December Grief

December Grief
by Stacey Nalean-Carlson

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.
Lights through tears are a living thing
moving in place,
now blurred, now brilliant,
magnified.
Eyelids close in unbounded regret,
squeezed shut in a silent scream,
but even then the light lives—
rainbows dancing on water,
Advent hope
magnified.

 

Stacey Nalean-Carlson draws inspiration from walks in the woods, conversations with her kids, and worship with the congregations she serves as pastor. She lives in Decorah, Iowa with her spouse, three sons, and two dogs. Subscribe to her blog at http://www.staceynaleancarlson.com. Facebook: Stacey Nalean-Carlson. Twitter: @staceyjnc. Instagram: staceynaleancarlson.

Leaky Vessels

Leaky Vessels
by Wemi Omotosho

We are all apparently earthenware.

Vessels cleverly crafted with care and designed by a loving Potter, a Master of His trade graced especially in the working of clay.

But what if.

What if you didn’t think you are good enough  to be a vessel? A receptacle meant to hold.

I looked around and was taunted by the myriad designs of other earthenware around me; seemingly laden with glittering gold and sparkling silver; precious stones and other untold valuables.

For many years, I could only see the many and glaring imperfections of my clay. Cracks abounded plentifully and leaks ensued on a regular basis.

What use is a vessel that has leaks?

But sadly, I’ve only ever retained some of what God does in my life and I don’t do well at holding onto the lessons He teaches me.

With all my frailties and inadequacies, how could I carry His precious treasure?

That greatest treasure of all.

I judged myself and was found wanting.

Until one day…

When I realized that it was in those leaks that my story intersected with God’s.

What if the cracks I had so desperately tried to hide and patch up with my strength are there to allow hope to shine bright?

What if these cracks are the exact reason I was made with clay – so that His excellency can shine through and not mine?

“But we have this precious treasure [the good news about salvation] in [unworthy] earthen vessels [of human frailty], so that the grandeur and surpassing greatness of the power will be [shown to be] from God [His sufficiency] and not from ourselves.” 2 Cor 4:7 (AMP)

I see now that the Potter sits with me in the cracks. Though I want to hurry straight through to sanctification.

To sinless perfection.

But He sits with me in the here and not yet. In the groaning and tension. As I inch my way towards sanctification. Only to stumble and stagnate. Or take unscheduled detours that break my heart and His.

I once read somewhere about the Japanese art of kintsukuroi and it occurred to me that this is what God does.

He fills the empty spaces, holding my cracks, ugly fissures and splintered fragments together to make a beautiful pattern of restored hope that reflects His glory.

For a long time, I believed the lie that my less-than-stellar story – my cracks and leaks – disqualified me from being useful to the Potter. Even now, I startle every time He dips His hand and brings up something new from this leaky and once-upon-a-time-condemned clay vessel.

When I think about it, I realize that I am fully seen and completely Loved. Imperfect but overlaid with grace even as the Potter is still molding and yet forming His perfect work.

 

 

Wemi Omotosho, PhD wears many hats as a scientist, entrepreneur, and writer. Currently, she lives with her husband and two children in London, UK. Wemi is active in her local church as a vocalist in the worship team, a bible study writer, and a coordinator for the public relations department. In her downtime, she can usually be found with her nose in a book or writing poetry. She is in constant awe of God’s love for her despite her mess. She shares her reflections and poems at www.reflectionsinthemess.com. Instagram: @reflectionsinthemess
Twitter: @WemiOmotosho

Wait of Glory

Wait of Glory
by Nichole Woo

An Advent prayer based on Luke 3:25-38

Sovereign Lord,
We wait.

Like Simeon,
we bear the chains of a nation
and world oppressed –
longing for consolation.

As he waited in Jerusalem, so we do here,
for the redemption of all things lost:

We wait in exam rooms
and endless lines of cars –
as bodies and faith are tested.

We wait with hands and hearts pressed
against windows or glass-sliding doors,
to embrace those loved on the other side.

We wait for wholeness in a house divided,
relationships broken,
and fractured hope.

Together with your servant Simeon,
we strain our eyes for Light,
and wait.

Sovereign Lord,
We wait.

Like Mary,
offering up her firstborn Son
at the temple.

We, like her, see in a mirror dimly –
promises and prophecies veiled from view.

We cling, as did she,
to the Child in her arms.
Confused and conflicted,
amazed and undone.

We fear a future,
fueled by opposition
and the sword of soul-piercing pain.

Together with your servant Mary, we feel the certainty of uncertainty,
cling to your glory,
and wait.

Sovereign Lord,
We wait.

