Happy New Today

If processing a whole year retrospectively is too much, or purposing for a whole year ahead is too overwhelming, take heart.

There is today, and that is the only time you need hold in this moment.

Today there are new mercies.
Today there is breath.
Today there is love poured into your heart, and plenty of opportunity to love those next to you.
Today there are small wonders which hint at a bountiful mystery.

Today, in my life, there is a blooming white hyacinth, and I give thanks.
Today, in my house, there are four other people in my fellowship, and I give thanks and ask for grace to love them well.
Today, out my window, there are a handful of chickadees chirping a song of resiliency, and I choose to smile.
Today, there are dishes to be washed, and messages to write, and books to read, and laundry to fold, and children to listen to, and puzzles to solve, and I am not sure I have enough hands.

But chickadees face the winter one seed at a time, and hyacinths will not be rushed, and a single smile can make time stand still and reveal its hidden gifts.

There is a holy Breath hovering near, blessing the moments lived in simple faith.

Breathe, and be the person you need to be today. It is enough.

~

Lindsey Gallant

S.D.G.

An Advent “Circuit Breaker” Diary

This was a series of posts I did on social media over the past couple of weeks. On December 7, the island entered a new phase of restrictions based on spreading cases, a 2 week “circuit breaker” period. So I gave myself a daily writing challenge, with an Advent twist. Most of these entries were written at the end of the day, with my few remaining active brain cells. They are thoughts of the moment, ideas and impressions I wanted to grasp hold of, even if not fully formed.

I thought I would gather them up here as a sort of diary in one long post.

(Feel free to follow Rise Heart on Facebook, where I sometimes post a few extra things, like writing challenges!)

Day 1

It’s a miserable, wet, blustery day out there, and but I need to get out of the house. I put on my raincoat over some winter insulation, rain pants that are two sizes too big, and the waterproof hiking shoes I bought for my (cancelled) England trip. With gusty northwest winds today, I head for the pond and trail in the river valley, instead of the road up the ridge. 

It’s damp. It’s brown. It’s muddy. I walk determinedly along the uneven ground, pushing back against the wind and pelting rain with each step.

This is not how I picture December. Something in my soul needs snow at this time of year. I am longing for white, for crisp air, for crunch beneath my feet. I am longing for a lot of things. Far off forests, far off faces, a gathering of voices, a certain light in the eyes of loved ones.

Today I am aware of all the things unfinished and unfulfilled. Memory aches with distance. Hope aches with deferral.

And that’s why I love Advent. 

If there’s ever a time to tune into our subterranean longings, it’s now. Things are not as they should be, and it’s ok to acknowledge it. Advent gives us permission to feel the ache. 

~

Day 2

I wake to snow. Just a dusting, but I am grateful. Boots on, eyes open, I step into the morning.

I follow the trail of white, bending to notice each patch of earth that receives and holds its beauty. Some of the snow is melting already. It won’t last. But it is here now, and now is what I have. 

Now I am a ridge of roof, a fallen oak leaf, a bed of moss. Here I am the waiting world.

~

Day 3

There’s a place prepared each morning where the wild birds sing and the river renews her goodness. In the shelter of the great tree, a stump becomes a sanctuary. The water’s glass is stained with shafts of a quiet mercy, and peace is the pink sky whispering, “come.”

~

Day 5

Today we set up a manger in our little patch of riverside woods. Gold stars hang from branches to guide the way, and stumps await the worshippers. 

It’s a place to be thoughtful or thankful, to pause, to pray, or just to be present. 

Right now it sits empty, aside from the straw. It waits, altar-like, for a gift. It waits with our weary hearts. It waits with the eager eyes of children peering over, wondering, is it time?

~

Day 6

Today we bring the outdoors in, and with it the freshness of another, wilder world. Green and prickly, dripping with sap, dropping needles as we squeeze it through the door, drinking our water – it reminds us that it is no small thing to bring something living into one’s life. 

We rearrange the furniture, reorienting our space so it can take its rightful place as king of the room, crowned by a four year old on daddy’s shoulders with an angel in her hand. 

We bedeck it with jewels, bedazzle it with coloured lights, but its true dignity lies in its living core. Its gift is in the breath it exhales over us. 

And oh, the smell of this newly cut forest-dweller. Sharp and sweet, it is the hidden life of the tree, oozing out from its wounds. It bears them gladly, submitting to our process of beautification, and all for the sake of our festivity. 

Lovely tree, who gives its life to bring us the fragrance of a far off country … how faithful are thy branches. 

~

Day 7 (Gaudete Sunday)

Joy is snow that can be rolled into funny little men. 
Joy is a chair just your size.
Joy is a cherry on top. 
Joy is a pink candle dispersing the gloom.

~

Day 8

For today, a quote from my current Advent read:

“Revelation is a hard gift to receive. You must give up everything else to receive it—like finding a treasure in a field and selling everything you have so you can get that treasure.”

