the Christmas of unexpected Joy

For a long time, 2015 will be remembered as the Christmas when we were barely hanging on, and the Advent of finding joy in unexpected places. I told my physician-brother a few months ago that if there were a clinical diagnosis for “too busy,” Seth and I would have met the criteria for it several months ago. It is just too easy for two over-achievers to keep doing and forget to rest, relax, and take a break. To focus on who really matters: God, each other, our daughters, and the family and friends we love dearly. And I guess I should speak for myself – Seth does a way better job of this taking a break than I do. My counseling heart and artistic impulse are gifts … but they have the dark side of my tendency to say “yes” to more people and projects than I can adequately follow through.

This fall has been the process of me taking a giant step back – a step out of leading our small group, teaching women’s Bible study, over-scheduling with extra-familial commitments and appointments, and a step back that culminated in a decision to take a sabbatical from my counseling practice starting January 1, 2016. There are many reasons for this particular timing – two of them being:

(1) My pastor-husband will be graciously receiving the gift of a sabbatical from our church from February through April (an every 7-years-rhythm they’ve established for the pastors) – and I want to join him for that.

(2) My first book is being released in June, and I needed/wanted space to devote to this venture.

In the stepping back, there is much that I already miss – chiefly among them, the courageous women and men I’ve had the privilege of sitting with and walking together through stories of love, loss, and hope despite the darkest of backgrounds. (I do find myself already counting down the months until I will reengage with this calling again!)

Yet this is the beauty of God’s gifts of realizing our limitations: the limitations form the boundaries of our truest calling.

Until I said no to over-scheduling, I couldn’t have known the joy of just being … of writing … of enjoying the gift of a quiet home the mornings our daughters are at preschool … of being present for their many unscheduled moments (highs & lows) that happen when I’m here to notice them. I couldn’t have known the frustrations that push me deeper into faith in a God who sees – the frustrations that come when I see how poorly I love my family for whom I profess undying love (and when I experience their imperfect love towards me, too).

And herein lies the beauty of this Christmas-Advent season: in slowing down (being forced to, might I add, due to a litany of never-ending illnesses), Joy still came. Despite what felt like barely hanging on in terms of health and the fullness of our days and the way we typically celebrate Christmas (lots of parties both hosted and attended, etc.) – Joy came in being still and quiet enough to notice The Greatest Gift, Jesus. Jesus ushered in the best gifts of this season:

  • grace given and received in the midst of fraying emotions and harried tasks
  • a beautiful painting by a dear friend
  • a necklace for this season, reminding me to “be still and know”
  • a bracelet from my beloved, and all the love that is patient that it represents
  • words to speak to you and to God – expressing my heart and inviting us deeper still into the mystery that is Jesus
  • many hot cups of tea sipped while editing the manuscript of a book I need more than anyone else possibly could
  • gifts from neighbors for us and our girls – and the gift of having great neighbors!
  • family and friends who continue to love us through our imperfect moments and to lavish us with their time, attention, and generosity

For all of these gifts … for the Greatest Gift to match my deepest need … all I can say is what’s been sung for generations (reminding you and me that “faithful” is not what we are in our own efforts, but what Jesus calls us who cling to him by faith):

o come all ye faithful

order your print from Etsy here

the glittering mess of Advent

Every December, it surprises me. Meaning, the juxtaposition of “the most wonderful time of the year” with the reality of how far I am from being able to fully embrace the joy proclaimed to me in every Christmas song and story and glittering decoration. I know I’m not alone in this. For I  hear your stories – maybe not yours specifically, but in sitting with multiple stories of suffering and disappointment and hope deferred throughout almost a decade of counseling and a few decades more of friendship and family relationships, I have a fairly good sense of the ways life breaks us.

