A Post-Christmas Meditation

It is the day after Christmas, and all is {finally} calm in our house.

The busyness and anticipation is over, and we are settling back into normal. There is no rushing around today. The kids continue construction of Legos and practice with skateboards. New books will be cracked, movies will be watched, and we will re-learn how to slow down.

The whole world moves on today, but I am stuck on Christmas Eve.

We live fairly close to The Morse Museum, which houses the largest collection of Tiffany stained glass anywhere in the world. On Christmas Eve, I drug our family to the Morse for 30 minutes of culture and a four-piece string ensemble.

During our quickly-paced tour, we passed by one window I found beautiful but somewhat common. The youngest asked who it was, and I guessed maybe Abraham and Isaac? We moved on to see other pieces but came back around as we were looking for the exit. That is when I saw the title.

“Christmas Eve.”

christmas-eve

Christmas Eve window, c. 1902
Mable Nast Crawford house, New Rochelle, New York, c. 1911–present
Leaded glass
Tiffany Studios, New York City, 1902–32
Designer: Thomas Nast Jr., 1866–1943

The power of the depiction fell on me heavy with awe and ache. It is the night before Christmas, and God the Father is holding the son in which he has great delight. He is savoring a last few precious moments before sending him into the world. The Father knows what awaits. He know the suffering the Son will endure.

My heart breaks.

Never have I thought about the ache of the Father on Christmas Eve. We experience Christmas with such incredible joy and anticipation. And surely those were true for the Father, as well. But not one time have I thought about the pain of sending his son.

And so, as Christmas moves past and normal returns, I linger. I linger in this moment where a father holds his son and looks at him with a full recognition of the separation to come. I feel the delight of him holding his only child in his arms while also anticipating the pain of the moment when he will have to send him away.

The love of the Father overwhelms me. In this picture it is not sterile. It is not distant or stuffy. It is tender. And it hurts.

On this first day post-Christmas, I am praying we continue to be struck by the very real and powerful love of a Father who would send his son to be flesh. I am praying I remember the tenderness of a moment captured in stained glass far longer than our tree stays up or the tinsel hangs around town.

A belated Merry Christmas to you, friends. May the awe of what happened on that first Christmas continue to move your heart. And mine.

Advertisements

The Day I Wanted the World to Stop

It was a week ago today I got the text.

“It doesn’t look like he’s going to make it.”

A few hours later came an even harder one. “We’re getting ready to say goodbye.”

My breath was gone. I couldn’t seem to process what I had just read. No. This was a horrible mistake.

Then the sobs came. Deep, heaving sobs. My kids all rushed to me, and I could barely get the words out.

“He’s gone.”

It might be the first time my kids have seen such devastating grief. They knew our friend too, but time had lessened their pictures. It had not lessened mine. They were so sweet to sit with me as I wept and pray with me for our friend to be ushered into the Kingdom with fanfare and rejoicing and love. We prayed for the very first time he would see the face of Jesus.

Deer

Plans were made, and 36 hours later we were on a plane headed to be with a grieving wife and kids. We wanted it all to be a bad dream, but if it wasn’t, we would walk through the unbelievable alongside the family who had shared three years of our lives. We had created so many beautiful memories together. We would walk thru the hard too.

We landed in a bustle of planes, in the middle of a city swirling with life. I watched families gather their bags with anticipation. I saw a workforce moving like any other day.

And I wanted to scream, “Don’t you know our friend just died?!?”

I wanted the world to stop.

I wanted everything to stop and recognize the loss of a deeply good man. A husband. A father. A friend.

How could the world still be spinning as usual? It had all come to a screeching halt for us. I was mad life was carrying on like normal for so many.

We spent two and a half days in the sacred reality of death. We held a family tightly. We spoke words that often aren’t said until moments like this. We looked at pictures and remembered so much good. We laughed.

We played cards and waged Nerf battles with precious kids who are far too young to be without a daddy. We listened, and we loved.

We wept. We wept for our own hearts, and we wept for those were left with a devastating new normal.

And then we honored a life very well lived. It was an incredible privilege.

The world did not stop. It kept whirling around us, and it will keep on going.

My world is different now though. It is sweeter, and it is deeper. My heart hurts so badly, and yet I would not trade it. I am so thankful for the chance to have loved, even if it means we say goodbye.

There was a day not long ago where I would have worked hard to not feel the pain I now know. I would have thought it more than I could handle.