(Scott Erickson, Honest Advent)

~

Day 9

I actually spent my free time in the kitchen today! Which, if you know me, is not usually my go-to place if I have down time. But I had a sudden urge to bake something. It must be the season. 

I poked through the cards in my recipe box and found one I’d never made before, and it was a blast from the past – dunkers! My northern “auntie” used to make them when we were kids. They are so named because they are good for dunking in a hot drink. I had to halve the recipe, because I figured 12 eggs and a whole pound of lard was probably not necessary for our family, at least for my first try! 

They were a big hit for our bedtime snack. Fresh out of the oven, it was like biting into a moment of childhood, and with it, memories of woodstoves, winter nights, and warm laughter shared over an ice cream pail of dunkers.

I won’t say how many I had (what is it about cookies hot off the baking sheet?), only I had forgotten how filling they were! No matter, as the only thing left to do tonight was snuggle up next to the tree with some kids and Christmas books. 

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling some empty spaces in the days leading up till Christmas. Long pauses that are normally filled with the sounds of doorbells (and not the parcel delivery guy), the buzz before the opening number, or the raucous laughter of friends making merry. 

Today I filled my pause with an old recipe made new, a rather noisy phone call to far off family, a smile for sweet memories, and an extra book by the light of the tree.

(And just one more dunker.)

~

Day 10

And what do I have to offer you?

A house that won’t stay clean,
Half a dozen unfinished prayers,
And a hunger I’m not even sure You can fill. 

But I see
The humility of the place you chose to break the waters of heaven,
Your starburst revelation to those caught unawares, 
And the strange, low table you set in the house of bread. 

This is the good news – 
That those who come empty handed are the first to see him,
The woman turned inside out,
And the father with no home, 
The glory-stunned shepherds on the outskirts of town,
Anyone crazy enough to listen to angels and make their search for God small enough to hold a seed, to hand wrap a child, to hallow a feed trough.

So maybe there is hope for worn out households,
And answers to prayers without words,
And Christmas feasts for those willing to go now even unto Bethlehem.

~

Day 11

Today it was announced that our “circuit breaker” restrictions would be easing starting tomorrow, a few days early. So this will be the last day of my self-imposed challenge.

I began this writing challenge with a wet and windy walk along the river, and a need for fresh air in my soul. My walk this afternoon was on frozen ground, processing the challenges of these complicated days. I still need fresh air in my soul. On days like today, I can feel like it’s all too much for my poor little brain. My head spins, my stomach flops, my heart heaves. I look out over a horizon of hazy unknowns, and I hardly know which is the right way forward. The world is too big, and I am only me. 

Only me, and yet  . . . not alone. There are steps beside me. A listening ear. And more  – dare I say it? – a hand to hold. In times when closeness is practically scandal, it’s a wild and wonderful thing to have companionship without barriers. If there’s a name for Jesus I’ve latched on to this Advent, it’s Immanuel. God with us. God with us in our personal space, our bubble, our isolation. God who stays, when we present every symptom of soul sickness in the book. God the doctor without a mask, who tosses every operational plan out the window and says, “How can I touch them all?” God whose very breath is healing and hope.

This is the only way forward. One small step at a time with Immanuel.

~

Lindsey

S.D.G.

Stumping into December

Morning arrives by the clock and not the sun today. It’s rainy, 11 degrees, windy and gray. It’s December 1st, but it doesn’t feel like it.

I wake to kids fighting over an Advent calendar, fighting over Lego, bowling each other over to go first at something, even if only to open the new cereal box. Kids snarl at each other, adults snap back. Is this what I get up for?

I take my coffee, turn around, and head back upstairs. 

Living with people is no easy thing. Their moods, their stuff, their demands, their needs, their outbursts. 

And I am just like them. 

Alone in my room, I get back under the blankets. I look out the window, wishing it was snow instead of rain. That would be much more Decemberish. I don’t want to engage this day. 

Then I reach for my little leather Bible, perched on top of the precarious stack of books beside my bed. I’ve been slowly reading through the gospel of Mark. Keeping in step with Jesus is good for me. The ribbon bookmark opens to chapter 9, verses 33-37. The section begins with the disciples arguing on the road over who gets to be the greatest. (Do we ever really grow up?) I can’t help but laugh. I can picture it so well. 

Jesus’ answer to this undignified jostling? The greatest in the kingdom of God is the one who serves the other. If you want to be first, really first, you’ll have to be content with going last. 

And then, Jesus looks and sees a child on the outskirts of the conversation. I wonder, was the kid eavesdropping, curious over how this argument among adults would end? Was there going to be a lecture, or someone put in their place? I imagine Jesus smiling, catching the boy’s eye, gesturing for him to come closer. And if I was one of the disciples, I would be thinking, Why is this kid interrupting our important discussion?  

There are no interruptions when Jesus has his way. Only opportunities. 

