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.

An open letter to survivors in the midst of COVID-19

Once upon a time I had a duck.

Her name was Pricilla.

Well, she wasn’t actually my duck.

But, she had built a nest in the bushes under our tree, so I considered her mine.

She was a delightful mama mallard, all dappled brown feathers and chocolate chip eyes. My sons were tinies at the time, so we would carefully inspect the nest from a distance, waiting excitedly for the day when the ducklings would start breaking their way out of the eggs and into the world.

Sometimes when we checked Pricilla was there, sitting on her precious eggs.

Sometimes she wasn’t.

Either way, the eggs seemed safe there, under the tree, tucked between the bushes, in our yard.

Then one day I went to check on Pricilla and the eggs were crushed.

All of them.

Cracked open, contents splayed all over the nest, not a one spared.

And Pricilla was nowhere to be found.

I stood there sobbing for quite some time, and for days I could not talk about it without choking up.

Now, Indiana’s mallard population was not then and has never been at risk. No doubt such an attack on duck nests is a regular occurrence in the wild. So in hindsight, this was a slightly over-the-top reaction. Breaking the news to my young boys was difficult, but they recovered in minutes, eager to get back to their imaginary dinosaur worlds or Matchbox adventures.

Also at that time in my life, I was in the early stages of working through trauma processing of the childhood sexual abuse I endured for many years, and so I asked my counselor about it.

He studied me with his ever-kind eyes, nodding empathetically as I relayed the horrific duck egg attack. Tears streamed fresh from my eyes. “What is wrong with me? It was just a duck?”

“Could it be,” he said with same sage seriousness he always offered, “that the unwanted attack on Pricilla and her eggs’ ‘innocence and vulnerability resembles the unwanted abuse you survived?”

All at once, my seemingly melodramatic and excessive emotions made all the sense in the world.

Fast forward to the pandemic we are all facing.

As my other recent posts have conveyed, I have been having a terribly difficult time processing this virus and the necessary world response to it. The depth of anger and dread and ambivalence I’ve been feeling are as much of a battle for me as the situation itself, and I haven’t been able to figure out why. Maybe I haven’t shown it much on the outside, because I learned to fake it a long, long time ago, so much so that I am often able to fake it to myself.

But then I remembered Pricilla.

As survivors for whom PTSD is a lifelong battle, it makes perfect sense that we would have an extraordinarily strong response to COVID-19 and all its ramifications.

We didn’t ask to have our freedom and joy stripped from us as children then; we didn’t ask for freedom and joy to be stripped from us today.

We didn’t ask to be attacked by abusers then; we didn’t ask to be attacked by a violent virus today.

We didn’t ask for the lifelong aftereffects of abuse that cause overwhelming anxiety and dread whenever something real or perceived threatens us; and we didn’t ask for that same ingrained response to overwhelm us in the midst of this threatening pandemic.

We were as innocent as Pricilla and her sweet eggs underneath the shade of that tree before our innocence was stolen and all normal boundaries annihilated; and the same is true today as we learn to deal with a microscopic annihilator of our life was we knew it before COVID-19.

Maybe your abuse was not childhood sexual abuse. Maybe you’ve survived domestic abuse or narcissistic abuse or rape as an adult, or any other unsolicited, extreme trauma.

The PTSD is the same. The PTSD is real. And the struggle you are having to processes and find balance in these awkward and indeed dreadful times is real, too. 

So what now?

To be quite honest, I’m still trying to figure that out.

But I’m trying.

Decades of hard work with my counselor, as well as dear friends, have taught me to reach for “my tools,” those things proven by research as well as my own trial and error that help me cope with I’m feeling especially triggered. Here are some of mine:

  • Get outside at least once a day. Even though we must respect social distancing, we can still walk to the mailbox, walk around the block, or take a walk in the woods. Fresh air and moving our bodies is always good medicine.
  • Make the bed. Maybe that’s all you feel like you can do right now, and that is enough. You’ll feel like you’ve accomplished something (and you have), and your room will look better, too.
  • Take up a craft you’ve set aside. It’s been a long time since I painted just for fun, and the other day I decided to paint barns, because barns make me happy. Today I intend to get in my workshop and build frames for them. And after that I’m going to paint the upstairs hallway.

And finally,

  • Go to God, even when He’s the last person you want to talk to. I didn’t want to go to church (online) today, but I went anyway, and I learned just like the times I’ve done that in the past that I’m always glad I did. He is quite big enough to handle our anger, our dread, our fear, our ambivalence. He is also quite ready to swoop in and meet you right where you are, to hold you as you kick and scream, to whisper hope to you as you cry, and to love you in the midst of your unbelief and beyond.

What about you, dear friends and survivors?

How are you feeling?

How are you taking care of your souls?

***

Also, if you need extra help right now, please visit my dear friends at RAINN. They have free counselors 24/7, and so many expert resources and links to connect you to people who know and understand.

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