Repost: Sunrise, Sunset

It’s my habit to watch the sunrise and the sunset every day.

I usually greet the morning in my rocking chair, looking out my east-facing picture window.  It never gets old to watch darkness chased away by relentless light rising over the tops of trees.

sunrise trees

Beautiful.

Every. Time.

Sunset is a little trickier.

Read the rest here:  Sunrise, Sunset

Christmas Drama

We’ve whitewashed everything about this scene:  beatific Mary gazing serenely at a cleaned up baby cozy in a cleaned up manger towered over by Joseph and surrounded by adoring shepherds and freshly groomed, sweet smelling animals.

It was nothing like that.

Birth is pain and sweat and effort.

And messy.  So, so messy.

I like to think more clearly about what that night was like.  It helps my heart to know that even while God was being birthed as a man into the world He created, He didn’t hide the hard.

The world was a mess on the first Christmas night, but Jesus came. He came wearing a name of endless hope and promise: ‘God with us.’ God is with us when the money runs out, with us when the bad news comes, with us when the holiday isn’t happy, and with us when everyone else disappears. The question this Christmas is not, ‘Will Jesus show up?’ The question is, ‘Will I receive Him, even if He’s all I have?’

Today is a good day to give yourself permission to be the real you in front of the real God. You don’t have to hide your hurt or sin away. He comes to heal, to save, and to rescue. Let earth receive her king.

~Bo Stern, When Holidays Hurt

There’s no evidence that Mary was spared labor pains or all the usual difficulty of bringing forth life.

And poor Joseph!  In a culture where women helped women he was alone and lonely with his young bride in a place hardly appropriate for birthing a baby much less for protecting her modesty and reputation.  He was unwitting midwife to the most important birth in history.

I’ve often wondered whether Mary and Joseph were relieved to see the shepherds who confirmed again the truth that their Son was Savior or if they were thinking the visit might have been better timed a few days later when things were tidier and the idea of parenthood had settled in.

Drama. 

All of it.

But the biggest drama that night was this:  Darkness was overcome.  Once and for all.  Never to reign again.

When He created the heavens and the earth, God declared, “Let there be light!” Physical light entered time and space.  Darkness was pushed back and limits set on its power and dominion.

Yet sin marred the light of God’s love, provision and perfect creation.

And from that moment on, darkness crept forward through the actions of men whose hearts were hard and by the designs of the evil one who has no heart but only destruction in his bosom.

But God….

He would not leave us this way.  He did not allow the darkness to win.

We were not abandoned.

We are not abandoned.

Emmanuel is here.

And then, just when everything is bearing down on us to such an extent that we can scarcely withstand it, the Christmas message comes to tell us that all our ideas are wrong, and that what we take to be evil and dark is really good and light because it comes from God. Our eyes are at fault, that is all. God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, succor in abandonment. No evil can befall us; whatever men may do to us, they cannot but serve the God who is secretly revealed as love and rules the world and our lives.

~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

manger empty

Qualified by Hopelessness: An Empty Heart Can Be Filled

I don’t know about you but I’ve never thought of hopelessness as something I wanted on my resume.

Hopelessness is typically tossed into the pile of “negative” feelings we all acknowledge but don’t want to experience and if we do, we try to minimize, rationalize or disguise them.

If I admit to it at all, I tend to look downward, whisper quickly and pray that no one takes much notice because it feels shameful.

But maybe hopelessness is the first step to truly celebrating Christmas.

Think about Scrooge.  When was his heart able to make the turn and embrace the joy that Christmas represents?  It took one long night and four strange visitors to take him down a path where he understood his own strength was woefully inadequate to accomplish anything.  It was finally the spectre of death-death of relationships, death of a child and the certainty of his own lonely demise that shook him from slumber and awakened him to real life and love and joy.

scrooge

I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!
― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Now consider the story of the first Christmas.  Two poor sojourners in desperate need of a place to stay and, even more important, a place to birth a baby. 

But not just any baby.  No, this was the Promised One, Immanuel, Jesus, Messiah, Light of the World.  Yet He made His appearance in the dark, in a stable and unnoticed.

I don’t know if Mary felt hope-filled or hopeless as she labored without the company of other women to encourage and guide her.  But I can imagine there were moments if not hours, of something like hopelessness.

Yet it ended with her holding the God of the universe in her hands.

jesus-christmas

What about Israel?  Four hundred long years since Jehovah had shut the mouths of prophets and allowed the Apple of His Eye to wallow in the darkness they had begged for by turning away from the God Who loved them.  Prophesies were still handed down like good luck tokens but many who heard them had long ago decided they didn’t matter.

It was dark in the world of Judea.

So, so very dark.

Hopelessness prevailed.

And that is precisely when the angel showed up and the sky was bright with praise:

Don’t be afraid! Listen! I bring good news, news of great joy, news that will affect all people everywhere. Today, in the city of David, a Liberator has been born for you! He is the promised Anointed One, the Supreme Authority! 

~Luke 2:10-11 VOICE

It was all the brighter because it was dark.  It was that much more joyous because hopeless hearts were longing for something to cling to.

shepherds angels

There is no shame in being hopeless and broken.

