A new thing

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November blows over us in beautiful death, the swan song of creation before it withers and shrivels in on its own creases and falls one by one to the icy ground. The last harvest before death sucks the final cold breath from the world and the stillness of December settles and hems us in. The colors fade to grey. The crispness of the air goes flat. The birds caw their farewell and exit in silhouettes of arrows pointing to the life and warmth they will find elsewhere. And we are left in silent anticipation. Surely the cornucopia that was bursting mere days ago will be full again. Surely this frozen silence isn’t going to last forever. Where life was so abundant just a few harvest sunsets prior, now desolation, isolation begins to penetrate the walls of our homes, the walls of our hearts even.

It is in that December-  that brink of despair where the rug seems to have been pulled out from under us as we celebrate abundance, surrounded by last breaths that hover in the air, that Christmas chimes in and hastens us to listen to its song.

“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland”. Isaiah 43:19
 
Oh, the gospel of Christmas. A new thing. New beginnings-wrapped in swaddling clothes and laying in a manger. As the sun sets on abundance, as hope flickers like a candle-flame threatened by the breath of death, God is doing something new. If the month leading up to Christmas doesn’t resemble a wasteland around here, than the month following Christmas certainly does. The new thing doesn’t stop here. It doesn’t end when we pack away the decorations and the last Christmas cookie is eaten. God is in the business of making things new, turning darkness into light and death into life. He comes to us in our Novembers and Decembers and makes them burst forth with new life. And while I brim over with joy at Christmastime: the idea of the newness of the God-child,the same hands that made the universe in its splendid entirety held by the very human hands He knit together, the Comforter and Sustainer of the world clutching for comfort and sustenance at the breast of a new mother; the joy that has been planted within me starts to germinate and grow after Christmas. In the most desolate time of the calendar year. In the midst of the winter. And yet more beauty: this hope isn’t only for Christmas Day. It isn’t only for December. The hope that came new into the world, the tidings of comfort and joy, are enough for a lifetime. Enough to carry us through any struggle, to nourish and sustain us through any winter. That is the hope of “God with us”, the new work of God. The labor of love and piercing through frozen ground and hearts to bud and bloom.

 
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Let it be so with me, Lord. In the desolation of my soul, in the ugliness of my bent, in the grief, the sin, the withering of the harvest, the flickering of hope-do something new. Make a way in the wilderness. Bring streams to the wasteland of my being. Just as you brought tender and triumphant life at the first Christmas, bring that same humble and honorable life to me in the midst of my winter. Not only at Christmas, but just as the hope you sent into world grew along with Jesus, may it grow inside of me, with eager anticipation of the new things you have in store for my soul.
 
Emmanuel. God with us. Hope came down. Noel.
 
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on them. See, I am doing a new thing! Now, it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland…I provide water in the desert and streams in the wasteland to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.” Isaiah 43:18-21

a letter to my daughter as she turns 2

 
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Roycie Adelyn,
Two year olds are the best and worst of human beings, wrapped up into one. They carry no pretense. Wear no disguises. What you see is what you get, complete with pillow cheeks, bouncing curls and a waddle-run that always appears perilously close to a tumble. Two year olds have yet to figure out manners or etiquette or how to be tactful or politically correct. It is refreshing. And it is adorable. And it is aggravating…and exhausting.

I love this age because I get to see you for who you really are, Roycie. I get to see the nooks and crannies of you, before you learn how to tidy them up for company, or throw a slip-cover over the stains and tears. From the day you were born, I became about the task of learning you. Partially because I adore you and I just can’t help myself. And partially because I feel it is my job to learn you, so I can teach you about yourself-the person God made you to be, the rawest essence of you. And mostly I relish it, this unfurling of a brand new person before my very eyes. I find myself a bit like Mary, Jesus’ mother, as she treasures all these things up in her heart. I make note of the way your lips purse when you know you are being slightly naughty, and the way your eyes squint under the weight of you cheeks when you laugh, and the way you twirl your hair and hum the same cadence each time you are drifting off to sleep. I memorize your language so as to decipher it when no one else can. I have learned through trial and error that the best way to comfort you is to hold you with your cheek on my shoulder facing out, one hand pressed resolutely on your head and the other reassuradly patting your bottom. Yes, I love to learn you. And I have made it one of my ventures.

In the last two years of learning you and loving you I have come to realize how wonderful you are, and at the same time just how much you need Jesus. Two year olds have this amazing quality of being able to filter nearly nothing. So lately I spend much of my time seeing and hearing exactly what comes into that witty and willful little brain of yours. You give me the opportunity hourly (and if I am being honest more like quarter-hourly) to see exactly where your sin-struggles are- the same sin struggles that anyone has. As challenging as raising a strong-willed toddler can be, it is also my job made easy…in a way. I don’t have to dig and pry to find your dark areas, so I can try to let some light in. I don’t have to peel back the layers that you have learned to hide your sin under to avoid detection and judgment from your peers. It is all there for me to see. It is tempting to wish for the days (that will come soon enough) when you will learn to mask your emotions, play by the rules and please people. It is tempting to think that then you are “getting it” because you can walk a straight line and keep the temper tantrums at bay. But in reality now is perhaps my best chance to see where you need Jesus. Now, at just freshly two years old, is a time for me to begin pointing you to Him, because we all can see your need- the same need we all have.

