Wednesday, December 3, 2014

When You're Not Merry Yet


The problem with the Christmas season is, there's this amped-up expectation to be merry, automatically. The radio croons that from now on, our troubles will be far away. But they aren't. They're in our living rooms and down the street and knocking around in our empty bank accounts and broken hearts.

I used to hear that the holidays are a struggle for the hurting, but it was just another one of those thing that seemed oddly fictional to me - I knew it happened sometimes, somewhere. But it never got close enough to home. It didn't belong to me.

I get it now. I'm feeling those contact burns again, maybe more than ever. Snuggle up to the pain of other people and you can't help but walk away singed.

Silas and Ruby decorated the Christmas tree last night under Daddy's watchful eye while I was at a PTO meeting. It is such a pitiful, pitiful tree. There isn't even a star on it. There's no garland. It's so wrong it can never be right.

I eyed it from the couch with my late-night bowl of Chex and thought, What have we done? I see everyone's homes looking so festive and the only picture my mind can paint is everyone gathered together, hanging each sentiment-laden ornament with care and gaiety. (That's what happens when you start to assume the other corners of the world are more Norman Rockwell than yours - you use words like "gaiety".)

Meanwhile, we shoved our tree into a tight corner 3 days back, leaving its backside completely bald so it would fit. When we finally got around to putting on its face, it was no happy family affair. There was no hot chocolate or matching pajamas. Mommy wasn't even home and Calvin was more interested in his Matchbox cars.

This is real life - at least for us.
On second glance, I decided it makes perfect sense.
Our tree - misshapen, a misfit, a little blingy and happy but nowhere near perfect. Just like us.

I know there's room in my heart for the extra shot of joy Christmas brings. I'll get there, I always do. But right now, Advent is jacking with my heart and Jesus is begging me to do hard things - now - when it feels like the exact wrong time. Right now, my neighbors are hungry for food and Jesus and nicotine and justice. Right now, my kids are systematically cutting each other down every single day and smarting off to their parents then asking to read this book at bedtime. They're mean and impatient and so are we, but they pray things like, "Thank you for knowing just what kind of family I needed", and we all exhale.

Right now, I'm spending my evenings reading about kids in prison, turning pages while my stomach drops low then lower and I pray in the 10 seconds before I fall asleep that I'll somehow avoid nightmares. Right now, I'm waking up asking to be filled, asking if I can let myself off the hook and believe God answers the quick prayers, the ones whispered and fleeting, but every bit as desperate and holy as the other kinds.

Right now, my eyes fill with tears as I type because I want to sprint into the wide arms of grace. It's the only place I really fit in.


Are you lonely today? Missing someone you love? Did you wake up to the throbbing reminder that life is just as messy today as it was yesterday? Is your child in jail? Lost, somehow? Are you?

Look at me - you're not alone.

Emmanuel is coming for us, just as much as the rest of them. He's coming to our pain. He's coming in to our captivity. He's coming as our ransom. He's all the good news and great joy we'll ever need.

Lean with me into the weirdness and all the struggle. Celebrate if you want to or wait it out.

He's coming.


PS - Join me tomorrow morning for the FPFG Christmas round-up. I think it'll be good for all of us. You can link up anything Christmas. I'd especially love to see some great giving opportunities! Raising money for an adoption? Tell us about it. Have a favorite charity? We need to know. I'd also love for you to share your Etsy shop or homemade/handmade business or your book or your music. Show us your tree, wonky or otherwise. Link up to a post about how you do Christmas or your favorite party recipe. As usual, almost anything goes around here.

PPS - Do you want to take a picture of your tree with the lights all blown out like the pics on this post? It's super easy! Find the switch on your DSLR that says AF/MF and switch it to MF (manual focus) then use your hand to mal-adjust the focus. My aperture is always set low (2.8 usually) so do that, too. Voila!

29 comments:

  1. THIS is what I needed to hear/read today.

    I'm not a Christian, but I believe in a higher power. Your faith and your magical words never fail to lift my soul and spirit when I need them. Thank you for reminding us that life is not Pintrest, or a Martha Stewart magazine and that we're all in this beautiful mess together.


