Archives For christmas

I grew up with good, normal, American Christmas traditions, but in my late teens and throughout all of my twenties, my family went through a deep and visceral fracturing that did not leave holidays unscathed. For most of those years I distanced myself from any family holiday gatherings because it felt like taking sides in a war I couldn’t win. It may not make sense to some, but it often felt like the choice between walking into a war zone or pretending the war didn’t exist—and selfish as it may seem, the way to survive for me was to not choose sides with my presence.

For most of the those years I was co-opted into other family’s gatherings, an extra seat at their table, a pair of socks or a book or nothing under the tree for me. I was so glad to be there, though, that gifts mattered little to me. I wanted the feelings of the season, the reminder that even though my world felt broken, there was hope and wholeness somewhere. What I learned, spending Christmases with so many different families, is that hope and wholeness exists in Jesus alone. Every family was a mere shadow of the family yet to come. This freed me on the cusp of my thirties to begin crafting traditions of my own, whether or not I would ever have a family of my own. I didn’t want to wait for marriage to begin traditions; I wanted to start now. I began to craft them on my own, and invited others into them. Those traditions helped build on the traditions that Nate and I are now making as a family.

I know it’s only the beginning of November, but some of my Advent traditions begin in late November, so I wanted to share them with you now so you can get a head start.

rum logs

The first family who invited me into their family Christmas makes these every year. They are so popular in our hometown, that nearly everyone makes them. Here’s a funny story: I was once at party where they were served and where one of our pastors and his young son were. After trying a few of them, another attendee leaned over to my friend, the pastor, and said, “You might not want to let Jack have any of those cookies,” pointing at the Rum Logs, “I think someone spiked them.” We all had a great laugh afterwards. These are alcohol free but you wouldn’t know it from the taste. They are our favorites and they never last long.

Last Christmas a friend introduced us to Good Earth Sweet and Spicy Tea and I have not turned back. I drink both of the caffeinated one and the decaf one almost every day throughout the fall and winter. It is my favorite drink without question.

A few years ago a family from my church invited me to Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb in Dallas. I was spellbound the entire time. Not only was the performance funny, somber in all the right places, and felt like being in a living room with the musicians, it was poignant and felt so full of expectation. I’ve tried to go every year. Here is the list of cities it’s coming to this year. Go. You won’t regret it.

Partially because Christmas has felt more sad than hopeful for me every year for the past fifteen years, and partially just because I think by nature I tend toward being more melancholy during the winter months, I find I’m less of the Holly, Jolly Christmas sort, and more of the In the Bleak Midwinter sort. I have to not only listen to the deep and soulful music, but also the fun and jovial sort. But I also find my heart swells with expectation when I let it enter into the darkness we would feel without Christ. Young Oceans Christmas album has been a constant for me the past several years. Also, I am loving Christy Nockles new’s album, A Thrill of Hope this year.

A few years ago Russ Ramsey released Behold the Lamb, a book of readings leading up to the birth of Christ, and I have always gravitated back to it in December. He’s a very descriptive writer and you feel like you’re right there with Mary when she gets the news, with Joseph in his dream, with the Shepherds by the star. But he’s also deeply theological, and there’s some convicting work in this book of what it means to follow the babe born in the manger.

One thing I’ve noticed about myself around Christmas is I tend to get fixated on a certain song or certain passage of scripture and it plays on repeat for me. This isn’t bad of course, but a book I’ve come to appreciate each year is Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas. It begins in November and some days the chapters are long, sometimes they’re just poems, sometimes short observations, and they’re all by different authors, so it doesn’t feel dry or the same every day. I cannot endorse the theology of each one of the chapters, but if you’re a discerning reader, I think there’s some great food for thought in here.

Last year for my birthday some friends in Denver took me out for breakfast and gave me this candle as a present. December felt really dark to me last year for a lot of reasons, but this candle felt constant and its scent strangely just gave me hope. It reminded me that we were not alone and that a great Light had come. Plus, purchasing these candles supports cool things. And they last so long. I’ve had a few now and they’ve all lasted longer than other candles of similar size.

