The Messy Peace of Christmas

ChristmasChristmas, oh, Christmas.

I have a Christmas confession.

Lean in a little closer because I don’t want to admit this above a whisper: I am struggling to keep Christmas in my heart (to paraphrase Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol).

I write words that lead me back to Bethlehem and attempt to place me beside the baby in that manger and in the field with those shepherds and in an audience for the choir of angels. But, honestly, each time I finish writing those words and leave them on the page, the images and the hope they create dissipate beneath life’s circumstances like an early morning mist beneath the sun’s rays.

Too much of our life currently is lived in a state of overwhelm with circumstances that spiral out and away from my abilities and leaving me too often breathless and frazzled. Appointments with therapists, medication trials, high functioning ASD with its higher levels of anxiety and extreme rigidity in the face of change and transition, unexplained and unanticipated night wakings.

And all the time questioning what I’m doing and how I’m doing it and wanting a small bit of His presence that says, “Yes, this.”

Still, I seek that starry night in Bethlehem and the moment of God’s touch on the world. That moment of God with us finally coming into our lives.IMG_8151Still, there is so much overwhelm that my playlists bounce between one of favorite Christmas songs and another titled, “life is hard,” and includes a short list of songs on repeat: Jonny Diaz’s Breathe, Tenth Avenue North’s Worn, and Andrew Peterson’s Faith to Be Strong, Be Kind to Yourself, The Dark Before the Dawn, and The Rain Keeps Falling.

As I listen to the lyrics of these songs on my “life is hard” playlist, I find solace and a different sense of peace. Not a Christmas peace or a holy peace, but a life is universal peace; a peace in knowing that I am not alone in the struggles of this life and in this broken, messy world.

Sometimes peace doesn’t look like we think it will. Sometimes Christmas comes and our heart shifts between wonder and worry and between Bethlehem and brokenness. And in each moment and every breath there is Jesus: God with us.

Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel. Come to the hearts that struggle to keep Christmas and grant them the peace of knowing they are not alone. Grant them the peace that passes all understanding. Grant them Your presence: God with us.

The Mystery of God with Us

ChristmasChristmas. Ah, Christmas.

The other night all I wanted to do was watch a bit of Netflix and then snuggle down beneath the layers of blankets on my bed. It had been a long day and it’s been a long week.

And then I remembered the elfcapades. And the fact that I hadn’t planned anything for the elves yet.

That’s when I saw the manger scene and knew the elves needed to take some time off from their typical night of elfcapades to rest at the manger and to read the Christmas story.

Or, because the elfcapades are orchestrated by me, it was me who needed to come to the manger and soak in the mystery of Christmas. Again.

I’ve discovered – or rediscovered – that if I don’t seek out Jesus, if I don’t actively choose to enter His presence and spend time with Him, the frenetic pace of life overtakes me. To maintain a real peace and a sense of genuine hope, it’s Jesus that I need to overtake me.

I need His presence within me and around me in order to navigate these days of unknowns and challenges. I need His promises and His truth even if I can’t always fully understand how they work in connection with my life and circumstances.

I need to believe in the mystery and the miracle of Christmas for without these, life becomes nothing more than something for me to endure. And, honestly, even though I believe in the wonders of His love and amazing grace, still there are days I merely endure, pushing through on survival mode.mangerAnd that’s when I have to choose Him. That’s when I come back to Bethlehem and immerse myself in the story of a Savior born into a hurting, messy, messed up world to bring light and life, dazzling light and abundant life.

There in that stable God came near and invited us to join Him on the amazing journey of our life. It doesn’t always feel that way, but it’s always true.

Emmanuel; God with us. Always with me. Always near. Always showing me the way my feet should go on this adventure we call life.

And when I forget or when I doubt or when I am worn, He whispers to my heart of the mystery of Bethlehem and a King born to die for me. And it is that truth that allows me to lift my weary head and behold the promise of His joy ever before me.

Silent Star, Noisy Night

ChristmasChristmas.

According to the Grinch in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Christmas brings trees and trappings, singing and wrappings and noise. Noise, noise, noise, noise. So, he wants to avoid it however he can.

And, honestly, sometimes I agree. Sometimes, Christmas gets trapped by the trappings and lost in the wrappings and the silent night of Bethlehem seems nothing more than a clichéd idea I can’t seem to find because of the chaos surrounding me.

Of course, that night likely was anything but silent. There was a choir of angels, there were crowds and animals and family reunions as distant relatives came for the census and filled homes with conversations and laughter and arguments.

And there was a baby born, a mother’s cries in the night as she birthed her son and a baby’s cries as He was swaddled and held in His mother’s arms.

Yet above it all, the heavens. The night sky filled with silent stars, with one shining brighter than all the rest. One star inviting those who saw it to come and meet the baby Jesus.