The past few days and weeks have not been so sweet between you and me, my Roycie. You have challenged my authority. We have battled and butt heads. I have been tempted in my weak will to cave in to your strong will. And I have thrown up my hands in frustration and near defeat, thrown my hands up to the heavens and pleaded for wisdom, for strength, for help. I have begged God to let me see these loud and hazy moments as a fleeting opportunity to dazzle you with God’s grace, and harder still: for me to give it. Who would have thought that a little toddler, one with a giggle that could melt Scrooge, could turn a grown woman into such twisted mess? Yes, you have twisted me up, Royce. You twist me up, full of emotions I never felt in this capacity before. From the day you were born you have had my heart in a knot, in a way no one did before you. There is just something about the way God knit you together that is almost too much and yet so perfectly enough. You empty me out, every last drop of me. And you fill me up, to over-flowing, bubbling and brimming over with joy I didn’t know I was missing. You have forever touched and blessed my heart and our home with the bits and pieces of you that invade and inspire us. What a gift you are, Royce Adelyn.


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It is my most fervant prayer for you that you will know the depths of God's love and that you will walk in His Truth, captivated by His love, spurred on my His love, defined by His love, held in His love. As I have recently been learning myself in new ways, we love because He first loved us. So, know that He loves you more than I could ever put into words,  more than earthly words could ever say or earthly minds could every comprehend. He loved you to death, my dear. To death. Actually, and as my mommy-mind sees it- more sacrificially, He loves you to His son's death. He sees the dark, hidden places of us even after we have left our toddler years and learned to hide them, and, get this: He loves you enough to love you anyway. He loves you enough to send beams of His light and grace past the "no trepassing sign", past the creeky door of our hears, past the dust and cob webs, past the monsters and skeletons in the closet, to the deepest, darkest crevices of our being. He loves you that deeply, and though the penetrating and tearing down of the old brokeness might not always feel like love, it is my sweet darling. Trust me. But more than that, trust Him. Where all else has failed (you, me, all of us), and where all else will crumble and fade, He loves you enough.




 
Yesterday found us in that place again, that place of exhaustion. We were in corners nursing our battle wounds and preparing for the inevitable next round of battle. It is so hard for a mommy to remember who the fight is really against. I knew my heart couldn’t take another one. I knew your spirit just might break if we clashed again. It was only 9am as I stood elbow deep in dish suds, with you wrapped around my shins begging for, I didn’t even know what. I don’t think you did either. Already I was bent under a day’s work. The light was just coming in the kitchen window the way it does at that time of day, casting rainbow light across the room. When Hayleigh is home sometimes she dances in it. A smile crept across my face at the thought. I let the dish splash into the pool of soap, wiped my hands and threw in the towel. It was time for the softer side of grace. Together we hauled a dining room chair into the kitchen, so your pudgy hands could reach the mixing bowl. You giggled as we stirred and mashed the bananas. You giggled so much I had to catch you as you nearly tumbled from the chair. As I caught you, I could almost feel God’s hands catching both of us, as we tumbled tangled up in each other in this relationship of battles and giggles.

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For the rest of the day the house smelled of chocolate, bananas and sweet grace. I wanted to dance in the wafts of it, so we did. You and I, we danced to our own music in the wafts of banana muffins and beams of rainbow light. Your cheek was pressed against mine and then made its way to my shoulder. My hand lay atop your messy locks while my other reassuradly patted your diapered bottom. We swayed and we hummed and you twirled my hair in your batter-y fingers. Because sometimes a person needs a swat on the bottom. And sometimes a person needs to bake banana muffins in the morning light and to dance in the softer side of grace.

I love you so, my Bee-bah. I am always here to dance and plod through life with you in the sweetness of grace.

Mommy

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Who do you say that I am? Advent.

“But what about you?” He asked. “Who do you say that I am?” Matthew 16:15

Advent. I didn’t really understand it until recently. As a child I considered it to be a time of counting down until Christmas. As an adult I have often viewed it not as much as a countdown, but a letdown, as I tried to dissuade the tugging guilt and the strain of what appeared to be a dichotomy. “Celebrate Jesus’ birthday. This is about Jesus. Everything else is fluff. Everything else takes away from Jesus.” But yet, I still gave and received presents. I still gave and received joy from time spent with family, from traditions, from generosity, from the magic that surrounds this season. Every Advent I felt so torn, so compartmentalized, so guilt ridden, so anxious about getting it right, so timid in my joy, just so letdown.