And for some reason, I find myself each Advent/Christmas season battling to find the hope that surrounds me like no other time of year. I struggle because at the deepest part of who I am, I know that Jesus’ coming as a baby changed everything for the better (while I also see so much that doesn’t fit with a redeemed world). I find deep comfort that his incarnation – God with us – was a literal game-changer for the human race. That Jesus was “born to set Thy people free/from our sins and fears release us/let us find our rest in Thee.” That I am to “fall on [my] knees/O hear, the angels voices/O night divine/O night when Christ was born.” And I crumble inside with the best of you at the emotion of it all – of God being made like us, like a tiny baby, utterly vulnerable to the ones he created.

But then I begin to get angry and sad. For if Jesus was born to set His people free, why on earth are we so chained up to others’ expectations and our own inward voices of shame? And why do we Christians hurt  each other in the church when we are all simply trying to love one another the best we know how? Why do “Christian” politicians infuriate the culture-at-large with offers to pray in the wake of tragedy and apparently no (or minimal) actions behind these prayers?  Why do news headlines daily proclaim a new form of terror?

And to bring it home and make it more personal: why do I have friends still struggling with infertility?

Friends grieving parents taken too soon?

Friends who have suffered unspeakable tragedies of abuse when they were children who could not protect themselves?

Why are friends stuck in marriages that feel lifeless? (Or why are there friends who are newly divorced despite months/years of trying to reconcile?)

Why does cancer still strike in the most unexpected of ways and times to friends in the prime of their life/ministry?

And if I dare to be courageously honest, I have a few questions of my own. Like how did I get to be so battle-weary and exhausted when I thought I was fighting for the gospel of justice, truth, beauty, and light in the name of Jesus, in the strength of his grace, and for the sake of his glory?

Why does every recent December feel depressing, as a time when I am more likely to feel the weight of the world’s sorrows instead of the hope of the Savior’s joy?

Why does Christmas seem to come up short from how I remember it as a child?

I am beginning to realize anew that the only answer to these weighty, angst-filled questions is in trying to hold in my feeble hands the glittering mess of Advent.

It’s not unlike the abundant blue glitter that one of my 5-year-old daughters sprinkled with abandon around her room earlier this week. There was literally a path of blue sparkle that looked like a rug placed on our white (!) carpet. A glittering path that led to their mini-Christmas tree. As I vacuumed it up, I surprised myself by beginning to laugh instead of growing more angry and frustrated. I laughed because it was beautiful. Any of you who have ever had the *privilege* of vacuuming up large quantities of glitter know exactly what I’m talking about. It glitters and sparkles and changes in the light, and as I vacuumed clean white paths through the blue, the vacuum cleaner began to sparkle, too. (Because it has a see-through compartment.)

And that’s when it came to me.

This is a metaphor for Advent’s tension between the beauty that will be (which began to break through in the incarnational mystery of Jesus) and the mess that we continue to make with this beauty.

These broken places of grief, betrayal, loss, and deferred hope – they are real and they are tragic in an exponentially greater way than a 5-year-old glitter tantrum (oh – did I leave that part out? The reason that she created such a display was out of anger that she was in time out – it was a mess intended to annoy me.).

But this I cling to – in hope against hope – that the mess twinkles, sparkles, glitters in the light of the Christmas tree. The Christmas tree that became our salvation as it became a cross. This tragedy of the tiny babe grown up and offered up willingly as the most tragic of sacrifices for the most unworthy of offenders. You and me.

Ann Voskamp says it well in her Advent devotional:

The Cross stands as the epitome of evil. And God takes the greatest evil ever known to humanity and turns it into the greatest Gift you have ever known. … If God can transfigure the greatest evil into the greatest Gift, then He intends to turn whatever you’re experiencing now into a gift. You cannot be undone. Somewhere, Advent can storm and howl. And the world robed for Christmas can spin on. You, there on the edge, whispering it, defiant through the torn places: “All is grace.”

 

 

because Christmas is about giving (an opportunity)

I am still working on how to convince my 5-year-old twin daughters that Christmas is about giving not getting. Perhaps because I, too, have a hard time really sinking into the reality that it is more blessed to give than receive. I, like them, love (and prefer) what’s shiny and new. My “toys” are more “sophisticated” – and expensive – than theirs, but I, too, have a bent towards thinking first about what I want to get instead of what I want to receive.

