Saturday, November 21, 2015
I have gotten pretty okay at writing about grief and suffering. God has heaped grace upon grace on me since my dad's diagnosis of Early Onset Alzheimer's nearly 2 years ago. I have actually come to understand new shades of grace ("grace", not gray people!) as I face into suffering and grief in ways I never had to before now. He has taught me that grace isn't always glamorous, or easy. It doesn't always smell of lilacs and unicorn farts or feel like falling into a pile of soft pillows. Sometimes grace is messy and ugly (hideous even) and hard. Sometimes it smells like a bunch of crap instead of the sweet rainbow aroma that I am sure a unicorn fart smells like (disclaimer: I have never actually smelled a unicorn fart.) And sometimes those pillows are soaked in tears, because grace doesn't always feel like a soft landing. Sometimes it feels like you just crashed face first into a brick wall. And sometimes, grace doesn't feel like you are crashing, but instead it feels like you are hovering, exhausted, and will never find a safe, soft place to land.
It might seem backwards since grace is defined as "God's unmerited favor"-God giving us what we don't deserve and could never earn. Yet, I have learned through suffering that anything that draws me closer to God-and hardship, any pain, any confusion or heartache that cause me to turn to God or grow deeper in my understanding of God-is grace. Because if there is one thing in this life that I certainly do NOT deserve, it is to be in a relationship with God. And that is exactly where I find myself. It is pretty amazing, in the most humbling and simultaneously exalting way.
I have spent the last two years embracing and learning from God's grace in suffering. There are few things that make me bubble up with excitement inside more than talking about how Romans 8:28 really IS true; that God really DOES stay true to His word to "bring about all things for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose". Often the "good" is not a resolution to the problem or the end of suffering, but grace in it. While I would never wish for my dad to have Alzheimer's, or I would never wish for the slew of trials Peter and I have faced in the past few years, one right after another, I can truly say that I am thankful for them in a way, because I get to know my Jesus in a way I never would have otherwise. Grace has brought me through to this point, and grace allows me to say that.
So yeah, talking about that side of grace the way I did in "Part 1" has become easy for me. What I had in my head to talk about here in Part 2 is harder. And while it would be easy to keep talking about suffering and grief with the occasional reference to mythical flatulence, that's not what Part 2 is about. Part 2 is about how God has been showing me that the same lessons I have learned about grace as they relate to suffering, also ring true when they come to my sin. And for some reason sin isn't as easy to talk about as suffering, well at least not my sin. I could probably talk about yours' or my kids' or a complete strangers'.
This past June Peter and I and our band of at the time 3 and 3/4 kids moved into Peter's parents' house while we waited for the go-ahead to move into our new home. It all happened very quickly (as in we packed up our whole lives and moved out in 12 days). The whole time we had a house we knew we were going to move into, with pretty awesome landlords to boot. God had orchestrated it so obviously and perfectly that there was no doubting that this was where His next step for us was. We just didn't know exactly when that step was. So my in-laws graciously turned their lives and house upside down and took us in. Thus began what I dubbed our "slightly homeless summer". I was eager to see what God was going to teach me during that time. As I hurriedly and tearfully packed I could almost see inspiring matte instagram pictures with eloquent and thought-provoking captions about finding our true home in Christ. It was almost romantic really. God was going to teach me how to find my home in Him. If I could go back and talk to myself then I might say something like this, "Oh honey. That's cute. You think you know what God is going to teach you. Aww. *pats head*. And you would like that wouldn't you? You would like Him to "teach" you something that you have already been wrestling with for 6 years. You are just so stinkin' adorable, and also a teensy bit repulsive". Yeah, looking back those ideas of what God was going to teach me were about as imaginary as unicorns... and their farts.
