I love you. You’ve taken me places I would never have gone. You’ve given solace when I was alone. You kept me from other versions of self-harm. Your offer of ice cream and peanut butter was better than cutting my arm open. You kept me safe. So, thank you.
Thanks for being around. Thanks for staying the same when nothing felt stable. Thanks for not judging me but just accepting I was in front of you again, looking for solace, comfort, peace, approval, when I couldn’t find it anywhere else.
You did more than your job. You’ve been working around the clock all these years. You’ve been pulling more weight than you needed to. I really appreciate that. Thanks for your efforts and your time. Thanks for your company. Thanks for the hits of pleasure. Thanks for the ride salty and sweet and of fat and umami. Thanks for the out of body and mind experiences—these were quite the trips, right? The approved drug of choice for a good Christian girl. Once again, you rose beyond the call of duty.
So, here’s my release to you, dear Food. You no longer have to work so hard for me. I’m better now and improving every day. Please take a vacation. Go see other friends. GO back to your intended job. Overtime hours aren’t good for you or me.
I’m not firing you, nor am I kicking you out of my life completely. I love you, you know? But I’m letting you go back to your proper place. The place of nourishment, of joy, and of community. I don’t need you in the dark anymore, because I have friends in my life. I don’t need you to take me out of my body anymore because my body is good and strong and beautiful, just as she is. I don’t need you to numb my emotions anymore (thank you for this all these years) because feelings are okay for me to have. They are welcome in my life.
I have room for the largeness of myself. I just needed to reclaim it. I have space to love and to be loved. I have the right to this space. I deserve kindness and joy and light. Yes, I also want to have the wine and the chocolate and the cheesecake and the pizza. But I will also feel sad and lonely. I will also allow anger its place. I will feel hurt and speak up when I am. I will allow myself the effervescence of joy and the bubbliness of laughter.
To all of it.
Someone once said that God could have created us to live without you, Food, but the fact is that He did not. So, here’s what I am asking of you. Please nourish my body. Give her vitamins and minerals that she requires. Give her tasty experiences at mealtimes which satisfy her hunger. Show up at family gatherings and holidays and birthdays. Put your best foot forward. I’ll cheer you on. Me, in this body with all her flaws and imperfections. Me, fully myself.
Thank you so much for all your efforts on my behalf. I’ve got it from here. I’m not alone. Take a break from your extra duties. I’ll see you around.
My dad told me this story about my grandparents and their interactions with farmworkers in the 1960’s. My grandpa would hire workers during the summer months to help with baling hay or weeding out fields.
Some of these workers were African Americans.
It was a standard practice of farms during that time to have the hired help sit outside on picnic tables instead of inside the kitchen with the family.
My grandmother staunchly opposed this practice. She always invited every person inside to sit at the table to eat and to rest.
“They’ve worked just as hard as everyone else,” she would say.
Both my grandparents believed every person deserved dignity and equality.
Everyone had a seat at the table. Everyone was heard.
This is the visual that I hold in my heart when I think about interacting with people from other backgrounds, religions, races, and creeds.
They are working hard like me. They have a family like me. They have dreams and goals like me. They want to live in peace and freedom like me.
Something else troubles me, though, in light of recent events in the United States, and in retrospect to other events which have consistently occurred in my country for years.
It is the thought that people of color are actually working harder.
They have to think about how they look wearing a hoodie pulled over their head.
They have to take extra precautions when driving.
They second guess going for a run.
They feel unprotected in society.
The list could go on and on but I won’t pretend I know every fear that my brothers and sisters as African Americans, Latino Americans, and Muslim Americans experience.
They have their own voices; it is time for me to listen.
When I need an example of how to be around people, I look to Jesus. In His time on earth, before He said any words, He listened. People knew that about Him; that’s one of the reasons they flocked to Him. The marginalized, the under-dogs, the outcasts, the misunderstood—those are the ones who followed Him and who gathered around His table.
The rich and famous and privileged certainly didn’t like it when He broke bread with people that society disapproved. Jesus didn’t care what they thought of Him. He called for justice, for truth, and for mercy.
I agree with Jesus. It is time in our country for justice, for truth, and for mercy. Clearly there are roots of racial prejudice that run deep. My country has to change. Until every person is treated with dignity, respect, and grace, the work isn’t done.
It is time for privileged to invite the disadvantaged to the table where there is plenty.
It is their turn to be heard. The privileged need to step back from the microphone.
“Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In order for me to understand, I have to listen to the voices of those around me.
My brothers and sisters deserve, as children of God and as Image-bearers of the Divine, to have a space in this world to dream, to speak, and to feel safe.
It’s time for them to stop working so hard.
And it’s time for the privileged to do the work instead.
When I was little, my family and I had to drive through one small village in Germany in order to reach the other small village where we lived. Along the winding road through the first village was a row of rough-hewn doors carved into the side of a rounded hill. When we would pass these doors—which seemingly led to nowhere—at night, I would feel a surge of fear. What was behind those doors? Were there ghosts dwelling there? Is that where the living dead would come out as I’d see in the (truly terrifying) movie, “The Night of the Living Dead?”
I made up various stories in my young mind about these doors. Where they led. What their purpose was. What was kept in their lairs. All of my reasons were spooky and hair-raising, be assured.
Turns out, they were root cellars.
A little boring perhaps, but practical in reality.
Inside those cellars, items were stored for another season. Possibly some things were forgotten. Maybe neglected equipment. Perhaps a lost pair of gardening boots. I imagined that the farmers in charge of those cellars were simultaneously pleased and dismayed each time they surveyed the contents behind those dark doors.
Still, it seems to me, as I put my over-active imagination to rest, those cellars provided usefulness to the farmer. They provided a place for storage that otherwise wouldn’t have been available. When the time came, whatever season it was, the farmer would descend, and ascend, bringing up whatever he needed to the surface. Useful, outdated, rusty, neglected. All of it was cataloged. All of it noted.
The image of an old and dark cellar is prevalent in my mind as the last eight weeks inside my house has surfaced a wide assortment of emotions, tools, and experiences.
A quarantined life isn’t something I planned, nor did any other person on the globe currently. It is a trial by fire situation. I recently joked to a friend that I am the grumpy person in a trial as I don’t often react in the most shining way. “I don’t want to grow!” I lamented to her.
In the Biblical story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Book of Daniel, Chapter 3), the three friends refused to bow to Nebuchadnezzar’s god and subsequently get thrown into a fiery furnace. The Son of God joins them. They escape the fire. The king recognizes the One and Only God.
But if I had been in the fire with those guys, I know I would have been the worst and the most vocal about it. “Really, Shadrach? You just had to spout off to the king? Come on, Abednego, couldn’t you have used your diplomacy to smooth things over? No, you didn’t, and now we are stuck here. And I’m HOT. And this was my FAVORITE robe, and now it’s BURNT.”
What I’m saying is that while sometimes tough circumstances lead humans to rise in glory and sacrifice, for other humans, trials uncover traits that are neither noble nor valiant. This time has driven me to consider the items inside my old, dirty cellar. One by one, they are getting dragged out into the light of day, exposed for their true essence.
Like it or not. Here they come.
Anger has arisen its wild head. Anger with “Why is this happening to us? Why is this sickness ravaging our world and wreaking havoc on good people?” Anger at not wanting to teach my kid on an iPad. Anger at myself for getting snippy with the people I love the most. Anger at the lack of self-control I experience. Anger at injustice for the least of these in my community and my nation.
And then, sadness marches up from the darkness. Hello, she says, I’m here for you. You know me, I help you cry and cry. until you have nothing left. I lend you the feelings of despair and hopelessness. I lead you to believe that nothing will ever change. Things will never improve. Do you want another cookie with your tears?
Shame parades its flag over me. Shame over the my fumbling to balance work and motherhood. Shame about rough spots in marriage, of uncertain finances, and a faulty body image. Shame is screaming in my ears, “You are never enough. Look, this time of hardship is only proving it.”
Next to the surface: unforgiveness. I realize that I am holding onto old hurts, past wrongs, and grudges against people that need to go. I certainly didn’t want to see this one, but behold, here she is—drug up the broken stairs from the deepest parts of my heart.
Craving for approval looms large. I almost can’t fit it up the stairs to meet the light. My longing for someone else to stamp a seal on my God-given callings wrecks me. It is an illuminating realization to see that my worth has been wrapped up in the idea of how much I can put out into the world and how much will someone else praise me.
Out into the daylight, all of these emotions and experiences are laid bare. There is time now to consider them. I have long mornings of reading and writing as I no longer have a commute to my job. There are the quiet evenings at home with my boys. I don’t think I had slowed down in my life for long enough to let the deepest parts of myself rise within me prior to this season.
