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.

***

***

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

Silence doesn’t help, even if I have little to offer.

It’s too much.

The noise.

The arguing.

The hate.

For the last several months, being an American alone has been heart-rending.

Being an American and online has just about wrecked me.

I absorb too much. I feel too much. I care too much. Besides that, if you’ve followed me for long you know that the holidays are notorious for making me feel raw and skittish. Add to all of this that the fact that we launched our firstborn to college in August, we’re getting our second son ready to launch this spring, and I am working on two very important book projects, and all I want to do is hide. 

I want to curl up until January first–or maybe the year 2020–and let the world and all its noise and hate pass by. I don’t have anything to offer anyone, after all. I feel empty and unworthy. One writing project in particular, one that I’ve poured my heart and prayers over for many months, has me feeling just. like. this. no matter what I do:

floor

Dear readers, I wanted to give you a series of hopeful posts leading up to Christmas, but I felt paralyzed, numb to hope myself in many ways. So I decided to go offline until January first.

That intention lasted less than a week.

Because even at my worst, I remembered that it’s my heart’s desire to bring hope to the hopeless through my words. That’s always been my mission. My vision. Through my novels, my poems, my newspaper columns, whatever words I can offer.

Slowly I began to remember that over a decade ago I was voiceless and alone, struggling to understand how to cope with recovering from the abuse I’d endured as a child, trembling with the fear that I was broken and filthy beyond repair. I remembered that back then I took a chance and searched the internet–where I could be anonymous–for other survivors and I found tens of hundreds of others just. like. me.

Hurt.

Broken.

Hopeless.

But they were speaking. They were healing. They had hope. And their hope gave me hope in return.

So who am I to stay silent during this time of the year when so many people are hurting, and all the lights and glitter and jam-packed stores and Hallmark movies make it hurt all the more? Who am I to hide, when there are people just like me who need to know they’re not alone and that there really is hope out there, and hope for them?

Lately I’ve been so weary and burned out I’ve forgotten to even pray. But today, on an unexpected two-hour drive, I prayed.

I took a chance that the Christmas music I’d been avoiding might actually bring hope and not just empty nostalgia.

And sure enough, God met me through a song…

*

Everything inside me cries for order
Everything inside me wants to hide…

*

The sun hung low as I drove down the two-lane, Indiana highway. The melody filled the car even as brown, shorn fields blurred by, and my tied up, pent up heart fell to pieces.

*
If God is pleased with me, why am I so terrified?

*

I am terrified, after all. Oh, I have a real good game face. You learn to have a good game face when you’ve been through the things I’ve been through. But inside where no one can see, I’m terrified that all I’ve done to raise my precious boys won’t be enough for them now that they’re leaving home. I’m terrified that a lifetime of writing won’t be enough to finish the project I was so sure of when I started it. I’m terrified that I haven’t been able to hear God for a good, long while.

*

Someone tell me I am only dreaming
Somehow help me see with Heaven’s eyes
And before my head agrees, my heart is on its knees
Holy is He; blessed am I.

*

Before my head agrees, my heart is on its knees, indeed. Tears fell. All I could think about were the tiny, premature babies I’d cared for at work (I’m an RN) in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and how the Lord of all creation chose to come to us like one of them…God could have come with fire and earthquakes and lightning and thunder, but He chose to come as a helpless infant, cold and naked, completely dependent on infinitely inadequate humans to survive.

Holy is He.

Holy.

Is.

He.

Maybe He knew we’d be so exhausted from the noise that more noise wouldn’t–couldn’t–rescue us. Maybe He knew we wouldn’t be able to find Him–truly find HIM–without bending our knees. Maybe He knew we wouldn’t be able to see Him until we saw ourselves in the face of the helpless.

My heart cry crescendoed with the song that played through my car speakers:

*

Be born in me, be born in me
Trembling heart, somehow I believe that You chose me
I’ll hold You in the beginning, You will hold me in the end
Every moment in the middle, make my heart Your Bethlehem
Be born in me

*

Be born in me, Lord. Be born in whoever might be reading this today. Not just the way You were born over 2000 years ago, but be born in each of us this day, this hour, this minute…

*

All this time we’ve waited for the promise
All this time You’ve waited for my arms
Did You wrap yourself inside the unexpected
So we might know that Love would go that far?

I am not brave
I’ll never be
The only thing my heart can offer is a vacancy
I’m just a girl
Nothing more
But I am willing, I am Yours

*

I’m far from brave.

I’m still fullsizerender-2broken.

Lord knows there are still vacancies in my heart groping for earthly substitutes to fill what only He can fill–if I let Him. I’m just a girl and nothing more. But I can offer hope. Though my instinct is to run and hide, I can give to those who are hurting the same hope I needed years ago. The world shows no sign of slowing down or toning down, after all. Nor did it over 2000 years ago when Herod slaughtered toddlers and infants and women screamed in the streets and men tore their robes begging for a savior.

But the Savior did come.

The Promise was born small and helpless, to an aching, trembling, hopeless Israel then, and the same Promise to redeem us, to free us, to break the silence and the violence in our lives, that same Promise is here now. 

Emmanuel.

God is with us.

God is with you. 

He transcends the men, the women, the brothers, the sisters, the religion, the ideologies, the cold shimmering lights and empty silver bells that have let us down.

And because of that, I can’t stay silent.

Even if it hurts to write, even if believing feels too far-fetched, still I will praise Him.

Still, I will choose to believe. 

Here’s the video of the song (below) I listened to in my car yesterday, Be Born In Me, by Francesca Battistelli. Maybe it will bless you, too.

Look for a new Facebook Live video from me on Friday (much obliged if you’d follow my author page there), and a few more posts and live videos throughout the month. And know that even if you’re feeling raw and alone and worn out–especially if you feel that way this time of year–Emmanuel is here for you today and always.