Wednesday, December 18, 2013

On not forgetting the deep darkness

Everyone talks about 'missing' Christmas. We spend a lot of words and energy trying not to miss the meaning, trying to absorb and teach and remember the reason we celebrate this season.

Lately I'm understanding why. Christmas is joyfully fluffy. It is a big dollop of whipped cream on top of the dessert-month of the calendar. We work hard to get to December, when we want to bask in the fluff.

I love it too. The carols, the smells, the lights, the traditions, the gatherings and gifts and glorious foods. Christmas is usually a time of enjoying our blessings. And I'm not about to say any of those things are bad, so stop worrying.

What happens to me, though, around now, as the actual day approaches, is that I get quieter on the inside. When I'm tempted to feel overwhelmed and kick it into overdrive to clean up my to-do lists, I start thinking about the real first Christmas and how messy it was and how I'm not finished with anything.

Look at this verse about Christmas.

But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father." Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child.
Galatians 4:4-7 

I'm stuck on the first part: but when the right time came. What made it the right time? I feel like Christmas can't arrive until all the items on my list are checked off. All the decorations are just so. All the groceries are in the fridge. All the people in my house are happy and have tidy outfits on and understand the depth of what we are celebrating. When all of us are standing, holding our breath, in a clean house in clean outfits with clean hearts, that is the right time, and then Christmas can come and we can exhale.

But what made Jesus' birth the 'right time?' I think about the moments He's shown up in the biggest ways in my own life. And goodness, if it's not at the very last minute every time. I'm in a cliffhanger of a problem, everything is messy, and that's when He shows up, when I'm pleading and crying and my fingers are slipping off the end of a rope I can't hold onto any longer. Usually, that's His definition of the right time.

And so I'd guess things were so at His birth. Jesus is first and foremost a savior, not just a prophet to tell cool stories, or a friendly guy coming to give hugs, so I'd bet, at the time of His birth, mankind was as deep in darkness as it ever was. I'd bet the world was pleading and crying and desperate. The right time meant things were the most messy, the most people were starved for light. Look at this prophecy in Isaiah.

The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.
Isaiah 9:2

Deep darkness. Suddenly the desperation I see in Christmas makes the fluff blur in the background. I am reminded the snuggly, "silent night" was really a rescue mission with more controversy, conflict, and more at stake than any event in history. Christmas isn't whipped cream as much as it is lifeblood. It's knee-dropping grace. It's God with helpless us. It's a world about to let go of a rope.

It's the King of Kings coming to ransom His children by sending one, like an innocent lamb to the slaughter. It's adoption and forgiveness and everything you've ever needed.

Today, I can make my candy cane cookies and still recognize that there is deep darkness all around me. It threatens my health, my children, my marriage, my faith. We live in a broken, messy world. I never want to forget reality, being blinded by twinkle lights, because that's why we have Christmas at all. Of course even my own heart harbors darkness; we all do, and we want to bury and ignore it at Christmas. But every day of the year, I need the light of Jesus, I need to know He saw my darkness and came down and lived and gave up his life. For me.

We'll still read about the Grinch. Tomorrow we're making gingerbread men. And the weekend is chock full of activities. But I'll also tell my kids the real story. Not just the fluffy nativity version with bleating goats and a glowing baby.

I'll tell them the desperate part. Because we all need that part, even children. Until heaven, we all need freedom and adoption as God's own children. We all at times feel like we may just slip off the end of the rope and need Jesus to catch us at just the right time.

In 2014, I'm sure I'll have some of those desperate moments, when I need serious rescuing. I'm sure you will too. And no matter what time of year our 'right time' arrives, remembering the epic rescue called Christmas will make us stronger.


Monday, December 16, 2013

"It's coming on Christmas, we're cutting down trees"

Oh, if you've been around for a while here, you know I love that song. Good old Joni Mitchell.

And this year, I'm not lying when I sing it. Because we did cut down a tree, for the first time ever. Because it's coming on Christmas.

In Montana, you can go to the local hardware store and buy a permit for $5. But really you're buying the promise of experience, memory making, and a fresh cut, snow covered tree that may just last until St. Patty's Day.

I knew the day had the potential also for crumbling into disaster due to incompatible weather, incompatible moods, or incompatible trees. Or all of the above. Throughout the day, I was aware that the whole experience and how we'd remember it was fragile, like a an expensive, glass ornament that you slowly extend, reaching, on tip toes to gingerly place on a high branch.


We all started off with happy hearts and enthusiasm. I mean, I'm off the ground here. And we live in Montana now; just LOOK at this place. It's breathtaking.

As for the day, it didn't crumble. Oh it wasn't perfect; how could it be? We were four people trying to agree on a tree in the middle of nowhere in 30 degree weather. But we found one. And no one got frostbite, or injured with the hatchet or saw (there was one close call though!) and I don't even think anyone cried. So. Huge success in my books.

I liked shaking the trunks, sending the snow cascading down all around me, which gave us a better look at the tree itself. This was our pretty little pick.