But now, they are here. I am evaluating what to do with them. I’m opening up my heart and mind and soul for the work of the Divine light to change me, to burn away the outer cover-ups (yes, even if it was my favorite robe), and to mold me into a more whole-hearted human.
Let me be clear too, this time away from a regular routine, social gatherings, and even my church, has not only surfaced the busted trappings of my life. It has also revealed some very good and useful items as well:
Contemplation during the morning hours, getting to know my inner being with God
Sitting with my emotions and feeling them in all their wildness
Teaching my son to read, realizing that I do have some skills as a teacher
Playing games with friends via a silly app called Ticket to Ride and knowing I can maintain connections with the people that I care for
Hanging out with our neighbors via yelling across the street or sitting on our front lawn while they sit on theirs
Realizing how good I have it and knowing in my core that I am called to give and to serve to the best of my capacity – yes and beyond my capacity
Rediscovering a love for playing music and dancing with my son
Keeping a deep, abiding passion for Jesus Christ and Him Crucified and developing a crazy love response to His teachings
The ability to rest
Capacity to love myself and my family
Cultivating peace in a storm
Dreaming up big dreams
These are all valuable pieces inside my cellar. They are the well-worn bits, reliable and sturdy, which I have taken for granted during the busier seasons. I love each one. But the most revealing idea to me in this time of isolation has been that the other stuff needs attention too. Maybe I don’t want to let them have the limelight all the time. Maybe they aren’t the greatest communicators of truth. Some of them will get kicked to the curb. But they all exist for a reason. They all deserve a place.
Each element—good or bad or neutral—plays an important role in creating my complete self. This wild and wonderful and unpredictable person called me. The one who needs grace. The one who has things to say. The one who wants to love and be loved. As Jen Hatmaker so eloquently phrases in her latest book, Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire, “We need you, not for what you do but who you are. Do the work and show up for your life.”
Around my state of Colorado, stay at home orders are getting lifted, but there is still much uncertainty. We don’t yet know what new routines look like. We can’t see around the curve. But we are somewhat resuming the run-of-the-mill life again. Businesses are reopening. People can gather in small groups. Calendars suddenly have appointments.
While a quarantined life may be in the past, what was uncovered during its enforcement still lives inside me. The work still needs to be done. Whether it is the work of tempering anger, freeing unforgiveness, starting a new project, or nurturing a big dream, the heavy lifting must be done. As Charles Kingsley said, “Have thy tools ready, God will find thee work.”
I’m sharpening the tools – even the rusty ones have a purpose.
I’m reminded of Jesus emerging from His 40 days in the wilderness. This wilderness experience happened just before He started His powerful ministry. Was He changed inside out? Did His true values come out? Was He shaken from His encounter with Satan, with pride & ego, and with questions about His calling? Maybe He was. But He moved forward with grace and hope, knowing Who He was and what His purpose was in the world. If anything, He left the time alone with greater resolve. He wasn’t afraid of any evil threatening Him. The Divine in Him was greater than any Evil. The work of His Father remained paramount. He stayed ready.
My time spent in this dusty root cellar shall not be wasted. As I emerge from its damp and dusty surroundings, I hope I stand in the sunlight, letting it flood my entire being from soul and heart to body and mind. There is work to do. Another season is upon me. I need every tool I can find.
Whole-hearted living awaits.
My robe’s a little burnt but that’s okay.
The cellar’s contents are teaching me and molding me.
The letter was three pages long. For weeks, I had waited for it, longingly checking the mailbox, anticipating its arrival as though it were announcing the Queen of England was coming to visit.
The year was 2001. I had graduated from High School and was enrolled in a college-level Creative Writing Course via correspondence with the Christian Writer’s Guild. At 16, I had graduated early and didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. Except I knew one thing: I wanted to write.
The course arrived in a giant binder. It was split into weekly readings and assignments. I eagerly dove into the first week, quickly wrote a short story, and mailed it off for review by my Instructor, Norman.
The waiting was unlike anything experienced by most people today. 19 years ago, I had no email, no social media, no texting. My only link to my far-off instructor was a mailing address to a P.O. Box. I waited impatiently, filling up pages of a journal with nervous notes about his anticipated response.
And then, it came. The letter with the three pages of feedback.
Feedback that wasn’t great. Feedback that didn’t tell me how awesome my writing skills were. Feedback that hurt.
As I finally came to the end of the missive—dear God, would Norman never be done ripping apart my story?—, he jotted this sentence.