I do not choose that anymore. I choose to feel. I choose to feel deeply in joy and in grief. I choose to feel alive.

We won’t ever forget the days and years we had with a really good guy. We won’t forget the adventuring or the respite he provided. We certainly won’t forget the food and wine we savored together. Love allowed us to share our lives with each other, and it was good. Even now, it is very, very good.

Goodbye friend. We rejoice for the glory you now see. We know there will be a day when we will share wine with you once more. We long for it.

To the Well-Intentioned

I know you mean well.

Really, you do. You desire to be a voice of encouragement and hope.

But sometimes well-intentioned words can feel the very opposite of hope and encouragement. They can heap shame and condemnation.

I know my hard can be just as confusing for you as it is for me. I get that you don’t know what to say. I often don’t know what to say either. Most of the time I don’t need answers though. I just need your presence. I just need to hear you say you care about my pain.

CoupleBack

To the well-intentioned who said, “Thankfulness is the answer,” I know you were trying to help. I know you wanted good for me. A thankful heart didn’t make depression go away though. Your words made me wonder what I was doing wrong because as hard as I tried to be thankful, I couldn’t escape my darkness. They also made me question the validity of what I was feeling. Was I not suppose to feel that depression absolutely sucked? Was I to be thankful for the imbalance that made me feel I was going crazy? I can not bring myself to fake being thankful for that.

To the well-intentioned who said, “You’re over-spiritualizing,” I know you wanted health for me. The only thing I had at the moment was God’s presence with me. In saying I was putting too much comfort in that, you robbed me of the only strength I had. You made me question my experience of God and my utter dependence on him. That did not bring me health.

To the well-intentioned who told me, “Maybe God is withholding His presence so you learn to depend on people,” I know you wanted me to experience the joy of community. I know you wanted me to lean on the Body of Christ. But in saying that, I began to doubt God’s goodness. Why would he withhold his presence from me when I needed it most? I struggle still with fearing the emptiness of God’s silence.

And to the well-intentioned who said, “God must have a lot to teach you,” I have wrestled for years trying to learn my lessons to bring relief to what threatened to swallow me. I know you were looking for a silver lining on a dark cloud, but the pressure to get it “right” so the lesson would be over has pulled me even deeper into the crazy. Your well-intentioned words were condemnation to my desperate desire for the darkness to be lifted.

Simple answers rarely comfort complicated questions. If an easy answer made our hard better, hard would not bear the weight it does.

Please do not hear I am not grateful for your desire to lighten my darkness. I want that desperately too! I know your intentions were for my good. What I want to share is a caution against putting the hard of life in a box. It just doesn’t fit.

Our nature is to try to make life clean and pain contained. After months sitting with the relentlessly hope-speaking counselor, I am at peace with my boxes having been stripped away. I spent so much energy trying to shove my darkness into something I could understand I had no energy left to feel what I needed to grieve.

I know you might be uncomfortable with your own hard. That’s ok. Know that words can be powerful though. They can bring life or they can bring death. Please don’t risk my vulnerable mental health to protect your own fear of life outside the boxes.

I know you mean well. Really, you do. Sit with me. That speaks I’m not alone. Let me cry and rage against my own limitations. That speaks I’m not too much. Hold me when I fall apart and put your hand on my shoulder when words don’t come. That brings comfort I long for.

Be with me. Let me see your eyes feel. I need only to know someone sees my pain.

 

The Man with the Tattoo

I wish I knew your name, my friend.

You sit down near us in a sea of people, and I am immediately drawn to your story. A tattoo under your right eye jumps from your face, but I can’t distinguish the word it says.

At first you appear a traveler like the rest of us. A heavy olive jacket to keep you warm, a knitted skullcap covering your head. Your large red suitcase showing its years of use sitting next to you.

We sit next to one another at Grand Central in the place where the masses gather to catch a meal or just pass the time. As I blow to cool my tomato soup, you eat too. But you are not a traveler like the rest of us.

GrandCentral

Your meal is in a can. Do you eat cold soup tonight? Or are they beans? You eat with gratefulness, and I am grateful with you.

We sit just feet apart, and everything in me wants to ask you your name and listen to what brought you here. How did you get to this place? What is the word stamped on your face? What does it tell of your story?

You turn to your giant red suitcase, the one packed with all you own. Right there, in the middle of Grand Central Station, you had brought your entire life. You rustle for a moment and then seem content to just reorder.