And so I would like to turn our eyes toward the meaning behind the songs and the shiny decorations and the twinkling magical lights – and I want to do so by also giving you an opportunity to put it into action.

Allow me to introduce my friend “Sara” to you (pseudonym used to protect the sensitive nature of her work). Sara is preparing to embark on one of the bravest adventures I’ve ever known, an adventure and a battle against one of the worst present-day places of evil, darkness, and injustice in our world: human trafficking. I’ll let her tell you in her own words:

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Called to Battle

Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers and authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 6:12

The Battlefield

Everything you might imagine about a South Asian city is true of K. Noisy all hours day and night, chaotic traffic, decaying colonial architecture, smells ranging from urine, curry, body odor, jasmine and cinnamon- this city has it all. What you might not know about K. is it is also the exact opposite of all of those things. K. is a place of laugher and bright white smiles, vibrantly colored saris, pastel painted walls and doors.

Surprisingly, amid all the audible and visual noise there are small elements of calm. One of my favorite things is to see the city wake up for the day. Older men sit near the corner chai stand and read the paper, gossip and watch the city come to life. Other men and youth bathe in the communal taps that seem to be on every street and always running. Store keepers sweep the filthy sidewalk in front of their stands, a seemingly unending and unfruitful task.

The Fight

South Asia is also an area of darkness- oppressive heavy darkness. Darkness that can be felt and where evil lurks under its cover. In K. there is an area known as S-chi. It is no wider than a few city blocks wide and not many more long.

This small area is one of the world’s largest red light districts. A staggering 10,000 women work here daily.

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Some have been trafficked across this country, or from other countries. Others have been tricked by husbands or family members. Still others saw no possible means for providing for their family so they chose to join the forces. Each has a unique story. Their stories might differ in details, but common threads are woven throughout. These women have been led to believe they have no voice, no worth, no value, and no hope. Their only worth comes from what they can sell to others; their body. All have been fed lies about who they are and what they have been created for. Dignity and freedom has been stripped away, things we take for granted.

These are lies the Evil One has led the ladies, their culture, and largely the world, to believe. Their reality is a heartbreaking confrontation with Evil. Our battle is not against the rulers and authorities, but against the dark powers of this world. We are all called to fight against the darkness and bring light to the world.

We have a God of hope and freedom in the midst of this darkness. We are called to bring this hope and freedom to others that haven’t yet seen or experienced with their own eyes.

 

The Battle Plan

In K the team has started a Western Style Bakery.Through the bakery they are able to offer alternate means of employment and tangible glimpses of hope out of unimaginable circumstances.

The goal is to provide life skills, job training, empowerment, confidence, dignity, worth and freedom to women who have never dared to imagine these things for themselves.

We are there to help them dream and claim the promises God has for them!

How can we expect to see justice in this situation? The scale of need is so great, where to begin? One woman at a time. One fumbling Bengali conversation after another until something clicks and there is a personal connection. One western smile meets an Asian smile. One exchange haggling over a market purchase. One life, one story, at a time. This work hinges on relationships. It begins and ends there. One life that is changed is a life changed! From there change is contagious, the lives of the immediate family change, then the extended family, then a village. God is mighty to move nations, and he uses individuals to do so.

My role on the team will be social justice coordinator. I will have a foot in the bakery, walking alongside ladies transitioning out of the demands of the district and into life as a baker. My other foot will be firmly planted in the district looking for opportunities to talk to ladies, getting to know them -learning their stories and stories of their culture, and sharing life.

The Army

Encouragers: I need to be reminded of the gospel and of God’s promises. It is as much for me as it is for the women that don’t yet know Him.

Physical: My target departure date is March 2016. I have to have pledged $4600/ month of financial support to get to the field, and one-time gifts of $40,000. I have only $26,000 left in one-time gifts.

