A
ll day I pray to be a womb for God.

On the way through the early blue light to the dentist, I whisper it to Father, “A womb, Lord. Make me a womb for you. Come dwell in me.”

When we come home from the appointment to crusty bowls still on the table and the entrails of scarves and mittens and boots flung everywhere, I remember and pray it in earnest, the arms filling with the strewn innards, the words coming breathless like a woman made heavy, “A womb, Lord, a womb, a dwelling place for You.”

It’s when the phone rings, supper hour and I’m caught off guard, that I forget.

I don’t even remember that I have forgotten until afterward, after dinner and after our nightly advent readings, when we light the candles on the The Way of Light Wreath and the figurine of Mary who is swollen with the Child lumbers ever closer to her deliverance.

Littlest One counts the holes of our spiral Advent wreath, the candlelit evenings we have already passed. “Nine nights of waiting…” She methodically counts the remaining carved cups for candles. “And just…13, 14, 15… sixteen more nights and Mary will be in Bethlehem!”

She’s clenches her hands in giddy glee and it’s not about waiting for gifts, but waiting for the Child, and she turns and says to me knowingly, her head slightly tilted, her nod and smile so certain, “I know it didn’t take her 24 nights to really go to Bethlehem. It’s just the way we count the waiting... right, Caleb?”

“Yep.” Caleb’s rocking chair creaks.  He leans forward to straighten one of the candles. “Did you move Mary a bit closer, Shalom?”

It’s when she reaches for the wooden figure of Mary that I remember. I see the swelling silhouette of Mary there on the back of the donkey and the starkness of it strikes me, what it really means to be a womb.

Mary’s distended. Her skin is pulled taut. Her belly swells round and her abdomen bulges and she is drawn to the outer rim of herself.

Mary’s stretched.

To be a dwelling place of God, a womb for Christ, means to be extended, taken to one’s outer edges… stretched.

To be a womb for God means there will be stretchmarks.

This may hurt. I may feel weary. These days may not be easy.

I reach out and touch Mary full with Child and I hurt in the knowing: A true Christmas, one that God indwells, will experience pangs and pain. Kids will cry and siblings will bicker and relationships will grow taut and there will be days where nothing goes right and the season rather dissolves into one sloppy, muddy puddle.

And this Christmas, I’ll be stretched thin and I will feel myself asked to love to the furthest edges of myself, asked to extend grace to the outermost reaches — because how else can I  grow full and large and round with God?

To be a womb for Christ, I’ll feel my inner walls, my boundaries, stretch.

Stretching the shape of a soul hurts.

Little One waits long before she blows out the candles on one more peaceful night of our advent waiting.

I linger with her in the flickering light and I pray.

I pray for those pregnant with Christ this Christmas, those who will extend themselves for difficult family members, those who will let God take them to the utmost extremity of selflessness.

For women who will be heavy with the Grace-Child.

I pray that for me when I’m in the midst of six chaffing kids and I feel utterly discouraged and the season seems to be dissolving into one soppy, muddy puddle — to give way and let God enlarge me.

I pray for the willingness to return a phone call  — to let go of the stiff sides of my heart  that God might stir within.

I pray for the soul stretchmarks.

Little One leans over the figurine of Mary and blows out the candles.

And I am expecting Christ.

::

Photos and Text: Ann Voskamp @ A Holy Experience

Tomorrow’s Post @ A Holy Experience: What Makes a Painful Christmas Easier

Q
4U: Friend, how is this season stretching you? What might be painful for you this Christmas? How might this situation be a way for God to grow within you? How can we pray for you, sister?

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  • http://www.iliveinanantbed.blogspot.com I Live in an Antbed

    It is always a challenge for me to walk in Joy that is unchangeable through circumstances. Mother-of-seven is sometimes as light as air, and sometimes so heavy it is work just to breath. We are stretched as we serve and nurture and discipline and instruct and wait and pray and weep and, and, and . . .

    I have to be more dependent on Him. I’m no “rookie” after 23 years of mothering, but I have to be a rookie every moment of every day if I’m going to do it always for His Glory. It is so easy to “do what worked before”, without asking, “Is that the light for this step?”

    Ann,
    Thank you for your precious heart that is poured out in every post you write. His Glory reflects brightly from your humble service to His Body.

    • http://www.aholyexperience.com Ann Voskamp

      Oh, Ant! This: “but I have to be a rookie every moment of every day if I’m going to do it always for His Glory.”

      May I carry that today with me in prayer? To rely on Him, I have to remember that I am a rookie — How much I need Him!

      Thank you, friend! You ministered deeply to me today….

      Humble gratitude,
      Ann

      • http://www.iliveinanantbed.blogspot.com I Live in an Antbed

        Honored to have a turn. You minister to me daily.

  • http://www.aspiringmum.com Debbie

    Selfless….it’s something I really struggle with, yet am called to be.
    Thank you for this lovely post. Timely words for a Mum who is feeling very heavy in this season of life. Thank you for reminding me that it is all for His glory, and I can’t do it in my own strength, but only with Him who works in me and through me.

    • http://www.aholyexperience.com Ann Voskamp

      Heavenly Father,
      Debbie and I are both Mums who are stumbling along — we thank You that You have made us weak enough to use. That we might be containers of Your grace and mercy and love and tenderness. Please come fill us…
      In Jesus’ name,
      Amen.

      May He continue to indwell us, Debbie — and as we carry Him, may He carry us….

      All’s grace,
      Ann

  • Anna

    Thank you so much for this post and the others, I am so grateful for your heart and willingness to serve just as Ant said! I have stretched and continue to do so daily household/homeschool runnings. But also with the knowledge of my heart, and my constant surrender to His direction and plan. This doesn’t always prove easy! LOL I also love the use of the advent ring, a perfect end to any day whether it was crazy or peaceful! Thank you for this idea!

