Finding the Miracle in the Mess

img_0916It’s Christmas week and we have two little girls. Needless to say the anticipation and chaos are both at full throttle.

There are also life circumstances that threaten to choke off our joy, our delight, our hope in the God who wrapped himself in flesh, in our humanity, and came down into our brokenness to abide in our flawed messiness.

Life circumstances too often swell like storming seas whose waves crash and jeopardize our attempts to remain afloat.

Even so, these words from Psalm 91 are my lifeline: “He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust Him.”

Because God came down.

Because God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Because God cares for us.

Because God is with us.

So, we trust in Him.

We hold fast to His grace as much as His promises.

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We turn toward Bethlehem and remember the miracle of a God who was laid in a manger.

We quiet our hearts and still our thoughts and listen.

We listen to the whisper of that first Christmas that draws us in. Invites us near.

We listen to the cry of a baby who was God and who was welcomed by lowly shepherds.

We listen to the angels who spoke of good news and great joy.

We listen to the heart of God.

And we embrace this place where we are with its mess and its chaos and its clutter and its unknowns.

Because no matter our circumstances, even so, God is with us.

Oh come, oh come Emmanuel, my refuge, my strength, my joy.

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.

Approaching Christmas with Uncertainty

ChristmasChristmas.

Sometimes in what is a simple and joy-filled moment, God taps on the ears of our heart and asks us if we’re listening. He wants to make sure we’re paying attention.

Tonight’s annual Christmas stroll was such a moment for me. You see, despite the words my heart has heard and whispered to my writer self to share, I am still harried and overwhelmed in the wrong way with Christmas. And with life sometimes.

Tonight, God reminded me that this feeling tends to be universal because, well, we’re all broken and messed up and in need of Jesus. Thus, Christmas.

The thing is, it’s not easy to know what we need or even what we want. Sometimes we stand paralyzed by uncertainty even in the hope of Christmas. Thus, Jesus.

I saw that in my sweet 7 year-old tonight when God came up alongside me and told me to watch her with my heart. To listen to her with my heart.

My girl looks forward to this night all year. She is the epitome of delight and joy-filled abandon. And she is still in awe of the magic of Christmas and Jesus and Santa.

With a lack of words and a look awash in a mix of hope and fear, she stood watching and then quietly moved on, away from the place where Santa sat waiting, even calling to her, inviting her to come and talk with him.

My heart was filled with God’s voice: That, my child, is you. And there you go.

We wandered away, toward the sights and sounds of other places, the lights on the trees and the fire pits in the closed-off road. Lured away from the one thing about this annual stroll that my little girl loves above all else.

And so her heart stayed in that spot where she’d stood, watching and wanting to draw near. Even as she ran toward the twinkling lights and the performer singing Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, her eyes aglow with obvious joy, still she looked back to the place where Santa sat waiting.

We came back toward that spot and her eyes danced in the firelight as we drew near once again.

“Take my hand,” I told her.

“Come with me,”she asked at the same moment.

SantaWe drew near together, her hesitantly, me with anticipation. He offered his hand and an invitation and she took it, slowly approaching him until at last she sat with him, her smile radiant. Joy seemed to wrap around her.

Even so, she offered few words to his many. And when asked what she wanted down deep in her heart for Christmas, she looked away and paused before telling him, “I’m usually excited with whatever gift I receive.”

And God’s voice in my heart whispered, “There. There is Christmas, my child.”

Hark! The Cries of Christmas

ChristmasChristmas.

In the stillness, I sometimes find myself standing outside the cold, damp, dirty cave that served as a stable in Bethlehem and a point of entry for the King of creation. There, I hear a baby’s coos and snuffles and grunts and cries.

There, I hear my King with His deep and basic human needs: a loving touch, a soothing word from a soft voice, comfort, warmth.

His cries echo in the darkness. His needs fill the small, cramped stable and the space between earth and heaven. Although the world so desperately needs Him, His needs in this moment are greater.

His life depends on the world, on the people He created, to care for Him, to feed Him, to nurture Him.

This is a juxtaposition of roles that both unsettles and comforts me.

The Creator of the universe who breathed the stars into existence lies helpless in a manger and finds comfort in His mother’s arms. I recall the birth of each of my girls, their tiny forms, their absolute helplessness, their complete dependence. I recall the bond we shared in those moments right after birth.

I know Him as a Savior, a Redeemer, a source of strength in my weakness. I know Him as a Resurrected King sitting once more upon His throne of grace.

But here, in this moment, He is none of those and yet all of those. He is a baby and He is helpless and filled with needs He cannot meet.

This glimpse of Christmas, of my Savior as needy and helpless, whispers intimately to my heart: I see you, all of you. This moment whispers of truth and grace and unconditional love. It whispers that it all started with Him.

His cries, His needs, His weakness there in that stable mirror mine, the ones I share and the ones I bare to no one. The basic ones and the deep, desperate ones.

He’s lived them out here in this broken, hurting world. He knows them and He knows me. And for that alone, I come to this Christmas with an open, thankful heart.