-enter, we swiftly pass the first home H and I purchased together in the same complex. On a round metal plate purchased at Restoration Hardware fifteen years ago, #36 still hangs above the garage holding remnants of our fingerprints.

When we purchased that condo, it was the lone unit finished on that side of the street. For three years, instead of neighbors, driveways and lamps, we lived next door to an empty lot of dirt and gravel.

Countless photographs in the menagerie of albums and boxes filling a storage space include the front door of that first house as the backdrop. Of friends visiting from faraway places, our first baby swaddled in hospital blankets, a Springer Spaniel jumping above the concrete wall to welcome anyone coming to visit, adults wearing Winnie-the-Pooh party hats to celebrate Murielle’s first birthday.

My kids don’t remember much from that time period. What they remember are the people who invested in them and their parents.

The friend who clipped their first locks on the back porch while sitting on phone books; the pastor’s daughter who babysat faithfully every week and still  lights up when she sees them; the secretaries who spoke to them at eye level and continue praying earnestly for them as adults.

As we revisit the places and people in Phoenix providing the foundation for our marriage and ministry, I realize that more than anything else we strive for – money, influence, security, success – a sense of belonging and being known is what our soul longs for the most.

When you are known and deeply loved, you can live with very little and feel quite rich.

How are we providing places of belonging for others who are displaced and lonely? In Christ, we are fully known.  In community, we bring a sense of true belonging with us, filling absence with the fullness of Christ.

We may not live at #36 any longer but every time I pass by, I’m reminded that we are held, we belong, we are known, we are rich.

Today I’m honored to share a story with you about how absence provides the landscape for our greatest gifts. When Christin Ditchfield — author, speaker and radio host — invited me to guest post this month, my emotions were raw with disappointment and deep loneliness. Every sentence I attempted to write down became an escaped helium balloon in the collection of my thoughts. Harnessing what God wants to write through us can sometimes prove to be a wrestling match.

Christin is an empathetic shoulder and generous heart to lean on. I’m excited for you to meet her.

What I didn’t know when she extended the invitation was how our emptiness would provide an opportunity to receive a rare gift awaiting us this Christmas. Join me?  Seeing you in the comments will put a smile on my face.

 

How Poverty Prepares for Generous Hospitality

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“My deodorant is like the story of the woman with the flour and oil,” H says while standing in front of the mirror getting dressed. He holds the container up to eye level while I brush my teeth, “Look, it’s been empty for two weeks, but every time I twist it, more comes out.”

Moving quickly to the sink with hand cupped under my chin, I lean over and spit toothpaste out to avoid choking from laughter.

This is our new normal, finding God’s provision in the midst of newfound poverty. Living without income for several months while transitioning to a new job in London, the unanticipated lengthy wait has challenged our bank account.

But the gift in carefully counting our pennies is the revelation of tired thinking and the challenge of resourcefulness. I’ve taken much for granted, especially when it comes to feeding my family.

Join me for my inaugural post at Grace Table, a site dedicated to the passion of food, faith, and fresh perspective on hospitality. Pull up a chair at the table and let’s break bread together. I have a story I want to tell you.

Why Noticing Matters

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For five days, we traverse from South Carolina through eleven states, pushing pavement west for 2400 miles toward Phoenix. Over the Arkansas delta, flaxen plains of Oklahoma, and the brushy wide open spaces of Texas; her flat terra cotta terraces draped in marble blue sky. In the Land of Enchantment, vibrant shades of pink streak lavender sky as the sun melts from a giant orange orb to radiant gold pooling over a dark mountain range, a glowing outline jutting across the horizon.

The rapid fire clicking of a camera shutter from the back seat provides background music to the wonder we see through the windshield. My son looks through the lens of his camera, captivated by uncommon beauty. And this is perhaps the gift God is giving to each of us as we make our way home to the west for Christmas.

Perspective.

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Sometimes I trap myself waiting for thoughts to line up into neat little rows of sentences for you. I struggle to begin when details are profuse and time shallow. But the longer I wait to write, the more complex I make the process. Resistance becomes my unwanted companion.

Frederick Buechner writes, “Maybe nothing is more important than that we keep track, you and I, of these stories of who we are and where we have come from and the people we have met along the way because it is precisely through these stories in all their particularity, as I have long believed and often said, that God makes himself known to each of us most powerfully and personally. If this is true, it means that to lose track of our stories is to be profoundly impoverished not only humanly but spiritually.

When we stop noticing the beauty of a rusty abandoned bridge, a sunset, cultural contrasts and the way our soul awakens  in the midst of new people and places, we miss the presence of God. And this becomes dangerous to our humanity.

I’m taking notes in my journal daily. Of conversations, places we visit and the way Light slants over what is dead and makes it beautiful. I’m learning that abundant life requires noticing.

How are you noticing lately?

When we hold ourselves hostage to expectations, we live as prisoners instead of free and unfettered children of our Savior.

Sabbath is a weekly reminder to notice. The art of our lives is most beautiful and captivating when we let go and trust God for perspective.

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Thanks for hanging in there with me as we travel this month and posts are sporadic. Here are a few books I’m reading and places where I’m writing lately:

Every Bitter Thing is Sweet by Sara Hagerty – This book is an empathetic shoulder to lean on for those (like me) who are in a lengthy waiting season and longing for resolution.

The Jesus Way by Eugene Peterson – I’ve been savoring this book for months and probably highlighted the majority. He is so very wise and a friend to those of us who write in this one.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – There is a reason this book is on every list of top sellers. Beautiful writing makes a hard story easy to read.

Am I Enough? – My post at Share the Hope and my first UK writing assignment. Click over for more Advent reflections from people around the world.

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