    Lisa.

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  2. I want to see your tree! Thanks for the perspective changer, as always :)

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  3. I've been really conflicted AGAIN about Christmas this year. But, I've chosen to embrace it and sit with God and sort it out with Him. Peace is coming along with more opportunities to give. Today was crazy full, but as I walked out the door, I told Him that I knew I had a plan but He could do whatever HE wanted with my day! (Proverbs 16:9...after I looked it up!) Anyway, He "hijacked" my day and allowed me a divine encounter with a single mom who had a need. It was one of those "perfect timing" moments that would not have happened otherwise. So, today after looking Lacy in the eye and taking care of what I could take care of, I am praying that she would know in the depths of her heart that He is a God who sees!

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    1. This has been my week so far. :)
      Thanks for reminding me it's all good!

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  4. Thank you for your reminder that the Kingdom of God sometimes looks like lament. How powerful it is to know, as you wrote, that Jesus has entered into our mourning, felt every human emotion there is and walked the ground our tears soak into. Saying a prayer for you today that you will have wisdom and mercy to meet those needs that you can and peace for the ones that remain unmet as you hand them to the Father. I love your tree. My sis is a missionary in the Middle East and and their tree is tiny and pitiful and they don't even know where to buy lights (if there is a place) but yesterday on Skype my niece and nephew were SO PROUD to show me that little Charlie Brown guy. :)

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  5. Man I'm struggling through some similar feelings this week, this Advent. I think I'm really soaking it all in this year, the advent part, as I feel this intense and heart wrenching need for Jesus--and I echo that prayer you mentioned, that your small little whispers of prayers would be heard and tended too as well, because I feel that's mostly all I have to offer the Lord right now. But I'm praying He will sort through the mess in my heart--the complaining, the anxious thoughts, the knot in my stomach when I think of so many who are suffering and how *good* I have it--and just sort it all out and help me to SEE HIM more clearly. Thanks, as usual, for putting all this into words. I so love how you write.

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  6. Take heart! We put up our tree on Sunday and I was looking at it all -meh. But then I revisited your christmas tree post from last year where you went to town on your tree with horse and other ribbons because it didn't wow you and thought - yes! So now my tree is covered in all our meaningful ornaments but also meaningful ribbons because you know where all my ribbons came from? Gifts we have been given over the years...the pink one from our littlests baby shower. The royal blue from a boy birthday and on... So now our tree is lovely. Er.
    And yes the troubles are knocking around here too - especially in our bank account! But on with the merry making anyway! The sparkles help me make it through;)

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  7. Thank you for the book recommendation, it's the one I've been looking for for Luke. And this. He is coming for us, and this makes me cry. So thankful that all the pain we all face and the singed pain of others mean hope and redemption.

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  8. I've been planning on emailing you a picture when it's done (how many days into December?), but this post made me want to tell you about my daughter's advent calendar. We normally love our advent calendar! This year I didn't buy one or make one as I have every year in the past. December 1 rolled around and there was nothing for them to open. Did my daughter complain? No, she grabbed a bunch of ads from the Sunday paper and is making us one out of the Target ads. She found the dates in the prices. She added some metallic sharpie that I had picked up on a whim and some glitter from last year's calendar making extravaganza and now she's just waiting for some candy to put it in.

    Somehow love will find a way every day.
    Kate

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  9. T"...the wide arms of grace. It's the only place I really fit in." Amen and pass the tissues...

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  10. Needed this today. This is my first Christmas in the states since 2008, so I arrived with all kinds of hopes and expectations for the season. I was hit hard with the reality that the US is not a comfortable place for my family. 'Home' for me is a foreign land to my people. I envisioned a lot of Norman Rockwell moments together doing Normal Rockwell things. Instead, my poor kids are culture shocked to the bone. They are young and they are loving Nana's house, but they want to go home. It's weird. And I've been sad about it. It's too easy to focus on places and feelings and even family this time of year. I need to fix my eyes back on Emmanuel. I'm thankful that His gracious, compassionate love is not confined to a certain place or time. The place we are standing right now is holy ground because He's here with us. IN us. Behind and before.