    @Ant our paths have crossed again, how wonderful!

    • http://www.aholyexperience.com Ann Voskamp

      Yes, Anna, isn’t this life about stretching us? Yes — stretching and reaching — and resting — in more of Jesus.

      I’m right with you, sister!

      All’s grace,
      Ann

  • http://www.amyriep.com Amy

    Beautiful words that challenge my spirit this morning…to embrace the soul stretch-marks. This season is hard for me because our family is in the midst of a huge transition- we returned from the mission field three weeks ago. I’m more mindful of God’s provision of the manger than I ever have been – and how He is providing for us in just the same timely ways.

    • http://www.aholyexperience.com Ann Voskamp

      Lord God,
      Thank you for the place You have in this world for Amy and her family. And in this season of considering how Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem, we thank You for making a way and going ahead and preparing for Amy and family. Thank You for their love for You and service in Your Kingdom. MAy they find rest and peace in You this season.
      In Jesus’ name,
      Amen…

      Every, every, every blessing, Amy…
      I am so grateful for you and yours

      All’s grace,
      Ann

  • http://myrtlesturtles.blogspot.com Myrtle

    What great and unusual thoughts for this season! Thanks for giving me something to tink about! This season I will have to live through family illness. I am learning what joy and service are truly about!

    • http://www.aholyexperience.com Ann Voskamp

      Oh Myrtle — bless your beautiful heart. Service *is* joy, yes? I only have to let the Holy Spirit remind me several hundred times a day :) May God comfort and carry you and yours this season, Myrtle — your heart is so after His.

      With much love,
      Ann

  • http://godsdreamsforme.blogspot.com Jeri @godsdreamsforme

    News we just found out about today will cause me to stretch in ways that may be painful. Still and even more now, I want to be His womb. Lord, I truly do.

    • http://www.aholyexperience.com Ann Voskamp

      (((Jeri)))
      Yes — to want to be a dwelling place for God — even if it’s painful. He means to gorw us more in the image of His Son.
      I am whispering prayers for you right now, Jeri — your sisters walk with you….

      All’s grace,
      Ann

  • http://dreamsrunning.blogspot.com Alisa

    Thank you for your words, Ann. I’m (in)couraged to step into the eternal life he offers here and now–to step out of myself and the trying to avoid that stretchmark-feeling. Pray that I will simple remember…more and more and more, to make my heart a womb for Christ and to remember the JOY awaiting at the end of the stretching, uncomfortable choices. Oh, I want him to enlarge my heart! Grace & strength, Lord!

    • http://www.aholyexperience.com Ann Voskamp

      Alisa — what you wrote: “trying to avoid that stretchmark-feeling” — ah, this is me about mid-day.
      Let’s pray that we’ll remember together?
      That this is worth it — for larger hearts and more of Jesus!

      Thank you for sharing you today, Alisa — you showed me more of Him….

      So grateful,
      Ann

  • erika

    Beautiful words. Your blog is one I wait to read until I have a few quiet moments to get through it. Thanks for a great reminder as I start another {full} day, it’s not about ME.

    • http://www.aholyexperience.com Ann Voskamp

      Ah, yes, wise Erika — maybe that is the essence of the struggle when I struggle — thinking it’s about me? When it’s about me being an empty vessel, a channel for His purposes, a setting aside of me to be used wholly for Him?

      Your words whisper His, Erika — *thank you*

      Starting another full, beautiful day here — empty of me and praying for His filling!

      All’s grace,
      Ann

  • Kristee

    In being outcast and homeless this Christmas, with four children of my own, I will know the pangs of the Saviors difficult coming into this world more deeply than in years past. But as He shows me, The Maker never stops making The Way to Himself, even when we can’t seem to see through to the other side of things so hard to understand. 

    For us, this journey through advent has tied us up with long strings of humility that pull us down a cobblestone road of pride as we must suffer the kindness of the Giver.

    Ann, your words are creating images that help me remember…Thank you for sharing them!

    • http://tickleberryfarm.blogspot.com jAne

      .. . lifting Kristee up in prayer. <

    • http://www.iliveinanantbed.blogspot.com I Live in an Antbed

      Praying. How else can we help?

      • http://www.rethinkingmythinking.com Angela Mackey

        Praying for you Kristee.

    • http://godsdreamsforme.blogspot.com Jeri @godsdreamsforme

      praying for you n your family. God can.

    • http://www.aholyexperience.com Ann Voskamp

      I am praying for you right now, beautiful Kristee… You are dearly and deeply loved, sister — and you give us all the gift of Christ-luminous words — thank you.

  • http://mamaof2greatkids.blogspot.com/ Mama of 2 Great Kids

    Ann, thank you for this post! I so needed this today as I anticipate the arrival of Christmas. I am unable to share details… but Christmas time always brings a certain amount of pain for me as a certain family member visits. I so need to depend on the power of the Holy Spirit to help me extend grace… and more grace… and more grace.

    Soul stretchmarks… I love the analogy! Thank you for praying.

  • Kara

    Ann, This is the first time I’ve read one of your blog entries and I am stunned at how God has spoken through you. Beautiful words used to describe this season and a perspective I have never considered. Thank you! I pray that we all have “soul stretchmarks” at the end of this time on earth… Where did you find that neat, wooden Advent wreath? I am looking for one to have through the years and start doing with my girls ( 2 & 4 yrs) every year. I also just took a look at the Jesse Tree. It is so neat and I cannot wait to do that with them next year!

    • Laura

      Ann’s oldest son made the wooden Advent wreath.

  • http://www.marshasmusings.com Marsha

    Oh Anne, This is beautiful and very thought provoking. I’m definitely bearing stretch marks this Christmas season. Between home, 6 grandchildren I want to be intentional with and ministry responsibilities I feel the pangs. I haven’t thought to pray, asking Him to make a womb for Him to dwell. This concept is so visual. To be so full of Jesus that others will stop, pause and sense the sacred.

