Miracles at midnight.

I got my first pair of progressives recently.

Friends who’d already celebrated that midlife milestone warned me to go easy on the stairs. The eye doctor told me to get used to pointing my noise at what I want to look at. And I marveled at the modern miracle of watching TV and reading at the same time.

I had taken for granted the ability to focus on the near and the far simultaneously.

Me and my new progressive specs. (Photo cred: selfie)

I’m currently reading a rather long-haired, transcendentalist-style book by Annie Dillard called Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. It’s a book to be read in much the same way I imagine she wrote it…slowly, savoring each word, turning over phrases like she turned over rocks to study entire, unexpected squirming communities of life living beneath them. I’ve underlined and dog-eared half the book (and I’m only half-finished). I love it.

One phrase, in particular, stood out to me today:

“These are our few live seasons. Let us live them as purely as we can, in the present.” ~Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Considering I’d just spent two hours at the local super store with half of the rest of my town, I was immediately convicted of the fact that I most certainly am not–nor have I been–living in the present. Part of it is the holiday season: no matter how determined I am on December first to have a calm and peaceful month, I always feel stressed by the end of it. Getting three kids through finals, Christmas budgeting and shopping, and my Scrooge-ish tendencies don’t help. The other part of it is the fact that…

…I just can’t reconcile the broken places of the world with the shimmer and shine and fuss and rush and packages tied up with strings.

Maybe you can’t either.

But maybe we don’t have to.

Maybe we’re not supposed to.

It’s hard to see life up close and apart from ourselves. And yet, no matter how many strings of light we hang or gifts we wrap or candles we light, no matter how many Christmas songs we sing or cards we send or Hallmark movies we watch, the broken world is still there. Our broken lives are still there.

No wonder our culture brazenly flings itself at all the distractions of the holidays. It’s a lot tougher to live real and in the present, after all. The present means being still long enough to notice the pain in others and in ourselves. The present means living with the tension of unfinished goals and imperfect loved ones and untied bows.

But the present and the broken, well, that’s where the miracles occur.

And that’s why so many of us miss them.

When we keep ourselves busy, we lack the focus needed to see that love didn’t come when things were fixed up and dressed up and fancy.

Love came to a world of hurt and mess.

Love didn’t come in a sleigh or on a stage or to an audience.

Love came to a girl in a barn.

Love didn’t come on a bright, sunny day.

Love came kindly.

Love came gently.

And love came in the pitch, black night.

It’s not easy to look up from our phones, to give up on the contest to give more, be more and do more in this season. To do so means coming face-to-face with our inadequacies and the dark places in our hearts we’d rather avoid. But to do so means discovering a whole new way of living. To do means seeing joy can co-exist in the near and the far, the past and the future, and the broken and the healed.

Miracles, after all, don’t happen in times of plenty.

Miracles come when we’re at the end of our rope, when there’s not enough oil to keep the flame burning, when there’s not enough of us to go around.

Miracles come at midnight.

My favorite Christmas song lines are from this stanza of It Came Upon a Midnight Clear:

O ye beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
Oh rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.

Rest, dear friends.

The road is weary.

My form is bending low, right along with yours.

But rest anyway.

You just might hear the angels.

Enjoy this beautiful rendition of the song by Sara Groves:

What if all is not well at Christmas?

Can I give you permission today, dear reader?

Sometimes permission is what we’re looking for.

Permission to stop.

Permission to do less.

Permission to not have a perfect Christmas.

After all, the first Christmas was far from perfect.

Things were far from well in Bethlehem 2000 years ago. There were no epidurals. No postpartum care. No layettes or pacifiers or lactation consultants or swings that would rock a crying baby when arms are plum wore out.

There was fear of a baby-killing king, life on the run, ostracization from people who didn’t understand that you really were a virgin when you conceived, and that Joseph really was a decent man.

More than that, the infant you carry in a sling next to your heart was not the sort of Messiah people were looking for. Sure, the angel appeared and told you not to fear, but what’s not to fear about a fragile newborn who has nothing to give but cries?