Turns out God didn't want to teach me anything that could be summed up prettily in an instagram post. He didn't want to teach me a whole lot about suffering or martyrdom at all. Nah, God thought while I was slightly homeless and about to pop out my forth baby it would be the perfect time to send me a proverbial punch to the ever-growing gut and show me my sin. God decided to have the nerve to believe me when I prayed and said I wanted to be more like Jesus. He took me at my word when I told Him that I wanted to grow closer to Him, so bring it on. Bring on the suffering God. Again, I can imagine God patting me on the head like I would if I could go back 6 months.
So, because God loves me, He started the excruciating work of revealing to me just how sinful and ugly and selfish I am. It took all summer and into the Fall and (what is it now? End of November?) apparently it is going to take at least part of the winter too. I mean I knew I was selfish, but just like "normal selfish", "no big deal selfish", "I've got bigger issues selfish". God showed me (and still is showing me because I am a super-fast learner apparently) that I am selfish, just plain selfish and it is just plain gross. You guys. Seeing your sin hurts. It almost feels like having your skin ripped right off. And then someone taking a jackhammer to the raw spots. Ain't nobody instragramming that.
And because it is selfishness we were/are working on here, there wasn't much time to sit and nurse my wounds. No, God kept picking up what felt like a jackhammer and kept on chiseling. I know basically nothing about construction but I do know you've got to do the demolition work before you can rebuild. Sometimes you take off one layer of the facade and see that what's underneath is rotten, and before you can build something that will stand up against the weather and time you need to get rid of what's rotten. So, while I was slightly homeless and much more than slightly pregnant God decided it was time to do the demolition work in my heart where He has made His home.
Thankfully, most of the demolition work is done now. There are some walls being built back up, but every now and then we, God and I (because I like to think I have any say in this at all), find a whole mess of rotten selfishness hiding somewhere and we begin the work of digging it out. I think it is more like God knew the sin was hidden there all along and decided to pull back the curtain to show me at the providential time He knew I needed to see it. So, because I know this is what this work really is, and because it is better than calling it what it really feels like, I call it "Grace".
It is grace because I certainly don't deserve this redemptive work. I deserve to be left the way He found me, decaying from the inside, to eventually crumble and collapse. Thankfully God didn't, and doesn't, see me as being beyond repair. He sees past what needs to be dug away. And even more amazingly, He doesn't just show me the yuck, He picks up the chisel with me (because He knows I could never do it alone) and He actually does the demolition work with me. Oh it hurts. It is embarrassing and humbling because there is pride in there too that we are chiseling away at. And I want to cry and give up, or lash out, or run away, or pretend it's not there, or say "enough, this is good enough".
But He loves me still.
So we chisel together.
And we rebuild together.
And I cry out from the deepest parts of me in a wailing voice that I barely recognize as my own, full of resolve- the strongest weakness I have ever heard: "I must decrease but He must increase!". (John 3:30).
And slowly, painstakingly, the pieces of the old me are dead and gone.
And new walls are built, altars really.
And on them is a burnt sacrifice of the old junk we cleared away.
And just like the leaves from Part 1, the bittersweet scent of the old pieces of me burning away on those new altars is my deepest, trust act of worship. It wafts up, up and out, this sacrifice of praise, this sacrifice of the very pieces of me, flesh and bone.
And I know in a way it is beautiful. Once again, beauty from ashes.
Monday, November 16, 2015
The kids noticed a missing cat sign, which has since become a bit of an
Other than the missing cat propaganda and the ankle biting dog (who could probably lead a search party for the cat. He was persistent enough), the kids noticed a smell in the air. When I told them it was actually the smell of dead, rotting leaves they asked "How can something dead smell so kind of good?"
That stuck me as funny. I always noticed that smell growing up. I always wondered that same thought. It is one of those things that you forget to notice as an adult, but when you do, it kind of makes you chuckle. The observations of a child. I forgot about it for a while. Then one morning, I looked out our bedroom window at the tree whose branches greet me each day. I have watched them turn from verdant green, to vibrant yellow and now they are more of a dusty brown. This particular morning I looked at the leaves and thought "Why does everything have to die? Why does everything beautiful have to become brown and shriveled and fall apart?"