    Blessings my sweet sister.

  • http://www.graceoverflowing.org Rebecca

    Oh you have blessed me so greatly. Thank you for sharing your heart. Many blessings to you and yours.

  • http://www.crumbsfromhistable.com christina

    Miss Ann,
    Your bloggy silence left a hole in my yesterday. I missed your voice and prayed for whatever illness or Internet stoppage kept you from posting. Glad it was just technical difficulty.

    At the beginning of the last 5 months of multiple health problems, the Lord led me to pray that Christ would be born in me in a new way through the struggles. As things have settled down somewhat, I had forgotten about that prayer. Thanks for reminding me. He is answering. May I (we) regard our stretch marks not as blemishes but as adornments of the grace of the Nail-Scarred One.

    Love and prayers,
    c

  • http://tickleberryfarm.blogspot.com jAne

    i’m pregnant with pause ..
    the Lord has placed a necessary time to just ‘be’.
    ‘be’ in His waiting room.
    you see, He’s working in my heart, creating groundwork
    for thoughtful and prayerful response to circumstances,
    to relationships, to His leading in every aspect of life …

  • http://toodlebugz.blogspot.com/ Joy

    Yesterday was one of those labor days when the pain and stretching seem more than you can bear. When tears flow from the stretching. When I am searching for that rest between contractions. Then I come here, to this holy place to drink the milk. And I find the beauty of birth. The shedding of the blood for a new life within. The joy that the pain brings. I can do this stretching now that I have tasted how good the Lord is. Thank you…for loving even me.

  • http://butterflygenes.blogspot.com Heathahlee

    Who else but Ann could write about pain and stretching ourselves so beautifully? I could hear your voice as I read, and immediately my soul is calmed. I am being stretched this Christmas, but not in ways I ever thought I would be. I’m trying to find Jesus in the midst of the pain still lingering over Mom’s death. I wish I could get past it. Not sure what to do with it, and not sure how God can use it. I know He will, if I let Him use me. But it’s a painful road to travel in order to be used by Him one day, and I’m selfish and want it to be over with NOW. And I know that’s not how God works. Just like…a baby is not here in a month…wow…it just hit me. I mean. HIT me.

    The anticipation of a new life doesn’t bring that life any sooner…and the pain and stretching I’m facing has to have time to grow into what God’s purpose is….

    Once again, Ann, I’m crying at one of your posts. :)

    • http://www.aholyexperience.com Ann Voskamp

      I am praying with you, Heathahlee, and the pain of losing your dear Mama… Jesus carries us, sister… I send so much love, and right now, fervent prayers.

  • Pamela

    Utterly, Utterly, beautiful. and needed. Thank you. It speaks to my soul and my heart. Tears welling. heart swelling. You are beautiful for sharing Him, and her, like that.

  • http://www.harseverse.blogspot.com willowsprite

    It’s interesting that you chose the womb analogy for Christ dwelling in us, but I’m not sure I agree. Although the womb is a wellspring of life, it produces us, faulty human beings, nothing holy. And after a period of growth, the new life comes out of us. Also, this analogy is very female-oriented, even though we all are vessels of the Spirit!

    We have Christ dwelling in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. The Spirit dwells in us forever, not for a season, not for nine months when life comes forth out of us. Perhaps a better term would be our souls, or our hearts, or “temple” (1 Corinthians 6:19) so that the Spirit may dwell in us forever!

    Yours in Christ,
    Sherri

    “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”
    Eph 3:16,17

  • http://www.school4jesus.com Sheri Graham

    Dearest Ann,

    I needed this today…this long, long day that began several weeks ago…with sickness (me, then the kids), with my husband having problems with his back that keeps him in pain almost constant and he is growing weary, with our Christmas program coming Friday and Saturday and my oldest daughter and I are in it..and we are sick…I can’t hardly talk, with coming home after program practice night to one of the littles throwing up all over, with being up most of the night with this one and another one of the littles who started throwing up in the night…all of this we deal with while we try to get ready to leave next week for a holiday trip to see my family on the west coast….oh how weary I want to be…how sorry for myself I want to be.

    But your words today reminded me, Ann, that it is all joy…this service, this perseverance through hard times, this coming together as a family to love and support each other…yes, with Him we will make it through! I know He has strengthened me already this morning…feeling like I had a good night’s rest when I did not. I know He will be right there…growing me, preparing me, for His coming.

    Lord stretch me, mold me, change me into the woman you want me to be…and I pray some of that will spill over onto my family as we walk through these hard days.

    Again, thank you Ann for these timely words. May you have a blessed day!

    Love, Sheri

    • http://www.aholyexperience.com Ann Voskamp

      Sheri, oh, sweet friend… oh. I am praying your prayer with you, for both of us, all of us. May you find respite in His arms tonight, Joy in His face tonight, love in His heart tonight…

      I love you so much, friend…

      All’s grace,
      Ann

  • Rhonda

    Thank you Anne. I am being stretched again by reading and pondering your blog. So alive with hope and challenge it is reaching all the way down here to South Carolina.

    I’m so glad that we are not alone in the process of stretching beyond our comfort and yearning for the delivery of the Christ within us. Thank God for the “Oil of Gladness” and the “Joy that Cometh in the Morning” after a hard delivery. This is all His doing in us….the Spirit himself serving as midwife and labor coach! We aren’t able to birth so great a gift in our own power. I am painfully aware of this great chasm between my “want to” and my “will do”. As I parent two wonderful children, one ten year old with Down Syndrome, there are many days I must simply cry to the Lord…” I can’t do this thing called life! You come and do it through me”. It is then that the mystery of Incarnation becomes very personal and real to me….He pours into this weak hearted woman, a power that overcomes! Out of the crises, comes my cries, and He hears and delivers “this poor woman from all of her fears”. (Ps 34)

    This to me is the wonder of Christmas…in spite of the pain, (oh…and it is so worth it) that Christ is being formed in me, in you, in all who are His! He expects not that this transformation is immediate, but that it is permanently pursued through the power of the Midwife -The Holy Spirit.

