Monday, December 31, 2012


“All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” 
~ Blaise Pascal, Pensées

Evidenced by the fact that I began to listen to music  directly after typing that quotation. How quickly I forget that Beauty most often finds one in stillness. How readily I push aside God's messages delivered by silence and solitude. 

The whole world clamours and clangs with noise. Even our eyes are assaulted by 'visual noise' - billboards, skyscrapers and 1960s apartment buildings, badly hung Christmas lights, vulgar lawn ornaments, and the like. There is the disarray of 'stuff' all 'round us. Rather than making our lives better, 'stuff' can simply clutter our homes and gardens, as well as our thoughts. Many persons attest to being unable to think or study well in a messy area, myself included. 

Visual chaos and the din of television, films, iPods, et cetera almost constantly fill our minds or blunt our senses. "What of it?" one might ask. Think for a moment of what you do when you go for a walk or run. Do you put in earbuds? Talk on the phone? When you sit down at your desk or kitchen table, do you pull out your smart phone, computer, or a book? Can you fall asleep without music? Do you ever simply look out the window and think in silence?

Outside my window tiny white faeries flutter and float, flurry and fall. Trying to watch individual flakes makes me nearly dizzy, they are coming so quickly. There is something calming about snow, or a blanket of fog. Both give a covering of quiet to ponder, to let the thoughts we push away with noise come forth from their banishment: Do I have what it takes to be a man? Will anyone ever love me for who I am? What am I here for? Do I even make a difference? Is living any better than dying? What if so-and-so dies? How will I support myself when I am older? What will happen if other people find out how little I really know? Am I just faking it through life? Who is God? Is God really real, is He really there? Does God care about me? Why would He? Who am I, behind this skin and those eyes in the mirror - who is this I inside? 

In solitude and stillness I realise I have more questions than answers. Sure, I have a vague idea of how to answer some of the above questions. However, if I spent an hour thinking about Who God is, I might find how little I actually know Him. I know about Him, and in small degrees I know Him, as a person knows another person early on in a friendship. But do I truly know Him? 

When faced with thoughts about family or friends dying, I try to push them aside - usually successfully. It is too hard, too painful to think of them actually being gone from this life. Likewise, I am accomplished at ignoring thoughts about the future state of our government,  how long my bank account will be worth something, or where I will be in ten, twenty, or thirty years. I do not like depressing thoughts, yet sometimes I really do have to face them. Sometimes the pain from 'out there' comes 'in here'. The brokenness of the fall is not just for other people. I, too, experience the fall in my own circle of friends, in my own family, in my own life, in my own body.

Solitude brings these thoughts to the surface, rather rapidly, in fact. No wonder Pascal said that a man is unable to sit in a room quietly and alone. We want to be distracted from the questions  we cannot answer, the thoughts we do not like. We do not want to think about how far we fall short. We hide from rejection and loss. We block it all out with constant music (degrading the worth of music to mere background noise), non-stop communication, and busy-ness.

Have you been running away from your thoughts? Are you ignoring God's arms wide open to you by running the course of the noisy world? When was the last time you sat down to listen to God? Do you often (or ever) turn your phone, music, and computer off completely? Have you taken a walk in silence recently? When was the last time you faced your thoughts rather than fleeing them? How about practising solitude today... Right now.

~ Johanna

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Every Stone Shall Cry: The Worlds Are Reconciled!

A Christmas Hymn
A stable-lamp is lighted
Whose glow shall wake the sky;
The stars shall bend their voices,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry,
And straw like gold shall shine;
A barn shall harbour heaven,
A stall become a shrine.
This child through David’s city
Shall ride in triumph by;
The palm shall strew its branches,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry,
Though heavy, dull, and dumb,
And lie within the roadway
To pave His kingdom come.
Yet He shall be forsaken,
And yielded up to die;
The sky shall groan and darken,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry
For stony hearts of men:
God’s blood upon the spearhead,
God’s love refused again.
But now, as at the ending,
The low is lifted high;
The stars shall bend their voices,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry
In praises of the child
By whose descent among us
The worlds are reconciled.