Sometimes thinking constantly in metaphors makes for beautiful thoughts- pieces of poems dancing and twirling each other around in my head. Sometimes though it just means that I look at a tree that I swear was vibrant and radiant and full of hope just yesterday, but today is losing its leaves one after the other, falling, and I see my dad. And I see Alzheimer's. And as I sit on my bed, I see another leaf fall. And I feel my arm reach involuntarily towards the window, towards the leaf, as if I am going to catch it. My fingers tremble. And I know that even if I caught it, another one is going to fall... and another. I look at each leaf, just hanging on their branchs, grasping, trying. I hear the wind, inhaling-ready to let out a gust, and I feel my fingers dig into the edge of the mattress, bracing. Now they fall, too many to count, too many to catch. Soon the tree will be more bare than full, almost unrecognizable. I cried a tear or two, for the tree, for my dad, for me, for everything that is slowly losing its color and falling all around me, and for all the people who think in too many metaphors.
But then I was reminded of the smell from our walk and the question the kids asked: "how can something dead smell so kind of good?" .
In their frailty and death, the leaves make a beautiful aroma. I am not sure all of the implications of this thought. I know really not much of anything else smells good as it dies. But, just the same, I like the thought of the dead and dying leaves still having a sweet scent-a fragrant offering to our God.
I like it because it reminds me our life, our days-even our most frail ones, are never wasted. And I like it because it reminds me that our suffering and our grief are never wasted either. It means that as my dad's memory and abilities fade, he is worth no less to God than when he had all his faculties. Every day is an opportunity for him to bring glory to God, to be used by God. And for those of us who suffer alongside my dad, who grieve as each "leaf" falls to the ground, we know we do not suffer and grieve like those who have no hope. We know that our hope is in heaven. Our hope is here now, in the opportunity to be comforted by Christ and to live in the midst of our Autumn in a way that glories in our Redeemer. What grace. God wants to bring something beautiful, something fragrant, something that outlives us- outlives the season of suffering, outlives the pangs of grief. Just as the brilliant yellow and orange and maroon leaves shout worship of the creator, but then in falling and dying still bring fragrant worship; so too can we. What a privilege, to be able to bring God glory, no matter what season I am facing. My life, whenever and wherever is buds and peaks can be like a radiant Autumn tree, pointing up into heaven. In my suffering, in my struggles, in my grief and even in my death I long for there to be a lingering, resonating scent that brings worship to the God who brings beauty from ashes.
I love the idea of it smelling kind of good. The worship is not without tears; the sacrifice is not without pain. The smell is bittersweet, just as this season we are walking through is. The bitterness will always linger, but the bitterness makes the sweetness that much more sweet. Bringing beauty from life and fullness is easy, and though it is still beauty you can pass by it without much admiration. Bringing beauty from ashes is another thing. It begs you to take notice. What was once bitter, now has sweetness. What was once morbid and meaningless now has purpose. What once seemed empty darkness is now glowing- even as an ember, with deep, steadfast light and warmth. That is the work of my God.
So, as they leaves fall, so too will the tears. But they are not only bitter. Because I know that nothing-no season, no suffering, is ever a lost cause, except maybe that poor missing cat.
Thursday, November 12, 2015
But then I sat and nothing happened. (I swear I did not mean for this metaphor to carry on this long.) Where do I start? I feel almost like I am at a high school reunion, with people I haven't seen in years, and I am worried that I am the fat one or the one with nothing interesting to say. Or that I am nothing like anyone remembers, or exactly the same...
I thought about starting this post by slyly updating you on everything that has happened in the past year-ya know just sneak stuff in there while playing it off like I am not just writing some big update post. Like I thought about saying "I am not going to spend the whole post telling you how we moved 2 times, were slightly homeless for a summer, Peter took a new job and we had a baby". But I decided against being all sly because clearly you are smarter than all that, and clearly you are probably my mom and already know all this twenty times over.
