the wonder of Christmas
a wonder for the world
it delights and surprises
it expands and includes
it wraps and comforts
it invites and pursues
it embraces and nurtures
hope is here
walls of division collapse
there is no one left out in the cold
oh come, o come Emmanuel
I experienced a Facebook first over the weekend. I made the decision to delete a post to end the heated comments. The comments had veered off topic and the thread disintegrated into back and forth political opinions. I realized that even though I left the discussion, folks were still going to continue to comment and it wasn’t going to be pretty or productive. In fact, there was a high probability that the words written were just going to cause pain and/or anger. So after I tapped out, I made the decision to tap everyone else out too! Sorry, not sorry!
In case you don’t know this about me, I tend to be a conflict avoider and more of a “can’t we all just drink coffee and get along” kind of person. 🙂 I have friends on both sides of the aisle and I love them all dearly, despite our political differences.
A couple hours later, I decided to share about a dream I had the night before. I had been thinking about it off and on all day. In my dream I was trying to remember my mom’s phone number in order to call her and being so confused as to why I couldn’t remember her number. Then, it suddenly dawned on me that I couldn’t remember her number because she hadn’t been alive for years and years. The grief I felt when the dream me finally “woke up” again to this reality felt so real and raw. And then…I woke up.
This morning, as I thought more about these two contrasting Facebook posts, I realized that I find more “enjoyment” talking about death than debating politics! I would much rather share and discuss the pain of love and loss than engage in (or provide a platform for) back and forth unproductive political posts. I would much rather my Facebook wall be filled with discussions about missing and grieving our loved ones than filled with political viewpoints. The former I find a strange kind of profound and productive beauty in, the latter, not so much.
I’ve been thinking quite a bit about Peter this weekend. His “humanness” resonates deeply with me. One day he is telling Jesus that he would never deny him or leave him and would even die for him… and then another day we see him so fearful that he does exactly the thing he said would never ever do.
Can you relate?
We profess with our lips that Jesus is our King…but then, every single hour of every single day, that faith is tested in a thousand different ways and we deny Him with our actions. Sometimes in big dramatic ways, sometimes in small and seemingly insignificant ways.
After my mom died when I was 18, I ran away from the Lord. Even though I had professed Jesus as my Lord and Savior as a pre-teen, I spent the next decade of my life turning down the volume on His voice and doing life the way I wanted to do it. When this prodigal daughter finally came running home, I kind of felt like Peter.
Prior to leaving Him, I never thought it would have been possible for me to veer so off course…to abandon and betray the lover of my soul. But I did. And like Peter, I was broken by this Love that still desired to be with me even though I had left Him. He had never stopped pursuing me, had never given up on me, would never walk away from me like I had walked away from him and had waited for me to turn around and run home again.
I love the scene after the resurrection when Jesus cooks Peter breakfast and asks him…”Do you love me, Peter?” multiple times. I can see this scene play out in my mind so vividly. Any time I think about this scene, it brings me to tears too. I can see Jesus asking me that same question after each and every one of my royal screw ups. “Eileen, do you love me?” Yes, Lord, you know I do. Then feed my lambs. Take care of my sheep. Feed my sheep.
Another thing I love about Peter is the boldness that came over him after the biggest screw up of his life and after this encounter with the resurrected Jesus. We see him preaching fearlessly, even to the point of being arrested. His detour away from the Lord was used to glorify God. Peter was more determined than ever to share the love of Jesus with everyone…despite the dangers of doing so. We even see the Lord use him to bring the Good News of salvation to the Gentiles…the outsiders:
“Then Peter began to speak: “Now I really understand that God doesn’t show favoritism, but in every nation the person who fears Him and does righteousness is acceptable to Him. He sent the message to the Israelites, proclaiming the good news of peace through Jesus Christ—He is Lord of all.” Acts 10: 34-36
The longer I’m on this faith journey, the more I realize that one of my desires is to never get it so wrong as I did when I turned and ran away for a season. I don’t want to profess Him with my lips and then turn around and deny him with the way I live and falling short of full devotion. I want to feed and take care of His sheep.
I love this quote from Craig Greenfield:
“Jesus has taught me the holiest places to be:
Eating with the outcast.
Sitting with the grieving.
Standing with the oppressed.
Walking with the marginalized.”
“It is central in the biblical tradition that God’s love for his people should not be forgotten. It should remain with us in the present. When everything is dark, when we are surrounded by despairing voices, when we do not see any exits, then we can find salvation in a remembered love, a love that is not simply a wistful recollection of a bygone past but a living force that sustains us in the present. Through memory, love transcends the limits of time and offers hope at any moment of our lives.” Henri Nouwen
I read this short devotional this morning and it made me think of three things in particular.
“It is central that God’s love for his people should not be forgotten.”
I immediately thought of Hebrews 10:23. I claimed that verse (or maybe it claimed me 🙂 ) years ago as my life verse. “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess because he who promised is faithful.”
My favorite word in that verse is “unswervingly” I think if you are holding onto something with a grip that firm, then you are less likely to forget it. I need to remember that, because there was a time in my life when I forgot…which caused some reckless swerving around before I eventually crashed.
