Saturday, December 20, 2014

When the Light seems small

Her words sank to the ocean depths of my heart. Scornful words spoken out of deep pain and loneliness. Christmas is coming, and her would-be-carefree teenage body is carrying a child she did not expect, nor does she want. She is lost, broken, and alone this Christmas. And the Light could not seem more dim to her.

Really, she joins the ranks of countless others who feel stretched to the breaking and lost amidst relentless but false promises of happiness in this Christmas season. 
"Where is the Light?" she asks. 

Yes...when the darkness presses in, where is the Light?

When you feel lost and sad and alone, where is the Light

I read, "In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."

Does the Light seem small to you this Christmas? Do you feel buried under the heaping darkness, crushed by the weight of the world?

No matter how big or painful or vast your darkness is, it can never extinguish the Light that entered our humanity so many Christmases ago. Your darkness will never overcome the Light, will never be too much for Emmanuel, God with us. 

The world promises more happiness with more stuff, more food, more more more. Emmanuel does not promise more happiness, but more presence. God with us, no matter how messy we are...Light that will never be extinguished by darkness, no matter how deep your darkness is. 

For you who face pain, loneliness, any amount of darkness this week...Christmas is for you. Emmanuel, God with us...Light that is not overcome by darkness. This Jesus, who said "take heart! For I have overcome the world"...He is for you, He is with you, He is greater than your darkness. Take heart, friend. The Light will not be extinguished. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Day I Said Thank You...and They Blessed My Socks Off (Friendships, Part 2)

"Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise..." (Proverbs 13:20).

"Two are better than one, for they have a good return for their labor: If either of them fall down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up" (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).

I forever have precious memories tucked away in my heart. Memories of a cold, cold day last January.

Each of them, they mark different seasons of my life. They are the best parts of who I am. 

They have encouraged, prayed for, held, laughed with, and taught me. They have loved me so, so well. 

I decided that I needed to take some hours, to break bread with them and say, "Thank you!" for loving me so well.

It was my birthday, but they are the reason I am who I am. They deserve to be celebrated.
So celebrate we did! 

We laughed... 

We embraced...

We created "thank-you" notes for the people who have enriched our lives...

We made lovely smelling things...

I individually thanked each of them for who they are, for the ways in which they have blessed me...

We told stories...


They prayed over me...

And we enjoyed being together.

God has blessed me with some incredible friends, mentors, sisters, confidantes, and encouragers. My life would not be the same without them. Though I want my life to continually say "thank you," taking a day to intentionally and purposefully thank them was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Though my intention was to bless them, I think I walked away more encouraged and blessed myself.

Who has blessed you? And have you taken the time to say "thank you" for the many things those people have done for you?

**Photo credit goes to my talented friend Lauren**

Saturday, December 13, 2014

On Singleness, Waiting, and Hope

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. (From Luke 2)

I can almost see him standing there, a faithful and persistent man, desperate for the promised Messiah. For months, years, decades...He waited. He had received a promise, and yet the years continued to tick by without fulfillment of that promise. I wonder, what must that waiting have been like? Did he ever lose heart? Did he ever want the waiting to end, to simply be done with the agony of the unknown?

For me, this advent season has been one of wrestling, of learning hope and living into the dissonance of waiting for hope's fulfillment. I have written before about this dance, this uncomfortable and sometimes awkward exchange between myself and God. I beg for this wait to end, or for the desire to go away. I'm asked instead to press into the ache, to cling tighter and ask, "How do you want to reveal yourself to me in this season?" 

Our culture masquerades hope as a cheery emotion...a kid the night before Christmas. It would seem, though, that hope birthed without pain is a cheap counterfeit. Paul says, "We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope" (Romans 5:2). 

For Simeon, hope meant years and years of praying and pleading for the redemption of Israel. For Simeon, hope meant waiting...and waiting...and waiting. For Simeon, hope meant no answer for decades, but a choice to keep asking, to keep searching, to keep waiting anyway. In her book Every Bitter Thing is Sweet, Sara Hagerty describes hope as "the awkward intimacy of believing that He might say no while asking expectantly that He says yes." 

For me lately, waiting has come dressed up as singleness. Being single is hard and can be very lonely. It is easy to enter into discontentment, to notice everyone around me who has what I want. As I wrote in my journal many weeks ago, it often seems far easier to give up hope, to numb my desires because "the risk of them sitting on the table unmet seems too great." When I choose to press into this waiting space, however, I find that I can know God in new ways. While this season has not been easy, I have come to know a God who tenderly engages my heart. A couple months ago, I wrote the following in my journal:

You are the Husband-God, who longs to KNOW me intimately and wholly, who wants to incite passion and desire in me for himself. 

You are the Husband-God, who calls to the broken places in me and wants to tenderly care for my vulnerability. 

You are the Husband-God, who wants to provide extravagantly for me.
You are the Husband-God, who delights in partnering with me on this journey, who gives me co-authority to change the world with him.
You are the Husband-God, and I long to know you as such. 

I have despised this waiting space. I have filled it with 'Why-me's" and "how-much-longers," when I should have instead filled it with "I long to know you deeply as Husband-God." Forgive me for wishing this sacred space away. Help me to ask the question, "What do you want to teach me about yourself in THIS, Jesus?" when my flesh protests. Help me to vulnerably open my heart to you, even with all its desires and longings uncovered bare before you.

Hope is hard. Quite honestly, it sucks sometimes. But the alternative is a dead heart, and a lesser knowing of the God who continually pursues me. This advent season, I am choosing to enter into hope, to a deep and intimate knowing of God that comes only through the dissonant chord of waiting for a promised resolution. This advent season, I will remember Simeon...I will remember his faithful waiting, and I will remember his worship when the fulfillment of God's promise to him finally stepped into the temple courts. I will press into this advent of my heart, into knowing Jesus in the sacred space that is waiting. 

 "Moved by the Spirit, [Simeon] went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

'Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel'" (Luke 2:27-32).