    • http://www.aholyexperience.com Ann Voskamp

      I simply cry out with you, Rhonda… you write deep wisdom… heart beating with yours, sister…

  • http://www.fixedonhim.blogspot.com Denise Cornett

    Wow, thank you Ann! A womb… I have never pondered this.

    A womb desiring the things of God… praying, stretching, enduring, wondering, and waiting for His work to be completed.Trusting that through pain, or even suffering that what is not seen is His beauty about to emerge in His perfect plan and timing.

    This really ministers to so many areas in my life right now. Thank you for this awesome word of encouragement, and faith boost today. I am grateful for you sharing your heart and life with us.

  • http://www.not2us.net/blog Lindsay @ Not2Us

    This will be the first Christmas season in my life that I’m not a part of a local church body. It’s uncomfortable. It’s stretching me like crazy. I can’t wait for delivery day.

  • http://www.rethinkingmythinking.com Angela Mackey

    Oh to be filled with Him! My selfish sinful heart fights the stretching every step. Praying that my pride will not keep the stretching from happening. Praying that my desire to “do for Him” will truly come from my desire to honor Him, not myself. Oh that I would pour out grace in the same measure I desire for myself.

    Thank you Ann!

  • http://www.nebraskagraceful.blogspot.com Michelle DeRusha

    Oh Ann, your words resonate deeply with me this season as we walk through grief, missing my mother-in-law, Janice. I am caught between joy of the holiday and deep loss — struggling to be here, present. I am growing with God’s strength and hope, loving my children who are missing their grandmother, my father-in-law, who is mourning his wife of 49 years, and my husband, especially my husband. Because he only has one mother, and there is a great void.

    Thank you, Ann, always.

  • Anna

    This post was exactly the one i needed this morning. As I spent hours crying last night, in pain of the holiday season, i felt utterly alone. I knew God was with me, but the pain seemed too great to see Him. My family is going through a hard time. This will be my first Christmas without my dad in house with us, because of an adulterous relationship. The awkardness, and pain has been with me since it happend almost a year ago, but the holidays are bringing more grief than joy. My dad isn’t giving me what i need, but he still wants to go on like everythings fine. I can’t do that. After reading this post, I’m wondering if being selfless for me means pushing past the awkward and the pain, even if he and the rest of my family doesn’t?? But i’m just not sure. I’ve had to put up boundaries for myself, to keep myself healthy, mentally and physically. Just not sure if this boundary needs to stretched right now. Please pray for me! Thank You for this post and for all of your post! they are such an encouragement to me! <3

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  • http://www.morningstarr.typepad.com Dina

    Sometimes I avoid the stretching because I’ve bought the notion that real Christians have no stretchmarks. That they go merrily along able always for the task the Master has for them. If they do have stretchmarks, they are able to mask it prettily or wear a girdle that makes them “look” fit and able. This season I want to keep the facade of glitter away by allowing myself to be stretched even when I know I may not look pretty doing it. I want to bear the pain of labor knowing that this is how my Savior is creating in me His image. If He bears the scars on hands and feet and side, surely I can handle a few stretchmarks, no?

  • http://www.jerrikelley.blogspot.com Jerri Phillips

    Stretching. I smile. Till I scream in pain and feel like I will rip in two…and I am…ripping in two.

    My husband has decided to pursue a divorce. I am torn…in two…into a million pieces…

    And yet, I am finding in the stretching and the ripping I am whole because my Husband has not left me. He is still my faithful Husband and my children’s loving Father. He has all the pieces, and I am carrying the Christ, the hope of the of the world, the hope of my broken heart, the One still able to breathe life into my dreams. And I am being stretched to believe that life is still coming forth, that He is birthing in all of this, that I am still a vessel to be used not one so broken as to be beyond His purpose.

    Yes, sweet friend, I am being stretched…and torn…and as I watch the pieces of my heart and life seemingly fall apart, I cling to the Constant…and I expect Him to be the Life anyway…in me, in my children, in my husband even in his brokenness…and I wait to see what He brings forth…that is the hope of my stretching.

    • TN Lizzie

      I will pray for you.

      • http://www.jerrikelley.blogspot.com Jerri Phillips

        Thank you. Please remember my precious children, too. :-)

  • http://www.maritareese.com/blog/ Marita

    Ann~
    Loved this post! I have never thought of the pangs of stretching ones self to selflessness. The idea of being a womb. This was a beautiful reflection of the season. Waiting on the Christ. Growing self, by becoming less self. It’s not about me has been a theme I have ran into so many times this year. I need these reminders. Thank You.

    ~Blessings~
    Marita

  • Maribeth

    BEAUTIFUL insight, Ann! Thanks for sharing! God has certainly given you a gift for writing. And it’s a blessing to see that you are using it for Him!

  • http://www.coloringoutsidetheline.blogspot.com crayon wrangler

    I love this. Right now in my womb I feel as though I am in early stages. Where I am only able to feel small kicks of spiritual reminder that Christ is within me. Sometimes I have only to look at my children’s faces as an ultrasound screen to see if what is within me is mirrored to them. We are dealing with a lot this season and I don’t feel stretched with GodMs grace. Please pray for this young spiritual mother.

    • TN Lizzie

      I will pray each time I see crayons!

  • Amy Cook

    Ann I would love to know where you got that advent candle holder. I love it.

    • Amanda

      Me too!

      • Laura

        Ann’s oldest son made it.