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  11. Your writing blesses me more than you will ever know. I appreciate & am inspired by you! God bless you for allowing Him to speak through you!

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  12. I feel like the arms of grace is the ONLY place that could even put up with me right now. Love you.

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  13. We had some unexpected bad news the day before Halloween - and we still haven't received good news about it. Just wait, wait, wait. After a summer with one of the worst experiences of my life (that we lived through - to God be the glory - seriously, not sarcastically), this less dramatic but still painful spot of more loss is just so hard. On one hand I am diving in head first into Advent, trying to experience the hope, peace, love and joy and share that with my young children, but on the other hand I find myself saying, "Really, God? What else? Don't You see us doing the best we can down here? Can You send us some tangible good news?" I don't know if that makes sense - I'm quite emotional these days one way or the other. But I'm clinging to my hope and faith, and sometimes words on the computer are the needed reminder for the day that gets me through.
    "Emmanuel is coming for us, just as much as the rest of them. He's coming to our pain. He's coming in to our captivity. He's coming as our ransom. He's all the good news and great joy we'll ever need." Come, Lord Jesus.

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  14. I don't know if you're a podcast person, but yesterday's Revive Our Hearts (Nancy Leigh DeMoss) had a fabulous story about a lost child--the story includes Joni Erikson Tada. Also, for some precious perspective on Christmas, I am now in love with Lois Evans after hearing Chrystal Evans Hurst interview her mom about why she goes all out for Christmas.

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  15. My dear, there are seasons for ALL things, even sadness. Embrace it, because believe me, God will show you something miraculous in the midst of your dark days! And Christmas is all about the miraculous right? Hugs to you sweet one.

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  16. I needed this too, and I needed your post the other day about not decorating, because this year we're the house that looks like we don't celebrate Christmas, and we are the ones who won't be sending Christmas cards because it's turned into an expensive competition and we're the ones who are determined to meet the messy head on because pretending it's all glitter and glam and beautiful and perfect isn't bringing the Kingdom here. Your blog is home to me. :)

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  17. Wow, what a beautiful post! You are such an encouragement! I'm sorry for the sadness you are facing right now. I will be praying for you! This year I feel happiness, but also sadness as well. I lost my dad around the holidays 15 years ago (when I was 6) and it has been hard without him here. Thank you for your post of inspiration and encouragement!

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  18. I love to read your words - always wise, rarely comfortable.

    I'm wondering how you parent with the new world view of allowing the pain of others to deeply affect you. I have one son whose empathy is almost debilitating - at 11 he is so sad for the world. We live in the easy suburbs, but even the news of Furgeson and Ebola are heartbreaking to him. He just figured out the other day that there are parents who abandon their kids. And we don't live in your neighborhood or have relationships with people going through this. It's just the idea that breaks his heart. And then he doesn't know what to do with all the feelings and the pain. He's pretty mad at God who just sits there asking to be worshiped, not doing anything, not answering when we need him.

    How do you parent your kids, who themselves have suffered the loss inherent to adoption, plus the community you come alongside, to handle it all?

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    1. Christine, it is not that God is just sitting there doing nothing, it is we his arms and hands, that He depends on to make the world a better place for others that are just sitting there turning a blind eye and not heading His words or not listening to them. HE can do nothing if those He counts on refuse to do what He asks. It is we who have turned away from God, society as a whole wants no part of God. He has never abandoned us.

      I am no expert, but I think an empathetic heart is one to be treasured. There is not enough compassion is this world. It teaches to look out only for ourselves, and to forget about others. It sounds to me like your son needs to be a part of a cause where he sees that his actions can make a difference. I am also very sensitive to negativity and the sufferings of others. I pray for those that I cannot help and I try to help concretely those that I can. I do not watch the news because they only focus on the negative, and it brings me down and when I am down it is harder for me to function. If it is important, I will find out about it. Perhaps your son could save write down some things he could do for others every day this month. I find that thinking of others gets me out of my own "Woe is Me" attitude that I sometimes have or if I am just feeling down about life and the world in general. Even a smile or a kind gesture or a compliment could brighten someone's day. Maybe he could help volunteer in a soup kitchen, or somewhere else. Or if you can afford to sponsor a child, let him save up some money throughout the year. It sounds to me like your sons empathy needs an outlet to make it concrete and see that he can make a difference, even if it is only in his immediate small world. If we all took care to pass on random acts of kindness every day, this world would be a much better place. Just some suggestions. I will pray for you and your family.