So, where do you start when it is time to restart something you never meant to stop in the first place? I don't know. Obviously. That's why I am in paragraph four still asking. No really. Where do I start?!? Tell me please. (Take the microphone. This toast is getting awkward fast.) I feel kind of like Adele in her new song: "Hello....I was wondering...can you hear me...". Except I can croon so much prettier than her. Just ask Peter.
Okay, now clearly I am stalling. I swear I have stuff to say. Heavy stuff. Pointless stuff. Stuff I think is hilarious that probably no one else does, except my mom. Rap references from the early 2000's, as the title might have clued you in to, or not and I am the only one with an Eminem song stuck in my head. I just don't know exactly how to dive right in. I've never been a "dive right in" girl. I was always a dip the toe in, squeal that it was too cold and there was a spider so get the skimmer and maybe I will try again in a hour girl. I am pretty fun like that. I guess this post is the toe-dip. Sorry if you were expecting a canon ball or a beautiful swan dive. Actually, if you were expecting a swan dive, I don't feel bad for disappointing you because clearly you haven't read my blog enough or talked to me enough in person to know swan dives are a totally unrealistic expectation. Yeah. Maybe next time I will wade in up to my waist and make uncomfortable faces and sputter a few things with voice immodulation issues until I get used to the temperature of the pool water- always, only pool water. So, there's that to look forward to. Stay tuned for sure.
All this to say, I'm back. And my baby is crying. Because I totally did have a baby. And he's pretty sweet.
Thursday, January 15, 2015
Today marks one year since my dad’s diagnosis. I can’t even explain how weird it seems to be saying that. In so many ways I still feel like such an outsider looking in-as if when the words come out of my mouth to tell our story that I feel I am talking about someone else, someone else’s father, someone else’s family, someone else’s reality. It is strange to not be in denial but still have something feel so surreal.
A year ago today I sat waiting , trembling by the phone. I was too anxious to settle myself enough to focus on anything and the pit in my stomach made it impossible to eat. So I put the kids down for a nap and sat on the couch. I went back and forth between wringing my hands as I sputtered dis-jointed fragment prayers and mindlessly suffering the internet to try to distract myself. I knew the appointment should be done by 4. I knew they would have an answer. And despite the last word from the specialist being an encouraging one, I knew in the depths of me what the answer would be. Then the news came as I had retreated to the bedroom, and although I thought I have braced myself I still doubled over, staggered and fell into the bed and the world spun around me like a trippy merry-go-round,. Everything just circled around me, just out of reach.
Today I have spent most of the day chauffeuring kids to school, making sure Royce doesn’t color all over the furniture, listening to “Let it go” on repeat, frantically searching for Peter’s work ID tag that was found among a (gorgeous) mountain of throw pillows (my beauties were framed), frantically searching for the source of the horrendous smell in the fridge and trying to keep Royce from ingesting the foam part of the mattress from Hayleigh’s doll house and resisting the urge to throw Royce in a snow bank. Just another day in the neighborhood.
I can’t help but think back on this past year-it was harder than I ever wanted and I have learned more than I ever expected. I am pretty sure that’s how it works. So, as a way of processing, maybe as a way of trying to find the good in the wake of this diagnosis I want to haphazardly and incompletely list some of the those things I have learned through the crappy. Here they are: in no particular order and possibly making no particular sense.
Everyone is suffering. Just this past year we have had friends and family who have dealt with infertility, miscarriage, loss of jobs, chronic and debilitating illnesses, financial hardship, death of loved ones, mental health issues and more. My heart aches for the people I love. Who am I to think that no one can relate to what I am going through, or that “X” suffering is less than “y” suffering? God promises we will have trouble in this life, so suffering and pain is something universal that can bind us together as we bind ourselves to Christ. It is so tempting for me to just turn inward during suffering, or to feel sorry for myself (ewww). But I am learning that suffering is an opportunity to be able to show compassion and become more others-centered, rather than self-centered. I still have a LONG way to go on this but God is working on me.
