Never a Night

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Photo by Samantha Matthews, who I recommend highly for family photos!
[I was asked to share about my Christmas hope at an advent service our church hosted at the beginning of December. This is what I shared. Honestly, feeling hopeful has been a struggle for a while. But I was glad for the challenge of keeping my eyes open for it anyway.]

To begin with, this hasn't been an easy year. I'm sure many of you can relate. I've faced some personal difficulties and losses this year, including ups and downs with depression and my grandmother's death in August. The daily grind and somewhat joyful exhaustion of parenthood - endless laundry, dishes, and the sudden realization at around 4pm each day that we do, indeed, need to prepare and eat dinner again tonight, despite having done it the previous night. A close friend moved across the country with her family to pursue living missionally among international neighbors - a good thing, and yet, a loss of closeness for me. Another close friend has lost two pregnancies within the last year, a friend from my school days passed away from complications with breast cancer after only a 6 month battle. Several friends continue to see racism, bigotry and hate manifest themselves daily both personally and in daily newsfeeds against those with whom they share the same skin color, native tongue or ethnicity, and I stumble in my responsiveness to that. Our nation and our world are both figuratively and literally in flames.

In short, there isn't a lack of situations that can seem to be full of hopelessness.

But I've been asked to share about my Christmas hope! My husband's family and my extended family all live in the Midwest. We made the difficult decision this year to not go back again to celebrate with family this year, even after an offer from some family members to help with the travel expenses; the travel across three time zones with young children can simply be too much. I cried after we told them of our decision. Why? What is at the root of my tears? I think the answer comes down to the idea of presence: we all innately feel that, although FaceTime, phone calls and gifts sent in the mail can help, there will never be any substitute for the actual, physical presence with those who are wrapped into our hearts.

But presence - that word - presence is the beauty of what we get to remember at Advent: God's very self as Jesus became physically present with us, with me. The long-promised hope that had been spoken of through generations, suddenly present in a way that humanity could not deny: he could be touched, smelled, heard, seen and, even as we participate at the communion table we are reminded, tasted and consumed.

In recently writing to a friend who is walking a difficult road, I was reminded of this quote from Amy Carmichael:

"Joys are always on their way to us. They are always traveling to us through the darkness of the night. There is never a night when they are not coming."
The Psalmist wrote that "weeping may stay for the night, but joy comes with the morning."

In Isaiah, we are foretold Jesus' birth with the words "the people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned."

This is such good news, friends. Hopelessness doesn't negate the fact that joy is on its way. A dark night means dawn is coming - and it will not be stopped. And the best news the world has ever known - that God has come and made God's dwelling among us wearing flesh and eating food and weeping tears and raising the dead - is still true.

As I was laying down with my oldest daughter last night to put her to bed (children know the importance of parental presence, particularly at bedtime it seems), we landed on the topic of the many names of God. We talked about the verses in Isaiah in which the child to be born will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. In whatever space of hopelessness I may find myself, there is a name of God to remind me of what God's presence does: provide counsel, might, tender fatherly care, and peace. And in this season, I even have the opportunity to hear many times the name Emmanuel, which simply means "God with us".

I have been tempted toward hopelessness this year. But nothing in me can deny that the presence of Jesus changes everything. When I am tempted to give up because I cannot fix the pain and difficulty I see before me, hope has turned me toward opportunities to ask God for a decrease of self and the increase of the assurance of Jesus' current and coming presence. Like a child, my heart is most willing to slow its anxious beating when I focus on the presence and protective power of my parent.

This is my hope this Christmas: a renewed realization of the fact that nothing else will satisfy me, or you, in the soul-deep way that Jesus' presence always has.

This is the hope, this is the joy, that is always on its way to us, no matter what dark night we face.

Psalm 126 (Rewritten In My Own Words)

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Occasionally at our church, we have what's called a "Jubilee Sunday". It's an intergenerational service, so all the kids get to join in worship, reflection and celebration with the adults. These usually end up being some of my favorite services, partially for that reason - the whole body, made up of all its many parts, gathered together to worship Jesus.

Today, we were led through a series of four reflective exercises. At one table, we were asked to re-write the words of Psalm 126 (NRSV) in our own words. This isn't a new practice for me - I've been invited to re-write scripture in a way it comes alive for me before, but I haven't done it in quite a while. In fact, this past year, it's been very difficult for me to find much joy in reading scripture at all.

Much of Psalm 126 is a picture of tears being turned into joy, of nightmares becoming dreams come true. I didn't know it before heading to church this morning, but a reminder that I serve the Turner-of-Tears-Into-Laughter is exactly what I needed. Interestingly, so many of my interpretations of joy came from my children, too. They are some of the best teachers of joy and laughter I have ever known and so, naturally, when I picture joy, I see their faces.

This is what came to me this morning as I re-wrote this Psalm:

When God returned what was lost
we were all smiles - we could hardly believe it!

We couldn't stop laughing and screaming
like you do when you're in a bounce house.
Everybody said "God really helped them!"

And God really did help us!
And we were suuuuuper glad!

Give us back what was lost, God
like a flood (but a good one - the kind where dry deserts become huge lakes!)

Let everyone who can't stop crying
start to have uncontrollable laughter instead. 

Let us see people who left sad, who wet the ground with their tears
come back laughing like they just had the best tickle fight,
hands full of all that they thought they had lost.

When You Come Back Down

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

I'll be on the other end
to hear you when you call,
angel you were born to fly
and if you get too high
I'll catch you when you fall 
I'll catch you when you fall
~Nickel Creek

I had the opportunity to help chaperone Zoe's class field trip to the local fire station the other day.

Confession: I might have been more excited than she was about this opportunity. She wasn't embarrassed that I was coming or anything, as I imagine she will be in another five years. It's just that in the last month or so I'd been trying to find my way into her classroom without edging into helicopter parent land, and this opportunity finally struck. As soon as that note came home with a call for chaperones, I had it filled out and returned to her backpack within seconds.

It's a strange adjustment to go from having tabs on exactly what one's child is doing 24/7 to suddenly having thirty hours per week that are something of a black hole. I mean, I know generally what she is up to: learning to write ABCs, twice per day recesses, lunch at 11 a.m., the occasional birthday party for a classmate. I soak up everything my daughter is willing to tell me about how those thirty hours are filled, and then I ask even more about it. Which friends did you play with? What letters did you learn today? Which books did your teacher read today? Were there any students missing today? What was something particularly kind that you saw happen? Was anyone doing anything unkind?

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