Nate and I have been in purge mode for the entirety of our relationship (moving from Texas to Colorado to Virginia and soon (hopefully!) to Tennessee in only 16 months makes you pare down your belongings pretty quickly). We also have been formulating some principles behind gift-giving and, if the Lord gives us children, how we want to instill generosity but also intentionality in our gift-giving. For us, right now, we’ve adopted a four gift rule with a catchy rhyme. It’s working for us, and helps us be really mindful about what we’re giving and why. Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read. 

If you know me, you know I’m adverse to shopping almost always, but especially at Christmas time. I will do almost anything to stay away from malls, Target, even grocery stores during December. About a decade ago, though, I realized I was always forgetting gift-wrapping until the last minute—and I realized I was spending $30+ for just a few gifts to be wrapped and then unwrapped (likely the next morning because I procrastinate…). So I started looking at those brown paper bags from the grocery store a bit differently. Recycling and avoiding last minute wrapping rush and fitting wrapping into my philosophy of simplicity? I have been wrapping my gifts in brown paper tied with bakers string for over ten years now and I don’t see that tradition ever changing. Some years I stick a sprig of evergreen or rosemary in the string, some years I’ve wrapped up a bit of bark or a candy cane. I mix it up a bit, but it’s usually always the same. This helps me keep it simple. It also helps me remember that everything under the tree is just a thing. It’s special for a season, but it is still ultimately just a thing, and someday will be recycled itself. I don’t know about you, but I need all the reminders of that that I can. I saved some images on Pinterest over on my Traditions board so you can get some ideas. My best advice is just look at what’s around you and make it work. Save money, time, and still make it special.

. . .

I hope your Advent season is rich and full. And I hope if you’re still unmarried you don’t wait for a spouse and children of your own to start traditions. Start now, even if they’re just small things no one knows about but you. Redeem this time, even if redemption in this season feels weightier or harder than it might appear to be for others. And if you’re a parent, remember this, the things I remember most about Christmas when I was small are the oranges and Granny Smith apples in our stockings, the oatmeal breakfast with craisins and cinnamon, and waking up to a cold house but a warm home. I cannot recall even one gift I received throughout my childhood, though I know I had them. I remember the presence of my parents and the warm simplicity of our home and holidays.

Our Charlie Brown Tree

IV

Oh, come, O Key of David, come,
And open wide our heav’nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

He and I talked this morning, used cliches like, “Well, if no doors open then it’s just the same as a closed door.” I reminded him cliches are cliches because they’re true, and in our case, right now, every door feels slammed shut in the face of the persistent widow. We’re pounding, God, we’re pounding. You’re not refusing us, though, like the unrighteous judge, you’re just not even opening the door. Which is a refusal of sorts, even if a slight more polite.

A few days ago we sent an email to our closest friends. We begged for prayer and clarity. One, an elder from our home church and the man who married us, reminded us of Joseph’s second visit from an angel, in Matthew 2. “Go to Israel!” he is told and so he goes. But before he gets there, “Go to Galilee instead!” and he obeys. It’s just conjecture, but I wonder if Joseph stared at the starry skies and asked himself if he was crazy.

Or if God was.

I would have. I am.

There have been a thousand turns in life, a million corners, and a hundred cliffs I’ve jumped from. I have never known what God was up to or doing. Most of the time I only have enough sight to see the closed door in front of me—rarely stopping to think of the misery He is keeping me from on the other side.

We feel as though in a hexagon of closed doors right now. Every direction, every feeler, every raised hope—dashed by a solid wall in front of us. I have to remember He is making safe a better way, a way that leads on high, and closes us from the path of misery. I have to remember He is not withholding in order to teach us a lesson or punish us, but in order to love us in His best way.

The presence of the babe changed Joseph’s life in every direction. Freedom was a thing of the past, he was submitted to God’s ways from then on—as strange as they might have seemed.

God, in this Advent season, give us Joseph’s heart.

What closed doors are in front of you today? What is God withholding from you because to have it would not be best for you? Do you believe God knows what is best and does it? Even if it doesn’t feel best?

