On December 26. 

I wanted to write something exquisite to you all for Christmas.

Something that would give your heart pause and infuse the beauty and miracle of the season with my best, most moving prose.

But I kept coming up empty.

I couldn’t figure out if I had writer’s block or if I’ve just lost the spirit of Christmas.

But then I realized, Christmas has more often than not felt bittersweet for me. I’ve always had a difficult time reconciling the glitz and glee with the brokenness and need of not only my heart, but the hearts of everyone in the whole world.

Take the other day, for instance. If you didn’t know, I am a registered nurse. I’ve been practicing for over 20 years now on busy medical/surgical and pediatric floors where pain and worry don’t stop just because there’s tinsel strung across the halls.

We had a hot breakfast with our team and enjoyed laughter and fellowship in the middle of a playroom filled with toys to distract sick and yes, sometimes dying, kids. 
Later that afternoon, Santa came and ho-ho-ho’d and grinned his best grin from under his fluffy beard. He brought his elves and a sack full of goodies into every child’s room, the pink in their cheeks belying, if only for a moment, their pain. 

We ate chocolate at the nurses’ station as the first drips of chemotherapy flowed into a newly diagnosed patient’s veins, while across the hall a team thrust a chest tube into the side of a baby who couldn’t–or wouldn’t–breathe without it.

Christmas is a human invention, and maybe we do need a little of it, as the song goes, to distract us like toys in a playroom from our dying selves.

But the problem with Christmas is December 26. 

December 26, when heartache is real again, when brokenness is as torn and wide open as the empty boxes under the sagging tree, when the lights dim and the night…is…silent.

The problem with Christmas is that hope doesn’t come with tinsel and lights and bells and songs.

Hope comes…

…with mercy, like a chest tube allowing a sagging lung to reinflate.

Hope comes…

…like the slow, imperceptible drip of life-saving medication into a patient’s arm.

Hope comes…

…in the darkness where tears stream down a mother’s face as she struggles to console her fevering child.

Hope comes.

Oh, how it comes.

Just not where we expect it.

*****

 

Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this?The servant grew up before God—a scrawny seedling, ascrubby plant in a parched field. There was nothing attractive about him, nothing to cause us to take a second look. He was looked down on and passed over, a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand. One look at him and people turned away.

We looked down on him, thought he was scum. But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us. We thought he brought it on himself, that God was punishing him for his own failures. But it was our sins that did that to him, that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins! He took the punishment, and that made us whole. Through his bruises we get healed.

~Isaiah 53:1-6 (TMV)

 

*This post was originally published in my author newsletter. If you’d like to be the first to see devotionals and articles such as this, you can sign up for my newsletter in the right hand sidebar of this blog. 

What will you call Him this year?

I have a friend who’s an amazing poet who says this Advent has felt much more like Lent.

I don’t know about you, but I feel the same way.

I’ve been overwhelmed this season with the number of friends who are suffering…who have lost friends and family…who are struggling with sickness and despair.

I’m overwhelmed when I see the lonely in hospital rooms…the bruised tormented…the broken crying for relief…the voiceless told to hush.

I struggle because I fear I cannot write about joy without writing about pain. I don’t know if I know how to have one without the other…

…but maybe that’s the point.

What is joy except for the release of despair? What is pain but the reaching for hope? What is loneliness but for the cry for embrace?

What is Christmas but at once the spectacular arrival of a promise and the anguished gift of an only son to a dying world, sent to feel our pain, to hear our loneliness, to drink our despair, to embrace us in the exhale of his last breath?

And so on this Christmas Eve I don’t have answers. I only have a question:

What will you dare call Him?

If you’re happy will you call Him Lord?

If you’re lonely will you call Him Emmanuel?

If you’re desperate, will you call Him Savior?

If you’re a child, will you call Him Friend?

If you’re downcast, will you call Him Hope?

If your life is one battle after another, will you call Him Prince of Peace?

If you’re confused, will you call Him Counselor?

If you’re chained, will you call Him Freedom?

If you’re wandering in darkness, will you call Him Light?

If you’re silent, will you call Him a Song?

If you’re weak, will you call Him Mighty?

If you’ve been broken, will you call Him Justice?

If you’re weak, will you call Him Warrior?

If you’re dying, will you call Him Life?

He is all these things and more, dear friend. My gift to you this Christmas is a prayer…I pray that Jesus Christ meets you in the place in your soul that has no name, no words, no hope. I pray you call on Him, whatever you want to call Him most. He is and can be your Everything.