  • http://laughtershock.blogspot.com/ Robin Larrabee

    I am developing ever more new “soul stretchmarks” as I hold the hand of my dear friend who very soon will go be with her heavenly Daddy. Oh, happy that she will gaze on His face and be reunited with her earthly love who was taken from her all too soon last year. I don’t want her to go, I don’t want her children to be without BOTH parents. I feel as though the stretchmarks will bleed. I can’t catch my breath…..

  • http://www.penn-fam.blogspot.com Missy

    I love your description of the fullness, the stretching, the wait of being filled with Christ.

    Yes, this is my first holiday season since my husband left, my first as a single mother. I’m learning grace, even to him, as we navigate a new way of being a family. It is so very, very hard, yet Christ is so faithful. Only He makes it even possible!

  • http://www.vangorden-vm.blogspot.com StephVG

    This Christmas, God is giving us children. After nine years of praying and waiting, He has finally granted our hearts’ desire. The fact that our two children are 7 months and 2-1/2 years old is stretching enough, but we also only had two weeks in which to prepare for them. And although we are their permanent, forever family, this is still a possibly temporary situation; the court may award them back to their birthmom at some point in the future. So we rejoice, and we wait, and in the meantime, we will love. Stretching indeed.

  • http://Www.candacemercyisnew.blogspot.com Candace

    Oh Ann! Praying with you and the other ladies here for a womb and life filled up with him. I gave felt such joy and understanding – and empathy – as I have readany of these comments. It is amazing to me how varied our journeys are yet how similar our feelings and struggles. Thank you for the reminder to be constant in prayer for that dwelling, that hope, that peace that only he can give when he is dwelling in us.

  • Beth

    wow. This is so timely for me…I am stretched to the limit, trying to run/maintain two homes: mine and my parents. Daily medicine runs, doctor’s appointments, helping with both the major and the minor, and one parent who is making things difficult while the other has softened to an extent I never dreamed possible… And did I mention that I am a spoiled only child who still, at 48, is a horrible homemaker?
    Please pray that I can extend grace to that hurting parent…that I come softly into their home. And that God will allow me to find Him in a way that I’ve never found Him before…
    Pray that Grace may truly be my middle name…. <3

  • http://alreadyinhishand.blogspot.com Amanda

    Thank you, Ann. God sure knows how to use your beautiful words to touch my heart. There is a lot of stretching going on this season… learning to be patient and love my family better, and hoping that soon we’ll be ready to invite another little life in. I’ve been longing to be pregnant this season, and you’ve reminded me in such a wonderful way that even though my physical womb is still empty, I can still stretch and grow as I learn to live as a womb for Christ. Praying for you and the other lovely sisters here who are stretching so far this Advent.

  • http://www.pensieve.me Robin ~ PENSIEVE

    I read the first line and thought, “Ann…this is Ann.”

    Which blesses my heart in the knowing.

    xo

  • http://www.yourockmom.wordpress.com Ellen Humphries

    I can identify with Mary, especially this time of year, as I gave birth to my youngest on 12/23 almost 12 years ago. It’s always a special time of year for me but I see the enemy fighting my joy, my peace, and my hope in Him and filling me with impatience towards others. Living in two months of home restoration from a broken water heater and now suffering a broken rib has brought stretching and aching pangs. But as BeBe Winans sings right now on my iTunes “…Tis a season to lend a hand…It’s Christmas, my favorite time of year. Holiday joy & cheer. Love in the atmosphere…my favorite songs to sing, the birth of a newborn King. Welcome the peace He brings. Merry Christmas from my heart to yours!” I shall laugh, eat dark chocolate, and pray!

  • http://www.inspiredtoaction.com Kat @ Inspired To Action

    I’ve read many things online today. A lot of them were entertaining and made me smile. But this? This challenges, changes and nourishes my soul. Thank you, Ann.

  • In His Hands

    Thanks for writing and reminding me again that birthing can be uncomfortable. I think in some ways I am in a “morning sickness” stage where you know life is there but due to, well, what’s one my heart… There is tremendous amounts of icky feeling some of the time as I wait on the One who gave me life to restore my heart which was shattered. Thanks for the reminder that even now the One who gave me life is also the One who Indwells me. He is with me and He will restore me in His time even if the process seems long, painful, and it is more than I want to look at of myself. (With God I can!)

    Ann, may God whisper hope into your heart and ears today as He grants His tender comfort and care to be ministered to you. I hear whispering of holy angels wings over you and the gentle songs of your Beloved sung over you as well. You, are His, daughter, you are His.

  • jenny

    Oh, beautiful! Thank you for such encouragement.
    And the advent set – where, oh where can I get one – I know it would be a blessing for our family – and help our little ones understand.

  • http://livingthebalancedlife.com Living the Balanced Life

    First of all, such lovely pictures…
    And secondly, I am once again so moved by your words Ann. In a way that really has nothing to do with Christmas. Your words revealed what is working inside of me, something that God is trying to birth through me, but first I must bear the stretchmarks, and the joy, and the discomfort of carrying a burden not quite ready to be born yet. Not sure yet, what this birth will bring, it will be His will, but can I handle it? Am I truly capable? Why me? Just as bearing a child has its awesome moments of joy, it is also a very painful process, and the pain does not end at birth…
    Thank you for being a willing vessel. I pray that I can be the same…
    Bernice
    http://livingthebalancedlife.com/2010/one-good-belly-laugh-everyday/

  • Sherry

    “this Christmas, I’ll be stretched thin”. I think of the demands of relatives, a tiny, tiny bit of money in my bank account, a large extended family, a married daughter coming back home “for a rest”, a growing job, and too many commitments pulling me in all directions – and I thank God for my full life. Thank you Holy Spirit for filling me with your energy. Thank you God for enlarging my faith. Thank you Jesus for your example of pulling away from the noise of life to recharge.
    God entrusted a vulnerable girl with delivering His Son. God entrusts me with delivering His Grace.