“When everything is dark, when we are surrounded by despairing voices, when we do not see any exits…”
This took me back to a season of sweet surrender. I was sitting on my back porch and reading Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians and the truth of this promise swept over my heart. “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (1 Cor 10:13)
At that moment, it was like God was making me a promise, that I could hold onto for the journey: There is always a way out. I am the way out. Trust Me. The journey was far from easy, but He was true to His Word. That exit did exist.
“Through memory, love transcends the limits of time and offers hope at any moment of our lives.”
Memories have become so precious to me and maybe Nouwen’s quote explains why. In many ways, they are the catalyst for love to transcend the limits of time. I think grief and the loss of loved ones in our life teach us to understand more fully how beautiful this transcendence of time really is. At any given moment, we can remember that love again. At any given time, that love is reaching out again and again. At any given time, hope is being offered. Grab hold and never let go.
That last thought made me think of a verse from an old song by Regina Spekter, The Call. The song was made popular because it was featured in The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian movie. I went back and listened to it again this morning. I’ve always loved the following verses. I think of how so often hope is not something we can see yet our memories some how help to make that which is hidden visible again.
“Now we’re back to the beginning
It’s just a feeling and no one knows yet
But just because they can’t feel it too
Doesn’t mean that you have to forget
Let your memories grow stronger and stronger
‘Til they’re before your eyes
You’ll come back
When they call you
No need to say goodbye”
“But, first, remember, remember, remember the signs. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs.” Aslan, The Silver Chair
Fall is my favorite season. I walked outside the last couple of mornings and the first thing I noticed was the smell of fireplaces burning. This smell, mingling with the brisk cool morning air is one my favorite combinations.
It’s hard to put into words the contentment that flows over me whenever my senses step into this scene. Yesterday, as I walked up the street, I tried to put it into words. It reminds me of a particular season in my life filled with getting up again and starting over. As scary as starting over can be, there’s this beautiful simplicity about it that I find strangely inviting. The surprising beauty I stumbled upon in that season of scary uncertainty is something I will cherish forever. It was a gift that I didn’t deserve. It was a loving embrace that I could never repay even if I tried.
As I was writing these words the song The Heart of Worship came to mind.
“When the music fades, all is stripped away and I simply come…”
That’s the feeling that sweeps over me when I step out my front door and into the fireplace/brisk morning air combo. Grace. I breathe it in again.
Lord, Your mercies are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness.
“Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable.”—Matthew 13:34
My favorite T-shirt is one I bought several years ago at the Storyline Conference I attended. On the front it simply says Story Matters.
In the verse above, I love the reminder that Jesus used parables all the time in order to convey and illustrate the message he came to teach us. He knew we would retain information better if it wasn’t just a list of facts.
Story, and the pictures they give us, help to bring important lists to life.
Jesus, the teacher, didn’t just command crowds to do this or to not do that as he taught them how to love. Instead, He gave them school pictures to store in the wallets of their minds and hearts and to carry along with them on their journeys.
Want to know what I mean when I say love your neighbor? Here’s a picture.
Want to know what I mean when I say love your enemy? Here’s a picture.
Want to know what I mean when I say take care of the poor, the widow, the oppressed, the outcast, the marginalized? Here’s a picture.
Want to know what I mean when I say welcome the stranger? Here’s a picture.
This morning, as I thought more about all the stories Jesus shared with us to help us on our journey to love others, I had this thought:
Those pictures are still in our possessions. It’s time to take those pictures out of our wallets again, to study them again, to retrace each image with our index finger, and remember.
Toe the line.
I thought about that phrase the other day and realized something. The more this incredible level of divisiveness continues in our country, the more I’m compelled to
gravitate towards run full speed towards the marginalized.
Speak up for the people who have no voice,
for the rights of all the down-and-outers.
Speak out for justice!
Stand up for the poor and destitute!” Proverbs 31: 8-9
I had an image come to mind the other day as I pondered that phrase, toe the line. I was standing at an actual line and I decided to step across the line. Before doing so, I folded up the lawn chair that I had with me and carried it across the line too. Yet, crossing the line wasn’t enough. I ventured away from the line and into the center. I then plopped my chair down next to a campfire and people were sitting all around the fire chatting cordially with one another. The only thing I knew for sure as I saw this scene play out in my head was that I felt at home there…sitting around that campfire…away from line…that’s where I belonged.
When I think about the ministry of Jesus, I think this is what makes Him so attractive. He didn’t toe lines. Instead, he came to erase the lines everyone seemed to be drawing.
I keep going back to this cartoon drawing I saw several months ago. Jesus came to erase the lines and all the safe and comfortable boxes that we tend to draw.
And yet, even as Jesus took the lines away, there was never any question where He stood and who He stood with:
the marginalized, the poor, the outcast, the broken, the prodigals, the weak, the forgotten.
I want to get rid of lines too. Yet, I want there to be no question where I stand and who I stand with:
the marginalized, the poor, the outcast, the broken, the prodigals, the weak, the forgotten.