This year, we added a star to our Christmas decorations and hung it where we could see it from both the living room and dining room.IMG_8151My 7 year old calls this our Jesus star; she says it looks like the star that must have been shining in the sky the night Jesus was born. And, once again, God uses my girls to point me back to Him after some long and wearying days.

For every time I gaze upon this star hanging near our nativity set, I am reminded of the miracle of the Creator entering our world; Emmanuel, God with us.

This bright star reminds me that because God is with us, with me, when I am weak, He gives me strength. And when I am weary, He calls to me, invites me to come to Him and rest in Him.

And I need rest. Rest from my weary thoughts. Rest from my worry. Rest from trying constantly to figure everything out. Because too often, life is moving so fast I feel out of breath.

And so, I rest. I breathe. I look at our Jesus star and I see Christmas in that stable in Bethlehem.

I look at that star and it invites me to come and kneel beside the shepherds and worship my King and to know that He is with me always, no matter the day’s circumstances, struggles or challenges or joys or celebrations.

God is with me.

That star. That night. Those shepherds. Those angels. A baby. A Savior. Christmas. When I take time to stop and reflect on these things, Christmas takes my breath away.

Our Elf on the Spectrum

ChristmasLet me just get it out there: we do “the elf thing.”

This is our second year and we enjoyed the sense of anticipation our girls exuded as they wondered when MacKenzie and Poppy would return.

We love the joy it brings them each morning to discover what these two little elf imps did the night before.

But let me be clear: this is our “elf thing.” It’s not anyone else’s. It’s not intended to inspire guilt or invite snark. It’s intended to share joy and invite delight for those who need it.

And this year, that’s us. That’s me.

Because this year, Christmas feels different. I’m not sure why. I don’t know if it’s the challenging personal circumstances or the autism spectrum challenges or the increased financial strain to meet new needs with therapies and other appointments.

All I know is that it doesn’t feel like Christmas and that’s one of the reasons I’ve been writing about and focusing on Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus and the appearing of angels and the worship of shepherds.

And it’s one of the reasons I’m thankful we adopted the elf tradition last year. It provides a sense of wonder and consistency.elfacapadesOur elves aren’t creepy; they’re cute.

Our elves aren’t messy; they’re playful.

Our elves aren’t here to keep our girls in line; they’re here to keep them company and inspire joy.

And, honestly, our elves bring a sense of security for my autism spectrum girl.

Even when the few holiday events that we attend as a family go seriously south and end in tears and meltdowns, MacKenzie and Poppy are waiting for their glass of ice water and their two crackers and their sprinkling of magic snowflakes that will bring them to life after all of us are asleep.IMG_7727MacKenzie and Poppy are waiting for my girls and their love, their excitement, their delighted giggles.

Last night we visited the nearby horse park with my girls’ favorite carousel to participate in their Christmas event. My girls looked forward to it all week long because we hadn’t been there since October. And my sweet seven year old girl was thrilled to ride the carousel again.

But things didn’t go well.

I can’t tell you exactly why. I can tell you that small bumps in the road for another child became insurmountable obstacles for my sweet girl. Too loud whooping and hollering from the spinning tea cup right behind her hurt her ears. On a different turn on the carousel (the final one that we hoped would redeem the imperfect previous turns), the music was turned off mid-ride so that the carolers didn’t have to compete with the sounds of the calliope.

In an effort to find a sense of peace, I sat on the grass beside my girl and her elf. I took Poppy and had her do grass angels beside my sweet girl, inviting her to lie on the grass beside Poppy and look at the evening sky. Before long, my girl was smiling again, giggling and holding her elf.

Last night, she opted to sleep with Poppy and forego the night’s elfcapades in favor of her elf’s comfort.

So, there it is. We’re an elf family. And now that you know, I hope we can still be friends.

Merry Christmas and Happy Elfcapades to all!IMG_7859

An Open Letter to Asperger’s about Christmas

Christmasdear Asperger’s.

Yes, it’s me. Again.

It’s the end of the day and I’m exhausted; emotionally and mentally, though my eyes are burning, too.

Of course, we both know that the burning in my eyes is more from the tears that have built up behind them and pushed toward the rims of my eyes but that I have kept damned up. At least for now. They’ll spill over sometime in the quiet chaos of my personal Bethlehem as I keep an eye on the star on the horizon and the coming of Christmas.

I mean, I get it. You’re a part of our lives. A part of our family. And most days, I can accept that. Even when I would rather not, I can accept that as part of our daily reality.

But it’s Christmas.

No, I know, that doesn’t change anything for you. But I need you to know it anyway. I need you to know it’s Christmastime and that means something different. It means miracles and chaos and hope and fear. It means I wish I could wish you away. At least for a day or an hour.

Because Christmas is such a big deal to my sweet little girl and it hurts when you show up unannounced. It pierces my heart and my strength when you steal her joy and turn what should be a fun family evening into a meltdown festival.