Grief is sneaky. While it is not a new thing for me to cry seemingly out of nowhere, it is new for me to cry spontaneously without even realizing I am crying or what has triggered it. Apparently that is normal with grief. Grief is a sneaky little stinker. You can be strutting along (or plodding along) having a great (or normal) day when all of a sudden grief creeps in and sucker punches you to the gut. It rips the wounds wide open again and leaves you there dazed, wounded and writhing.
While grief is sneaky, God’s grace is more. When grief takes sneaks up on me, God’s love and grace take me by surprise even more. There is a song that says “Where sin runs deep, your grace is more”. I love that. If God has saved me from my sin, He will save me from my grief.
Grace doesn’t always feel good. Grace is often called “amazing” and “beautiful”. I picture flower gardens and sunsets and forgiveness. But grace is really “God’s unmerited favor” or getting something I don’t deserve. Good right? Yes! Very! But it might not always feel good. I have learned in the last year that God’s grace has been reaching me (giving me the favor I do not deserve) through hardship. The suffering draws me closer to God. It makes me more into the person He desires me to be. It gives me the privilege of being an instrument to bring Him the glory He is worthy of and of making His name great even in my sorrow and darkness. I do not deserve ANY of those things. It may be tempting to say “what have we done to deserve this, this Alzheimer’s, and all that comes with it?!”. But the better question is, “what have we done to deserve this love lavished on us by God, always and even now as we suffer? What have we done to deserve closeness, communion with the God of the universe?" Nothing. Absolutely nothing. And that is why grace is amazing and beautiful.
If things weren’t bad the good news wouldn’t seem so good. How good would a rescuer sound if we didn’t need rescuing? Or a doctor is we were healthy? If my hope was found in my earthly circumstances, would good would the hope of heaven be?
I have hope now and for eternity. God has secured a place in heaven for me. And you better believe I am counting on that, longing for that, every.single.day. There are some days where that is the hope that keeps me going on, putting one foot in front of the other. There are some days where in my grief I get so caught up in my grief and my longing for heaven that I lose sight of the hope I have right now, on earth, during the hard times. God sent Jesus to earth. He didn’t stay in heaven. He came down. Hope came down. So, I have this unshakeable hope in heaven waiting for me, but I also have hope here with me, my Emmanuel- “God with us”, as I walk this road I never wanted to walk. God with me now AND for eternity? Bag it up, I’ll take it.
God isn’t a one hit wonder Redeemer. When Jesus died and rose again He reconciled us and redeemed us. He took a seemingly hopeless situation (our sin and separation from God) and made it good. And although that act of redemption is history’s biggest (and also my personal fave), He didn’t stop there. God is not a one hit wonder Redeemer. He is in the business of turning crappy and hopeless into renewed and glorious. He hasn’t taken away my dad’s Alzheimer’s. But he has time and time again used this situation for our good and His glory. He looks at our lives with a vision and sees beyond what the devil would only intend for ugliness and destruction. He masterfully takes his hands and creates beauty out of what appears to be ugly, broken, haggard and just plain useless, beauty that only the purest and most holy Artist could create.
So, there it is- a small smattering of just a few of the slew of things God has been teaching me this past year. I don’t know what the next year will bring, and while part of me is not looking forward to it, (Alzheimer’s will do that to you. Time please slow down!), the rest of me is surrendered to the idea of surrendering to the only God I know who is worthy of my praise and worthy of my trust. He is the great Physician, the Redeemer and my Unshakable Hope. I know that whatever is ahead that God is good. God is sovereign. And- maybe the most radically transforming and beautiful thing I have come to really, truly understand this year- God loves us. Oh, how He loves us. That makes my heart leap! Exhale. God loves me. If that is the only unwavering truth I have for the coming year, that is enough.
