Saturday, December 24, 2016


Somewhere around 1991 my mom loaded a K-Mart shopping cart with Christmas gifts for me, my brother, and my sister. She wasn't a shopper and Amazon was just a rain forest, so it strikes me now what a sacrifice it was for her to do that each December. I don't know what was in the cart, because I wasn't there. But I remember hearing her tell my dad how embarrassed she'd been when she had to walk away from the cart and leave the store empty-handed. Maybe she forgot her check book. Or maybe the total was higher than what she thought it would be. Whatever the reason, she fixed it. She went back the next day and retraced her steps, filling the dang cart for the second time.

I couldn't guess at what she hoped for when it came to being the mom at Christmas, but her expectations were somehow always exceeded. There weren't lists of meaningful family traditions, but I remember feeling like I was lit from within at Christmastime. I felt extra tucked-in. Safe. Warm. It was the best of everything.

It's 10:13 pm and I'm blogging at night, as if it's 2009 and my three babies are tucked into their single-occupancy rooms in the creaky upstairs of our farmhouse. The train wails and a fiddle weeps from the speaker hidden above our kitchen cabinets. I'm right here, in 2016, where not even an hour ago, I sat at the kitchen table trying to jam mismatched puzzle pieces together while worrying I'd already ruined Christmas.

I want my kids to somehow experience that intangible feeling that something special is underway. I'm desperate for it and I hate it. I fight the shine even as I fork over money for new books, a tulle skirt, a telescope, a complicated electrical outlet system with its own remote control.

I tell myself we'll lounge around and eat like kings, or maybe like the judges on Master Chef. I categorize a three-columned grocery list and burn a three-wick candle. I bake things. I buy a new puzzle. I play Yahtzee with an eight-year old and pretend it's not frustrating at all.

Last night I dreamed (again, again, again) that I was back in college and had nonchalantly skipped the entire semester, only to come to my senses as finals week approached. Was it too late to drop every class? And would I still have to pay for the credits? I woke up sweating bullets. All week long, I've known what I was up to with my big ideas and my faux-pine scented air. I'm no stranger to the calamity of Shannan Martin, who busies herself crafting unrealistic expectations in an attempt to combat the sinking feeling that most days she's pretty unremarkable.


Earlier tonight we did our third Advent reading of the season. It was about the name of Jesus, and what it means. We tried talking about Emmanuel, but apparently it was a bit too soon after three rounds of Mad Libs because Ruby and Silas couldn't stop laughing about moldy bears clapping their belly buttons together.

We all know it's important that God came as Jesus to be with us, but I honestly wish I had just been with my kids in all their inconvenient exuberance. I noticed Ruby's cheeks swallowing up her full moon eyes, her mouth wide, like a child who doesn't know unnecessary pain. But this was a serious moment we were trying to have, and I forced myself not to let go.

Now I'm left wondering if Jesus wouldn't have felt most near if we had just closed the book and giggled together until our vision blurred.

As I sit here, Cory is downtown in the dark with his camera, trying to nail a shot of something having to do with Christmas lights and rain puddles. Before he walked out he asked me what I was going to write about. "I don't know, meth, depression, and white supremacy?" I joked.

These have been hot topics in our house this week as I wrap gifts and daydream about whisking heavy cream into flour for cranberry scones.

People I love are burning alive, and my cheeks are on fire.

But I am with them in this dirt. They are with me.
This life is a gift I'll never deserve.
And sometimes rain at Christmas is a relief.

Tomorrow morning (Christmas Eve) we'll open a few gifts. We'll turn off our phones and thank God for the surprises he dealt us, especially each other. Calvin bought Ruby a whole bag of oranges just for herself and Cory's gifts both came from Goodwill. There's sausage thawing for gravy and a pineapple ready for slicing. Dinner will be homemade Korean food, in honor of our oldest Korean who will be playing his violin at the Christmas Eve service.

We will grab our fresh start with glad hearts and both hands. At some point, we'll drag it face-first through the crumbs beneath the table. We will need the Savior who came for us and doesn't stop.


God is with us, even when we run.
God is with us, even when we fight.
God is with us, even when we are tired.
God is with us, even when we are sad.
God is with us, even when we can't get a grip.

God is with us, even when our streets swallow us whole.
God is with us, even when people say we don't matter.

God is with us, even when we are sort of sad for the family we lost along the way.
God is with us, even when we sit in seg at the county jail.
God is with us, even when we are strung out and picking at our skin.
God is with us, even when it seems too quiet to believe.

God is with us, even when the house is a wreck.
God is with us, even when the marriage is a wreck.

God pierced the earth with purity and humility and now, we don't have to keep clawing for something better. We don't have to do anything alone. We stretch out our arms, reaching for fistfuls of grace while wearing shoes caked with mud.

We are here, but he is here, too.

God is with us.

I can't wait for tomorrow.