~ Richard Wilbur

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Balm of Writing

Nothing went as planned today. Our visit with some dear friends was cancelled due to strep throat at their house. I went in for tea and a pumpkin muffin this morning, but never made it back out to my room for quiet time. I felt listless, cranky, and off kilter most of the day... And then, as the daylight began to wane, the snow continued falling, and I spent about two hours writing. I slipped into the world being created, my mind pictured all I was describing and dwelt there. 

There is something redemptive about writing. Our minds and hearts engage with our own story, even more deeply than when we are reading another's story. There is a peace and a sanity that comes with fashioning our words into a story, a poem, or a blog. All of the world's insanity and brokenness can either be seen and put right in our writing, or it can be kept at bay whilst we scrawl away.

So, in spite of my plans going awry, the gift of creating with words brought balm to my soul. When we create we are most like God, or so I've read. After this month --and this day-- I am inclined to agree.

~ Johanna

*Note that cute photo up there, that kiddo is left-handed, oh yeah! ;)

Friday, December 28, 2012

An Empty Page

Sometimes I walk through life giving thanks for the obvious blessings God has given. Other days, I stare at the empty page before me and think how it mirrors life... Empty. Dull. Meaningless. I am afraid to love, because if I love someone or something, it can be taken away from me, it can cause me pain.

Love often goes hand-in-hand with pain, sorrow, and loss. I feel the depths of sorrow and suffering in love because I have felt its heights of joy and goodness. Just like I hate death because I know what it means to live

However, that same empty page is full of possibility. It may begin as a blank sheet, which has no meaning, but it is ready to receive whatever story the Author sets upon it. An empty page is malleable, ready to be shaped by words of despair and lies, or by words of hope and truth. Sometimes there isn't a whole lot of hope in facts, but I do think there is hope in Truth.

This day finds me staring at the white page, wondering what the Author is about to pen. There are some less than pleasant facts rearing their faces before me. Yet there is hope in Truth. I am a little afraid of finding out how painful love is. Yet I would rather take the pain if it is the price for knowing the greatness of that love.

I find it no 'random coincidence' that in the 12 days of Christmas, today is the day set aside to remember the 'holy innocents' - the young male children killed by Herod when he tried to destroy Jesus. Death is a result of sin; sin is the result of the fall; and it is this very thing that Jesus came to set on its head and turn backwards. Death will be swallowed up in Life. And all manner of things shall be made well.

I am thankful for Life, and for love so deep that it hurts... And for a Love Who was 'hurt' for us by being separated from His Father... So that we might never have to be.

For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
~ II Corinthians 5:21

~ Johanna

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Best [Satelite] Roomates -- Ever!

Near the close of the year I begin to recall all of the good and hard things from that year. All of the laughter, lessons, tears, prayers, group dinners, inside jokes, travels, and whatnot swirl 'round in my thoughts.

What a hard year 2012 has been for my friends and my community... Several of my close friends lost very dear loved ones this year (mothers, boyfriends, and children). One good friend moved out of the roommate house (and we have gained another dear roommate, but there is still a hole there). There were mass shootings in Colorado and Connecticut. There were many natural disasters, from devastating hurricanes to wildfires that rolled dangerously close to my front door.

Yet what joy and growth have come this year, as well! This has come from many corners this year, but by far I have shared the most life-stuff with my roommates across town. My year began with a surprise visit from my best friend and a sensational birthday party with the roommates. A welcoming haven these roommates have been all year... I especially remember our conversation (and delicious crêpes!!) on Palm Sunday/Easter. I remain eternally grateful to these dear friends taking me in when I was evacuated during the wildfire, and crying and praying with me as our city was threatened with conflagration. I cherish our Christmas celebration, reading parts of Luke 1 and 2 and discussing what things must have been like for Joseph and Mary, and Zacharias and Elizabeth. So much thought went into the gifts given, and work into the delicious brunch, and the day was full of chilling and talking about the things on our hearts. 