Tuesday, December 30, 2014
November blows over us in beautiful death, the swan song of creation before it withers and shrivels in on its own creases and falls one by one to the icy ground. The last harvest before death sucks the final cold breath from the world and the stillness of December settles and hems us in. The colors fade to grey. The crispness of the air goes flat. The birds caw their farewell and exit in silhouettes of arrows pointing to the life and warmth they will find elsewhere. And we are left in silent anticipation. Surely the cornucopia that was bursting mere days ago will be full again. Surely this frozen silence isn’t going to last forever. Where life was so abundant just a few harvest sunsets prior, now desolation, isolation begins to penetrate the walls of our homes, the walls of our hearts even.
It is in that December- that brink of despair where the rug seems to have been pulled out from under us as we celebrate abundance, surrounded by last breaths that hover in the air, that Christmas chimes in and hastens us to listen to its song.
Let it be so with me, Lord. In the desolation of my soul, in the ugliness of my bent, in the grief, the sin, the withering of the harvest, the flickering of hope-do something new. Make a way in the wilderness. Bring streams to the wasteland of my being. Just as you brought tender and triumphant life at the first Christmas, bring that same humble and honorable life to me in the midst of my winter. Not only at Christmas, but just as the hope you sent into world grew along with Jesus, may it grow inside of me, with eager anticipation of the new things you have in store for my soul.
Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Two year olds are the best and worst of human beings, wrapped up into one. They carry no pretense. Wear no disguises. What you see is what you get, complete with pillow cheeks, bouncing curls and a waddle-run that always appears perilously close to a tumble. Two year olds have yet to figure out manners or etiquette or how to be tactful or politically correct. It is refreshing. And it is adorable. And it is aggravating…and exhausting.
I love this age because I get to see you for who you really are, Roycie. I get to see the nooks and crannies of you, before you learn how to tidy them up for company, or throw a slip-cover over the stains and tears. From the day you were born, I became about the task of learning you. Partially because I adore you and I just can’t help myself. And partially because I feel it is my job to learn you, so I can teach you about yourself-the person God made you to be, the rawest essence of you. And mostly I relish it, this unfurling of a brand new person before my very eyes. I find myself a bit like Mary, Jesus’ mother, as she treasures all these things up in her heart. I make note of the way your lips purse when you know you are being slightly naughty, and the way your eyes squint under the weight of you cheeks when you laugh, and the way you twirl your hair and hum the same cadence each time you are drifting off to sleep. I memorize your language so as to decipher it when no one else can. I have learned through trial and error that the best way to comfort you is to hold you with your cheek on my shoulder facing out, one hand pressed resolutely on your head and the other reassuradly patting your bottom. Yes, I love to learn you. And I have made it one of my ventures.
In the last two years of learning you and loving you I have come to realize how wonderful you are, and at the same time just how much you need Jesus. Two year olds have this amazing quality of being able to filter nearly nothing. So lately I spend much of my time seeing and hearing exactly what comes into that witty and willful little brain of yours. You give me the opportunity hourly (and if I am being honest more like quarter-hourly) to see exactly where your sin-struggles are- the same sin struggles that anyone has. As challenging as raising a strong-willed toddler can be, it is also my job made easy…in a way. I don’t have to dig and pry to find your dark areas, so I can try to let some light in. I don’t have to peel back the layers that you have learned to hide your sin under to avoid detection and judgment from your peers. It is all there for me to see. It is tempting to wish for the days (that will come soon enough) when you will learn to mask your emotions, play by the rules and please people. It is tempting to think that then you are “getting it” because you can walk a straight line and keep the temper tantrums at bay. But in reality now is perhaps my best chance to see where you need Jesus. Now, at just freshly two years old, is a time for me to begin pointing you to Him, because we all can see your need- the same need we all have.
