Sunday, November 27, 2011

Trying On Advent

This morning, before church, I was reading through a few of my favorite blogs and I realized it was the first Sunday of Advent.  Though I didn't have a wreath with purple and pink candles, I donned my purple suit coat instead.  I may wear it for the next two Sundays. Then, I will wear pink.  Dare I say it?  I think I will be the candle.  A living light. That's kind of a tall order for me, a sinner.  A mother with children and hectic work, school, sports, and church schedules.  I can bend my "light" toward crabby in an impatient instant.  But, I'm thinking that's what Advent might be for.  A preparation, a mindfulness, attending to the Christ child the way I would my own.  I wonder if anyone will notice? I want to prepare my mind and heart for the coming of Jesus.

I remember the Advent wreaths and calendars in my home as I was growing up. It was almost magical opening the little doors of the calendar and lighting those candles, though I admit, I didn't understand their meaning at the time. Truly, most of what I remember of those Advent days was squabbling with the rest of my 9 siblings over who was going to get to open the little calendar door or light the purple candle, and the hurt feelings that ensued after discovering it wasn't me. That, and no one ever seemed to want to do the reading part.   Now, I have a strong desire to do the reading part.

I came across a book review by Glynn Young in his blog Faith, Fiction and Friends of Discovering Advent, by Mark D. Roberts.   Young wrote a compelling review.  I know this because after reading it, I was compelled to buy the e-book this morning and read it this afternoon.   So now,  I can vouch for both reviewer and author. =)

As I was reading through Discovering Advent, it occurred to me that my work in raising and photographing monarch butterflies is another way of looking at Advent which is latin for "coming."  As I raise and photograph the  monarch transformation (which I affectionately refer to as a "Trust-formation,") I wait and hope for the promise of a monarch butterfly.  In the same way, I wait and hope and actively engage with the spirit of God in my own transformation or Trust-formation when I choose to abide in him.  In the same way, I wait in hopeful anticipation for the second coming of Christ and the fulfillment of his promises.   I appreciated that  Mark Roberts encourages us to enter into this time of Advent creatively.  

He writes, "All families are different, and I encourage you to adapt or to change what I suggested here, or do something completely original."

And so, over the next 4 Sundays,  I offer my Advent blog post, Trying On Advent.  I will use 4 photographs of the progressive transformation of monarchs I've raised to illustrate the "coming" combined with the following excerpts from  Mark Roberts' Advent Devotional Guide which is also found in his wonderful book Discovering Advent.  The photographs and prayers are from me.

A special thank you to Glynn Young and Mark D. Roberts for pointing me in this direction.


First Sunday of Advent - Waiting
(from Discovering Advent by Mark D. Roberts)

Advent is a season of waiting, expecting, and hoping. Beginning four Sundays prior to Christmas and ending on Christmas Eve, Advent helps us prepare for the coming, or “advent” of the Christ child at Christmas. The word “advent” comes from the Latin word that means “coming.”

We remember Israel’s hope for the coming of God’s Messiah to save, to forgive, and to restore. We remember our hope for the second coming of Jesus. We remember our need for a Savior to save us from our sins. We prepare to welcome Christ at Christmas into our world . . . and into our hearts.  Roberts, Mark D. (2011-11-07). Discovering Advent: How to Experience the Power of Waiting on God at Christmastime (Kindle Locations 533-537). Patheos. Kindle Edition.

For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.
Psalm 62:5-7
monarch butterfly egg - photo by Patricia Spreng
I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.
Psalm 130:5-6
Roberts, Mark D. (2011-11-07). Discovering Advent: How to Experience the Power of Waiting on God at Christmastime (Kindle Locations 454-455). Patheos. Kindle Edition.
My prayer:
Thank you for planting the seed of faith in my life... for allowing me to grow in hopeful anticipation as I transform and wait.  For I know whom I have believed...
I wait for your coming Lord Jesus.
Preparing you room…
in my heart, my mind and my home.
I am nesting, as though heavy with child.
My heart quiets and quickens in anticipation of being with you.
Help me to make wise choices in the chaos of Christmas …
taking in, believing, embracing your promise of Christmas…
Emmanuel, God with us.
God with me…
as I wait for you.
Come Lord Jesus.

Patricia Spreng

Sharing with Charity Singleton at Wide Open Spaces for the Advent writing project she is hosting at The High Calling.
with Laura Bogess at The Wellspring

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love is everlasting.
Chronicles 16:34

Yeast Rolls
because you have infused me with faith, hope and love and I want my thanks to rise up.
Spinach Salad with dried cherries, feta, red onions, sugared pecans, and sliced strawberries dripping in raspberry vinaigrette…
because you have taught me that life is a harvest of very odd and different blessings that I think would never go together, but do.
Baked Vidalia Onion Opus
because I know the tears must come and they are meant to be bitter and sweet.

Yum Yum Yams
            because you make  life more fun with orange food and poetry.