Those events merely mark the flow of the year; in between were many other mixed happenings: Stacia losing her mom this summer, Lyndi's hip surgery, Lauren's new job celebration (ha, and driver's license debacle), Nicole's going away party, Karen's arrival, birthday parties, coffee house band listening,  tea parties and kleenex, dinners on the patio, family members visiting, and more.

Considering how much joy and pain, new friends and old friends coming and going, and deepening in life and in the LORD has taken place with these women, I would be utterly remiss if I did not say how deeply grateful I am for the LORD placing me with 'The Awesome Ladies' community.

And I am filled with joy.
~ Johanna

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Snowy Perspectives

Crack! A thunder clap and thick flakes of snow woke me this morning... A rare combination that can occur in Mid-Western winter storms. Even in my sleepy state I smiled, because I  simply love snowstorms. Swirling snow, heavy grey clouds, and bumps and clumps of white have a way of transforming the world.

Have you ever noticed how snowstorms make things still? They diffuse noise by deadening echoes and swallowing sounds. Familiar objects take on new outlines. I noticed this a few weeks ago at home when it snowed. As I went for a walk down by the creek in Manitou, a walk I have taken a couple hundred times, I noticed things I had not seen before. I looked up a good deal in wonder. I chattered with squirrels (not a new thing, admittedly), seeing at least one dart into his hole - a previously unnoticed hole, despite being directly over the walking path.

Snow gives one a new perspective on old, familiar things. Snowstorms bring that unusual quiet. Perhaps snow is God's tangible reminder for us to have quiet hearts to listen to Him, to see a different facet of Himself or our own lives. Snow makes us slow down, literally and figuratively. Thus, those frozen flakes give us time to re-create with silent contemplation, and in the boisterous joy of snowballs, coasting, and fort-building.

Others may grumble about snow or call it a mess, but my perspective is different... I am thankful for snow, which gives me new ways to see familiar things, and a quiet place to listen to the One who makes my crimson stains whiter than snow.

~ Johanna

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Kneading Rhythm

Sticky potato water and yeast. Mashed potatoes, flour, and butter. This past weekend found me combining these ingredients in a large earthenware bowl. My arms, jeans, and fingers were dusted in flour, or sticky with dough; the perfect picture of a bread-maker. If there is one thing I have learnt about bread-making these past four or five months, it is that you must knead the dough. Otherwise, you will have dense, flat, or crumbly bread. Kneading takes patience, knowing when to let the dough rest, and strength in one's wrists and forearms.

Kneading has a rhythm to it, pushing the dough away from you with the heels of your hands. Not too hard, or you will break the gluten strands. Not too softly, or you will not stretch the gluten strands enough, resulting in a flat or crumbly loaf.

Life has a rhythm as well. Over the past few years I have discovered the Church calendar, it keeps me stretched, but not broken. Though I grew up with Christian parents and siblings, we have been more evangelical than liturgical believers. Discovering the cadence of Advent, the twelve days of Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, the Transfiguration, Eastertide, Ascension Day, and so on continues to teach me to walk in the pattern of God's ways, to the glory of His Name. One strand upon another, like the kneading and resting of bread dough, these Church seasons make me stronger. Lent and Advent are like the heels of the Father's hands upon my heart, preparing me to make room for His Son. Christmas and Eastertide are the moments of resting in a comfy, warm (but not hot) oven.

The bread analogy breaks down at some point, of course. Still, I wonder how many times God prepares, kneads, and rests our hearts, allowing us to be baked in the fire of trials. I know that I 'knead' rhythm in my life: seasons; circadian rhythm; sleep cycles; hours in the day; days in the week - some for work, some for rest; night and day; pain and joy; work and play. You need routine and new experiences, too. We all do, whether we realise it or not. 

