3 Love-Steps— Christmas by Memory [Advent Week Four]

[If you would like to listen to this post, click here ]

This is the week of love and angels, so it seems only fitting to describe the invisible.

Every Christmas, a memory I rarely talk about returns— it’s hazy, a memory experienced as a longing in my heart before a dreamy recording in my head. A memory, I believe, that’s a little gift from God.

When I was in middle school I attended my older sister’s senior Christmas concert. The chamber choir my sister sang in performed a Christmas hymn written in the 1800’s. A girl opened the piece a cappella— that’s where the memory starts…and the rest is a blur.

Maybe it was the purity of her tone, her countenance, or the way the sacred sound filled the huge secular high school auditorium. Maybe it was the darkness surrounding me and the light ahead. Maybe it was the very the presence of God. It sounds incredibly cheesy, but I like to think angels were dancing and that they dance often when our God is being exalted. I was enraptured and I’m still enraptured as I sit in the memory again and hear the composition by Christina Georgina Rossetti beam into the darkness:

Love came down at Christmas,
love all lovely, Love divine;
Love was born at Christmas;
star and angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
Love incarnate, Love divine;
worship we our Jesus,
but wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
love be yours and love be mine;
love to God and others,
love for plea and gift and sign.

I wish…I wish I could bring you there. I don’t know what you feel, if anything, when you read those words. Maybe you hear them.  Maybe you’re disappointed— really, that’s the persistent memory?

I know, it’s a fairly popular song.

And, love is a popular word.

Love is a common word— it is easy to read without clinging to the mystery.

Maybe the reason this memory is so precious is because when the word “love” hit the air it didn’t sound common at all— it was sacred, abundant.  

As I look at the song again in its entirety I’m struck by the way the song progresses and yet seems circular. The third verse ends with love for plea and gift and sign…it ends with what God has done for us, which is right where the song begins.

Each verse like a step in a three step dance that we repeat over and over again with our God.

If Christina came up with these steps herself, we might have reason to be skeptical, but her hymn echoes the truth of the Word. I see strong parallels to 1 John 4:9-12,19:

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us… We love because he first loved us.

Here is the dance:

1.    The first approach, the extended hand: There He is— Love, all lovely, Love divine.

Holy and wholly lovely. Wholly divine.


Christ’s all-loving and all-lovely step toward us. It happens once, but doesn’t it also happen over and over? Christ’s pursuit— His initiation through the lavishing of love.

2.    The second verse is a response to His deep love— worship we our Jesus.

Our Jesus. Possessive, intimate— love given and love received. Not stark, cool love— relational love. He is not just a historical figure and He is not a lofty idea. He is our Jesus, my Jesus.

The verse ends with a question that probably seems a bit confusing: But wherewith for sacred sign?

I interpret this as by which sacred sign shall we worship Him?

Christina Georgina Rossetti answers her question in the final verse of the hymn.

3.    Love shall be our token.

Not only love to God, but love to others.

Our love is not something meant to remain in our hearts. Love is our token— the outward expression of the heart’s response.

One, God’s loving approach

Two, Intimate and love-filled worship

Three, Outward expressions of love for God and others

Can you hear it on repeat in your soul?

Will you put your hand in Jesus’ hand and follow Him?

He came to earth as a baby, but He reigns as omniscient, omnipotent King— a King inviting you into what He came for and died for. Life and love to the fullest.

I hope you have a very merry Christmas!

With love,

Donielle Hart

Love Always Protects [Me Too]

[Please note: This post includes some of my personal experiences of sexual harassment.  I am not sharing these experiences out of spite or for shock value, but because I believe sharing them could be beneficial. Love keeps no record of wrongs— in fact, when I was keeping a record of these wrongs in my heart, they only hurt me more. Forgiveness is so important and freeing, but I also believe God can use our brokenness and pain for good and sometimes that involves sharing our stories with others.]

I spent a lot of time reading friends’ “me too” posts, heartbroken, and realized after awhile that I was avoiding writing my own. Whew. It’s hard, my friends…and, as many have mentioned, others (whom I know well and love dearly) have gone through much, much worse.

I’ve been sexually harassed through words often veiled as “compliments” and “jokes.” I’ve been touched and paralyzed by fear. And, as many women experience, what happened to me was almost always minimized and justified by both men and women. A boss I no longer work for implied, multiple times, that I should give him a certain sexual favor and said, multiple times, when he saw my anger “Oh, so-and-so is much worse and says things like that all the time to the other girls, it’s just a joke.”

As if his verbal sexual harassment could be justified by levity and comparison.

After I quit he asked me out— multiple times. He didn’t like the word no. I guess it really was never a joke and he really didn’t understand. He has no idea that when I think of him, I only feel nausea, fear, and sadness….such sadness. He was so blinded that, even after all of my anger and rejection, he thought I would find him romantically appealing. I chose this story to share in more detail because I think he TRULY did not know what he was doing. He was taught that his behavior was acceptable long before he harassed and disrespected me— probably through a combination of culture at large and influential male role models in his life. He is responsible for his actions…but, other people are, too.