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    2. Christine - This is such a great question. For me, I carry around this pain more like an old bruise. I am not inclined toward depression (though I have loved ones who are) but I find it hard to reconcile the pain around me with the "world" around me, more and more. Especially this time of year. Mostly, I just allow myself to feel whatever I'm feeling. I let myself be sad and have blue days. I let myself feel angry at the injustices I see. But then I also get out and have fun and breathe in the world as though it really is GOOD. It's a constant yank and shove. I'm convinced that real life means ALL of the feelings - it's the good and the bad, and they make each other even more real and significant.

      I also (personally) gravitate more and more to brokenness. I understand folks who don't want to or just can't watch the news, etc... But I NEED to be aware of the broken and wounded and toxic places around me and in the world. It drives me, in some ways.

      As for the kiddos, we do what we can to foster a heart of generosity and gratitude, but most of the time, we fear it's not really sinking in. And then we remind ourselves that we can't change their hearts. So we default to showing them what that looks like and means TO US (adults) and we hope that one day, they will make it their own, and find their own ways to live in obedience. I also think their hurts will allow them to care more about the hurts around them. God made us to feel emotions, so I try not to shy away from that or pretend it doesn't exist - and for a reason.

      You've given me a lot to think about! And I think Lucy's suggestions are spot-on. It's pretty powerful for kids to realize God can really USE them and do His BIG work through them. God loves a tender heart!

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  19. I feel so conflicted too. This week has been a rat race for me, Christmas and otherwise, and really, what I want is to slow down and FEEL the peace and joy of Christmas. Every year I feel like it is hijacked, but then I think I might be hijacking it myself. So what to do to slow it all down and make it joyful and beautiful and better? I don't know. I LIKE Christmas all the ways. All of them. We too are now building in more anticipation of the birth of Christ. We have traditions that stand from years past that we all love. But I feel my shoulders tense when the kids ask to make Christmas cookies and when my Mother In Law asks me to help bake treats for her friends. I dread it. I don't want to. Because alas, life still ticks away with regular every day stuff and we cannot stop for Christmas. Can we? . . . Can we? Is there a way to slow everything down so that we can sit in peace and prayer and love and beauty with each other? Where our gifts and traditions bear happiness and joy and love and praise Jesus like it is meant to? Because if there is, I want it. Desperately.

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    1. I couldn't have said it better myself.
      Waiting and wondering along with you...
      I'm feeling like there IS a way, that maybe we're doing alright, and maybe the tension is the gift in and of itself?
      Happy weekend. xo

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  20. "Singed" sounds like the perfect title for a book by FPFG:) Thanks for this. Per usual, I come away from reading your posts feeling uncomfortable, in a good way.

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  21. the arms of grace. the only place i really fit in.

    oh, girl. love your heart to pieces.
    thanks for making us all feel so NORMAL!!!!

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  22. This week has run my emotions to both ends of the spectrum. Elation over opportunities that make it seem as though my blogging dreams are coming true… to do I really want to blog, I mean here I am doing a blog post about mantel decor and it looks just perfect, but what you don't see is the junk that is filling that room to the point of driving my husband insane and making it so that I am embarrassed to have anyone come over and see my less than perfect life and my addiction to amassing stuff. Sure I can make garbage look pretty, but is that what is important? Or is it embracing the less than perfect and accepting it and thanking God for it and feeling at peace for this less than perfect life. Heck God can write straight through crooked lines!… and through imperfect me if I am willing to listen to Him and do what He tells me, do what I am called to do, in my state in life, the best I can in the present moment.

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