The greatest gift of the nativity

One of the most cherished aspects of the Christmas season are lights. Twinkle lights, tree lights, luminaries, lanterns tied up with evergreen and bows, and especially candlelight.

Light was an extraordinary part of the first Christmas, too. Historians confirm that the time at which Christ was born was very dark. Among the Jewish people, doubt was overwhelming since they had not heard from the Lord in 400 years. 

Doesn’t sound far from the current social and mental state of things, does it?

2020.

2021.

Perhaps never before has this generation experienced so much brokenness, so much tumult, so much hopelessness. And just when we think things can’t get worse, somehow they do. 

But…

…if our God has been anything, He has been faithful to show up at the last minute, in the midst of the most impossible, and yes, at the darkest hour.

As Isaiah wrote: 

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. For those who lived in a land of deep shadows— light! sunbursts of light! (Isa. 9:2 TMV)This applies not only to our general position in life, but in our hearts, too. Each of us has dark places…cupboards with top shelves never disturbed, shadowy corners under the beds, in the closets and unopened drawers where we hide from those who are closest to us…places we hide from even ourselves. 

In this season of lights, I offer this challenge: kneel before the manger.

Kneel and consider the infant Jesus, who moments before His birth left a glorious, eternal Kingdom to dive into our dark, murky and temporary world to fill it…and to fill hearts with light.

I love how The Message interprets that verse from Isaiah–light! sunbursts of light!–that expose the shadows and defeat the darkness with truth so we can live free. 

Letting go of the pain in our lives, shaking dusty past hurts from our sandals, and illuminating all that darkness won’t guarantee every day will be happy, but it will guarantee freedom to live joyfully and accomplish the plans He has for us. Sometimes that is a one-and-done prayer. Other times, it is a daily, even moment-by-moment prayer. Best of all, the Light of the World means we can become the people He made us to be in order to carry out His mission for our lives freely and with great joy. 

You are here on this earth at this time for a reason, friend.

Let that sink in.

Now more than ever lost, hurting and broken people need to know they are not alone, and the Holy Spirit accomplishes that through people like you who are brave enough to fearlessly use their gifts and talents for Him. As you think about this year past and the one to come, ask the Lord to search your heart for thoughts, patterns, or anything that might be holding you back.

The greatest gift of the nativity is that He came to set you free—from sin, from an abusive past, from those who doubt or criticize you, from fear, and everything in between—to use and give your gifts to others. 

Go and be the light you were meant to be, dear friends. 

And merry, merry Christmas.

Violated.

I did everything I was supposed to do. 

That was my heart cry when everyone–despite being fully vaccinated–came down with COVID in our home. Everyone, that is, except for me.

I’m a nurse. I know how to protect myself. I know how to protect my family. So why did they all get sick, despite everything we all did right? 

I cleaned so much during the three week rampage my fingernails separated half way down the beds. I felt violated. I felt afraid. I was a basket case. 

Now, everyone has recovered well. No one was hospitalized. Some have a lingering cough and fatigue. Overall, we have much to be thankful for in comparison to others who have been forced to take this journey of battling COVID-19. But this isn’t a post about vaccines. It’s not about masks or mandates. It’s not about sheltering in place or six feet of separation. 

This is a post about feeling helpless against an unseen enemy. 

Isn’t that how we’ve all felt since early 2020, that we are running from an invisible terror, wondering if and when the indiscriminate monster is going to find us or our family members? We play and re-play the worst scenarios in our minds of hospitalization and even death. (Note: this imagining is much worse when you are a nurse on the front lines of the pandemic.) 

Truth be told, none of us asked for this or any other season of hurt. None of us are guaranteed another day on this earth. This is just how it is to live in a broken world, where the unseen enemy prowls like a lion waiting to devour. The pandemic has just made the reality of our mortality more pronounced.

But God is all about stepping into the broken places with us.

In my novel Before I Saw You (on sale all this month on all e-book platforms), protagonist Jaycee Givens didn’t ask to be surrounded by the horrors of the opioid epidemic. She didn’t ask for an unexpected pregnancy. But with the help of friends like Sudie, her friends at the coffee shop, kind health care workers and others, she was able to see God in the midst of her overwhelming fear and loss. 

I’m guessing there is a Sudie in your life, or a coffee shop-like place where you can go and know you are not alone. Maybe it’s your church. Maybe it’s a friend at work. Maybe it’s a neighbor. Maybe it’s an old, faithful dog who presses the curve of his back against you as he sleeps. Maybe, as I discovered while taking a simple nature walk around our little back yard last week, it’s in the simple wonders of creation.

Goodness and God are all around us, in the midst of our pain, in the midst of our fear, in the midst of our shame, in the midst of our losses, even in the midst of this pandemic. 

May He bless you and bring you peace, dear friends. 

Don’t forget to please take my reader survey! I’m working hard writing new stories of hope for your heart, and as such I want to know what YOU like best about my books, to make the next ones even better! Click the image below to take the short survey!

Train up

May is for mother’s and graduations, seedlings and birds frantically feeding and nesting, all things pointing to life.

Train up a child…
Proverbs 22:6

And yet for many, in the midst of emerging, emerald green foliage is the heavy weight of ambivalence. For many the life changes and celebrations just plain hurt.

As an empty nester, the sting of mama-release was worst when our oldest graduated high school. The transition from having him home to not home felt awkward at best. The happy orbit I’d been traveling around him for 18 years was suddenly off track, and I felt it bone deep in the echo of his empty bedroom, in the Saturdays void of his athletic events, in the favorite snacks I reached for at the grocery, then set back on the shelf realizing they’d go uneaten. 

Back then, a mother of one of his friends scolded me for my grief. “He’s doing what he’s supposed to do. Sheesh.” 

Sheesh, indeed. 

I wish I would’ve known then what I know now–and told her so–that grieving a massive life shift is quite all right to do. 

The Lord is near to the broken-hearted…
Psalm 34:18

We’ve been studying the parable of the seeds and the sower in depth at church the last few weeks, and the garden-lover that I am has been reveling in the new, living-word perspectives. 

One thing I’ve been thinking about as I have been starting  seedlings and edging garden beds and cutting back weeds is that seeds only break open in darkness.

This past weekend I pressed papery seeds into peat-filled starters, and I envisioned the zinnias I will some day be able to snip and enjoy in a Ball jar vase. But as I folded the soil over the seeds, I thought about how impossible that day seemed. Could sunshine, water, and soil really grow up to be the same vivid plant in the photo on the seed packet? 

Did I give my boy enough sunshine?

Should I have given my girl more fertilizer?

What if he was a shade plant I forced to be in the sun?

What if she was a succulent I watered too much?

Will the sun ever lift my tender heart-leaves above the black soil of my past?

More than that, how many times have I felt like a seed, tiny and lifeless, buried in a cold, dark, lonely place? 

How many times has the watering word of God, the light of Jesus, and the soil of the Spirit worked together to bring beautiful things to the surface, things that bloom into blessings? 

He who has begun a good work in you will complete it…
Phil 1:6

May is for celebrating, even if the seeds we planted in our children don’t seem to be stirring, even if the chaff of our own painful childhoods feel wasted, even if the prospect of soon-empty bedrooms causes an ache in your heart-roots, even if your family tree looks more like a weeping willow that’s lost too many branches.

Whatever season you find yourself in, whether you have a graduate, are a mama, are facing another broken holiday, or are basking in the full sun of celebration, know this: May is for celebrating, because we follow a farmer-God who plants with purpose, who waits to harvest so not one will be lost, who wept blood-tears in a garden to save us all.

*****

“Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.”
John 12:24-25 TMV