I didn’t tell anyone what lewd things were said to me until after I quit. I felt such shaming false-guilt. And, because similar things were said to other girls and it didn’t *appear* to bother them, I felt weak and small and as if I didn’t have a leg to stand on. Sexual harassment was the norm in that workplace, what else did I expect?

That’s one instance out of many. I could tell you about the time I heard a middle school classmate make a joke about me involving gang rape, the handsy old man on the airplane, the two boy team that evaluated my body out loud and concluded that I was “*insert explicit vulgarity here* approved,” the first time I was aware I was being catcalled and sexually objectified as a teenager, and lots of other instances of harassment.

Sexual harassment is a huge part of our culture.

I’m uncommonly fortunate to be at this point in life without worse wounds.

This morning, as I prayed, I thought about a friend from high school who protected me in small and subtle ways, and what a HUGE deal that was.  I began to thank God for other men who, throughout my life, protected me. I could think of many men who I felt respected by (and that matters!)…but there were fewer men I felt safe being around because I trusted they would take action on my behalf. There were nine men on my list. I could think of two women who had actively protected me. I don’t say this to criticize women— I think it reflects how paralyzed we are by fear and how powerless we often believe we are in our society. These people protected me in some very different ways. Some protected me emotionally and some protected me physically— but, each act was significant.

As I let myself become filled with gratitude, I was so moved— they thought about me and my well-being instead of themselves. That, my friends, is love. They didn’t just respect me, they loved me. Respect can cause a man or woman to not harass another person, but love takes action to shield the other emotionally, physically, and spiritually from the degrading actions of the people who are disrespectful, self-serving, or ignorant.

Yes— “Love always protects.”

I want to actively, with compassion and gentleness, defend the women and men around me when I see or hear harassment and disrespect. I want to love abusers through speaking truth in a world that is constantly feeding them lies. I want my love to be bigger than my fear.

As we seek to eradicate the injustice in our society, let’s remember what we desire to fill the space with.

Love and peace,


Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. -1 Corinthians 13:4-7

“Coffee Date” or “Where I’ll be Next Year” or “It’s February- Part Two”

                 It’s 5am, Valentine’s Eve, 2014— and I am clear-eyed awake. I’ve been getting up at 6:30am in lazy pain most days, so this is surprising. I beg my brain to go back to sleep for awhile, but it soon becomes clear that’s not going to happen. The powers that be decided that it is time to get up.

                 Chocolate chip pancakes, Bird by Bird, yoga and my laptop battle for my extra time as I walk down the stairs. As I speed walk across the living room, shivering from the Alaskan drafts that crawl through our back door habitually, I decide that I should start with my normal morning routine and figure out what to do with my spare time later, when I actually have it.

                 I make sure to put as much water in my 4 cup coffee maker as possible (about 4.2 cups) and then prance back up the stairs to get dressed. I can’t bring myself to take off my warm, torn, extra large, paint-splattered sweatshirt, so when I come back down I’m in half business casual, half hippie girl garb. I grab a couple graham crackers, smear them with Nutella (I don’t do it everyday, promise), pour some coffee and sit down with my Bible. I’m in the Psalms and read the chapters assigned by a nifty “Read the Bible in 90 Days” schedule I found through Google. I finish my reading with over an hour to spare. I see my journal sitting on the couch and decide that I should take some time to reflect on what I read— to pray.

                David writes in Psalm 40:1, “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.” I write down in prayer “Lord, help me be still and wait patiently for You.”

                I sit on the couch, with legs crossed like the Cherokee that I am. I feel my breaths and ask God to speak to me. Do I move back to Michigan and go to school or do I stay in New Stuyahok?

                I’ve been asking that question for weeks now— everyday. But, this time something is different. My hearing is sharpened in the silence. What I’m overwhelmed with is not where I should go— only that I need to let everything go. So, I do, or, I ask to be able to— and I rest there, with my heart open. Ready. I stare out the widow, determined to find light. I allow myself to be wrapped in the presence of God.

                This is when he tells me, with the kind of misty clarity impossible to explain, “Stay— give it all to me.” And, instead of standing up and cheering or saying, “Thank you for answering me! Let’s rock this thing.” I hang my head and ask, “Are you sure about that?” And, he says with the kind of authority I assume he used when speaking to the stuttering Moses, “Yep. I’ll take care of you. I fill your needs.”

                So, I sit there for awhile— first a little indignant…then washed over with the love of God— in awe that he really does fill my needs. That he has a plan for me and woke me up for a 5am coffee date to let me in on it. That he loves me.