Mushroom Bisque
because fungus happens … and eventually you make it into something wonderful.

Turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes
because your faithfulness, grace and mercy bring very necessary comfort to the broken hearted.
Roasted green beans with basil and toasted almonds, asparagus, baked corn …
because sometimes you want us to do things we don’t like and eat our vegetables without complaining.
Pumpkin, apple, cherry, pecan, and an apple walnut torte with carmel rum sauce…
because you love to spoil us with your blessings… just because you can.

Taste and see that the LORD is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
Psalm 34:8 

Joining with other thankful hearts at Faith Barista.
Giving thanks for the blessing of the d'verse poets group, come and see the wonderful words of poets.

Saturday, November 19, 2011


change chosen
or avoided
is still change

risk resulting in  
or relief

choices clear

heart check
counsel sought
irreparable damage


patricia spreng
Joining today with d'verse poets where the prompt is to write on change. Come and read the wonderful words of poets.

Monday, November 14, 2011

"All I Got Was A Rock"

Do you remember the quote ... "All I got was a rock"  from the children's movie  It's The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown ?

Maybe I’ve got rocks in my head. 

Maybe my heart is hard as a rock. 

Maybe I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place.
All I know for sure is... there I was, wandering on the banks of the Frio River with my camera, when everyone else had chosen to go in a different direction and hike to the beautiful heights of the canyon ridge. 
Actually, I was in the Frio River… in my the bottom of the canyon, in Texas of all places.  On my usual quest to capture the perfect monarch photograph, I was quite content to be by myself.  And I found a rock.  A clean, heart-shaped rock.  Initially, I took its picture... thinking of it as a beautiful, odd- God-distraction of sorts. 
After all, I knew I had been in an odd place.  A hard place.  A place of healing from grief and stress that had taken its toll, regardless of how strong I thought I was.  Still, I felt robbed ... and emptied.  Both beloved parents, brother, and sister... buried.  In the course of three years.  And just for good measure,  brain surgery for my precious husband to remove a benign (praise God) tumor in the midst of it all.  Old age, devastating illnesses, death,  surgery, recovery and prayer.  A lot of prayer.  Seemingly unanswered at times, in the affirmative sense on this earth, but answered ... in the spiritual sense. 
Having found great comfort in the process of writing, I found myself coming up for air... in Texas ... at a writers retreat at Laity Lodge... with people I didn't know.  He planned it that way, of course.
Pride had caught me thinking I was in a place of wholeness, maturity, seasoned grace and wisdom ... strength (a nice way of saying I was getting older.)  Really, I was in a place of weakness that I thought I could out-maneuver, out-wrestle, out-wit, out-run.
When I picked up the rock to put it in my pocket as a heart-warming souvenir ... I noticed its back side.  The side that hadn't been showing.  The side I don't show to the world.  This side  was covered in dirt.  It was marred and scarred.  And I noticed an odd little, white patch at the top that didn't seem to belong at all.  I thought about heaving that rock into the river. I didn't want to be reminded of my brokenness.  But,  no... ever the contemplative... I see things.   
I found, as I looked into the mirror of this rock... a place of hardness.  I think perhaps it was really a palace of hardness... a palace where I reign as Queen.
Oh, how I have tried to reign over my own heart.  I have attempted to treat, repair and patch my own brokenness.  My patches do not work... or belong.  Through my own sin, mistakes and pride, I have attempted to know better than God what is best for my heart.  I have done this before.  Once again, I ask Him for forgiveness and abdicate my throne... for my one true Love.  I recuse myself from my own  case of self defense and let him rescue me ... again.  I stood there, staring at the rock in my hand, feeling kind of, well ... silly.  

But I saw something else in that rock ... dare I tell you? ... a faint outline of another, smaller heart trying to emerge... pushing its way out...  do you see it?  I traced the edges of it with my finger...  God's heart, always with me... no, ...  in me.  I think it was so kind of him to gently show me a tangible object lesson, rather than throwing rocks of condemnation at me, the sinner.  I get it.  I have not allowed him to transform all of my heart.  Pushed him down, covered him up, hidden him away inside... thinking I would be in charge of protecting myself.  Oh God,  forgive me  ... "Lord, I do believe.  Help my unbelief."
"Thou in me dwelling and I with Thee one." Be Thou My Vision, Mary E. Byrne

Christ in me, the hope of glory.  Colossians 1:27

Yeah ... "All I got was a rock" from my trip to the canyon.  I wouldn't have it any other way.  A reminder rock that now sits in front of me on my desk.  An abiding reminder.  A reminder that my way doesn't work so well.  He is my solid rock, my foundation in whom I am still learning to trust.  I've learned this more times than I care to admit.  
Joel 2:12-13
“Even now,” declares the LORD,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning.”
 Rend your heart
and not your garments.
Return to the LORD your God,
for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
and he relents from sending calamity.