Like you did tonight.

You see, here’s the thing. I’ve been writing about Christmas and trying to keep my heart focused on Bethlehem and the shepherds and the angels and a baby in a manger.

But tonight? Tonight I wanted the joy and celebration of the holiday and I wanted a memory that my girl could wrap around her when she snuggled beneath her covers and contemplated the number of days until Christmas.

Instead, she was undone and, yes, broken, because around you, in moments of excitement and sensory stimulation, she slowly withers until she cracks, her voice shaky, her eyes tear-filled, her heart overflowing, overwrought with chaos and unknowns.

IMG_8062As I tuck her in to bed tonight, I hope she doesn’t focus on the carousel ride with the raucous teenage girls whose screams and screeches hurt her ears and had me holding my hands over her ears so that she could hold her elf and the bridle of her carousel horse. I hope she doesn’t focus on the last ride, which was going to be “the best ride of the night and became the worst ride ever” when the carousel music was turned off for the carolers.

I hope she doesn’t focus on the three carousel rides that brought her to tears but that she can hold fast to the four rides that caused her to smile at least a little bit.

And I hope that I can focus on Bethlehem and see you there; see you in my personal Bethlehem of chaos and clutter and fear alongside the hope and joy and promise that is Christmas.

I hope that I can hold fast to the idea that God sees you and He sees my frustration and fragility. And it is in the fragility and brokenness that He comes; in fact, it’s why He came. To bring wholeness where there is brokenness and to bring strength to my fragility.

So that when others look into my eyes and see them shimmering with tears on a carousel ride as I hold my hands over my seven-year-old’s ears, they will also see a strength that comes because of Christmas. Because God came near.

And He stayed.

An Open Letter to Christmas

Christmasdear Christmas.

I look around my house and cannot see where to put you. It’s almost as if there is no room for you in any of this space. It is overflowing with clutter and disorganization and in much need of cleaning.

Yes, I know that this visit was planned well in advance.

Even so, I’m not quite as prepared as I could be and there is no room for your tree, your gifts, your overflow of ribbons and bows and lights and greens.

Oh, and did I mention that our finances are tight again this year? I know you’ve heard this excuse almost every year. And, yes, we should plan better. But, you know what they say? The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

Honestly, it pretty much feels like we live in awry, you know?

All that aside, I hear your whispers in the excited voices of my girls and I sense your presence in the chaos as much as in the stillness.

Have I mentioned that I would pay an exorbitant price for a silent night? That I have a five-year-old who sleeps like a newborn and that I feel more awake than asleep at night? Oh, and that I’ve become fixated on how to “do” Christmas Eve with the threat of these unpredictable night wakings?

And so I read and re-read the story in Luke about Mary and Joseph and the shepherds and angels and the stable because there was no room for Mary and Joseph anywhere else. And, as I read, I see myself there. I feel myself in the crowd and the chaos, seeking rest and a place to stay.

All of the decorations and traditions become almost suffocating because this year, despite my heart’s focus on Bethlehem, this year it doesn’t feel like you, Christmas.

And that’s when I stop and stand in the midst of the mess and the clutter and the chaos of my home, my life, my heart, and I realize, I’m there. I’m with you, Christmas, in Bethlehem. There on that night all those years ago.

There, in Bethlehem, there were no trees or decorations or perfectly wrapped gifts. In fact, the Gift that night was wrapped in swaddling clothes, strips of cloth intended to comfort and not to impress.

There, in Bethlehem, there were no Christmas carols except for a chorus of angels who appeared to lowly shepherds.

There, in Bethlehem, there were no candlelight services, only the worship of those lowly shepherds kneeling before a manger that held a King.

So, Christmas, this may not be Bethlehem, and, no, it’s not the first Christmas in that cold, dark stable with angels and shepherds, but the circumstances feel similar to me at times. And for that, I am grateful. Because it provides me opportunity to welcome you to something incredibly familiar to you: brokenness, messiness, desperation, and need wrapped in hope, anticipation, joy and a strange chaotic peace.

Don’t worry, Christmas. Though we likely will be scrambling about on the Eve of your arrival, we look forward to your coming. We look forward to you filling this space and our lives with the promises of God.

For the Love of Christmas

ChristmasChristmas.

The birth of Jesus. Emmanuel. God with us.

God reigning on high now bending low.

God born of a young girl and laid in a manger.

Jesus.

Proclaimed by angels and worshiped by shepherds.

Jesus. God in the flesh.

Come to serve. Come to love. Come to save. Come to die and so give life.

Jesus. Savior, Messiah, Lord.

Because of Christmas, because of Jesus, we are free to love, free to forgive, free to hope, free to be who we are created to be by Him and in the world.

I pray the story of God’s amazing, unconditional love for you resonates with and resides deeply in your heart this Christmas.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived. Luke 2