[Heather’s note: Whatever you are able/can give will make a big difference in this balance of $26,000. For example, if each of you, my faithful readers, gave $25 we could help Sara with over half of her one-time balance – bringing it down to just under $10,000 remaining.]

Intercessors: This work cannot be done without the power of committed prayer, and willingness to enter into oppressive darkness.

I am very excited about this journey. I have committed to long term service of five years with the sending organization. I am not taking this journey alone. I need an army of supporters and givers willing to join me in the battle against the dark forces of Evil in this place. I am committed to being the eyes and ears on the ground and connecting you to work God is doing on the other side of the world. Will you step into the battle with me?

You can give online to Sara by going to www.serge.org/give/ and entering her designation number #54410. [This is a secure field, and she is not listed directly on the agency website.]

To be connected with Sara’s team of intercessors and encouragers, leave a comment below and Heather will pass it along to her.

 

 

 

a guest writer and favorite Christmas posts

merry christmasDespite the sorrow and grief you’re carrying, there is reason for hope and even joy this Christmas.  Joy not as the happy-paste-on-a-smile type, but joy as what anchors your soul amidst the storms of life. Joy that tells you it will not always be so hard, and that there is a shore to which we are sailing. Sometimes it’s discovered in the small grace-glimpses. Like a retelling of the Christmas story by my 4-year-old daughter, Lucia. And so this becomes her first featured post – and a gift to each of you, that you may pause for a moment and savor the Savior whose birth is making all things new. (And oh, how we need that in a broken world of grief-weary hearts!)

Mary and Joseph walked to Bethlehem ‘cuz there were no cars or busses in their time.  They were tired!  They wanted a bed to sleep in. They went to the inn.  “We want to have a bed”.  The innkeeper said there was no room.  He said they could sleep in the barn. That night Baby Jesus was born. The shepherds got scared ‘cuz the angels came. “Don’t be afraid ‘cuz Baby Jesus is born in Bethlehem!  Go to the stable to find him”. They ran to the stable.  They went in quietly, ‘cuz Jesus was sleeping in Bethlehem.

Other Christmas posts worth perusing:

So I’ll end by saying – Merry Christmas, y’all! And to all a good night …

five minute “Friday”: adore

photo from shutterstock.com

photo from shutterstock.com

“O come let us adore Him …” rings the Christmas carol from the most unlikely places. Radio, department stores, Target. Everywhere I go, there are invitations to adore the newborn King.

But how do you adore when your heart is broken in two by grief? When you’ve lost your mom from a heart attack, when your missing friend still hasn’t been discovered, when you worry about an upcoming biopsy? How do you adore in the middle of heart-rending grief? When this is the first Christmas without your mom and your sister? Or your son or your brother or your father?

How can I adore when I’m caught up in all the tasks of the season? The parties, and the gift-buying, and the Christmas-cookie-making, and the making-sure-no-one-is-left-off-the-list?

Jesus. He invites me to adore him, and then he does the miraculous. He comes near so that I can. He interrupts my over-scheduled insanity with a bout of illness, and I’m forced to practice the white space I’ve been proclaiming. He comforts my friends in the middle of their deep grief. He leaves perfection to come to a quiet, dark, hay-filled manger – born amidst poverty. Our newborn King. He brings Christmas in a way none of us would ever have planned. And to think of this? There is no option but to adore him.

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Writing for five minutes on a given prompt, unedited. A favorite link-up with a fabulous community of writers, hosted by Kate Motaung here.

last minute gift ideas for 4-year-old girls

If you’re like me, you might – just might – still have a few items left on your Christmas list. And if you’re looking for good gifts for the 4-year-old girl(s) in your life, I thought I would share some of our favorites. These are a few of my twins’ favorite toys they own. Guaranteed smiles for the little ladies in your life.

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Here are 7 of our favorite gifts (and let me be clear – there wasn’t a single gift they opened that they didn’t like) – in case you need ideas for your own special 4-year-old or a niece or friend:

1 – Frozen Elsa and Anna dolls. Of course. What I love about this set is that you get both of them in one package for a much more affordable price. (Right now $49 for both at Amazon.)