He takes the boy in his arms, and the heart of the matter takes a curious twist. What does this insignificant tiny person have to do with anything? Jesus knows. “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” 

How to get to the front of the line? Notice the people in the back.

How to get noticed by Jesus? Keep your eye on what he cares about. 

How to get all the way to the One in charge of it all? Go with the man who lifts the tired kids up on his shoulders. 

It’s a backwards way to be the best. 

Suddenly my covers don’t seem so comfortable after all. 

I stare down at those little red letters, so alive on the page. I am thankful God speaks even to ears only half awake. Do I want to keep in step with Jesus?

Listen closely.

Look, I tell myself. The best way to welcome Jesus into my day is to welcome the very people who upend my day before it even begins. If this day is going to be great in any way, I’m going to have to get off my high horse (or screen, or couch, or lecture platform) and take someone needy in my arms. 

Engage. Isn’t this another word for welcome? They’re already here after all. I can’t escape that reality. But am I really here with them, and for them? 

Engage, not in arguing, but in serving. Serving not as enabling, but looking to the need beyond the outburst. Where is love needed? Don’t all these rumblings and ruptures show our broken need for another way? 

I need it. 

And I can’t enforce this kingdom like a criminal code, only embrace it till it transforms me from a grumpy, set-in-stone stump to a living shoot, green and spreading, that whispers, look, there is life here if you choose the servant-seed way of Jesus. 

Easy? Not always. But possible. Yes. Especially when I remember that I am the little child embraced first, and he still lifts me. 

Embrace. Engage. 

The words fall like rain on our thirsty morning. I throw off the blankets, and go back downstairs. 

~ Lindsey

S.D.G.

Heron morning

I had a strange dream last night. As I tried to shake the atmosphere from my mind in my room this morning, I turned to look out the window. Past the branches of the maple, through the gap in the spruces, I saw the heron. I keep thinking I’ve seen the last of him, that the snows and winds will have pushed him southward. 

There must be something about this river that he likes. 

The peek through the trees was enough to pull me downstairs and out of the stuffy air to the damp morning outside. As much as one can tiptoe in Bogs, I did, till I found the heron stalking fish downstream of the island. 

I must always still and slow myself to be in his company. He is one curved shape and then another, patient and self-possessed in his hunt. He is not like the flitting shore birds. His is a deeper presence, as if growing out of the red silt riverbed itself. 

My eyes reach and my mind follows, till the lingering mists of the strange night recede, and clear water flows once more in the valley. 

~

Lindsey Gallant

S.D.G.

From Red Letters to Rise Heart

Hello friends, old and new! Welcome to my writing world, newly christened Rise Heart. It’s where I’ll continue to share my prose and poetry. (Thank you for reading! And a special thanks to those who are long time Red Letters subscribers.)

I write to remind myself to pay attention, to capture the small glories that surround me, and to add my own humble praise for all the love I’ve been given.

This a place I hope to share wonder, beauty, and the sweet summons to life in Christ. And I hope it will be a place where your own heart is lifted.

Why the change from Red Letters

I began blogging back in 2007 from our tiny first apartment in Ontario. I was newly married, studying graduate theology full time, working part time at a children’s bookstore a few doors down (best job of all time!), and volunteering at our local church. I remember typing out my thoughts, often late at night, looking out the window to Main Street below. I chose the name Red Letters because I wanted to notice and highlight the scarlet thread of Christ woven into busy, everyday life. 

I have not given up on that worthy pursuit, but over thirteen years later, I’ve felt the need to freshen things up! Now I write from a century home overlooking a beloved little river in Prince Edward Island, with a family buzzing in the background. There have been seasons of pain and joy, darkness and clarity, intense wrestling and brave rest. From my vantage point now, I am even more convinced of the ridiculously beautiful grace of God. 

The phrase Rise Heart comes from one of my very favourite poems by George Herbert called “Easter.” It expresses the call to every soul to rise up and embrace resurrection life. This poem dropped into my life during a dark season, and it was one of the things God used to reach in and pull me up toward light, toward Himself, and toward a renewed identity.

(The little flower you see? It too, hearkens to the poem, and my own experience with Jesus on a red dirt road one morning. But perhaps more about that another day.)

Rise Heart is my own answer to the sweet summons of Jesus. These scribblings are the thoughts gathered along the way, like Queen Anne’s Lace on the roadside. They are given here as an offering.

You can also find me on my Facebook page. You can keep up with all new posts there, as well as a few little extras that don’t always make their way to the blog.

{ Technical details: My domain name is now lindseygallant.com. If you subscribed to the blog under theredlettersblog.com, no need to change anything – you’ll still be in the loop. And of course, new subscribers are always welcome! Sign up in the sidebar to the right. And feel free to share with friends. 🙂 }

Thank you for reading. You keep me writing!

p.s. Watch for an Advent surprise, coming your way soon!

~

Lindsey

S.D.G.