This post is my first in the Twelve Days of Christmas. I plan to wrap up on January 5th, the eve of Epiphany. I still have a lot to learn about the metre of life, in the Church calendar and otherwise. Over these twelve days I want to share something I'm thankful for, because one strand of life is gratitude. Over and again Scripture speaks of those who had great calamity fall upon them, yet their response was to praise God. Such was Job, when he had everything taken from him he said, "The LORD gives and the LORD takes away, blesséd be the Name of the LORD." And the Apostle Paul reminds us to give thanks in all things, for thanksgiving is God's will for us in Christ Jesus (I Thes 5.18).

“The greatest honour we can give Almighty God is to live gladly because of the knowledge of His love.” ~ Julian of Norwich

Today I am thankful for many, many things. However, I will choose to name the greatest gift ever given which makes even good health, family, freedom, food, unexpected calls from good friends, a job, a community of friends, and a home pale in comparison: I am thankful that God is not 'out there'.  I am humbled, blessed, and grateful beyond words that God is Emmanuel - God [here] with us.

~ Johanna

Monday, December 10, 2012

Way, way, way! Way for the King!

“This usually happened because a loud voice shouted out "Way, way, way, for the Tarkaan", or "for the Tarkheena", or "for the fifteenth Vizier", "or for the Ambassador", and everyone in the crowd would crush back against the walls; and above their heads Shasta would sometimes see the great lord or lady for whom all the fuss was being made, lolling upon a litter which four or even six gigantic slaves carried on their bare shoulders.”
 ~ C. S. Lewis, The Horse and His Boy

If you live in a country with a King or Queen as your ruler, this passage from The Horse and His Boy might make more sense than for those in democratic countries. There is a fierce loyalty, a deep pride, and a rightful fear when you are hustled from the street because the King is coming by. Both the fanfare of trumpets and the line "Way, way, way! Way for the Tarkheena!" make me think of the arrival of someone notable. There is a sense of awe, curiosity, and respect that makes one draw back, -- yet look up -- to see the one who is coming.

That is exactly what the season of Advent is like. It is a time to prepare for the arrival of the King. Not just the monarch of one country or a group of countries, but of the world, of the whole universe! No wonder the word adventure (which contains 'advent') in earlier times meant, "a wonder, a miracle; accounts of marvellous things". ( An adventure is a going forth, not knowing what you will find, but risking life and limb along the journey and seeing new and wonderful things. The arrival of someone important is exciting; it is an adventure of sorts to witness.

Almost the whole world missed the arrival of the King when He first came. They did not realise that the most exciting, life-giving event was imminent. Very few knew that God was about to cloak Himself in the frailty of flesh and bone, blood and tears. Yet those who knew burst into song when they realised what God was about. Mary speaks the words of the Magnificat; Zacharias utters divine prophecy; the angels sing their mighty chorus of good news; and the shepherds run around the foothills of Bethlehem declaring the marvellous mystery of Emmanuel. Some days later Simeon is also led to prophecy in poetry over the little baby. A baby, One who cannot care for Himself, yet who will soon provide  redemption for the whole world.

All of these songs and proclamations were calling out, "Way, way, way! Way for the King!"  May we hear those words and in a sense of awe, curiosity, and respect draw back, -- yet look up -- to see the One who is coming.

There is an Advent song that calls out the approach of the King. The lyrics speak of the Eternal Word, present at creation, yet being born of a virgin, and coming to be both God and man, that we might not be condemned to endless woe.

Ere the worlds began to be, 
He is Alpha and Omega, 
He the source, the ending He, 
Of the things that are, that have been, 
And that future years shall see, 
Evermore and evermore!

O that birth forever blessèd, 
When the virgin, full of grace, 
By the Holy Ghost conceiving, 
Bore the Saviour of our race; 
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face, 
Evermore and evermore! 