                I cry— because that’s what happens when you are met by God (and an emotional person). I cry for the beauty and the surrender, the realization of the sacrifice coupled with the assurance that I’m going to be okay. In fact, I’m going to be better than okay, because God’s dreams are bigger than mine. And, they are certainly better. I won’t be tied to the altar, because Jesus was for me— I’m resurrected.

                There is a whole lot of mystery in the Christian journey. Sometimes our path isn’t as clearly outlined as we thought it would be. At face value, it wouldn’t have been wrong for me to move back to Michigan. And, I’m sure God could have used me there. But, it wouldn’t be best. It would have been very sad to fold on God’s plans and miss out on the blessings that come from following his will— namely, peace and the ability to fully receive the love of God.

                God doesn’t give us a clear answer most of the time, which is difficult…especially if you are terrible at making decisions, like I am. But we should never assume that God doesn’t have an answer; whether we are deciding to date someone, or deciding on a college, or trying to determine if an outfit is God honoring— we should pray, free our hands of all our dreamy trinkets and open them wide, then still ourselves while we wait for the gracious guidance of the Lord to fall into them— for his dreams to become our dreams.


“Why Snail Mail?” or “Love is in the Mail” or “It’s February- Part One”

Ours is an age in which we have the ability to communicate with people hundreds and thousands of miles away- almost immediately. All we need is internet and a smart phone to connect with email or Facebook and send our thoughts halfway around the globe. I’m from Michigan and living in Alaska, so I definitely count this as a blessing. I’m able to ask my closest friends and family for advice about an event happening in 24 hours and, most likely, that will be enough time for them to respond with their sage wisdom.

When I talk about internet correspondence, I’m not only referencing online “chatting” or business emails, but also those longer notes to friends or people who are becoming friends. These are similar to traditional letters in composition and I have had meaningful and pleasant correspondence with my friends through them. So, with all the benefits of communicating through modern technology, why would anyone utilize the United States Postal Service anymore…other than to send back some pants you bought online that are too big?

As far as I can tell, it’s because almost anyone I’ve talked to enjoys receiving a piece of physical mail that is not a bill or advertisement. Why? WHY DO WE LOVE GETTING MAIL?

I’ve been thinking about this. As I was thinking, it occurred to me that mail can communicate in more than just one “love language.” Unfortunately most advertising companies haven’t tapped into their loving side, but friends and family often do. The love languages are words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, touch and gifts. Obviously it is very easy to send words of affirmation in a letter, so let’s move on to time spent.

It’s easy to send a note online. There have been a few notes I’ve labored over before sending, but if it’s a normal note I quick type it, press send and swoosh– it’s flown to Grand Rapids. When I write a letter with a pen, I am required to take my time. Quality time. I sit down at the table and compose, trying all the while to not shape my letters like a five year old. I make sure to put down what’s most important- I think beyond the immediate because this letter will not reach my friend immediately. I find the person’s address, label the envelope and slap a stamp on. Then, I include a trip to the post office in my schedule. Some people may feel loved by this as an act of service as well. On the other end, when I sit down to read a letter I’ve received, I’m very aware of this process. I spend time with this letter that is a part of my friend- her thoughts, her change and her schedule. Then, I begin to write back. The cycle of quality time being spent and acts of service being performed for another continues.

However important the words in a letter and the mailing of it may be, its value extends beyond. Bear with me while I try to explain how touch enters this conversation. Obviously you cannot physically touch someone who is not in your presence. So, I’m applying this a bit abstractly. If you’ve ever received a letter that smelled like the person who sent it or if you’ve been left with a loved one’s sweater when he goes away for a long time, it may be easier for you to understand what I’m trying to communicate. It’s more than just the smell that makes us smile when we pick up that letter or that sweater- it’s the fact that they touched it. That it was with them, almost a part of them. And, when we touch a letter, in a small transcendent sort of way, it is as if we are holding the writer’s hand as they talk to us from across the table.

For those of you who I am about to lose with this touch feely business, I’d like to discuss a love language that can be literally applied- gifts. One of the fun things about sending mail is that you aren’t limited to two dimensions. You can go beyond words. I’ve sent colorful leaves, candy, mints and a variety of other things through the mail. Today I received a box from my aunt. She sent a card and a variety of goodies (including popcorn, coffee and chocolate) and two books. It was like Christmas! Not only did I feel loved by her kind words, the time she spent putting it together and the fact that she arranged it with her own two hands- I also felt loved because she sacrificed to buy me things she knew I would enjoy. I cannot wait to dig into some Anne Lamott!

I think it’s unfortunate that technology has made sending mail through the post a rarity. Please don’t misunderstand me- I think communicating through technology is valuable and I have OFTEN felt very loved through letters that have been sent to me online. But, I have a proposal: If we enjoy receiving mail so much, why don’t we send it more often?

Indeed, it requires a bit more sacrifice, but that’s why it carries love.

Mail on, you Encouragers, Time Spenders, Servants, Touchy Types and Gift Givers. And, don’t forget to include a return address.