A message of Advent needed in month of September

A few weeks ago I found myself sitting in a doctor’s office listening as I was prescribed medications that would hopefully alleviate my physical discomfort. While my particular diagnosis is not contagious and is treatable, I knew from others who had shared a similar fate that if I didn’t take care of myself, my symptoms would get worse.

The timing of the onset of pain and discomfort unfortunately coincided with the beginning of coaching middle school volleyball — which, as I wrote last month, was an unexpected role but one I planned to embrace and give my best toward.

When I began coaching track and field in 2013, I determined to hold the gift of coaching loosely, desiring to walk away gracefully if (or when) the time came. As I sat in the examination room, I knew that moment was here. I also knew the timing was terrible. It was agonizing to me, knowing that people were depending on me and I was about to let the team, parents and district, down.

In the weeks following my resignations, both from volleyball and track, I’ve done a lot of self-reflection. There are many things that contributed to my physical condition — not just coaching — but that was an immediate change I could make for the direct benefit of my health. Sometimes decisions can be right even when it seems wrong and/or hard. This is a lesson I’m still learning. I haven’t perfected balance within the roles I fill. I stumble at times; this time I landed in a forced rest. And honestly, I’m not great at resting. I want to be productive.

One of my former professors turned friend helped shift my perspective when she said this: “I hope you can feel productive knowing you’re improving.” I’ve been mulling around her statement since that text rolled in. So when I came across a piece I wrote for my website during Advent 2020, it took on a fresh meaning with a timeless reminder. I thought others might need the encouragement as well, so I decided to share “A Breath of White Space” as part of my column:

Before beginning my daily Advent reading of Evan Welcher’s book, “Advent, a thread in the night” I took the Twitter advice of his wife, Rachel, who recommended participants of #athreadinthenight read the work straight through. So I did.

Captivated, I was pulled into Evan’s poetic weaving of his precious Danielle’s cancer diagnosis, treatment and eventual death. I turned through the pages, sometimes with tears brimming, sometimes in worship of God’s great glory, and sometimes both simultaneously. As we know as occupants of life between the Advents, joy often co-exists with pain, with grief, with sadness, with waiting. This is normal. We learn how to juggle and balance.

But sometimes between the Advents, there are moments that stop us in our tracks. We stand still with wonder, surrounded by silence as loud as the hush of newly fallen snow.

And we breathe.

On day 13, right in the middle of he and Danielle’s personal narrative of radiation, port, feeding tube, nausea, mouth sores, neuropathy and infertility, Evan writes:

“And still the light shines.”

Those five words were the day’s reading. That’s it. But it wasn’t nothing.

Those words combined into white space with stand-alone power.

In the design world, white space is used in a way that allows the viewer to easily read and understand what they see. It can be used to draw the eye to a particular element of design, or even to evoke a specific mood.

My brother-in-law Caleb Dirks, a graphic designer turned videographer based in Nashville, describes white space this way:

White space, or negative space, is a blank piece of paper. It is devoid of information. By adding ideas through words, graphics and images the page starts to fill. Our white space is now between every letter, line, paragraph and picture. It creates its own shapes and helps or hinders based on the information around it. If our words are on top of each other they cannot be understood. If there is no space between content we will find it difficult to focus on anything.

“Picture a bulletin board absolutely covered in flyers with phone numbers, concert posters, group meetings, business cards, calendars…everything piled on top of itself. Now picture this same bulletin board with six items evenly spaced. ahhh. The negative space focuses us, the information is more eye-catching and attainable. Many times we want to over-communicate. More information is better? Not necessarily. Focused, organized, and thoughtful placement of ideas is what graphic design is all about.

“Another analogy that pops into mind is a large meeting in a big room. At the beginning of the meeting, everyone is in their own conversations: talking, laughing, catching up. If this room were a page, the dull roar of conversation would be a massive, incomprehensible scribble. Then someone wipes the slate clean with a loud gavel. It is quiet. There is negative space. The orator can now share information in a focused room. Because of the white space, we are able to see or hear the intended message.”

Because of white space, we are able to see or hear the intended message.

Are you in need of white space today? Of quiet? Of an intake of breath?

The LIGHT still shines. Hold on.

Malinda Just has been writing Lipstick & Pearls for the Free Press since 2008. To read more of her writing, visit her blog, www.malindajust.com, or find her on social media @MalindaDJust.

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