On the night we sit, it is cold outside. Hot soup warms our insides as layers and scarves warm our skin. Your jacket is not made for this weather. Maybe that is why you are inside. You wear well-worn black Asic sneakers. They are old with scuffed leather and look one size too small. You wear them without socks on this chilly night.

Friend, do you have socks? Does your red suitcase carry warmth to cover your feet?

We sit longer still. You because there is nowhere to go and me because I can’t seem to leave your story behind. I wonder what your name is. I want to hear how you got to this place. What pain do you carry on this night?

You suddenly begin an animated conversation. You talk to the empty chair across from you with passion. And you begin to rock.

As you talk and rock, you push up the sleeves on your worn olive jacket. More tattoos are revealed, and you bear scars. Are they the marks of one seeking healing through the highs of a needle?

Does a needle drive you now, my friend? Are you here but lost in euphoria? I see your eyes, and they look present. I think you are here. I think you see the fullness of reality.

You rock and talk and then you seem to disappear. Where have you gone and what madness has hold of you?

I think of where you’ll sleep tonight, and I hope you’ll be warm. I hope the night takes you to a place where you are known.

I pray joy for you. I pray for someone in your life to bear witness to your suffering. I pray you would know the comfort of human touch and the love of someone who cares about your very precious story.

I pray you would know how deeply you are loved by the God of the universe. He sees you, my friend. He grieves the pain written on your heart. You are worth more to Him than all the silver the world can hold. You are so, so valuable.

God knows your name. Not just the one spoken once by your mother but your true name. He knows you fully.

I can delay leaving no longer. I have to go. I won’t forget this night in a train station in a city I do not live. You have not even seen my face, but I am the one who will pray for you the rest of my days. I will not forget your dark, tattooed face. I have seen you.

And I wish I knew your name.

 

 

Leaving Christmas

Twinkling lights filled our home as I left. We spent the morning pulling out boxes and putting up memories.

The tree showing off our years of life together limps this year. Several branches of light have turned dark. Some blink, while others shine steady. Its glorious cacophony of sight is every bit a picture of our family. Where we’ve been and who we are.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Hallmark mixes with glue and glitter. Darth Vader with the babe in a manger. Mexico, Hungry, Holland, Italy, Austria—they all dance on our tree and bring back pictures of a different place in our lives. It’s beautiful in its mosaic.

Lunch brought conversation of heaven and play and the Spirit and feasts. The littlest asking each, “What are you most thankful for because Jesus was born?” One by one our hearts are filled with the gratefulness of rescue coming. We feel our brokenness. Christmas brings the reminder we are being made whole again. We know the need of our redemption.

The family packs in the car and makes the drive to the airport. I’m headed away for a week. When I return, a son will be a year older and Advent will be half passed. A lot of life will come in seven days.

I wait my turn to prove who I am, and it is not lost on me to where I go. I will leave Christmas behind, twinkling and making merry, to go where Christmas is not seen.

It will not be the Carol of Bells I hear the next week but the call of a people to prayer. The air will fill five times daily with the reminder to those around me.

There won’t be trees decorated with memories or the signs of a Savior in hay.

My heart already feels the stirring of the world opening. It is being captured once again. My little bubble of sunshine and freedom is breaking wide. I am carried on it like waves taking me out to sea—moved to an unfamiliar place before I’m even aware.

I remember this. I remember how this feels. It speaks to my before.

Hope feels different today. It feels big. I welcome it and ask for its continued beating within.

I don’t feel stuck in this moment. I feel the movement of the one who writes my days. It is calling me back to the place of life.

It is good.

Sabbatical Learning

S64IXYP4AZ

Depression does not define me, but it will always be intertwined in my story.

Excruciating feelings and places of trauma I thought would kill me have not. I can be resilient, even when I’m convinced otherwise.

I long to know my feelings are of consequence, and yet, I don’t treat them as if they are.

A safe place breathes a freedom that is addicting. The desire for it is unquenchable.

Hope can be carried for another. Hope was held tightly for me, and I am overwhelmed with that gift.

I need people, desperately.

Help well-intended has suffocated. The Holy Spirit in me can be trusted.

Without knowing it and despite feeling otherwise, my voice was silenced. I feel the effort of climbing the mountain to free it again.

My crazy is not beyond the reach of grace.

God does see me. Just because He tarries to speak comfort does not mean He is not deeply moved by my grief.

There are times when tears can feel so, so good.

And sometimes, I have to open my eyes and realize I’m ok.