Like the prophetess Anna,
through moments, months, and years.

In worship by day
and the sleeplessness of nights,
we seek you in the rhythms of life:

Through strength and weakness,
service and sacrifice,
in inconsolable grief and inexplicable joy.

Together with your servant Anna, we live in the promise of your presence
– sometimes felt, sometimes not –
and wait.

We wait, Sovereign Lord,
impatiently and imperfectly.

Forgive us for expecting what we think we need,
instead of waiting for you.

Forgive us for clinging to certainty,
instead of waiting on you.

Forgive us for craving the presence of anything and everything,
instead of You.

You, who came at the fullness of time –
into darkness.

Give us eyes, like Simeon’s to see your salvation.
Ears, like Mary’s to hear and hold your promises close.
Lips, like Anna’s that speak of your presence.

And most of all, Lord,
give us your Spirit –
to teach us to wait.

So that we, together with them,
will see your Light is come.

 

Nichole Woo writes at the confluence of belonging and a life that nudges her to the edges. She’s been the only girl on the team, the fumbling foreigner in the coffee shop, and the only mom she knows that coexists with an OCD diagnosis and a dirty kitchen. Nichole is managing editor at The Mudroom and a member of the Redbud Writer’s Guild. She calls the Rockies home – where she’s happiest on their edges, pretending to be a Colorado native despite her flatland origins. Connect with Nichole at http://www.walkthenarrows.com.

Tetelestai: “The Masterpiece Is Finished”

 

Tetelestai: “The Masterpiece Is Finished”
by Amy Catlin Wozniak

It’s there on the closet door.

Black and smudgy against the white enamel. An inky fingerprint.

Ryan’s fingerprint.

I’m deep cleaning Ryan’s room as I always do before the holidays. Vacuuming corners and washing woodwork and walls when the jolt of seeing it sends me spiraling.

Grief grabs me by the throat.

“Why,” I cry. Just as I did that day on that dusty trail when my husband, Michael, Ryan’s dad, and I found Ryan’s lifeless body. That single moment shattering our lives and embedding shards so deep into the scars that they can still make us bleed with a memory.

As I trace the jagged edges of that fingerprint with my own, the tears stream. I don’t have the heart to wash it away. Even though we’ve seen seven holiday seasons since he died, it still feels too painfully soon to let more of him go.

I look over at the chair where Ryan used to sit and play his guitar. I close my eyes wishing I could hear him playing his instrument of choice—the bass, the electric—both right there, poised and ready, in case he could somehow step back in and pick up where he left us… I’d even be happy to hear him play his Ukelele, though I can admit too much of that twangy sound used to make me cringe.

But all I hear is Burl belting out Have a Holly Jolly Christmas…  “Stop,” I yell at the Alexa. The holidays—life—would be a lot jollier if Ryan was still here.

But—he’s not.

As we slowly step into the season, my mind races with how we should embrace the joy of Christmas when there will always be a ribbon of sadness twisting through our celebrations. An empty seat we long to be filled — if just one more time.

I walk over to his bookshelf and begin dusting when I see something hanging down in between the shelves. I pull on it and release it from where it’s been hiding. It’s an ink drawing. Ry was a gifted artist in ink and chalk. I unfurl it and hold it up, noticing how close it is to being finished. There are just a few blank spaces. You can tell it’s a Ryan Wozniak original, the details are all there… it’s even signed.

Looking at it, I can’t help but wonder if he ran out of ink, or ran out of patience. Or did he just ran out of time?

It’s just another of the things he left here.

Unfinished.

Standing there holding that black and white drawing, my mind latches onto another opposite phrase.

“It is finished,” (John 19:30), or in Greek, tetelestai, the last words of Jesus on the cross. Hope slices into the walls around my heart.

In New Testament times when an artist would complete a work, during the unveiling he would shout, “tetelestai.” A declaration that they finished their masterpiece.

Yes, we’re tiptoeing into the joyous season. The beginning. Christ’s Birth. But before He took his first human breath, the ending was in place. The ending of his life, yes, but also the end of death, as we know it. When Jesus said “It is finished,” he meant, “I successfully completed the work I came to do.”

Although Ryan didn’t finish that piece, and sometimes, if I am being honest, I feel like he didn’t finish his life here, I’m reminded he’s not finished. He’s just ahead of us on our chase to meet Jesus in the flesh.

We lost him, but he gained Heaven.

I smile at the thought of him fully alive. My mind reaches back to those first few months after he died when his room still smelled like him. Even now, surrounded by his things, his books, his Bible, his Bongos, I can almost sense him in the room. I look back over at that fingerprint and smile, feeling the tension trickle out of me, knowing I could walk over and scrub it away because Ryan’s fingerprints are all over our lives.