  • http://www.sojournerway.wordpress.com Beth

    Ann- thank you for your words. I pray for you today that joy comes in the “gestation.” I pray you begin to see with your eyes His life moving and kicking around in that womb, even in its difficulties :) May all which is birthed forth bring GLORY. Thank you for these beautiful thoughts.

  • http://ifmeadowsspeak.blogspot.com/ Tammy@If Meadows Speak

    We’re carrying Christ to Christmas and I’m seeing how it’s really a spiritual battle and how Hell comes against us and attempts to trip up our journey there. How thoughts evade and invade and make me think, “Who am I to deliver Christ?” and I know I’m learning it’s an enemy whispering. So I put on my armor and continue Advently on, not just by a Jesse tree, but by putting words to action. And I’ve known this too, Ann: “I feel utterly discouraged and the season seems to be dissolving into one soppy, muddy puddle — to give way and let God enlarge me.” And I know, I’m a soppy puddle of flesh and the more His strength is perfected in my weakness. ;-) Yours too, Ann.

    I pray for the willingness to return a phone call …” Praying for that phone call and for healing and behind words that a Spirit stir spirits together with gauze and medicine of a healing Physcian.

  • http://www.rcspcss8.blogspot.com/ Reese

    I had a different comment in mind, sweet Ann. However, after reading over the comments, I humbly find myself kneeling, at the cross for each commenter. Lord, I pray she feels your presence…..

  • http://karlawton@centurytel.net all shall be well

    ann,
    What a wonderful way to look at this. I do also struggle with wanting everything to be perfect, and then the reality falls so short and I cannot manage it all. I will fall back on your words through the days to come and let Him take care of all details, even as I am stretched. (actually what I am feeling right about now………)
    thank you,
    karen :)

  • Jenn B.

    Ann, Thank you for bringing to me each day, just the words that I need to feed on! You illustrate so beautifully all of the feelings that I have, but don’t have words to explain. You are beautiful inside and out and I thank you for willingness to share your heart. Also, the gift of the Jesse Tree Devotions is one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received. My 4 kids anticipate that time before bed when we study, pray, and learn from them and the amazing questions and discussions always take us way past bedtime. Thank you for such a blessing!
    Jenn B.

  • http://www.herpaintedbunting.com Samantha

    This is amazing. Thank you for sharing!

  • Betty

    Ann, once again your words reach deep. We are enjoying our Advent wreath and the Glorious Coming so much. Some nights we have to double up to make up for lost time, but it has given me a little bit of an anchor this holiday season. Many of the holiday activities have me running hither and thither and with my husband out of town most of the time. Then insomnia. Very minor in comparison, but keeping me having to take deep breaths and regroup and refocus.

    I needed your words today. Why do I think something is wrong when I see and feel the stretching, like this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be? Maybe it’s because God has written eternity in our hearts and all this striving and wrestling is temporary, but not what we were truly made for? Lots of Love! Betty

  • http://www.thefaeryinn.wordpress.com Tiff

    I didn’t know it, but this is exactly how I feel – distended, distorted, stretched to my uttermost limit. Oh! I know that feeling…

    I’d just forgotten that it must be Christ, dwelling in me, that is the one causing the stretching.

  • http://simplysimonsisters.blogspot.com desiree

    Ann,
    Your words always have a way of helping me right where I am. As we get ready to celebrate with my family this weekend I have many moments where I just don’t want to go. I have a weird relationship with my mom, it’s weird only from one side: mine. I know all I need to do is love more, be more understanding, and ask God for more help. But lately I feel like I have no more to give. Thank you for helping me see that things will not always be easy but I need to stretch more for the Lord.

    Could you please pray that we would have peace this weekend. And pray that the words I say would be kind yet honest. (we will be confronting her soon on a shopping issue she has and we know it will not be easy). Thank you.

  • Lesley

    my stretch marks are coming from learning to rely (more than ever) on His grace and mercy as i face my first Christmas without my beloved husband, who died in early October. we would have been married for six years this coming Sunday and my heart has been stretched through and through these past two months. yet i am blessed… by knowing that we will be reunited one day and by our friends/family who bring God’s shining love with their comfort. your words have been encouraging to read, knowing that i am not alone in being stretched this season; reminding me that God is faithful and true.

    • http://amberrobinson.com Amber

      Lesley, my heart goes out to you and I am sending prayers your way right now.

  • Tonya

    Thank you, Ann. I really needed to read that. My life right now is a reminder of it not belonging to me as I carry our eigth child who is due in January. It is soooo hard not to complain; my body has aches and pains that were never there before, not to mention the hormones. I pray your thoughts will stay with me and the pain will remind me to let Christ dwell in me. I also face the challenges of extended family this season. May I be the light to them during Christmas. As my ligaments stretch and tummy tightens, may I think of the Holy Spirit in me. Lord bless.

  • http://bethlee.livejournal.com/ Beth Werner Lee

    I really need God’s help.

    And I read the others who commented before me and prayed for them.

    Ah, stretching…it does hurt. Finding my self in Jesus’s love, who I am is who he says I am, and when he says I’ve done wrong it’s not the end of the story! Thank you God.

    I read fresh this morning, I reread in the afternoon when I can sit again at computer and feel so weary for the events of time that has elapsed. Daughter stress, neighbor needs, a possible disruption cancelled. What do I do? Oh, I do need to clean the floor! Bye, y’all.

  • http://www.faithbarista.com Bonnie Gray

    “Stretching the shape of a soul hurts.”

    Ann, your words surround us with confidence and comfort, as we all make our way through the trimesters of this season.

    You reminding us there is joy in the end, that all these changes are part of the process. Thank you for pouring us an encouraging brew behind the closed doors of a birth underway!