“You have some good lines here.” -Norm
Blinking back tears at the stinging criticism of the prior paragraphs, I folded the letter and went back to my desk to rewrite the story. Norm’s words echoed in my heart. He saw the good lines. He leaned into my potential. He spurred me on with both truth and encouragement.
I only wish he had started his missive with that sentence.
This idea of good lines has haunted my days over the last month. As the pandemic of COVID-19, a new type of virus, has overtaken the world, its effect has been devastating on countries, health care systems, and families. My social media accounts are flooded with statistics of rising deaths across the United States, Great Britain, Italy, Switzerland, Spain…. My email is packed with alerts from restaurants, my local movie theater, and my local gym, informing me of ways to help their laid-off staff. Grocery store workers just look exhausted and pale. Parents are overwhelmed with working from home and homeschooling kids. Travel is cancelled. Concerts postponed. Plans are dashed.
I read an article that blamed President Trump.
I scrolled through a Facebook post that said it was God’s wrath.
I heard about an angry mob who beat up an Asian man because all this started in China.
We are not short on bad news from all sides these days.
The hope for anything good seems to be waning.
One of my verses for 2020 is from Colossians 3:14, from Eugene Patterson’s The Message translation. Saint Paul wrote to persecuted Christians: “And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic all-purpose garment. Never be without it.”
Never be without it. No matter what is going on in your life, let love cover it.
Love hides imperfections.
Love embraces the hurting.
Love includes everyone.
Love lifts us up when we are torn down. Love conquers, protects, and instructs.
Love calms complaints. Love encourages. Love steps up to help when others need it.
Love does the hard work.
Love always brings up good lines.
My husband and I recently completed a 5-week training to become foster care parents. This training was the first step in many to complete a certification process. We spent 6 hours, two nights a week, holed up in a small classroom with about a half-dozen other participants talking about logistics of placing a child, biological parents, trauma and a child’s brain, and sexual abuse. The trainers left no stone unturned. No topic was off-limits. Honesty abounded. One of the issues we discussed was the inner dialogue that children carry around in their heads. The trainers referred to this as a child’s “Invisible Suitcase”. These kids may show up to our door with a trash bag full of their clothes, or they may show up with no clothes or belongings at all. That is heartbreaking all on its own. But under the surface, there exists bulging baggage of beliefs.
“It’s my fault.”
“I’m not good enough.”
“No one loves me.”
“I’m alone. I can only rely on me.”
This hit home because I know what that inner dialogue has looked like in my own head for too long. I’ve been keeping a journal since I was 12 years-old, so I have a wealth of inner dialogue. Some of my own snippets on repeat in my head have been:
“Danger lies in thinking you are something when you are nothing”.
“I want to believe I am valued but I know otherwise.”
“I am the only one who is experiencing this pain.”
“Does God really care about me?”
These phrases indicate a deeply rooted belief system that I had built internally over the years. Imagine my surprise when my therapist later told me other truths. Truths like, “God isn’t requiring anything from you” and “You can forgive yourself for all the times you think you have screwed up.” and “Grace is for you too.”
These phrases were better beliefs to carry around with me.
Over the last few years, I’ve learned to build up my environment with pillars of truth on the strong foundation of love. Sure, some days, all I can see is the old script—the one that wants to blare itself loudly in my internal sound system. But mostly, I’m listening to the good lines. These truths are spoken over me by the community I have built up around me. I know there are people around me, full of faith and love, who are willing to text me, call me, or even run across town to pick me up when I’m on the floor in tears.
I’m grateful for them.
As I ponder this in my life, I wonder, now, where I am giving out the good lines. How is my belief system impacting how I respond to the world around me? In this time of crisis, I don’t want to bombard my social media pages with bombastic rhetoric and trite phrases. People need honesty and vulnerability right now, not solutions. I’m not saying words of love will heal someone’s lungs or give medical staff more personal protective equipment. Words alone won’t quell the fear raging across our neighborhoods. Fear of sickness. Fear of job loss. Fear of the unknown. Fear of death. Over the last few weeks, what we have been carrying around in our invisible suitcases now appears visible for everyone to see. Fear brings out our truest selves.
So, how does all this tie together? The words from Norm. Foster care kids out there. COVID-19 ransacking our world.
I’m not sure.
I’m not sure of anything these days.