God loves the broken.  Christ came for the broken.  It’s the broken and breathless who long for the Spirit to blow life across their wounded hearts.

It’s the hopeless and fearful that run faster to the safety of their Shepherd.

It’s the worried and weary who are thankful for a Burden-bearer.

Christmas is the story of Hope entering the world, of Light shining forth in darkness, of Love overcoming death.

A heart has to be looking to find it.

A heart has to be desperate to believe it.

A heart has to be hungry to come to the table of everlasting bread.

Have you been living in the land of deep shadows? I have. I’ve spent long years in that gray and weary country, and sometimes it makes me feel disqualified from Christmas. Most Christmas carols do not talk about daunting shadows or dreary days. They talk about sparkle and shimmer. They talk ho-ho-ho-ing and mistletoeing, and all of that is fine and fun if you’re having a great year. But let’s be honest about the fact that this relentless commercialized happiness is not really what lives at the heart of Christmas.

Christmas is deeper than that.  It reaches into darker places.  Jesus didn’t come to cheer us up.  He came into the shadowlands we call home to set us free.  He came to untangle us from the despair that wraps itself around our joy and peace and purpose.  It seems, then, that hopelessness is the very first qualification for receiving the bright hope of Christmas.  Perhaps you are exactly where you need to be to experience the miracle of Advent after all.

~Bo Stern, When Holidays Hurt

 

Repost: Halloween

Except for a few years early in childhood, I have never liked Halloween.  The combination of darkness and creepiness makes my skin crawl.

And now, this side of child loss it makes me angry. 

Read the rest here:  Halloween

Between Sleep and Wake: Speaking Peace To My Heart

When I was a little girl, I struggled mightily being afraid of the dark.

Sometimes I could barely close my eyes because I was scared something terrible would happen between going to sleep and waking up.

I outgrew that as I grew into my faith.

go to sleep in peace

But after Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, I found myself again afraid to go to sleep.  

Not because of “monsters” hiding beneath the bed but because it was between sleep and wake that he left.

I fell asleep with four living children and woke up with three.

I’m still not so good at falling asleep or staying asleep-just another change child loss has wrought in my life.  Most nights I have to talk myself into it.  

I recite truth to my spirit, sing songs to my soul.  

trust god in the light

I remind my heart that God was with me and was with Dominic the night he was killed. 

He was with me the morning I got the news and Dominic is with Him forever in Heaven.

I’ve learned that leaning into Him, I can find rest and wake to a new day, confident that whatever the sunrise brings, I am not alone.  

and when I wake up you are still with me

Night Time is So. Much. Harder.

I’m pretty good at pushing away uncomfortable or sad or downright horrifying thoughts in the daytime.

Sunlight means there’s plenty to do and plenty to keep my mind from dwelling too long on anything that will make be cry or bring me to my knees. 

But there is a dangerous space just between wake and sleep, when the house is quiet and my mind is free to explore random corners that guarantees unpleasant thoughts will pour in and overwhelm me.

I can’t tell you how many times the last moment before sleep claims my consciousness is filled with thoughts of Dominic.

Not sweet memories of his smiling face.  

Oh, no. 

Instead they are graphic images of what he looked like, crumpled on the ground, perhaps gasping one last time trying to fill his lungs before his soul flew to Jesus, leaving his body behind.  

It’s impossible to describe the electric current that shoots through my midsection like a lightning bolt.  I cannot help a heart that doesn’t carry this awful burden understand how such flashes disrupt any hope of peaceful sleep.

I used to be afraid of ghosts in the dark.  

I never slept without aid of a nightlight until well into my adult years.  

I’m not afraid of specters anymore.  

They are small potatoes next to a mother’s own heart screaming, “Where WERE you????” when your baby breathed his last.

Nights are just plain hard.  

No distractions. 

Only sorrow and a broken heart in bed together.  

night silent tears

Songs in the Night

The months when I can sleep with windows open are my favorite.

I love fresh air and I love falling asleep to the sound of the breeze tinkling my wind chimes or the rain drip, drip, dripping on the leaves.

Last night I had been asleep for a few hours and woke to a sound I rarely hear after dark-a bird (probably one nesting in the tree outside my bedroom window) was singing her heart out.  I listened for awhile, thinking that surely something had startled her awake and as soon as her eyes took in the night she’d hush her melody and go back to sleep.

But she just kept singing.  

Chortling through chord after chord, note after note, trill after trill.

I fell back to sleep before she did.  

And as I was drifting off, I was reminded of this verse:  

psalm 42_8

I’m thankful for open windows, singing birds and daily reminders that I am not alone on this journey through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.  

Jesus is here.  

He loves me. 

He gives my heart songs in the night.  

Any one can sing in the day. When the cup is full, one draws inspiration from it; when wealth rolls in abundance around them, any one can sing to the praise of a God who gives an abundant harvest. It is easy to sing when we can read the notes by daylight; but the skillful singer is the one who can sing when there is not a ray of light to read by—who sings from their heart, and not from a book that they can see, because they have no means of reading, except from that inward book of their living spirit, where notes of gratitude pour out in songs of praise. No one can create a song in the night by themselves; they may attempt it, but they will learn how difficult it is.

~C.H. Spurgeon