  • http://www.sunnysusan.blogspot.com Sunny

    oh my … am I getting stretched … we lost our house due to the financial situation here in So Calif. We are renting a 2 bed small place … we had a large house. We had to give up so much “stuff”…. it is just “stuff”… but I did like my stuff.

    Mom has dementia and just doesn’t understand what is going on. She is safe in her own home with a caregiver…thank the Lord. Other family members just scoff … just where is your God now???

    We said no to this toxic situation and will not see them this season. We will have our own family Christmas in our new apartment with just the 3 of us and our 2 dogs … better this way … just pray that we feel His grace and love thru all of this … it is quite the upset….
    Love
    Me

  • frogla

    Ann, thank you for the reminder that it is Christ who is stretching me & that He is trustworthy and faithful. Lord I pray that you fill Ann with your love grace and wisdom. I pray that she will continue to invite you everyday to be her source of life. Remind her that you are there and that she can turn to you in weakness. Lord thank you for Ann and for (in)courage! You have truly blessed me in His name Jesus Christ! Amen!

  • http://www.findtheflametofan.blogspot.com Abby

    Dear Ann,

    I loved what Robin said, she knew it was you in the first line…so did I. There’s no one like you with words…even if you say otherwise and live this humbly…it isn’t any less true!

    The stretching is an enveloping one as Christmas folds into a season of transition and change…we have a long trek (1000 miles in car with 1 and 3 year old) as we drive to see our beloved family. I am looking so forward to being with them. just. being. together…but have been praying to see ‘attacks from the Enemy’ for what they are and to live in Grace and not let anything ‘steal our joy’…

    It is a very special Christmas because we prayerfully hope to be living overseas next Christmas as missionaries…it is our heart’s desire and yet, I grieve the closeness here that will be lost. We love our families and don’t run from them…we miss them terribly, but God has called us and in this season it will be an ocean away…thankful for SKYPE, etc. but those dearest will miss many cuddles with littles and I’m praying for grace to bear it and live in the joy of His Presence with those we love this Christmas…not grieving what is to come…i hope this makes sense…

    thank you again dear Ann…the Lord go behind and before as you live your ins and outs at the farm and are stretched right where you are…

  • Amy Beckman

    Dwell is my mission word. The word I come back to when broadsided by the tyranny of the urgent that so silently pulls me away from His foundation. The one that my feet so easily slip away from too many times a day to count or want to admit. I won’t let sin get the last word, and I will continue to get back on His solid ground by saying dwell, Amy, dwell. If I dwell on Him, my urgency does not seem so urgent, yet the real urgency becomes furthering His kingdom. Thank you for being so transparent in sharing your life and for allowing others to glean from your God given talents. You inspire me daily, and I know God is saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” In Him, Amy

  • http://www.musingmelissa.blogspot.com Melissa May

    I need this.

  • http://wvgurl.blogspot.com Aimee

    Wow, this is beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing.

    I was just saying last night that I feel like I’ve been stretched this year. It’s also been a year of great lessons, one of the primary being that I’m not the only Mommy to feel overwhelmed and who struggles on days just to hold my faith together and pray that my girls see a true and honest follower of Christ and not a hypocrit.

  • http://shineliketheson-mymotherhoodtrail.blogspot.com/ ShineliketheSon

    Now I know why I feel so much pain going against the world in my heart this CHRISTmas and trying to change my outside to go along with my inside. To change so it’s all about Him. Stretch marks. I’ll welcome them. THank you Ann.

  • Jessica

    I so needed this tonight. I just got done ranting of how everything was overwhelming me and that I couldn’t be everything everyone needed during the Christmas season. I have been feeling very heavy hearted and struggling to find my joy. I’m being painfully stretched. This is the second Christmas without our baby boy who met Jesus in September of ’09. I thought it would be easier this year. Thank you for giving us permission to acknowledge pain and stretching as a viable, worthwhile part of Christmas. So many people just want me to be okay and the same old me. But this is a long journey, and I want to somehow bring Him glory, even if it looks a little different than some might expect.

  • http://www.peculiarkind.blogspot.om Jennifer

    Beautiful Ann, Thank you

  • http://trustandobey-waugthals.blogspot.com/ Chris

    Yes, it is about stretching, and I have found myself not wanting to be stretched any more-I have said, enough is enough, I have learned, stretched, bent, and reconfigured my life enough in the last 5 years, and yet, this year, we have seen even more stretching by God’s hand. And I have resisted-painfully, and fear I am still resisting-but to no avail, as it is all over, the changes are all in place, and I detest most of them, but yet I know God is in it!! What a sad place to be, knowing God is leading, I am following, but not at all joyfully or willingly-
    Thank you for giving me, once again, strong words to ponder and chew on.
    Blessings to you dear one!

  • http://blog.dayspring.com Holley Gerth

    Oh, Ann, thank you for this–for these beautiful words. It seemed God just whispered again to my heart that I’m a Word mama in the Kingdom, that He has filled those empty spaces, that He has given me a child and His name is Jesus. A child born on Christmas so all our aching, all our unknowing, all our empty could be full. Then I came here after a busy day and there are your words, confirming, comforting, giving me the millionth reason to love you with all my heart. Thank you…

  • http://apilgrimsproject.blogspot.com amy in peru

    hmmm… ann. thank you for this.

    my days have been a little on the muddled and sloppy side too, with moving and all.
    five kids + too much free time + me and not enough = messy.
    pray for us this season as we will be packing in the midst of it and moving at the end of it… that we would be able to quiet ourselves enough to remember… that we would remember enough to really love… that we would love enough to really make a difference.

    oh to be with Him…
    so we wait.