If love is my basic all-purpose garment, then it calls me to action. Just as Norm’s ill-placed sentence all those years ago sent me back to write, so does Saint Paul’s better-phrased words deploy me to do something. In the midst of the tragedy around me, I’ve seen goodness erupt…
In the form of:
People skilled with sewing machines sewing masks for medical professionals
Gym members still paying dues so gym employees get paid
Hotel rooms provided for medical staff who get sick but can’t go home, lest they infect their families
Teachers learning on the go how to remote teach their students, including students with special needs
My church helping other churches broadcast an Easter sermon
My neighbors saying, “We’ve got toilet paper—do you need some?”
Talk about some good lines to share.
So, here’s what I’m challenging myself to do. I’m going to work on shutting up with the complaints about working from home with slow internet speed and having to homeschool my 5-year-old (who is also hungry every 5 seconds — dear Jesus, help me.) I’m going to temper the frustration of no gym, no movie theater, no coffees with friends, and no church gatherings. All that energy will be channeled into finding good lines in all this madness. I can pray. I can give. I can answer text messages. I can be available instead of hiding away.
I’m not saying I will succeed at this challenge at all.
This is not easy. For any of us.
But I see hope peeking over the shoulder of a dark demon. Hope shaking its fist at fear and saying, “Not on my watch.” Hope stirring me up to something new. Hope rooted in the fact that resurrection morning is coming. It’s not that far away.
Say something good. Do something good. Be tender as our invisible fears are now in full view. Be the one someone else can count on today. Create good lines for the benefit of those around you.
In this time of social distancing, let us remember we are not solitary eagles. We are designed for community. We are wired for connection. Yes, we should take precautions and live with wisdom. Yes, we should wash our hands extra times. Yes, we must take care around each other. But we must remember: we are not alone. We are in this together. The sickness that is taking over our precious world is not the determining factor in who we are nor need it dictate who we become. Maybe, as we go through this together, we might learn how to be kinder, softer, and less judgemental to other humans. This sickness is no respecter of persons but we ought to be. Friends, be creative in connecting with each other via technology. Call someone. Text someone. Skype. Facetime. Disinfect yourself, then see a friend face to face. We are not the lone bird. We are a flock. We should all soar through this stormy sky side by side. Grace and peace and love, dear friends.
It’s still dark outside. No morning hues have yet streaked the sky. I hold a cup of strong, black coffee. I sit in the recliner next to the fireplace. I open up my latest book, “Wondrous Encounters” by Richard Rohr. I read. I think. I pray. I listen. The puppy curls on my lap. This is my new pattern as of this week. It takes about 10 minutes. For me, the readings and reflections have signaled the start of the season of Lent. That, and the lack of Starbuck’s since Wednesday.
I am not Catholic, or of any faith that typically observes the Lent season. But if my brothers and sisters in faith will allow me a measure of grace, I have adopted this season. I started four years ago. I give up Starbuck’s because I love it and because in the cold winter months, I drink entirely too much of their warm lattes and steaming Blonde roast. I like to stop on my way to work for a cup. The baristas are cheery. The lobby is cozy. And the view of the mountains is a calming backdrop to the chaos of most of my mornings. This year, instead of simply giving up something, I am adding something else in. I am not merely sinking into a deprivation mode of not having my favorite caffeinated beverages. I am looking to focus my heart and my mind on a bigger picture. A grander purpose. A new thing that is about to spring forth (Isaiah 43:19). I like seasons. Spring, winter, fall, summer–each serving their purpose in moving the Earth forward in its growth and beauty. But season’s, for me, are not only about weather patterns. They are also about sacred times and patterns of life which need observing. The season of pregnancy. The season of education. The season of illness. The season of Christmas. The season of potty training. The season of lack of sleep. The season of service. The season of rest. Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes 3, “To everything, there is a season,” echo in my head as I write these words. I’m full of joy that God created seasons—both on the Earth and in human traditions. The Lent season signals for me impending changes. It reminds me to reflect on Christ with me in suffering and sorrow and Christ with me in the resurrection and hope for the future. By giving up something I love, if my mind then drifts to that particular pleasure, I redirect it to the true pleasure of my soul: Christ in me, the hope of glory.