Then, since all little boys want to be like their dads, these two went off in search of a baby tree for my baby big boy to cut down.

Even though he is literally caked in snow from lying in it and making himself a "snow blanket," and he is wearing his sister's scarf and his dad's fleece vest since he forgot his coat, he is one happy customer of the woodlands. He is practically a little woodland creature himself.

This tree is way, way heavier than it looks, by the way. And way taller than we thought. Hashtag 'rookies'. Thank goodness for friends who loaned us their pick up truck and giant sled on which to drag it back.

And glory! It is our favorite tree yet. I even had to use the big ladder.

Yes, one day it will be on the curbside. But the memories of the day we found our first Christmas tree in the snowy wilderness will live forever.  I hope one day you have the chance to do the same.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Perfectly Messy


This past week was the worst.

It was the hardest week for me since we've moved. The weather never got above zero. Negative temps meant the kids were never allowed outside at school. They were antsy and grouchy. My husband slid twice through red lights, unable to brake on the ice. The chill took my breath away and made me cough. I was sure my nose and lips would drop off, they were in such pain, even just walking from the car to the school doors at pick up. Our dog was sick and I didn't know what to do. The washing machine flooded the laundry room because the pipes froze. And everyone was stressed. Everyone was having a bad time of it. I never complained, though I don't think I even had time to, because it took all my effort to manage my own self, the warmth of the house, and that of the kids.

We couldn't get a tree because we couldn't be outside. We didn't go to the city Christmas celebration on Main Street (since it was -10). We all argued and managed and worked to keep our heads above water.

And all the while, I grappled with the fact that it is Christmas and I don't want it to look this way.

I want to lead beautiful advent devotionals with my kids every night. I want to bake and watch the snow fall with a smile. I want to decorate, and feel prepared with my gifts for my loved ones. And zero of these things were happening.

I didn't panic or cry about all these things that weren't happening. I just stared at them. I stared at the bathrooms that need cleaning, the heaps of laundry waiting for warmer weather, the messy relationships in my home, the Thanksgiving decor on every surface, the sick dog, and accepted it all with a small pit in my stomach. 

On Saturday, when I finally started to decorate, I pulled out the pieces of my favorite, vintage nativity set. My daughter pointed out that Joseph's head was broken off and missing. Of course it was. I rummaged through the white fabric in which I'd wrapped the set, and out his painted little head rolled. Despite the decapitated Joseph, my girl placed all the pieces in their spots under the mossy wooden crèche. She stood back to assess her work and announced it looked more like a Halloween display than a Christmas one.

Yesterday I heard this verse differently, where the angels intercept the shepherds in the middle of the night to tell them the good news: "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:11-12) Goodness, we are so familiar with these verses that we roll right past them. But it jumped out at me yesterday; the shepherds were not only terrified, as the Bible says, but they must have looked at each other like, "Wait. What?? The savior we've been waiting for is (as other translations say) wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a feeding trough?" It is a ridiculous message. They must have been absolutely shocked, and then confused.

Read what one commentary from says about verse 12:

"The sign was to consist, it seems, solely in the overpowering contrast between the things just said of Him and the lowly condition in which they would find Him—Him whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting, "ye shall find a Babe"; whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain, "wrapt in swaddling bands"; the "Saviour, Christ the Lord," lying in a manger! Thus early were these amazing contrasts, which are His chosen style..."

Amazing contrasts are His chosen style. Wow. Fanciness and neatly checked off lists and cozy comforts were never our Lord's chosen style. He came messy. Perfectly messy.

Now that is something I can do. Actually, it's already just taking place without my intervention. Isn't that humorous? Perfectly messy just naturally occurs in my life, and I get all ruffled over it. But it was our Lord's choice. It didn't just happen that there was no room in the inn. It wasn't an accident that super pregnant Mary had to be riding a donkey while starting to go into labor. All the crazy, ridiculous circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus were His first choice.

I don't quite know how to get there, myself. How to make 'perfectly messy' MY first choice. How to let go of wanting a Pinterest-worthy mantle and Rockwellian chats over hot cocoa. But I think it starts with my focus. Am I looking around my house and at my lists, or am I looking at Jesus? Am I striving to create something completely different and distanced from the first real Christmas, or am I allowing the messiness of that night in Bethlehem to be a model for my celebrating? 

I am certain those smelly animals, the dirty strips of cloth, the humble teenagers, the crying baby, and the feeding trough lined with hay would have never made it into a magazine. People probably scoffed at them, in fact. A scene would have been caused. Reporters would have made a circus attraction out of them. And so many people in town for the census surely missed the wonder and the beauty that took place at the greatest event in history thus far.  

I am resolving to not miss the beauty, to embrace the messy, and to worship the Lord who loves amazing contrasts.

Looking deeper, inside, I'm even messier than my holiday season has been, which is why Christmas even happened in the first place. God came down to trade my mess for His perfect. It's the best and craziest contrast of all.

Perfectly messy is His first choice. I am His first choice. You are His first choice. Right where we are.

I'm going to focus on that.