Screen Shot 2015-12-21 at 5.22.00 PM

III
Oh, come O Rod of Jesse’s stem,
From ev’ry foe deliver them
That trust your mighty pow’r to save;
Bring them in vict’ry through the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Yesterday was my birthday and in a meeting a little after 11am we heard a rapid succession of gunshots outside our office windows. By the time we looked the shooter was reloading and beginning on his second round of gunfire toward a single officer.

We ducked and looked again. The idiom, “Like a train wreck, you can’t look away,” comes to mind. I asked myself later a thousand times—every time the image replays in my head: “Why didn’t you look away, Lore? Why didn’t you close your eyes?” Right now I fear that image will be in my head forever, but I have lived through trauma and I know it all fades eventually.

I ask Nate why this morning, “Why does he think God has let us be so near to the stink of death and the snuffing of life recently? What is He teaching us? For what does this prepare us?” This all just seems senseless and this morning I message a friend back east: “Sometimes I just want to come home to small town living, to cloister myself away in an old farmhouse, to let this season be about the growing light instead of the looming dark.”

Sin is so dark.

I think, in this second week of Advent, of the Christ-child grown. Grown for one purpose: to look on sin and take it for us all. I think of him in the garden: Father, take this cup from me? Begging to not have to look on sin, to not face the grave so we wouldn’t have to.

But He didn’t look away. And through the grave he brought victory.

. . .

Live a quiet life.
I Thessalonians 4:11

He must increase, I must decrease.
John 3:30

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
Luke 9:23

Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
John 12:23

They loved not their lives even unto death.
Revelation 12:11

To me to live is Christ, to die is gain.
Philippians 1:21

The way up is the way down, I know this and yet the sliver of light above is so tempting to fixate upon. The promise of a little life here on earth seems to be more lasting than eternal life with the Father above.

I checked every door twice last night and rushed into my car in the garage this morning, suspicious of every car parked along our street. I looked both ways twice before getting out of my car at work today and had to take a deep breath before leaving. Fear has never been my nemesis. At least not fear of wicked men and hearts. I fear my own heart more than I fear others. But these weeks have made me fearful. I think again, “I shouldn’t have looked. Why did I look?”

This passage from Ephesians plays through my mind this afternoon, full of the knowledge of the someday coming. All the things we see and think we see and shouldn’t have seen and cannot forget we’ve seen: from these we will someday arise and stand, in the full light of Christ and he will look and shine on us.

For anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
Ephesians 5:14

Screen Shot 2015-12-09 at 1.59.32 PM

II
Oh, come, our Wisdom from on high,
Who ordered all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

When only half the candles are lit, we see men as trees walking. We see partway and yet think we see the whole of it.

We’ve been begging God for direction these weeks and made a feeble decision—not a bargaining chip and not a giving up or giving over—but toward the path of knowledge as best as we can see it. Sometimes God gives peace without understanding, peace that passes understanding. Sometimes He gives peace but barely, and no understanding. We are in the latter.

It is strange, this season of learning to make decisions as two become one, yet no longer just one. It is a dance, not like the Sugar Plum Fairy or Swan Lake, though, choreographed and in time. It is a dance of submission to one another, hearing, learning to see, understand. To look in his eyes when he speaks in a broken, halting voice of the deep sadness. To lift my eyes when they are tear-filled and weary. To really see one another, past the veil of autonomy, beneath the cloud of independence, to lean into one another and lean together into Christ.

At the end of it, I take his hands or he gathers me to his chest and we repeat the same variation of words every day, “We don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on Him.”

I think of the blind man in John 9. The disciples asking, “Whose sin put him here? His own? His parents?” And Jesus, sweet Jesus, reminding them it was no one’s sin, but for the glory of God alone.

Sometimes the only reason we need a miracle is for God’s glory.

But, God, we still need a miracle.

. . .

What path are you on this Advent? What things do you wish to understand? Where has God given you blindness or lameness simply as an opportunity to worship Him? Where do you seek wisdom?

Screen Shot 2015-12-07 at 7.51.46 AM

I
Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Tonight begins the second week of Advent. We will light another candle in our dim kitchen, read the evening’s passage, and lift our forks and glasses to another week of darkness.