They are in his artwork, so vibrant and still here, the music he made, the writing he did.

Planted on the very souls of those who love him. They grow more deeply rooted each year in an untold number of hearts and lives touched by the gifts we give in his name at Christmas.

I’m filled with gratitude for that faded fingerprint. For now, I’m beyond my grief, past all the uncertainty, and on the other side of all the whys, I have about Ryan’s death. Standing securely on certitude, I’m now prepared to step into another holiday season. Ready to invite others to fix their faith on The Christmas Gift. To welcome them to plant their hope right next to mine, on the birth and truth of the One who came down from heaven on Christmas Eve to embed His fingerprints into the lives of poor lost souls with no hope.

Saving them.

Saving me—and offering me the promise that I will see Ryan’s smile again.

Jesus.

Feeling better, I tell the Alexa to resume. Joy To The World fills the air, and I close my eyes and listen to the words…

The Lord has come—

Tetelestai.

The masterpiece is finished.

 

 

Amy Catlin Wozniak was raised in Nebraska-Go Huskers-and now resides in Northeast Ohio. There she shares her life with her soulmate, four children, two grandsons, and a Great Pyrenees named Scarlett O’Hara, who has absolutely no problem living up to her name sake.

She loses all track of time when she’s hiking, reading, or writing. Her passion is sharing stories that reflect God’s hope. 

Website: AmyCatlinWozniak.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AmysEchoingHearts

Twitter: @echoinghearts

Instagram: @echoinghearts

New Year Wide Open

New Year Wide Open
by Sarah Freymuth

Snow shakes from the tuft of clouds like salt falling from its holder. There’s a freshness in the air that’s breathing quiet, steady. Cold is smooth, like satin on my exposed skin. And above in bare branches, birds speak with one another, their whistling coos calm across the trees.

This white-painted world washes the new year wide open.

We believe the burning hope within to start again.

But I, I wonder.

Where am I beginning?

Do I reset and start from scratch? Or simply continue in new cadence, found rhythm? I am still experimenting with the intricacies of this unexpected life.

To embrace the uncertainty and rest in what I cannot see. Stir with hope a resilience that balloons my chest for reasons unexplainable. Revel in wonder and unlatch “What if?”. Step into my destiny and approach it, not with fear, but anticipation. And truly let my belief bloom. Believe God to be bigger than my mess, bolder than what makes me afraid, and working beautifully on my behalf.

I know I don’t need a new year to clear my slate and start fresh—every day is a new beginning; His mercies rise abundant. But there is something to be said about a pause, a stepping back to assess a bridge between years. What is behind me, where I have come. How I’ve been rebuilt from the rubble, and now it’s time to burst forth.

These muted colors of steel and slate blanket the earth in dusty white as daylight slips behind the horizon. All is silent for the time. All is as it is becoming. I break in bleak midwinter to sing a safe admittance of my heart to Him who knows my tender speech.

Open. Surrender. Ride out the mystery. Recognize this wonder. Live as if there is nothing in this world that can stop what He has in store for this year, for my heart. Because if He who stirs this snow globe is for my good, this way to come is worth exploring.

 

Sarah Freymuth enjoys listening to the heartbeats of the world and conveying them through words. She is the editor of Awake Our Hearts, writes for numerous nonprofit international organizations and publications, and has a strong affinity for dark roast coffee. Sarah is a member of Redbud Writers Guild, a vibrant and diverse movement of Christian women who create in community and who influence culture and faith. In the in-between moments, she likes to write narrative and lyrical essays exploring the longings of life and soul at www.sarahfreymuth.com and on Instagram.

When They Leave

When They Leave
by Nancy Ramsey

it is a wonder
these small sufferings
departures
separations
absences
whether for months
years
or the rest of one’s earthly days
it is a wonder how mourning
turns slow to unthought-of gladness
for fleeting awareness of the
Christ
the invitation to discern
as through glass dark
new knowing of the
Man of sorrows
His dearness
His nearness
widening the eyes of one’s heart
stretching one’s soul
strengthening one’s resolve to
persevere in this precarious pilgrimage
home

 

By God’s grace Nancy was rescued from sin at the age of twenty and writes from continued astonishment at His steadfast goodness. She is mother of three grown people with four small ones – making her a four-time Grammy winner! She is passionate about missions, the sanctity of life, adoption, soul-nourishing community, writing, and making the name of Jesus known through all the above. A Spanish teacher and sometime Bible study leader, the native Kansan makes her temporary home in the land of open sky and stunning sunsets.