Maybe you have nothing to give but tears this year, either, dear reader.

Or maybe your arms are plum wore out from holding everyone else up but yourself.

And maybe, that’s right where you’re supposed to be.

Worn out, wrung out, and in need of the only One who can help you up.

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We know how the story turned out. The infant grew in wisdom and stature and was nailed to a tree and bled and died and rose again. The Emmanuel who reduced Himself to  human form came then, and He has never left us since.

He didn’t fix the mess, but He made a way to fix our hearts.

The world is still broken in pieces, but He made a way to put us back together.

Life still hurts, but He hurts with us.

All is well, not because life is tied up neat and pretty with a big red, velvet bow, but because we have a Savior who makes a way for us to find joy in the midst and who never leaves us alone.

I think that’s why Emmanuel is my favorite word at Christmastime, and all year round.

He is here.

That’s why you can let go of the pressure to buy more gifts or send more cards or spend more money. That’s why it’s okay to feel weary and raw and avoid the malls and the parties and the loud and the noise. (It’s okay to do all that, too, of course, if you enjoy it. But for a lot of folks, a season of fullness is a reminder of all that’s been lost.)

You can stop.

You can do less.

You don’t have to have a perfect Christmas.

Find a place where you can click on and listen to the song below, All is Well.

And know that you are well because of Emmanuel, in spite of the chaos all around you.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” ~2 Corinthians 12:9

The deliberate search for hope: thoughts on November 9.

I decided early on not to watch the debate last night. I’d had enough of the inescapable spin, watching friends attack friends on social media, and the general, abysmal state of the world.

Rather, I turned to the place where my soul finds rest, to the woods, to deliberately look for hope.

The worry, the emotional fatigue, clung to me for a good while. Voices warning of doomsday loitered like shadowy figures on the street corners of my mind.

I pressed on one step at a time and wondered…

…what will become of us all a month from now?

If all we are as a people is an election, if all we look to, to save us, is a figurehead, then on November 9 half of us will be faced with eternal damnation.

Unless…

…unless hope can’t be found in a president.

A government cannot dole out salvation like loaves of bread to the starving.

The thorny pain of disappointment, dying dreams, sickness and hate can’t be solved by any administration.

No, our hope doesn’t come from a man or a woman…

…can’t come from a man or a woman.

We are living so small in a world beckoning us to stop and listen, take notice…

…hope is not dead.

Hope is here.

Hope is alive.

Hope is in the haze of the sun settling over drying corn fields, and in the gentle sway of the goldenrod.

Hope is waiting to burst wide open like the gossamer rupture of cat tails, and for you to bend down and notice it in the fragile petals of frost asters.

Even dying things reach heavenward because they know where the hand that made them resides.

Soon the crimson blaze of change will settle and the bare naked arms of the trees will open wide to embrace us, white snow of winter covering us clean.

The stained glass exaltation of nature points us to the One, who alone can save us from our selves.

We are living so small.

But we were made to live bigger than this.

We are cowering in fear and hate.

But the Lord gave us sound minds to live brave and to love.

We act as if we have no hope, when hope is all we have and all we need.

Look.

At the sun, the sky, the changing leaves.

Listen.

To the laughter of your children, the rustle of the wind, the songs of the sparrows.

Hold.

The strong hand of your spouse, the round smoothness of a newly ripened apple, the crisp, white pages of scripture.

Words and deeds, kings and kingdoms, the days allotted to each of us evanesce like morning frost

But hope.

Hope remains.

Where will you find it today?

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“Dear, dear Corinthians, I can’t tell you how much I long for you to enter this wide-open, spacious life. We didn’t fence you in. The smallness you feel comes from within you. Your lives aren’t small, but you’re living them in a small way. I’m speaking as plainly as I can and with great affection. Open up your lives. Live openly and expansively!” 2 Corinthians‬ ‭6:11-13‬ ‭MSG‬‬

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