    :)

  • Heather Boyd

    This Christmas season has been difficult, I pray that the pain is pain of soul stretch marks. I have been struggling with Chronic Pelvic Pain Disorder that doctors cannot cure for the past three years. This makes intimacy with my husband, the one God assigned as my helper, my lover, almost impossible. My heart longs for God’s healing, my heart prays to him. Ann, thank you so much for this reminder that we must be stretched to be filled with Christ. Our souls must hurt and then Christ can move through us, live through us. I pray that God will use this to draw me near to him, to better his kingdom, for if I cannot do that, it is all for not.

  • Court

    I’m a pastor’s wife… and lately the hurts and struggles of those we love in our church have become a heavy burden to me. I love to serve, but feel like I’m dropping balls all over the place. Stretched – and learning when to step back, and when to step in. I’m very tired.

  • http://rogerandrosaleen.blogspot.com Rosaleen

    West Africa’s morning sun is filtering through my window. A world away, I feed on your words. They echo my tears. My neighbours ~ hundreds of children have slept on sand, a dirty beach, displaced by poverty a faceless nation. And I stagger under the weight of this reality, as statistics turn into memorable faces and names I know. This season my soul’s skin is taught and transparent, aching for hope among the hopeless. I am fumbling, always fumbling as a mother too my three, whiles the cry of the manger echo on my doorstep. The wail of heaven’s children, orphaned and alone. This Christ season as the world unwraps wealth. I travail ~ willing to labour for the birth of LOVE himself to come for these children. Humble I hear Paul as he speaks to me, his broken church: We’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, God is making new life. Not a day goes by without his unfolding grace! 2 Corinthians 4 Message.

    Thank you Ann, for writing God’s words for me today.

    Rosaleen

  • http://kissesfromkatie.blogspot.com katie

    i dont ever comment here, but i am encouraged so often.

    my family recently lost an essential piece to a suddenly, shockingly disrupted adoption. a daughter, a sister, a song bird. ten perfect fingers, two perfect dimples, and the most joyful little 4 year old soul.

    stretched. yes, this is how i feel. but i too look to Mary – young, tired, surely uncertain at times, but carrying Love and Grace into the world. and i am encouraged.

    Christmas will be painful, this year more than ever. but these stretch marks, they make us more like Him. Even after the resurrection, Jesus kept His scars. A reminder. So i thank Him for my own scars, the marks that draw me closer to His heart and i, too, pray for more, that i would be stretched that He may grow inside my soul.

    Thank you for your beautiful words, they are embedded in this heart and will continue to encourage me through this difficult, beautiful season.

    katie

  • http://wearethatfamily.com Kristen Welch

    Ann-
    I love you. You know this. Your words-they reveal God’s heart to me. Thank you for being a conduit from Him to me.
    Katie,
    I spent the weekend with Ann, the author of these beautiful words. We spent time encouraging one another and spoke of you….What a breath-taking, painful journey you are on. What a testimony you are to us…Your life and loss are teaching so many about Him. It’s hard being the instructor of grief…I pray He is near you today.

  • http://www.aholyexperience.com Ann Voskamp

    Oh.
    The wisdom and depth and vulnerability and beauty in this comment box. You are the most beautiful women.

    Who minister to me, teach me much, give me the gift of your words and your stories and live. I have read each and every one of your grace-infused notes…such women! I have prayed. I am praying. I have teared and rejoiced and cheered and nodded and grown very quiet and still and I have reached out here and held your hand, held you up in prayer — and I have never known such amazing women — women so after Jesus you kindle me too. You are all heavy and wondrous with the Grace-Child.

    I have felt His stirrings in your words…

    He in you has been the greatest gift to me this season – – because, oh, the stories here, the bravery and courage!

    More, more love than the backs of these thin letters can hold.

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  • Christina

    Ann
    Thank you for extending, stretching and laboring so faithfully to encourage others through your words. Your postings are like a sweet and soothing balm on sore limbs…
    Blessings
    Christina

  • http://www.rhodemacargill.com Rhodema Cargill

    Very real. I live among crusty cereal bowls but I want to serve on gleaming china. I have bickering children but want to walk in perfect harmony. Thankful that God walks with me as I stay in Him. HE doesn’t reject me in my human frailty.

    Thanks for sharing and speaking to my heart.

  • Jennifer

    I live overseas, in a country that doesn’t celebrate Christmas. This isn’t my first Christmas here, but I got to spend the last two with family, and this one will be a struggle, intensified by the fact that I am single.

    I’m asking for opportunities to share the hope of this season. To stretch beyond my view of an American Christmas and really speak of the anticipation of Advent.

  • http://teamparkerblog.blogspot.com Molly

    I read this post a few weeks ago, and while I found it beautiful, I did not quite “get” it. Reading it now, after having my two adopted children home for 2 days, it makes perfect sense. I have felt and am feeling that stretching. I am praying for Mary’s kind of faithfulness.

  • Melissa Lemanski

    I have been searching for an advent wreath for over a year. One that causes us to truly focus on the days leading up to the birth of Christ.

    Not something that holds a small gift each day.
    Not something with a picture of santa on it
    Not something that hides a piece of candy.

    I have been looking for something that points to JESUS. Not, to what Christmas morning has come to mean in our culture.

    I love your calendar.
    It is what I have been looking for.

    We are bringing home our second child this year and I’d love to have this to celebrate her first Christmas. Something to do together as a family to give a tangible, daily example of the meaning of Christmas behind the madness.

    Please let me know how I can get one.

    Thank you.

    Melissa

  • http://www.takingtwo.blogspot.com Jenny

    Thank you so much for writing this gorgeous reflection about the labor pains of Christmas and the labor pains of really being more filled with God. This Christmas was our first year as parents of two adopted baby boys from Ethiopia. I had such high expectations and hopes. And at times… they seemed shattered. Reading this makes me think of just how really beautiful this Christmas was… labor pains and all. Thank you.

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