We’re all waiting for something. My husband is waiting for a job. Some friends are waiting for a uninterrupted day. A friend is waiting for a healthy prognosis for her baby. Another friend weeps on my bed a few weeks ago for the husband she thought she’d have by now. Another just waits to want another day. None of us seem to understand what it means to live behind a glass dimly, to be in the already/not yet, to have and yet not have.

Today, all day, I’ve been thinking of the blind man at Bethsaida. The one who saw men as trees walking. We are people for whom half a miracle is never enough.

Half the Advent candles are lit tonight, and the room still feels all dark.

. . .

What are you waiting for tonight? Where do you feel exiled? What has you captive? What miracles has Christ already done? 

12314555_10100409371329036_1009875421338510701_o

In the middle of the coverage from San Bernardino yesterday I got a text from my husband:

“SWAT just showed up two doors down!”

A few minutes later: “Shots fired!”

Expected during that moment if we lived in San Bernardino perhaps, but we live in Denver. In a nice little up and coming neighborhood in the northwest part of the city. If you mention our neighborhood to those who’ve been here all their life, they recall stories of being warned to stay away from The Highland because of its high crime rates. In the past five years, though, crime is at an all-time low, housing prices keep rising, and it’s becoming one of the coveted neighborhoods in Denver.

Police surrounded our block yesterday until late into the night. At the end of it all, there was a dead fugitive and a wounded SWAT officer. When we knew it was safe, hours into the ordeal, my husband brought a mug of coffee and a bottled drink out to the policeman standing in the middle of the street outside our house. He’d been brandishing a rifle while diverting traffic and answering questions for hours. We should have offered him a bathroom break too, but I doubt he would have taken it.

. . .

The first real conversation I ever had with my husband was about pacificsm, a few days later he shared his testimony (a story wrought with theological fervor and marital failure) with a group of our friends, and the next day he and I got coffee and talked more about the pacifist way. He wasn’t my first friend who had walked through these questions, but he was the first person I’d met in Texas who had. It wasn’t love at first sight for either of us, but it was curiosity for sure. You know the rest of the story.

Scattered throughout our home, in pieces so varied and complex I don’t know what we’d do if it ever came to it, are the components to a firearm. I spend most of my time trying to forget it’s in our home and when I remember I remind myself 1. It would take thirty minutes to gather all the pieces. 2. I don’t know how to put them together. 3. I don’t know the first thing about shooting a gun. And 4. I can’t imagine ever pointing a gun at someone.

But it doesn’t change the fact that the gun is present, in our home.

. . .

A few weeks ago my car was vandalized. I thought it was the work of hoodlums in the neighborhood south of us, and maybe it was, but the more we thought about it and asked others about it, it became clear: vandalizing was not their sole purpose, car thievery was. The only conclusion we’ve come to is they saw it was a stick shift or they got caught in the middle. Either way, we’re grateful to still have a car. Locked safely now (or so we think) in our garage.

Does all this matter? And how?

. . .

This morning Nate and I talked about a trip he’s taking in a few weeks and how, in all my life, I’ve never been afraid to be alone before. But here, in these days, in this place, I fear. The other day a salesman knocked on our door and I had to self-talk the entire time that he wasn’t going to push open the cracked door, rape me, and pillage our home. Fear is present, where it never has been before.

Things weren’t like this 25 years ago, I told Nate this morning. He told me studies were done once on soldiers from WWII: something around 50% of soldiers purposely didn’t aim guns at their enemies because the taking of a human life was not something they could do.

. . .

I stayed up late praying last night. I wanted to pray for the soul of the man who was killed but my beliefs tell me it’s too late for that, and a repentant man doesn’t do the atrocities he did. I pray for the SWAT officer instead, not the one who was wounded, but the one who killed the fugitive. What a heavy weight to bear it must be to have taken the life of a man—however worthless you can convince yourself that life was.

. . .

The ink is barely dry on the page of the Colorado Springs shooting a few days ago, the media is alight with San Bernardino, and in a playground in New Orleans a young man shot at 17 individuals last week. The world is too much with us, the poet said, and I think he was speaking of evil, evil, everywhere.

The refrain from O, Holy Night repeats in my head again:

His law is love and his gospel is peace.