2 – Enchanted Princess Cupcake game. They love putting these cupcakes together and pulling them apart and pretending to have a tea party with them.

3 – Hello Kitty (anything) but particularly their Hello Kitty notebook and pen. They enjoy “writing” while sitting in bed. (I think they’ve seen me do this a *few* times?!)

4 – Lego Juniors princess edition. Seth and I love all things Lego since we both had hours of enjoyment as kids with our Lego sets. How great that this is a simpler version of the “real” Legos! We have had the Duplo-type Legos, and this seems to be a nice bridge to the “real thing.”

5 – Mermaid Factory sculpture kit. The girls loved doing this art project. I’ll admit that the glitter presented a bit of a challenge to me, but the finished project was more than worth it. The girls have their hand-painted sculptures proudly displayed on their bedside tables.

6 – Frozen dress up trunk. Again, 2-in-1 was attractive to me. Both the Elsa and Anna dresses come in this set, along with matching headbands and jewelry. Every little princesses’ dream!

7 – Melissa & Doug princess craft set. We pulled this out on Sunday morning before church and the girls had fun decorating the wand, princess crown, and magnetic princesses. Glitter, glitter everywhere – as well as stickers, and paint. They enjoyed every minute.

the gaps of Christmas

What a beautiful Christmas we are enjoying today! In addition to all of the generous gifts lavished upon us by family, there is the gift of these moments of quiet reflection (thanks to one napping girl and the other out on a Christmas walk with Daddy). And if you’re like me, despite how perfect any Christmas is from year to year, there are always reminders of the “gaps.” You know, the ways that Christmas never quite meets up to our expectations of it. The way my sentimental definition of “Christmas” misses the mark of “real” Christmas. The way I myself get off track from what IS the heart of Christmas, or rather WHO is the heart of Christmas: God as a baby in a humble manger. 

Praise be to God that he always takes the initiative to bridge these gaps. That Christmas itself is the most brilliant, bold reminder of this. We have a God who bridged the gap that I caused – that I was blind to – that I made no efforts to resolve. Out of love, he came. Knowing the rejection awaiting, the vulnerability that he (God!) would be clothed in – the humble circumstances and the eventual surrender of the best connection he’d ever had: to God his Father. He gave that up willingly for me. For Love.

To bridge the gaps in my heart that so many feel this Christmas. Like parents or siblings or children who have died, of spouses deployed, of wounds reignited by holiday gatherings, by the gap between expectations and the reality in which we live. Christmas on this earth, no matter how postcard (or Instagram, or Facebook) perfect, will always leave us longing. Longing to be with the one who came for us. Longing to follow the Christ-child into places of deeper humility and service in his name. Longing to see redemption in the gaps of our broken world caused by sin – which are even now being healed but will be so completely one day.

Redemption came in the Sunrise from on high, the one whose Elijah prepared the way by causing “those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly” (Luke 1:17). And I am the rebel who doesn’t want wisdom. Christ gently and boldly leads me to it again and again. It starts in a manger, culminates in the cross, is proved victorious and supreme by the resurrection. Let me accept true Christmas/gospel wisdom today. To lift my eyes above the gaps I see to the One who came for me. Whose love never stops. Who even now is showering me with grace more abundant than the gifts beneath our tree. And in beholding this Love, let me love.

A quote from my favorite Advent devotional this year by Ann Voskamp:

In the thin air of Advent, you may not even know how to say it out loud: “I thought it would be easier.” And your God comes near: “I will provide the way.” You may not even know who to tell: “I thought it would be different.” And your God draws closer: “I will provide grace for the gaps.” You may not even know how to find words for it: “I thought it would be … more.” And your God reaches out: “I will provide Me.”

God gives God. That is the gift God always ultimately gives. Because nothing is greater and we have no greater need, God gives God.

the waiting of Advent

A season of longing, of waiting, and it begs the question – what are you waiting for? For we are all waiting for something, someone, some change of circumstances or some relief or joy or hope or life to pass.