During his sermon this past Sunday our pastor talked about Charlie Brown from the Peanuts. In the Christmas Special from 1965, Charlie Brown was distraught at everyone missing the true meaning of Christmas, so distraught in fact that he, himself, missed the real reason for the celebration. Looking back on Advent Seasons of my life I can relate a lot to Charlie Brown. I never quite got it. I mean I knew what Christmas was all about. I just didn’t know how to celebrate it without guilt, without hypocrisy, without doubt. So I divided myself. I let myself enjoy the Christmas the rest of the world celebrates-to a degree. And I went through the motions of celebrating the CHRIST in CHRISTmas. But I don’t think I ever really celebrated. I don’t think I ever really got it more than our of obligation, recitation or fear. I don’t think I was able to ever really let go of the guilt and celebrate all of Christmas in its entirety, with joyful abandon, enraptured by the beauty and truth of the meaning of this holiday. I never let it spill into every compartment of my life.

Last year and this year I determined that Advent would not be a season merely of countdown and letdown. I determined that I would let my heart prepare Him room, that I would allow Jesus-you know, the “reason for the season”, the one who started it all in the first place, redeem this holiday season for me. Turns out Jesus is pretty good at redeeming things. Its kinda His specialty. So often I let my perceptions or feelings determine “reality” for me. If I sense God as being _____ than that is an attribute of His that I celebrate. That isn’t entirely wrong. But I wanted to let the Bible, not my own musings, determine the God I know.

As part of my Bible reading this month I have been considering many of the names of God and what they mean-not just in their original Hebrew, but what they really mean for me, in my life, right now. I figured if I really wanted the meaning of “Immanuel-God with us” to have a true depth of meaning for me than I had better get a more complete picture of the God who was with me. I had heard many of these names of God before since I grew up in church. But it was so life-giving to just read through these names of God aloud and let them wash over me. The more I know of God, the more I am head over heels in love with Him. I just wanted to share a few of the names of God that impacted me the most as I thought about that the God of the Bible, the one true God, the God of all these names chose to come to be Immanuel-God with us. God with me.

Word of God- when I was a child the passage from John that talked about “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” never made sense to me. But now I understand how poetically God wrapped his own words, his own likeness in flesh and bones. He gave His very words-his very essence, ligaments and muscles and a heart beat. A heart that beat just as mine does, that yearns to be loved and chosen just as mine does, that breaks just as mine does, that aches for more than this temporary life just as mine does. A heart that does everything my heart does, besides sin and lie and hate and serve itself. The God the whole Bible points to, and prophesizes about, and praises; those same words off the pages of scripture, that same God who created the universe with a spoken word, that same God who crafted me together with love and tenderness and purpose, that same God who parted the Red Sea, who guided David’s slingshot to defeat Goliath, who turned a dungeon of roaring lions into a den of purring kittens, that same God wrapped His likeness in flesh. Flesh that burns and blemishes and bruises and bleeds. That same God-heart that has beat for always, even before the beginning of time, beat as a human heart for the first time in a tiny, stinky stable in Bethlehem. And that same God-heart broke along with the human one, thirty-some-odd years later on the Hill of Calvary. So when I say Immanuel I don’t just mean a God who is with us in Spirit-though He is that too! I mean a God who literally left his throne to be with us, in our stench, in our filth, in our victories, in our defeat, in all that comes with our humanness. The very words of God morphed into our likeness, wrapped in skin and bones. That is how much God loves me.

Cornerstone-the One on who it all rests, the foundation of my faith. The one who can hold it all. All my doubts, all my pain, all the burdens I can’t carry on my own. I rest my sanity, my joy, my hope, my identity, my very eternity on this Cornerstone. And every bit of who I am, every bit of the life of those who follow Him, every bit of the story of the legacy of faith is upheld by Jesus.

Everlasting Father- As I look at this Christmas and can’t help but wonder what next Christmas will look like…and the one after that, I am so comforted to call God my Everlasting Father. How many more Christmases will I have with my dad? I watch pieces of him slip away. We were not built to last here on this earth. We were made for more. As much as I love my dad, and as much as I have trusted and relied on him over the years, his body will fail him. His mind will fail him. And my dad will leave us, in pieces at first and then, one day, he will be gone. But long after the last piece of my dad slip away and he is made whole again in the presence of our Father, God will be hemming me in behind and before me-my Everlasting Father.

There are so many more. I could write forever. Bread of Life. Friend of Sinners. Anointed One. The Gate. First born among brothers. Deliverer. Rescuer. Redeemer. Wonderful Counselor. Prince of Peace. Comforter. Blessed Hope. Star out of Jacob. Root of David. Horn of Salvation. High Priest. Mediator. Refuge. Rock. Shepherd. Lamb of God. Jehovah. Carpenter. Glory of God. Door. Perfect Sacrifice. Bridegroom. King of Kings. Lord of Lords. Son of the Most High. Servant. Shalom. Alpha and Omega. Dayspring. Light of the World. Messiah. Lion of Judah. Vine. Teacher. Physician. Refiner. Passover Lamb. Savior. Way. Truth. Life. Jesus.

What are some of your favorite names of God? What ones are especially meaningful to you at Christmas time, or more specifically at this particular Christmas in light of what your life looks like? I would love to know how God is revealing Himself to you this Advent Season!

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