For most these days, the law feels ignored and his gospel divides. There is not one of us who can say we feel safe but for the grace of God. And even with the grace of God, hundreds of thousands find themselves fleeing persecution and no one is safe from the bullet of a madman bent on destruction.

Where is the love and peace we were promised?

. . .

I have no end to this piece, no pretty packaged completion.Tomorrow or next week more news of another shooting will rise and we will fight for gun reform or offer our thoughts and prayers, but none of it is enough. None of it is.

His law is love and his gospel is peace.

The law of this land will never bring it and peace rallies will never exhibit it. Soldiers will still miss shots on purpose. Good men will sacrifice their lives in the face of certain danger—but even a hero’s death still stings. Nothing in this world will bring the peace we need. Nothing in this world.

His law is love.

And His gospel is peace.

photo-1446463969211-28bf6e20b315

A few months ago I had a conversation with Nancy Leigh DeMoss about her upcoming marriage to Robert Wolgemuth, their joy in one another and the Lord was palpable. Nancy has faithfully served the Lord for over fifty years of singleness, teaching women to love and study the word, and reflect their maker in wholeness. I’ve benefited from her ministry, but mainly I’ve benefited from her example. Here was a woman who served the Lord in her singleness for a very long time. While there was an overarching confidence in her call to singleness, though, fifty years of life in this world can threaten our confidence in a great many things.

Robert and Nancy have now married and their wedding video is here. I urge you to take fifteen minutes when you can find them and watch it. Even if you do not feel the call to singleness, or even if you are already married, what is most present and beautiful in their story is not the theme of marriage or singleness, but of trusting God in all kinds of circumstances.

One of the things Nancy talks about is how she has always taught the gospel as the love story it is: a Groom coming to make his bride beautiful and bring her to himself, but how now she would learn to bring glory to God in the telling of that same story as a married woman. I agree and have said for years the church understands singleness better than any other entity on earth because we intrinsically know what it means to long for what we do not have in fullness.

But what happens when you get married and the longing dissipates or distills or even disappears? What happens when you wake up next to a man who does fill so many of your longings? What happens when you live within the walls of a home you’ve desired for 35 years? What happens when your message of longing feels a bit less present and a bit more satiated?

This morning I read the preface to John Piper’s Advent readings, The Coming of Indestructible Joy. He writes, “Peter [in II Peter 1:13, 3:1] assumes that his Christian readers need to wakened. I know I continually need awaking. Especially when Christmas approaches.”

Especially when Christmas approaches.

I have still been thinking about Philippians 2:12 this week, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” These words in particular: “much more in my absence.” Another way of saying this is, “especially in my absence.”

One look around my world these days and I have it all: a husband who loves me, a beautiful home of our own, a good job, a home bursting with friends this weekend. But one thing I do not have is Christ in His fullness—and I need every reminder possible of his absence. Nothing magical happens when you get married, but something is risked: the constant, pressing, angst of desire. Not for an earthly spouse, but for the heavenly one.

Whoever you are, and wherever you are today, a few days before the eve of Advent, remember the longing especially in his absence. Remember the people who waited decades and centuries for the coming of Christ. Remember “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone” (Isaiah 9:2). Perhaps your longing is pressing and present, perhaps it is dormant and dulled, but it is there, somewhere. Find it. Empty your world this season of things and distractions, or instead keep them, and make them serve as reminders of the shadows they are.

We walk in darkness, partial blindness. We see, like the blind man at Bethsaida, “men as trees walking.” We see partially, not fully. We long for wholeness and live in shadows. We have and do not have. We exist in the already and the not yet. Let’s press apart the closed over pieces of our hearts, the pieces that have forgotten to long, or the pieces that only know longing for earthly things.

This Advent season, let’s especially long especially in our groom’s absence.

photo-1448561779273-0ab17ed52a14

Perhaps you’ve already seen this around, but in case you haven’t, spend some time looking at it today.

The shame in Eve’s face, the peace in Mary’s.

The fruit clutched to Eve’s chest, the protective hand on Mary’s womb.

The serpent wrapped and imprisoning Eve, the heel of Mary crushing his head.

The nakedness of Eve, the clothing of strength and beauty on Mary.