Sharing today with The Wellspring and Seedlings In Stone

Saturday, November 12, 2011


Collar too tight, chain too short.
Tied out, put out, shut out.
A dull, worn path memorized.
Chain’s perimeter
givin’ me the run around.
Not quite what I had in mind
for man’s best friend.

Screen door swings open.
I see them... I do!
Ears perk, tail wags like the white flag of surrender.
Then, scraps of love
callously thrown as leftovers
and for a moment, I believe they are for me
(I do, I do, I do).
Until the sights, sounds and oh, those smells
wafting in the breeze of laughter
make me cry.
I long to sit by the fire, warm inside.
Screen door slams shut.

Barking up the wrong tree

Patricia Spreng

submitted to d'verse poetics tonight where the prompt is writing poetry using idioms. To read the wonderful words of poets... click right here.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Recurring Dream

Whisper white and fly away
never to return
the dream that breathes reality
eludes my waking touch

Like the seed
that flew away
broken on the wind
will land again
to live again
as dreams return
to breathe again

Then whispered white
it flies away
never to return

Patricia Spreng

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sights and Sounds of Heaven

I have never attended a funeral of a president or celebrity before, but  when my brother Mike passed away two years ago, his funeral rivaled the likes of one.  As a member of the Michigan State Court of Appeals, his funeral began with an impressive procession of 6 or 7 rows worth of Judges from all over the State of Michigan.  They wore their black judicial robes, the imposing color of which, made me cringe  just a bit.  I would have preferred they changed into white robes that day, giving the appearance of angels … though, I suspect  some of them aren’t.  As a marine, Mike’s funeral was concluded with an honorable military gun salute and the folding of the flag, as we stood in silence.  We were honoring a great man.  But that didn’t matter to me.  He was my brother…  a good man, a good husband, father, grandfather and friend.  I told my children to stop and take it all in… all this fanfare and such.  Then I asked them if they knew Uncle Mike was such an important man.  They didn’t.  I told them to remember that.   It was one of the best things about Mike.  He didn’t laud his position over anyone.  He was Uncle Mike… a good man.  T-shirt, khaki shorts, sockless loafers and a smile.

When his best friend and fellow judge, Ed Post, got up to give the eulogy, I knew he would do Mike’s memory justice.  What I didn’t know is how he was about to make me laugh… in the face of grief.  There, in the middle of the eulogy… in a huge cathedral of the Catholic Church… right in front of several fancy priest hats… Ed Post’s cell phone rang.  Most of us stopped breathing, some snickered.  We watched as he dug in his pocket at the pulpit.  Holding our collective breaths, in dead silence… but for the ringing... of. Ed’s. phone.  It echoed in that silent cathedral space.   Then, irreverently, he answered it.  Apparently, it was Mike on the other end, calling in to see how his funeral was going.  Over the next few minutes we heard a delightful one-sided conversation between two friends who knew each other so well, that just one of them could carry on the whole discussion.  It was completely believable.  We laughed... and cried... and, for just a moment, we felt reconnected to Mike.  It was heavenly.  As though he really was there... telling us he was alright and in a much better place,  cracking jokes just like always.

I don’t know Ed Post well.  His daughter was one of our favorite babysitters in college.  We are connected loosely as family friends, through weddings, and siblings and such.  When I ran across
 Ed Post’s photography, I was overwhelmed again. I’m glad my brother had such a good friend. I'm stunned by the way he can see beauty and the way he captures it.  Ed shows me glimpses of what I think heaven must be like.  The same  way he showed me that sad funeral day what heaven might sound like, when we are reunited with familiar voices of our loved ones, rejoicing in laughter and love. 

Ed Post’s photograph of a mountain road in the Smoky Mountain National Park inspired the following poem.  In its ethereal way, it reminds me of the path I’m on… toward the heaven I can’t wait to see.

Photography by Ed Post - click Ed Post Photography to see more beauty
Spark's Lane - Cade's Cove - Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Fall 2011
Mountain Road

In  the heart
of the mountains,
come travel this road...
colored by whispers of prayer.

With no guarantees,
its leading uncertain,
the journey beckons
each one
to come by faith,
like children.

Step tenderly then
as God calls
through beauty,
with breaths of thanksgiving
and awe.

Patricia Spreng
On May 30, 2009, my 63 year old brother passed away from an incurable, relentless, neurological disease called MSA (Multiple System Atrophy). His wife, 7 children, 6 grandchildren, 9 sisters and friends still miss him dearly.
(You can read my tribute to him here... though you will need to scroll down past a couple of my other beloveds whom I have lost in recent years. Also, for information purposes, read about him and MSA right here
Poetry inspired by the photography of Ed Post ... click  Ed Post Photography to see his fabulous photography.

Sharing with Laura Boggess at the Wellspring and

L.L. Barkat at On, In and Around Mondays

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

and strength
can be found

My grace is sufficient for you,
for my power is made perfect in weakness.
 2 Corinthians 12:9
 So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Isaiah 41:10

...even if my hand looks like a hydrangea or a beach.
Patricia Spreng