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There are those waiting for test results, like we waited ten years ago as a family, and then heard not only once but twice the dreaded diagnosis of “cancer” for each of my parents (within two weeks).

I think of many friends who are waiting for a baby. Either by adoption or conception. And the waiting is agonizing, month after month of month of hope and disappointment – cycling through the heart till it feels it cannot bear it any longer. Hearing false words of comfort, meant to cheer but which feel empty and despairing. “Try this – there’s always next month! – children are so hard anyway …”

Women and men who are waiting for healing, for redemption, for forgiveness of ones who have wounded them, abused them, degraded them. Will it ever come this side of heaven? How long, O Lord?

There are Christians persecuted around the world, awaiting an end to the faith-induced suffering (while some “Christians” in America claim Jesus as the way to a suffering-free life).

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Maybe you are waiting the interminable wait of grief, of longing, of mourning for loved ones who have passed away – a parent, a child, a best friend, a sibling, an aunt, uncle, cousin … and you, too, cry with the psalmist, “How long, O Lord?”

Some of you, like me, feel like you’re waiting for an impossible stage of parenting to be done. Waiting for tantrums to decrease, for kids to grow up (?), for this stage to pass like all those veteran parents promise it will, and too soon.

Some are waiting for a new job, for a move, for what’s next, for a house to sell, for a baby on the way, for school to finish. And there is joy mixed in some of this waiting.

Yet in all of it, we feel a longing. A yearning that this Advent season, a season of intense waiting and longing for … the One. The One who redeems the broken places we dare not speak of aloud, the sorrowful places we cannot bear to revisit, the weary-worn-out-hopeless places we fear may take us under, the suffering that feels too much or too mundane or too constant or just simply too long. He comes.

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The wait is over when we wait on the Lord. For his coming is as sure as daylight after the longest night. The heart that waits on him is never disappointed. For seasons will pass, healing is slow yet sure, comfort is there for every grief, grace is there for each trial, and in all of the waiting there is the presence of Love with us. God with us. Emmanuel. With each Christmas carol, we too can rejoice (even in our waiting) with Zechariah in Luke 1:68, 78-79 –

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people … because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Connecting Christmas with the Newtown Tragedy

stars at night

Darkness. Black darkness. Tiny beams of light come through. But it’s still night. We still wait. We can’t see clearly, and we don’t know when daylight will arrive. Yet aren’t the stars brighter because it is so dark? They are not visible when the sun is at full strength. We await Light. The true Light sent into the world, whose first coming [Advent] we celebrate during this season. But all it takes is the horrific story of a deranged 20-year-old committing the most senseless tragedy to date in an elementary school in a safe, postcard-perfect New England town that had a single homicide on its record of the past 10 years – all it takes is this one story to remind me, to remind us, that there is a greater Advent we await. Our king came in weakness and vulnerability the first time, but when he returns next, there will be no question of his power and his strength and all evil will flee before him like darkness at dawn’s first light.

Come, thou long-expected Jesus, born to set Thy people free. From our fears and sins release us; let us find our rest in Thee.

The only way I can reconcile the Newtown tragedy with this season is to see it as a study of contrasts. The darker the light, the brighter the star shines? The God who came, and who is coming again, came to the unsuspecting and unaware. But not to take life senselessly – he entered to give life abundantly. Many asked “why?” Why would a powerful God, the Creator of all, stoop to take on human flesh in some mysterious and lowly way? Love. Love that beautifies and gives life to the one loved. Many still ask why – why come to a virgin? Seems humanly impossible. Why come poor and not rich? Why come to a lowly city? Why spread the news first to those despised in society [shepherds]? Unlike all of the “why” questions we’re asking about the Sandy Hook tragedy, these “why” questions are beautifully inexplicable. Underneath all the search for why and theories as to what caused Lanz to do what he did is a search for safety and protection that we are never guaranteed on this side of heaven. I shiver with fear to write these words. I feel the “survivor guilt” of being able to hug my two daughters when there are 20 sets of parents who waited in vain for their children on Friday. I feel the anxiety mixed with nausea when just imagining what it would have been like to wait for  my child who had been senselessly murdered. I said to a friend in jest, “Another point for homeschooling.” Yet the sobering reality is that I cannot protect my children in any place, at any time. I cannot guarantee their safety. This is a call for me to entrust my fear to the God who banishes fear, who has prepared a safe place where sin cannot enter, death is no more, and tears and mourning are forever banished.