The gulf between the women, and the hands and womb closing it.

This is the gospel for all of us.

Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 12.05.58 PM

Like the amputee who still feels pain in his phantom limb, I feel the trepidation of misdirection and mis-decision. I made so many poor decisions in the past year and a half that the choice-making part of my brain feels incapable of going straight in any direction.

On January 1st I will sit with my journal and Bible and ask myself the list of questions I ask every January 1st. I will take stock and inventory of 2014 and look toward 2015 with a hope-filled eye. (God, make it so.)

A friend sat across from me the other day and asked why I can’t just get excited about this new season. Life is about to grow crammed with a new job and classes, plus the things already cramming it full and brimming it over. Yet I feel the phantom pains of the missing limbs: the marriage that didn’t happen, the move that didn’t happen, the date that didn’t happen, the conversation that didn’t happen. I have no regrets and I know the gangrene growing on those limbs would have eaten the whole of my body alive. But I feel the loss of them still.

To say those words, right out loud, feels shameful and sinful.

The things for which I am grateful are overwhelming, but they all came at great cost this year. This is perhaps the first time I can look systematically at good and see how it was brought about by death first.

. . .

This morning I read in Isaiah 11, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse.” Tears fill my eyes and I can’t keep reading because I see the stump legs and stump arms protruding from my person. All I see is cut off limbs, life interrupted, and it wasn’t supposed to be like this.

From that stump, though, comes a shoot. And from that shoot comes fruit.

All week I have been meditating on what it means to be cut from and pruned. I have done the work of pruning before, cutting branches that do not bear fruit so they will bear more and better fruit. I know the difficult work of taking what is live and making it live better. But I cannot bring life from a stump, I cannot make a dead and severed thing live again. This is the work of the Spirit alone.

On that fruit the Spirit of the Lord will rest,

The fruit that is borne in me through Him will be wholly His, not mine.

the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,

He has ultimate wisdom for every path in my life, and full understanding of the details.

the Spirit of counsel and might,

He is the one with words of comfort and strength. His advice directs me, and his power carries me.

the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

He knows all and is King over all.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see

He will not fret on January 1st at the year to come.

or decide disputes by what his ears hear.

He does not hold the past year against me. He keeps no record of my wrongs.

. . .

I once had a dream in which I arrived at Heaven with no arms and legs. When Christ asked me, “Child, what made you like this?” I answered, “You said, ‘If our hand offends you, cut it off.’ Every time I looked at my arms and legs, all I could think of was the harm they’ve done to myself and others, so I either cut them off or served with them until they fell off.” I do not know what Christ looks like, but I will never forget the care I saw in his eyes in that dream. It was perhaps the first time I felt the love of a Father. He touched the stumps of my arms and legs and gave to me new ones, but they were not mine and this was clear to me. They were wholly un-of me and wholly of Him.

This is the shoot that comes forth from death. Christ.

God, make it so.

design (7)

I’ve been in Israel for the past ten days with hardly even a moment to jot down notes about my time there. In the meantime, all sorts of people were publishing words and phrases I put together anyway. The show runs fine without me. What a relief, right?

Screen Shot 2014-12-02 at 1.25.49 PM

If you’re a Christianity Today subscriber, you can read my short piece from the magazine online:

For most of us today, the endgame is simply to survive. Survive the family dynamics, the financial constraints, the season, and then sweep up the wads of wrapping paper, tear down the tree, and sit down with a glass of wine and declare Christmas “Finished!”

I was interviewed by the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood on singleness in the church:

It isn’t that he’s given the gift of marriage to others, and I’m the giftless kid in the corner. Today my gift is singleness. There’s a rhetoric in Church culture that assumes every single is waiting to be married, which may be true in some respects, but it doesn’t help us to treasure these days as the gift they are. In order for us to know these days are a gift, though, we have to see singles being utilized as they are, not waiting for a future version of them to materialize through marriage.

The Gospel Coalition reprinted this on ways to encourage your pastors (and families):

Not only will you never hear me say anything bad about one of my pastors (a single honor), I labor to speak well of them and to them every chance I get (a double honor). I want them to know I appreciate their investment in me, our church, the Word, and gospel initiatives.