The past few days and weeks have not been so sweet between you and me, my Roycie. You have challenged my authority. We have battled and butt heads. I have been tempted in my weak will to cave in to your strong will. And I have thrown up my hands in frustration and near defeat, thrown my hands up to the heavens and pleaded for wisdom, for strength, for help. I have begged God to let me see these loud and hazy moments as a fleeting opportunity to dazzle you with God’s grace, and harder still: for me to give it. Who would have thought that a little toddler, one with a giggle that could melt Scrooge, could turn a grown woman into such twisted mess? Yes, you have twisted me up, Royce. You twist me up, full of emotions I never felt in this capacity before. From the day you were born you have had my heart in a knot, in a way no one did before you. There is just something about the way God knit you together that is almost too much and yet so perfectly enough. You empty me out, every last drop of me. And you fill me up, to over-flowing, bubbling and brimming over with joy I didn’t know I was missing. You have forever touched and blessed my heart and our home with the bits and pieces of you that invade and inspire us. What a gift you are, Royce Adelyn.
It is my most fervant prayer for you that you will know the depths of God's love and that you will walk in His Truth, captivated by His love, spurred on my His love, defined by His love, held in His love. As I have recently been learning myself in new ways, we love because He first loved us. So, know that He loves you more than I could ever put into words, more than earthly words could ever say or earthly minds could every comprehend. He loved you to death, my dear. To death. Actually, and as my mommy-mind sees it- more sacrificially, He loves you to His son's death. He sees the dark, hidden places of us even after we have left our toddler years and learned to hide them, and, get this: He loves you enough to love you anyway. He loves you enough to send beams of His light and grace past the "no trepassing sign", past the creeky door of our hears, past the dust and cob webs, past the monsters and skeletons in the closet, to the deepest, darkest crevices of our being. He loves you that deeply, and though the penetrating and tearing down of the old brokeness might not always feel like love, it is my sweet darling. Trust me. But more than that, trust Him. Where all else has failed (you, me, all of us), and where all else will crumble and fade, He loves you enough.
I love you so, my Bee-bah. I am always here to dance and plod through life with you in the sweetness of grace.
Monday, December 8, 2014
Advent. I didn’t really understand it until recently. As a child I considered it to be a time of counting down until Christmas. As an adult I have often viewed it not as much as a countdown, but a letdown, as I tried to dissuade the tugging guilt and the strain of what appeared to be a dichotomy. “Celebrate Jesus’ birthday. This is about Jesus. Everything else is fluff. Everything else takes away from Jesus.” But yet, I still gave and received presents. I still gave and received joy from time spent with family, from traditions, from generosity, from the magic that surrounds this season. Every Advent I felt so torn, so compartmentalized, so guilt ridden, so anxious about getting it right, so timid in my joy, just so letdown.
During his sermon this past Sunday our pastor talked about Charlie Brown from the Peanuts. In the Christmas Special from 1965, Charlie Brown was distraught at everyone missing the true meaning of Christmas, so distraught in fact that he, himself, missed the real reason for the celebration. Looking back on Advent Seasons of my life I can relate a lot to Charlie Brown. I never quite got it. I mean I knew what Christmas was all about. I just didn’t know how to celebrate it without guilt, without hypocrisy, without doubt. So I divided myself. I let myself enjoy the Christmas the rest of the world celebrates-to a degree. And I went through the motions of celebrating the CHRIST in CHRISTmas. But I don’t think I ever really celebrated. I don’t think I ever really got it more than our of obligation, recitation or fear. I don’t think I was able to ever really let go of the guilt and celebrate all of Christmas in its entirety, with joyful abandon, enraptured by the beauty and truth of the meaning of this holiday. I never let it spill into every compartment of my life.
Last year and this year I determined that Advent would not be a season merely of countdown and letdown. I determined that I would let my heart prepare Him room, that I would allow Jesus-you know, the “reason for the season”, the one who started it all in the first place, redeem this holiday season for me. Turns out Jesus is pretty good at redeeming things. Its kinda His specialty. So often I let my perceptions or feelings determine “reality” for me. If I sense God as being _____ than that is an attribute of His that I celebrate. That isn’t entirely wrong. But I wanted to let the Bible, not my own musings, determine the God I know.