To help in the redirection, I have added in the quiet time. While I have long read scriptures in the morning and held prayers times, this year, I have no other goal or agenda except to enjoy it. I want to sit at Christ’s feet and do nothing. I want to be Mary who chose the good part that wasn’t taken away from her (Luke 10:42). Sure, after the 10 minutes of time, the rush of the day will start. My son will debate with me over breakfast choices. The puppy will likely eat a tampon from the trash can. My mouth might utter a few uncouth words. I may send a cryptic, annoying text to my husband who will be frustrated by the mystery of it. Traffic will likely annoy me. Work task and school assignments will assail the quiet I’ve tried to achieve. And all of this is part of it. The ebb and flow. The give and take. In thinking of Jesus and the events surrounding His last days, he enjoyed a supper, a song, and a serene garden…then there was a beating, a Cross, and a death.
Only then, after the calm and the chaos, came resurrection.
For me, I feel the point of the season is preparedness and remembrance. When Jesus sat at the Last Supper with His disciples, He raised a cup and broke bread. He urged them to remember. He reminded them of Who He was and what He was going to do. New life was coming.
Lent is a season to realign my heart with the heart of my Father. It is a time to pause. I’m remembering the old things and preparing for the new ones. I am remembering how God rescued me from poor decisions…. How He showed up in my times of darkness… How He paid bills I couldn’t pay… How He was there, weeping with me, when I grieved loss and loss and loss… How He heard my cries of loneliness and gave me friends and family… How He snatched me from an unhealthy job and planted me in a place of work that is fulfilling… How He heals my mind over and over as it races with anxiety or clouds over with depression.
These remembrances fill my heart and soul at 5 a.m. as I sip my black coffee and my puppy snuggles on my lap. After the remembrances, I move into preparing. This year, I am preparing for the changes in my family as we open our home to foster a child (or two.) I’m preparing the mounds and mounds of paperwork involved in this process. I’m preparing for college classwork as I look ahead to graduation in 2021. I’m preparing for my next writing project. I’m preparing for some traveling to Texas in April and May. I’m preparing for my son to move into 1st grade in the fall. I’m preparing for more hectic schedules, an onslaught of family events and achievements, and the whirlwind that constantly swirls a full life. I’m preparing for God to do something wondrous in my heart that I haven’t even thought about or planned for.
Remembrance and preparations. Both are important. I can’t stay forever in remembrance only. I run the risk of becoming a stagnant saint. Nor can I rush recklessly ahead in preparing for the future and forget the richness of the past. This season calls me to incorporate a balance of both. It is not an “either/or” outcome. It is “both/and”. This season is for me to be at the feet of Jesus before I rise to walk with Him in fresh paths of grace and mercy. I am inhaling His oxygen before an exhaling God into the souls around me. If my soul is not tended to, then I will be a useless vessel for His Spirit. Lent may mean something else to another person of faith. Perhaps I haven’t captured its essence here. (After all, I am frantically scribbling these notes on my phone before my next appointment.) Lent may hold little significance to others who only see it for its legalism or restrictions. But, for me, during the next 6 weeks, Lent is calling me to my Father. I’m practicing the peace, the calm, and the presence of God. I am leaning into this season, thankful for all He has done. I’m wondering what He will do in the future. What new thing will He do? What lesson will He teach me? How will His love change me again? I’m drinking it all in. I’m enjoying His presence. I’m clinging to His promises when I don’t understand everything that is happening. I’m maintaining a firm hope and clenching grasp to joy.
Resurrection will come.
Meanwhile, I’m remembering and preparing… At 5 a.m. With a cup of coffee in my hand. And a small puppy at my feet.
Two strands of white Christmas lights are still hung inside my house. A strand above the fireplace. A strand above the dining room window. Last week, I took down our Christmas tree while Thomas boxed away the inflatable Santa Clauz who rides an armadillo. Seven boxes of Christmas paraphernalia were stashed away above our garage in anticipation of the next season.
Except these two strings of lights.
I simply won’t part with them.
The Winter Solstice, which is the shortest day of the year, occurs on or around December 21st each year. After this event, daylight slowly, slowly, slowly, begins to lengthen its effect over this side of the equator. In addition to more daylight, January in Colorado tends to be sunnier and warmer than other winter months, as though the mountains are giving us a brief glimpse of spring to come. But even with these two elements on my side, traditionally, depression rears its head against me during the month of January.
There are varied reasons, I believe, for the onset of the disease. I’m usually 5 to 6 pounds heavier from the over-indulgence of the holiday season. I’ve lost my rhythm of the gym because of the busy holiday schedule. I’m reviewing credit card statements, thinking, “What was that charge? I don’t remember spending so much on Amazon?” No special events fill the calendar. Family and friends have returned to their regular routines of life. And to top it off, the lights and decorations that adorned many homes and business around my area are mostly gone. The high of the holiday season typically swings into a low mental state combined with an uneasy feeling that something isn’t quite right.