. . .

Hope something from one of them encourages you. After this week I plan to land at home for the foreseeable future (this fall has had me gone more than I’ve been home), and hopefully that means I’ll be writing with more regularity (or at least better quality…).

 

I drive home tonight with the snow coming full at me, like swimming in the solar system. You know it if you’ve driven in it, coming down fast, coming down full, laying thick. It’s so beautiful it takes my breath away, I get dizzy at its beauty. But the road is ahead and it slinks long and dark and the snow lays thicker and my tires take me home to the stone house over the bridge on the hill by the river.

I grew up driving on these roads.

Not really. I grew up in southeastern Pennsylvania. That’s where first steps and lost teeth and history tests and high school graduation happened. But it was on these roads that I grew up, that I came into my adulthood, that I lost faith in everyone and God, Him too. And it is these roads that I find myself back on, so at home, so full of faith in God and still not in everyone, or anyone.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

A friend and I drove on these roads for so many hours today. Heated seats in a snow ready Suburu made the drive more than bearable, almost enjoyable. We talked about the kingdom and the gospel and faith and planting churches and love and life and hard conversations and good ones. He dropped me off at my car in Potsdam tonight and hugged me tight and I nearly cried and I’m nearly crying now.

This place is so known to me and I am so known here. I know its cracks and crevices, its hills and valleys, real and metaphorical. I know its roads and turns and I anticipate them by rote. The anatomy of here is home and my anatomy is home here.

I am not homesick for here anymore than I am homesick right now for my very own bed or home in Texas, or anymore than I am homesick for heaven, really. Heaven is just the place where we are surrounded by those who love most—and it is not us that they love most, but this is why it is the safest place of all. That kind of love transcends this horizontal home.

But I leave my friend and weep on the way home, diving headfirst into the Milky Way of snow, gulping up the north country air that smells of woodsmoke and cold and snow—which is a scent I cannot describe even if I try. I weep because coming here reminds me to set my sights on something better than the flurries in front of me, but on the long road before me.

It is a long way home and we are all so far away still.

Maranatha.

The groaning of earth is heavy this Advent season. I drove yesterday weeping while All Things Considered played the solemn ringing of bells that sung for 26 lost lives a week ago. Washington DC was a deep bellowing bell and Hampstead like the sound of silverware in a wooden drawer, Lansing was mournful and Sandy Hook was musical.

I wonder about the bell maker from that church in Sandy Hook—did he know that a hundred years after he cast those molds his bells would ring out the memory of six year olds?

______________

I am grateful for the Mayans and not their strange magic or numbering systems, but their calendar and their prediction of the end of the world so nestled between the tragedies of 26 families and the jubilant Christmas morning of a million other families. I needed all this talk about the end of the world, not because I believed a word of it, but because I need the weight of the second coming heavy on me. I needed it to bring order to my misplaced priorities and misappropriated mourning.

Some say that the joy of Christmas is in the youngest faces, in their expectation that what they asked for is under the tree, wrapped in paper and bows. Some say one cannot fully appreciate the season until you have children and sometimes I believe them. But not always. Because the longer I live, without children, without distraction, the depth of Christmas makes room for the truest expectation to be present. I have not prepared room in my heart on purpose, but it is there, in the void of so many other things, there is room in my heart for heaven and nature to sing. For heaven to call and earth to groan back: Come, Jesus, Come.

______________

Last night in an old warehouse in Dallas, amidst pine trees, white lights, and a room packed full of so many favorite faces, we closed an evening of song with a Come Thou Long Expected Jesus/Joy to the World medley and I stood there in the back row and closed my eyes, breathing deep the scent of wood, fir and firelight, the stuff of earth, ready, waiting, groaning.

Let earth receive her King.

256212666270356321_kdZgo3kA_c

It’s hard to know that it’s Christmastime here in Texas. The cold is gentle, the rain soft, the ground bare, and I have not set anything under the tree. There are gifts to be sure, but they’ll be dispersed through the year. The candlelight service at church helps; we hear about the Advent Past Advent Future, a thousand candles are lit and our faces glow. It feels like Christmas then, for three songs and ten minutes.