Because I worship a God who came near, I can have faith to picture what you won’t see in any news report. We see the images of weeping parents without their children. But what would it be like to imagine our Father God welcoming these little ones home on Friday? Rescued from the evil of the world, now safe forever from the power of the Evil One to hurt and destroy. They were not embraced by their earthly parents on Friday, but could they be embraced by God their Father through faith in Jesus? Who knows but that many of these little ones had the child-like faith Jesus tells us we are to emulate. Now they see the reality we hope for during Advent.

Even more so, I know that I can trust this God who came near. In the midst of heart-wrenching suffering and sadness, I was reminded by our pastor this morning that our God is a Father who knows what it’s like to have a child unjustly murdered. He allowed Jesus Christ – his only Son – to die for the sin of the hurt and rage and brokenness of all the human race so that we might be saved from sin’s death sentence. So that we can hope for full justice even in such a tragedy. So that our own sinful brokenness might be healed and we would know comfort in the midst of unspeakable pain.

No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground; he comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found

As there are new corners touched and hearts broken by sin’s curse through this tragedy, I can hold onto hope that Jesus is coming to bring joy when he reigns with truth and grace and that even now the comfort of the Christ-child (God come near – Emmanuel) can be tasted in the midst of a dark world. We wait for dawn in the dark blackness of night. But it is coming. He is coming. Come soon, Lord Jesus!

Remembering Christmas: 2008

I continue reminiscing about Christmas past (mainly because I’ve not had time or mental energy to come up with a new Christmas meditation for this year – maybe this next week? It promises to be quiet … no more Christmas parties or Christmas cards left to be mailed after this weekend.)

Life situation: Seth was in his final year of seminary; we were wondering where we would be moving once graduation came in May 2009; I was still working at two churches doing counseling and pastoral care (respectively); we had our first “informal” interview in Norfolk at the church where we were going to end up.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year – or The Most Stressful?

December 15, 2008

stockings

Christmas stockings hung by a crackling fire. A mug of a hot steamy beverage — like hot cocoa or apple cider. Peaceful Christmas carols playing in the background. The cheerful hum of conversation with beloved friends and family. Twinkling lights from an evergreen tree decorated with ornaments spanning the decades. Children’s choirs singing. Goodwill and cheer.

Or frantic shopping for the relative who always disdains whatever you buy. Addressing card after card after card … to friends you only contact once a year with exchanged annual updates and Christmas pictures. Trying to fit in every party. Wrapping gifts incessantly. A higher level of stress and angst.

Which describes this season for you? And is the first paragraph merely an ideal we all hope for but will never obtain? If you live in paragraph two, how can you move to paragraph one? Is it possible?

I had a conversation with a good friend last week, and she told me that she wasn’t doing all of the stress this year. She was going to emphasize what was important, and she’s intentionally spending time going out with friends rather than wandering aimlessly in the mall for hours looking for gifts for people who don’t need anything. Another friend decided with her husband that they weren’t sending Christmas cards this year — and they both felt instant freedom in this. More time freed up to do what’s actually important. I’ve known people who gave generous year-end gifts to charity instead of spending exorbitant amounts of money on gifts to family. (and who needs it more, really? especially this year!)

Now I’m not saying that buying gifts for family and friends or sending out Christmas cards is essentially stressful or moves away from the meaning of the season. I’ve done both — and actually had fun doing it — but I am asking you how you make it the most wonderful time of the year instead of the most dreaded. Ideas? Thoughts? Tell them — for the good of all of us!