Because, after the distractions of the busy season, I then remember the son who lost his mother at the holidays. I see the young children who didn’t have a gift-filled season; I note the mother who lost her baby. I reflect on the couple who now must figure out how next holiday season will be split between their newly separated houses. I hear of the dad who lost his job before Christmas and still hasn’t found a replacement. I listen to the explosive political environment and the rumors of war; I read about the refugees in my city who are experiencing homelessness and prejudice because of their skin color and ethnic background. I empathize with the friend who is also suffering from anxiety and depression. I recall the stories of the kids in the foster care system who are desperate for someone to care about them even if it is hard.
In January, it seems like the darkness wants to take over.
That’s what hits me hard. Right in the gut.
Without the darkness of our unique experiences in life, what place would the light even have? The light needs the darkness, and the darkness is lifeless without the light. In Genesis, the first book of the Bible, the Spirit of God moved upon the waters before the light even came. God was working in the darkness just as much as He would later work with the light. The light doesn’t negate the pain. It doesn’t gloss over the experience. It doesn’t make me pretend that all is well when it is not. What the light does is call me to truth. It says, “I see you – all of you. I love you. Come closer.”
Directly before Jesus spoke His well-known words, “I am the Light of the World. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life”, he rescued a woman caught in adultery from being stoned to death by an angry mob. Talk about a dark moment in her life. She walked away from the crowd, unscathed but going back to face the outrage of her family, the gossip of her neighbors, and the loneliness of a scarred life. In the wake of her retreating footsteps, Jesus called out these hope-soaked words.
These words are the inspiration for keeping up the Christmas lights. The lights are small flickers of hope against the darkness that can shroud everyday life. They are beacons to expose the darkness for its true nature and gentle reminders that all is not lost when all I see is hardship and pain and all I feel is hopelessness and loss. They remind me that, I too, am called by Jesus to be a light to the world more than once a year. “Your lives light up the world. Let others see your light from a distance…don’t hide your light! Let it shine brightly before others.” Matthew 5:14, 16 (TPT) I’m called to love, to rescue, to do as much good as possible. I’m called to combat poverty, racism, homelessness, abuse, climate change, and inequality as much as I am able. I am called to listen to the voiceless, stand up for the victim, and huddle close to the down-and-out.
Above all, I am called to frame the darkness with light. I’m called to cry from the rooftops, “All is not lost. You are not forgotten. You are not forsaken. All is forgiven. Love covers it all! Come close, you are welcome here!” (Okay, maybe I won’t stand on the top of my slanted roof and yell this to the neighbors because no one needs that kind of nut on their block. Still, you get my meaning.)
Beyond all the rush of the holiday season, the onslaught of depression during a cold winter, and the overwhelm of troubles in this world, there is hope. That hope is the Light of Life, the Prince of Peace, and Immanuel—God with us. God with us in triumph. God with us in trial. God with us in financial troubles, in prison, and in divorce. God with us in health and in sickness. God with us in loneliness and sorrow. God with us in joy and in laughter. God, the same One who moved on those dark waters so long ago in Genesis and boomed out, “Let there be Light!”, is with us even now.
No matter what comes our way.
When I was little, I remember listening to the radio on long car rides home from churches where my dad had been the guest speaker. The hum of the car’s motor would make me feel drowsy as darkness fell across Indiana farmland. I would long for my cozy, warm bed and soft pillow. Then, I would hear Motel Six’s commercial chime out to the backseat where I sat, squished between my two older brothers. “Motel Six: We’ll leave the light on for you.” In the oddest of ways, I would feel comforted. Somewhere, out there in the wide, scary world, a light was on. Usually, after this, I’d fall asleep.
Now, as mid-January already approaches, and 2020 marches on, at my house, we are combating the darkness with prayer and love and grace. We are also including a tangible reminder of our calling.
Disco lights flashed on the ice rink. Skaters of all ages and sizes floated, zoomed, or shuffled past my son and me. The two of us held hands as we attempted to glide gracefully along the ice. Our glow bracelets, compliments of the Ice Centre, encircled our wrists, making us feel both cheery and brave. Together, half slipping, half sliding, we made it halfway around the rink’s perimeter.
Then my son fell.