A Feather in Winter

A Feather in Winter
by Michele Morin

“The feather flew, not because of anything in itself, but because the air bore it along.
Thus am I a feather on the breath of God.”  Hildegarde of Bingen

Sister Hildegarde knew
we are all
“feathers on the breath of God,”
and it’s an image I
struggle to live toward.

Today,
on this particular January afternoon,
time-bound and booted,
my feet crash through snowy crust
in a jolting cadence
as I follow my granddaughter’s delighted experiments with
cold and gravity.

Making not a dent in the snowy crust,
she travels like a feather,
her tiny lightness encased in a purple snowsuit.

Puffy and buoyant,
it catches her whenever she tumbles,
unfazed as the falling flakes that
land on our hats and our lashes.

Lord, may I, too, learn
to hover, held
on your breath,
falling forward
in blessed lightness.

 

Michele Morin is a teacher, reader, writer, and gardener who does life with her family on a country hill in Maine. She has been married to an unreasonably patient husband for 30 years, and together they have four sons, two daughters-in-love, and three adorable grandchildren. Michele is active in educational ministries with her local church and delights in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles.

After Christmas

After Christmas
by Cheryl Grey Bostrom

Ache,
your velocity
rises with the drop
in my heart’s barometer.
No windbreaks here, you grow
to a howl in my mown
inner fields—low pressure zones,
short of breath because
those I love have
flown home again,
crossed state lines, and
my arms are empty.

Ache,
you swirl memory through
this hollowed home like snow,
proffer wintry options to
busy me in this
lonely weather.
You tempt me to numb you until
time can ice their visit,
dessicate our togetherness.

Blow past me, will you?
You and those evasions?
I’ll wait.
For Love will breathe
his holy Zephyr,
inflate the void,
resuscitate me with
positive pressure,
indwelling, warm,
as only He can do.

 

Pacific Northwest naturalist, photographer, and award-winning author Cheryl Grey Bostrom lives with her veterinarian husband and two irrepressible Gordon Setters in rural Washington State. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including the American Scientific Affiliation’s God and Nature Magazine, for which she’s a regular photo essayist. A member of the Redbud Writers Guild, she has also authored two non-fiction books. Her debut novel Sugar Birds launches August 3, 2021. Website: www.cherylbostrom.com. Instagram: @watchingnatureseeinglife. Twitter: @cheryl_bostrom. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cgbostrom/.

Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty
by Katelyn Jane Dixon

Before the beginning,
I imagine our world
as a tiny diamond
floating in space,
a rock among countless shining others.
Not special, but waiting—
little knowing she was about to be kissed awake.

I imagine You,
in all your solitary splendor.
not needing, but wanting—
leaning forward with a breath of anticipation,
blowing your first Kiss out into the void
the force of which loved our world into being
as she shattered into a million pieces of light.

 

Katelyn is a writer and photographer living in Seattle, WA. She loves cooking, keeping plants alive, and singing Disney karaoke with her husband. Through her work, she strives to weave her every day experiences of the world with truths that illuminate the paradoxical Kingdom of God.

Website: https://www.tenthousandplaces.com
Instagram: @tenthousandplaces

The Garment of Sadness

The Garment of Sadness
by Paula Peckham

Sadness is a heavy garment.
A well-made garment, with tightly-sewn seams.
We can forget—for a moment—that we wear it.
It would be easy to drown under that garment.
So easy.

But faith is persistent.
Insistent.
And it seeps through those tightly-sewn seams
one drip at a time.
Unceasing.
Relentless.

Faith
Faith
Faith
Faith
Faith is our lifeline.
We grab it like a drowning person grasps an offered hand.

Though the garment is heavy, and it weighs us down,
we grasp that lifeline, and struggle through the next breath.
We force the next step.

We search through the darkness for the tiny spark of life inside.
The spark that faith protects for us while
we grieve
and rave
and die inside.

When there is trust enough to let sadness go,

F
A
I
T
H
lifts it away and leaves peace in its place.
And we realize we can breathe again.
And smile.
Even laugh.

We leave the garment of sadness lying in a sodden heap
heavy with its soaking from our tears and horrible sorrow.
And we crawl from underneath its crushing weight.

So we wait on the LORD for that day.

We wait.
We wait.
We wait.

And when that moment arrives,
we realize by its absence how heavy that garment had been.
We realize by its absence we are free without it.

And we soar.

 

Paula Peckham is a retired math teacher. She is working on her first historical romance novel. She is a member of the ACFW, and lives in Texas with her husband.
Author website: paulapeckham.com