He is found in human fashion, 
Death and sorrow here to know, 
That the race of Adam’s children 
Doomed by law to endless woe, 
May not henceforth die and perish 
In the dreadful gulf below, 
Evermore and evermore!
O ye heights of heaven adore Him; 
Angel hosts, His praises sing; 
Powers, dominions, bow before Him, 
And extol our God and King! 
Let no tongue on earth be silent, 
Every voice in concert sing, 
Evermore and evermore!

~ Johanna

Sunday, December 9, 2012

With a Thankful Heart

Do you ever have one of those weeks that is so busy it feels like two weeks in one, but when you reach the end of it you can't figure out where your time went? This week was just that sort for me. 

Though I am only 'part-time,' I put in nearly 40 hours at work. This gave me the chance to talk with my supervisor and a co-worker for several hours during some projects, to listen to 'A Christmas Carol' twice (two different versions), and to sing a myriad of Christmas carols (as I work by myself most of the time). I read a book in a couple of evenings; had two or three long phone conversations; went to see some fantastic Christmas lights (timed to music) with my neighbours; got to ride in my friend's classic Mustang (amazing!); organised a discussion group on Roger Scruton's 'Why Beauty Matters*'; spent an enthralling evening in the Air Force Academy Chapel listening to Handel's Messiah; and spent a lovely Saturday with my 'roommates' celebrating Christmas.

I could probably write several posts about Scruton's documentary, at least one about the Messiah (which could even overlap with Scruton's work), and probably a handful of posts about Christmas with the girls yesterday.

However, I want to write about thankfulness. I have been hounded in conversations, letters, Scripture, books read, et cetera to consider the rôle of gratitude in my daily life and character. And that is just this week! 

Thankfulness ought to mark a Christian's life thoroughly. Yet I find myself too often like the Israelites, much to my chagrin, complaining and grumbling. Who am I kidding though, about what can I complain? 

-- I am on the upswing from a cold and have realised how wonderful the 350+ days of the year are when my head isn't foggy, my nose doesn't run incessantly, and I can taste my food and enjoy it thoroughly.

-- After reading a book this week where one of the characters lost his legs in the war, I began to appreciate my legs and feet much more (especially since I'm on my feet for hours every day at work).
-- Upon taking a brisk walk in 12º weather this morning, I was extremely grateful for my heater, electric blanket, working stove, and mug after mug of hot tea.

-- Earlier this week our maintenance man, Anil, fixed my leaking tub faucet, and I was reminded of how grateful I am for 1) running water in my house, 2) hot water, 3) water pressure in my shower and sinks, and 4) clean water. Some countries don't have any of these things.

-- I'm also thankful that Summit employs a full-time maintenance crew. Some of whom shovelled the walks this morning, even though it is their day off.

-- I found Irish Swiss cheese (an oxymoron?), raspberries, and hummus on great sales this week, along with the things I needed for some Christmas gifts. 'Small' things like that really make my day!

-- Also, I have a job that pays my bills, yet gives me time to pursue reading, spending time with others, travelling, and my book-buying and tea-drinking habits.
-- Extravagant pleasures: my own computer and wi-fi in my home.

Yet all of these things are not even the greatest gifts I am thankful for this week. I enjoyed a couple of hours talking with my dear Oxford flatmate, Kasey; conversations with my parents and both of my sisters; and enjoyed our discussion -and the insight offered- during the reading of the Christmas story with the roommates yesterday. I also enjoyed a long letter from my friend Danielle (thank you!), and several e-mails from various friends.

I just finished reading the book of Acts this week. Often Paul had his life threatened, was beaten, stoned, nearly drowned, etc., yet in all those things (even being in prison for two years before being brought to trial!) he was full of rejoicing. He found all those things worthwhile to endure in order that the news about Jesus could be spread. I want to be like that, and I know I'm not. Yet I am thankful for the desire to change and grow. Now to walk in that way...

There is much more that I am thankful for, but I will save it for my next blog post. Until then, I leave you with a Muppet-y thankfulness!

*As a note, if you choose to watch Scruton's documentary, please be forewarned that there are many graphic and disturbing images throughout the film.