Listen close, past the bells and choirs.

Look far, past the lights and sparkle.

He is here.

Emmanuel.

God with us.

Alive.

Merry Christmas, friends.

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“Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever…The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine. You will enlarge the nation of Israel,and its people will rejoice. They will rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest and like warriors dividing the plunder. For you will break the yoke of their slavery and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders…For a child is born to us,a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity.”
Isaiah 9:1-7 (NLT)

 

A buzz kill for the holidays: thoughts on the truth of Christmas.

I lost it in my favorite store, Hobby Lobby, this past Saturday.

I only went there to get some ribbon, but I left with a bad case of Angry Elf.

The place was swamped. Shoppers huffed and puffed when someone stopped–Heaven forbid–to take a second look at an ornament or garland or wreath instead of offering a polite, “Excuse me.” I’m pretty sure at least two toddlers had skid marks on their foreheads from the cart wheels of patrons who ran over them on their way to the burlap aisle. Cell phones rang and wallets jingled and people pushed and clawed and shoved and growled, even as they threw Nativity sets and Christmas cards and smiling snowman ornaments into their overflowing carts.

Buzz kill: Humanity has turned the whole season into a drunk fest, and too many are ostracized from the party.

I have a thousand reasons why the holidays trigger my anxiety and depression and make me feel like a dried up, prickly old Frasier Fur ready for the mulching machine. My husband and I have/had people in our extended families who make Princella–a character in my novel, How Sweet the Sound–look friendlier than a Teletubby. Surviving and spending more than a decade working to heal from abuse is one thing. Being made to feel like you’re responsible for everyone’s holiday misery because you believe in breaking generational cycles of pain is even worse. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of my own stuff. So many others carry so much more.

Can we not?

Can we just not pretend

like Christmas is Normal Rockwell and Burl Ives and The Carpenters (although they, in particular, are my favorite) already?

Can we not expect

broken friends and family to behave the way we think they ought to this season in order to assuage whatever personal hangups hide beneath those expectations? And can we not expect so much of ourselves, either?

Can we think

before we send perfect Christmas cards and accomplishment letters touting whole, intact families to people who’ve lost children or spouses or health over the past year? Or to folks who never had any of that in the first place? (Read Kay Warren’s poignant message about how much this hurts, in case you think I’m being harsh.)

Can we, for God’s sake, remember

that

Christ

came for the dying, not the living,

for the ugly and discarded and not the Pinterest perfect

that

Emmanuel

is with us in our pain and not our sparkly decor

that a day

a season

a holiday

does not for one minute turn lies into truth

or broken into whole

Can we not?

There is nothing attractive about our choruses and glitter

Nothing silver and our sleigh bells can do to hide the cacophony of chemo dripping into cancer veins

No amount of holly we can haul out to cover the downtrodden, hurting, and lonely

Indeed,

the Eternal

labored itself into flesh

for

the broken

for

the forgotten

for

the dull and discarded and dying.

The Prince of Peace

didn’t need a chorus of angels or a shiny star or a barrage of wise men bearing fancy gifts.

He only needed a trembling, terrified teenage girl

people thought was a slut

because she conceived

open palmed

the Son

of man.

The Lamb of God

only needed to know pain

to bear ours.

The Holy One

only needed to be misunderstood

to be a Savior.

The Lion of Judah

only needs us

this season and always

to come to Him.

Not to the mall, to the party, or even to the table.

Are you broken?

Give Him your pieces.

Are you dying?

Press yourself into his broad-shouldered love embrace.

Are you a mess?

He doesn’t wait for us to be perfect.

In fact, the whole reason He came was for the uninvited, the unattractive, the passed over, the misunderstood, the suffering, the mourning, the hurting, the grieving, the hiding, the ones who have nothing to give–like the song in the video below says–besides a stone cold vacancy, a trembling soul, a heart on its knees before the Holy One.

Christmas is born in you,

chosen for you,

a Bethlehem,

a promise

for you.

 *****

*****

The servant grew up before God—a scrawny seedling,
    a scrubby plant in a parched field.
There was nothing attractive about him,
    nothing to cause us to take a second look.
He was looked down on and passed over,
    a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand.
One look at him and people turned away.
    We looked down on him, thought he was scum.

Isaiah 53:2-6 (TMV)

*****

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