A friend and I sat across from one another for a few hours after church. We are not the hiding sort and we both confess first thing that Christmas is hard when you are 31 and single. I don’t mean to ask for pity here, Christmas is hard for any number of reasons for some of you and Christmas is everything wonderful for the rest of you. I just mean, at this juncture in our lives, Christmas is hard to bear. We talk about the already and the not yet, we talk about the incarnation, God in flesh coming down to us, we talk about the holy, the hush, the goodness of God and how difficult we make things for ourselves.

There has been one song on repeat for me this week because it is about uncertainty, even amongst certainty.

There is a tension we live in that reckons us broken over and over again because we know the end of the story, but we’re still living out the story and it is the living that is hard.

Tonight my campus pastor taught about how the first Advent, the coming of God incarnate was only half the story, but how we often times live as though it is the whole story. We forget the second Advent. We long for it, but forget that it’s coming.

We forget that what we do in the hush of today is holy in heaven because of what He has done and what He will do.

I come home and light a fire, some candles, put my song on repeat.

I want to live in the tension, but I want to live in today too. I want to know that it’s His love for my today that brought the first Advent and it’s His same love for my tomorrow that brings the second. But I want to know that even though it does not feel like Christmastime, it is today and today is enough.

Tonight the earth stands still, all over it, there are families stopping and gathering and celebrating something.

Tonight I’m celebrating that I do not know what tonight will bring, but I know it is full of promise because He kept the first Advent and I eagerly wait for the second.

I wake this morning to the sound of rain pounding on our back porch. I lay still and listen. I guess it’s fitting that the weather would be inclement today. It’s probably snowing at home. And I’m sure it’s icing in more places. Inconvenient to the holiday travelers.

This week I think about inconvenience.

Not the stuck in traffic or the grocery store is out of your cereal kind of inconvenience. The dramatic kind, the sort that interrupts your day or your life with news you never expected or always dreaded. The “Mary, virgin, you’re going to have a baby” sort of inconvenience.

So many times I wonder, checking the tenderness of my heart, “God, do you mean this for me? Now? This thing for this moment? Couldn’t it be later? Better? More? Less? Anything but?” Even joy feels inconvenient sometimes. I want to hang on to the apathy or fear because it feels more comfortable there, more fitting for a kid as disappointing as I am.

I think about this all week: why is virginity so important for the mother of Jesus to possess? I think all my life I have assumed that the reason for her virginity was because only purity can beget purity and this might be my Catholic heritage hanging on a bit. December 8th, my birthday, falls on the Day of Immaculate Conception I’ve always been told–perhaps I am destined to think about such things. To me, this woman in white and blue is the epitome of purity, the only picture of what God requires from those he can use.

I realize recently how contrary to the gospel that thinking is.

And I may speak heresy here, forgive me, I’m still stumbling around these truths.

I think God could have used, just as easily, a stained and worn woman, a broken and cast aside girl, someone with a story of sins a mile high, and he did. They are written there in the lineage of Jesus—Rahab and Tamar, near Leah and Bathsheba, women who strung the threads of sin into their story, who bought their impurity at the hands of deceived men.

This morning I land on this: it was not her virginity that prized Mary above them all, she who was not sinless, who had committed sins of fear and envy, disobedience and untruth. She was not holy and this was not her reward, this Inconvenient Conception. It might have been any girl in that lineage, at any time. Her child was not the reward of her purity, He was the result of the miraculous.

And this is the only reason why an impossible conception was hers.

I think about that this morning. I think about the inconvenient things, the broken things, the difficult things, the ways I have worked for honesty and purity and faith and sometimes seen no reward. I think about how God does miracles in the middle of impossible situations and surprises the world with his methods. Not as rewards (His grace is more beautiful than a system of that caliber), but as proof of His goodness.

I weep on that. As this year closes out, as I think about how faithlessly I have been and how brokenly I have lived. I think past regrettable ways I have acted and unfortunate things I have said. I process the reward I have now, this almost inconvenient peace (or at the very least, unmerited peace).

I think to myself: Thank you Father, that you do not always save the best things for the best behaved, thank you that sometimes you choose us on the merit of the miracle alone.