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.

On finding margin in a maddening world

I’m weary.

The last eighteen months have been unlike any others, and I just want to curl up in a ball with my dog until it’s over, especially in the face of more potential pandemic-related restrictions, new virus variants, and overwhelming uncertainty.

I suspect you feel the same.

Recently, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement launched a movement to make a concerted effort to ask patients what matters to them. In my current nursing role at a large city hospital, the responsibility for asking that question—what matters to you?—falls on me and my co-workers.

After interviewing tens of hundreds of patients over the last six months, overwhelmingly the answer to this question is, “going home.” No matter what the diagnosis–appendicitis, major abdominal surgery, cancer, or worse–the most important thing to patients is to be able to go home. 

I considered this in the context of our collective anxiety about the pandemic. Some of us have lost loved ones to the virus. Some of us have contracted the virus and survived. Others have lost jobs, goals, futures, and more. Our mental and spiritual hearts hurt just as much as hospitalized patients hurt physically. 

We just want to go home. 

Of course I am speaking proverbially since most of those reading this are likely at home, or will be home at the end of the day. But indeed, our hearts ache for a season wrapped in a quilt of peace, sitting beside a hearthside of certainty, nestled in a cozy room, familiar and safe and secure. 

Home. 

No one can say how long this pandemic will linger, how many viral variants we will face, or when–and if–things will return to “normal.” In the midst of that, we must find ways to live with hope in spite of our circumstances, to find a heart-home of peace that allows us the margin to find joy. Fortunately, the Bible has a lot to say about that. 

1) Home is peace.
While we are promised trouble in this world, we are also promised peace in the midst. Our secure dwellings may not be made of bricks and mortar, but indeed of something greater: peace in quiet resting places with the Lord. 

What does this look like in the midst of a global pandemic? I’ve been searching for that answer as well. Pushing aside the overwhelming onslaught of news and social media, I’ve found peace in the smallest of things: butterflies lighting on my coneflowers, abundance of zinnia blooms, a goldfinch visiting our feeders. Even more, I’ve found a comfort in the way light reflects from favorite books on bookshelves, the graceful slouch of an afghan over the arm of our sofa, of a counter full of snacks for our young adult sons. We are together and we are well. That is peace. That is home.


My people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.
Isaiah 32:18 ESV


2) Home is presence.
In the same way that peace is found in the cozy shadows and gardens of our physical houses, home is a feeling when the detritus of the world falls away and we can be truly present with our loved ones.

Since we know that our God is a God of community, we can also know that the pressure to isolate, whether physically or more subtly with masks and headphones, is a threat to the bonds God intended for us have in order to encourage each other. That’s not to say that masks and social distancing are not appropriate–as a nurse on a designated COVID hospital unit I acknowledge the importance of this more than most. What I propose is that we continue to be diligent in our friendships and community with others, so that together and with wisdom we continue to discover joy in the midst of all this hard.


By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches. Proverbs 24:3-4


3) Home is eternal.

As I type, I’m sitting on my beloved back patio. Wind is rushing through the tree limbs, cardinals sing, and the last rays of sunlight dapple the world around me. I give thanks many times a day for the little home we’ve renovated and worked so hard to make our very own. At the same time, I know this bricks-and-mortar home is fleeting. Natural disaster, unforeseen financial difficulties, and anything in between could remove it from our lives forever. 

In the same way, the pandemic threatens all of us. Nothing is for certain. Not our earthly homes. Not our physical well-being. Nothing. Nothing except for the promise of 2 Corinthians 5:1, which assures us that our true home is eternal and in the heavens. 

This is a difficult concept to grasp, let alone surrender to, when faced with the horrific realities of life on earth in the midst of a pandemic. However, how much sweeter our fleeting time will be if and when we can realize that there is a hope–indeed a HOME–beyond all this, and a Father who longs to comfort us there for eternity.


For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 Corinthians 5:1 ESV

***


I pray these three reminders–hope is peace, hope is presence, and hope is eternal–help redirect the anxiety in your heart toward the faithfulness of out Lord, and that you discover a heart-hope of peace as we navigate these uncertain days together.

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