I want to sit around a campfire with Jesus, much like the one he made for Peter and John on the morning he made them breakfast after his resurrection.
Jesus had every right that morning to give Peter an earful about how wrong he had been and how royally he had screwed up. But, he didn’t. Instead, his response was…
come, pull up your lawn chair and sit with me, eat some breakfast with me.
A safe place to scream. This idea has been rolling around my heart and head for a couple of days. It’s similar to a safe place to share but on a deeper level, a more vulnerable and even more transparent level. I thought about this because 1. I recently read a great article about taking our anger to God. 2. Any time I read a Psalm where David expresses anger and hate, I’m struck by how many different emotions I have as I read his words.
On one level, I’m uncomfortable. His words are full of hatred; he admits that he wants no grace or mercy shown to his accusers. He just wants them to “get what they deserve.” Yet, at the same exact time I feel discomfort, I also feel a sense of comfort and encouragement. Psalms like Psalm 109, 137, and 58 reveal to us that anger (and all the human reactions that go along with being angry about injustices or evil we’ve observed or have personally experienced) is normal and even permissible.
Yet, anytime I read Psalms like these, I can’t help but think about how David may have been received today if he were to express this level of transparency in his weekly small group. Can you imagine? Basically, his heart was crying out…”I want my enemies to die. I want them to suffer.” Would he have been received with love and acceptance after sharing this level of vulnerability in his small group in this day and age? Oh, I want to believe so…but I’m not so sure.
I’ve been a part of plenty of supportive, vulnerable, and beautiful groups over the years but it’s been rare for me to see a group consistently hit this level of vulnerability and “safe”. I think back on my days being part of recovery meetings like AA and CR. I found it most often and most frequently in those spaces. I guess that’s to be expected when every single week you are there to address and heal from hurts, habits, and hangups.
I share all this to simply say: I’m so thankful for the foot of the cross. I’m thankful that there TRULY IS a consistently safe place to take our anger, a safe place to scream. I’m thankful that David modeled this so well for us too. At the foot of the cross, we can kick, scream, and confess the cries in our hearts/souls and, when we are done, Jesus’ love for us and His desire to be with us has not diminished in the least! And it’s because of His grace-filled reaction towards us and His relentless desire to walk with us even through seasons of anger…that we can’t help but fall deeper in love with Him.
While walking my dogs this morning I began thinking about one lesson I seem to be learning over and over again with regards to worry, anxiety, and over-thinking. Really wish I could learn this lesson once in life and be done with it, but I’ve reached mid-life and I’ve yet to master the art of never worrying.
When my mind spins endlessly on anything in particular, I eventually arrive at that place where I know I have to release it in order to find peace. Lately, when I finally do get to this productive crossroads, I even go so far as to say it out loud.
Okay, Lord, if there is something that needs changing, would show me what it is or, better yet, would You just go ahead and change it? Lord, if You need to take something away in order to make room for what’s best, would You do that too?
For some reason, whenever I pray this way, the weight lifts and peace arrives.
Unclenched fists. If I had to wager a guess on what this journey through life is primarily about, I think learning to live with unclenched fists will be the big picture takeaway.
Everything important seems to revolve around this posture of open hands.
You can’t give without this posture.
You can’t receive without this posture.
You can’t grow or heal without this posture.
“I reach out for you. I thirst for you as parched land thirsts for rain.” Psalm 143: 6
“But love your enemies, do what is good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High. For he is gracious to the ungrateful and evil.” Luke 6:35
Of all the things Jesus says in scripture, this has got to rank up there as one of the hardest messages to embrace. Our pastor included this passage in his message today.
Not sure why he had to go and do that. 😉
At best, most days, I’m doing good if I simply tolerate my enemies.
It’s verses like this one that have a way of humbly reminding us that we fall short every single day of loving others like Jesus does.
This morning, it was the last sentence that caught my eye and the one I jotted down in my notes.
“For he is gracious (kind) to the ungrateful and evil.”
Take a moment to think about that for a moment.
Time and again, Jesus modeled to us how to be gracious to the ungrateful and evil. I think about how he washed Judas’ feet even though he knew Judas was about to betray him.
I think about how, on the the night he was arrested, he reprimanded one of his disciples for turning towards violence and wounding one of the guards who came to arrest him. Jesus didn’t have to take the time to restore the guard’s ear, but he did. He displayed kindness in the face of evil. Jesus extended second mile grace in that moment. He could have just voiced his displeasure with his disciple for lashing out, but instead, Jesus took it one step further, he healed and restored his enemy.
Do you ever wonder how that one moment may have impacted the rest of that guard’s life?
Do you ever wonder if that guard, because of that one act of love, may have ever one day changed his mind about Jesus? (Yes, I think about these kinds of things.)
This was also the last recorded miracle mentioned in scripture prior to the resurrection. Miracles were extraordinary acts of love and the last recipient of this act of love (that we are privy to) was an enemy.
We don’t know the rest of that guard’s story. But I do know this: When people encounter the personal touch of Jesus and his love…people are always left changed in some capacity. Always.