And so did I.
The wind left my lungs with a decided “oof.” Rafael started crying. I rolled on the ice, comforting him, “It’s okay, buddy. You’re ok. I’m ok.”
We clumsily got to our feet, attempted to reclaim our balance, and moved forward along the ice.
We fell again. The domino effect hitting me the hardest. I landed on my left hip once again. Rafa asked me, “Mama, are you okay?” Gathering all the mama-strength within me, I gritted out, “Yes, baby, I’m fine.”
We left the ice shortly thereafter. Glow bracelets in hand. Smiles on our faces. A deep throbbing ache in my hip.
I ignored the fact that it hurt. Chalked it up to living life.
Two months later, my body stopped working properly on runs, then at the gym, then during my lunchtime walks. It was time to take action. I went to physical therapy. After four months of physical therapy, my hip still wasn’t improving, so the doctor scheduled a cortisone shot.
As the long needle pierced my skin, and I felt the pain race through my entire left side, I decided ice skating might not be for me.
I wonder, at times, if I had paid attention to the throbbing ache sooner, if my hip would have healed sooner. I wonder if I had allowed myself to be okay with the fact that I fell, would I have taken better care of my body? I wonder if I’m falling in other ways now, but not letting myself recognize the fact that I have fallen, that it hurt, and that I need to heal from those falls?
I wonder if I am preventing love from doing its most sacred work in me because I am too busy or too proud to let it?
We all know what it means to fall. We watch the skaters in the Olympics as they triumphantly churn out perfectly practiced routines, only to miss their step, and wipe out on the ice. We chorus, “oh!”, together, and then we shout at them, “Get up, get up!”
We want them to keep going, to move on, to power through.
And that is exactly right. Moving on and keeping on going is vital.
But what I want to notice is that fact that sometimes we fall. Sometimes we mess up. We make mistakes. We trip up on the path.
I want to acknowledge that this happens while we are living life. It’s called….being human.
It’s only when we accept the fact of the screw up that we can make it right.
It’s only when we acknowledge the fall that we can start to heal.
In my formative years, messing up was never taken lightly. I was not raised among those who shared Brittany Spears cavalier attitude (“Oops, I did it again”) to mistakes. As a pastor’s daughter, my actions were watched and evaluated at every turn. Heaven forbid, I misstep. Mistakes mixed in with the concept of sin. I was terrified of sinning and separating myself from a holy God that I couldn’t give myself grace when I was simply being a flawed human. Author and Franciscan monk Richard Rohr says, “No one walks a straight line of grace. It is a dance.”
A dance with lots of falls.
Too often, though, we keep dancing without an acknowledgment that something happened. Someone hurt us. Or we hurt someone. Words or actions were exchanged. But healing cannot occur until our place of injury is acknowledged
After Jesus died on the Cross and rose again, He met His disciples on a sandy beach. He fed them breakfast. He exchanged words with Peter in particular, questioning him repeatedly. “Do you love me?” was the refrain. I am sure Peter was embarrassed, or even frustrated, by the Savior’s questions. Peter knew he had denied Christ. He knew he had failed the Lord. And now, Jesus was battering him about the depth of his love.
But underneath that echoing phrase, “Do you Love Me?”, was an unfailing, undying love for Peter. In my mind this is why Jesus kept asking the question. Peter may have expected a reprimand. Instead he got love again and again. Jesus was gently and firmly calling Peter back to Himself, back to his true calling, back to the arms of love.
That is what Love does. It calls us back. It covers our failures and wrongdoings. It propels us forward. We may have a limp or a few scars but we are whole in its embrace. Maybe we won’t reconcile a relationship or forget old hurts, but we will acknowledge what happened. We will feel the hurt, the anger, the betrayal, the fear.
In the Old Testament, as Moses, the great leader of Israel, was about to die, he said, “The Eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” (Deuteronomy 33:27).
We will rise. The Everlasting Arms will pull us back up — bruised egos, wounded spirits, sprained hearts, and all. We will dance again.
In 2020, I will let love’s strong arms support me….
While I do my work as a paralegal and writer….
While my husband and I pursue foster care….
While I figure out family and friend relationships……
While I parent my son….
While I live as generously as possible…
While I try to be a faithful follower of Jesus.
Falls will happen. Mistakes will occur. I will make blunder after blunder. I will recognize them, acknowledge them, and see them for what they are. Because, I know, the height and width and breadth of divine love will catch me.