As part of my Bible reading this month I have been considering many of the names of God and what they mean-not just in their original Hebrew, but what they really mean for me, in my life, right now. I figured if I really wanted the meaning of “Immanuel-God with us” to have a true depth of meaning for me than I had better get a more complete picture of the God who was with me. I had heard many of these names of God before since I grew up in church. But it was so life-giving to just read through these names of God aloud and let them wash over me. The more I know of God, the more I am head over heels in love with Him. I just wanted to share a few of the names of God that impacted me the most as I thought about that the God of the Bible, the one true God, the God of all these names chose to come to be Immanuel-God with us. God with me.
Word of God- when I was a child the passage from John that talked about “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” never made sense to me. But now I understand how poetically God wrapped his own words, his own likeness in flesh and bones. He gave His very words-his very essence, ligaments and muscles and a heart beat. A heart that beat just as mine does, that yearns to be loved and chosen just as mine does, that breaks just as mine does, that aches for more than this temporary life just as mine does. A heart that does everything my heart does, besides sin and lie and hate and serve itself. The God the whole Bible points to, and prophesizes about, and praises; those same words off the pages of scripture, that same God who created the universe with a spoken word, that same God who crafted me together with love and tenderness and purpose, that same God who parted the Red Sea, who guided David’s slingshot to defeat Goliath, who turned a dungeon of roaring lions into a den of purring kittens, that same God wrapped His likeness in flesh. Flesh that burns and blemishes and bruises and bleeds. That same God-heart that has beat for always, even before the beginning of time, beat as a human heart for the first time in a tiny, stinky stable in Bethlehem. And that same God-heart broke along with the human one, thirty-some-odd years later on the Hill of Calvary. So when I say Immanuel I don’t just mean a God who is with us in Spirit-though He is that too! I mean a God who literally left his throne to be with us, in our stench, in our filth, in our victories, in our defeat, in all that comes with our humanness. The very words of God morphed into our likeness, wrapped in skin and bones. That is how much God loves me.
Cornerstone-the One on who it all rests, the foundation of my faith. The one who can hold it all. All my doubts, all my pain, all the burdens I can’t carry on my own. I rest my sanity, my joy, my hope, my identity, my very eternity on this Cornerstone. And every bit of who I am, every bit of the life of those who follow Him, every bit of the story of the legacy of faith is upheld by Jesus.
Everlasting Father- As I look at this Christmas and can’t help but wonder what next Christmas will look like…and the one after that, I am so comforted to call God my Everlasting Father. How many more Christmases will I have with my dad? I watch pieces of him slip away. We were not built to last here on this earth. We were made for more. As much as I love my dad, and as much as I have trusted and relied on him over the years, his body will fail him. His mind will fail him. And my dad will leave us, in pieces at first and then, one day, he will be gone. But long after the last piece of my dad slip away and he is made whole again in the presence of our Father, God will be hemming me in behind and before me-my Everlasting Father.
There are so many more. I could write forever. Bread of Life. Friend of Sinners. Anointed One. The Gate. First born among brothers. Deliverer. Rescuer. Redeemer. Wonderful Counselor. Prince of Peace. Comforter. Blessed Hope. Star out of Jacob. Root of David. Horn of Salvation. High Priest. Mediator. Refuge. Rock. Shepherd. Lamb of God. Jehovah. Carpenter. Glory of God. Door. Perfect Sacrifice. Bridegroom. King of Kings. Lord of Lords. Son of the Most High. Servant. Shalom. Alpha and Omega. Dayspring. Light of the World. Messiah. Lion of Judah. Vine. Teacher. Physician. Refiner. Passover Lamb. Savior. Way. Truth. Life. Jesus.
What are some of your favorite names of God? What ones are especially meaningful to you at Christmas time, or more specifically at this particular Christmas in light of what your life looks like? I would love to know how God is revealing Himself to you this Advent Season!