Wednesday, December 17, 2014

some holiday thoughts from the homegoods' aisle

{a short encounter from earlier this month ...}

i survived a cart crash today.
car(t), not car.
a shopping cart, to be exact.

she turned the corner and -- smash!
our plastic carts collided in the aisle of homegoods.

it wasn't that black friday frenzy, just a normal first thursday in december.
i'm not sure about her, but i was only minding my own business ...  looking at bath towels, if you must know.
there was no mad dash for a must-have purchase, nor was i in hot pursuit of an unbelievable deal.

but we crashed and, for a quick moment, she looked crushed.
a frazzled woman and her very full cart.

"i'm sorry," she said, "it's been that kind of day.
actually ...  it's been that kind of month."
(i refrained from pointing out that it was only the 4th of december).
"so sorry, just hoping to get it all done ... you know..." she laughed at herself.

a shoulder shrug and she steered around me, away in a rush of holiday hurry. and that was that --
my brief encounter with yet another december-wild-woman amidst the mayhem of merchandise.

"it's the most wonderful time of the year," piped from the intercom above, accompanying our little scene.
i stood watching her push into the weight of her ladened basket and, despite the
lilting music swirling around our aisle, i felt her heaviness.

i didn't know her and had no idea her story, but, still, could almost feel her hopelessness.

(we don't have to chalk that up to my being incredibly intuitive, more likely, just a little bit weird).

her words, "just hoping to get it all done ..." traveled with me the rest of the day.

and she wasn't the only one. i've sensed it elsewhere this week --- yes, even in my own home.

this feeling of false hope.

this: it-will-all-be-okay-if-i-can-just-get-it-all-in-the-basket-and-push-it-all-to-the-checkout-line-or-finish-line-or-whatever-line-of-christmas.

it will all be okay ... IF. I. CAN. JUST. MAKE. IT.

the race toward the 25th
the rush of the holiday.
the run of our december.

a countdown to the coming of christmas.

a hopeless hope.

everyone nodding and gathering and decorating in hopes that maybe this year - this year - it will all be right. it will all be beautiful. it will all be - surely - the most wonderful time of the year.

if we can only make it to christmas ...

kind of like that game we played at parties when we were children: the race where you carry an egg on a spoon across the backyard.

some of us are treating christmas just like that: eggs on spoons and finish lines.

all will be right with the world if we can keep focused, stay fast, be balanced and brave.

heads down and feet in motion. joy to the world and jingle bells.

and we hope.
with anticipation.
teetering on the very edge of our december toes ...

for christmas to get here ... for hope to arrive.

and the funny thing is, we're not that far off.
finding hope in christmas is kind of the point, right?

we just have our human way of messing up the holy wonderful.

Jesus came down, heavenly babe to lowly manger, in the name of hope.
Jesus traded the wood of cradle for the wood of cross because He is hope - the only hope.

it's not about getting the presents bought or the tree decorated or the parties perfectly planned ...
it's not about getting to christmas ... it's about getting christmas.

getting it.

getting what it really is.

Jesus in the manger.

Jesus who became a gift that we might get grace.
Jesus who became human that we might have hope.
real hope.
not just our casual crashing in the homegoods aisle hurried kind of hope.
but, the real thing.


hope doesn't come from making it to christmas.
hope comes when we make it to Christ. 

and when we make it about anything else, we make it harder. we make it less about hope in Him and more about hope in our hurry and that's exactly what leaves us feeling heavy in a season which should be all about finding light.

oh dear ones, were you scrambling today?
was your list long and your time short?
have you been going full-throttle since thanksgiving?
does your holiday hustle have you hard by the throat?

what is it that you are pushing around today in your race to the christmas finish line?

my suggestion: crash that cart of hurry and walk away from that version of hopeless hoping.

sit by your tree.
tree not decorated yet?
then sit by someone else's tree.
or go outside and find a tree.
or forget the tree ...
and just sit somewhere.

but be still.

spend some time in true advent.

PAUSE the hopeless activity of hurry and PONDER the hopeful awaiting of the Holy one -- Jesus.

because whatever we are piling high in our carts isn't all that important when we take time for looking low into the perfect manger.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

how do you handle this kind of news and not know God?

it's christmas time and i'm at the beach.
there are palm trees with twinkling lights and garland decorated with seashells.

and i bet if i stopped there, you'd think, "wow, how cool. how lucky. maybe even, how downright lovely to be at the beach come christmas."

at first glance, yes, it might seem that way.

but this weekend i'm not really here for a december vacation or a holiday visit, but to stay with my in-laws for a couple of days --- to help out a little where needed.

a few weeks ago, rick's mom, marilyn, was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. just days before thanksgiving, a doctor sat knee to knee with her and said, "i'm so sorry ..." 

and none of us have truly been able to wrap ourselves around this news since. even with a recent surgery to extract the tumor and upcoming chemo, none of us can really believe this diagnosis was delivered  ... that these words were uttered. not to this woman. not to marilyn. not to our mom ... our grandma.

not my mother-in-law who has dedicated her entire life to nursing and serving and ministering to others -- surely, this news wasn't meant for her. she has always been the one bending over the hospital bed, holding the hand of the heartbroken, encouraging the weak, and praying for the patient. always. i've known marilyn for almost 28 years and i'm pretty sure each of those years included a long list of people who she has come alongside -- family members, neighbors, church friends, strangers  --- no one exempt from the realm of her capable and caring hands.

she's a caregiver at her very core.

in fact, the other day, i remembered the first time i met rick's mom she was wearing her nurse's uniform. i don't know why i thought of that, but it's a crystal clear picture.

and now this.

and now there's not a one of us who doesn't want to shake our fists at the heavens and cry out, "this isn't fair. this isn't right. this isn't possible."

she has always been in amazing health -- doing absolutely everything right. appointments and check ups and health scans and lifestyle ... and, well, everything. i know it's a nurse thing, but she's always been on it. always careful, always going above and beyond what was ever required or recommended.

and today, she and i sat, side by side and stared out at a december ocean.
mother-in-law and daughter-in-law gazing at the deep blue, drinking in God's grandeur.

that was her one request when i showed up yesterday. yes, i could do a little cooking and shopping, "but," she said, "what i really want is for you to drive me to the beach. i want to sit in the sunshine and breathe in the ocean."

and so, today, we sat. shared. chatted. talked about a lot of things ... but the most memorable thing she said was this, "i don't know how people handle diagnoses like this without faith in God. i simply don't know how they could do it."

she went on to say, that it was one of her very first thoughts after the doctor gave her the news. "how do people who don't have God hear this and handle it?"

God who understands the heartbreak and the sob and the fear and even the fist shake. God who is sovereign and all-powerful, but completely understands the questioning and the wrestling and the grieving of His children.

God of the universe when our world spins wildly out of control .
God of real peace when our pain seems too much to bear.
God of our days when our doubts begin to dig deep.

how does anyone do this without Him?

this past summer, i sat here at this same ocean and watched my mother-in-law boogie-boarding out in the waves with her grandchildren. it was the week she turned 69 and she was riding waves and body surfing with the kids. laughing in the ocean she loves. loving her time with her family. living life at its fullest.

it was a different kind of day at the ocean this afternoon. the beach was empty, the water was calm and our mood certainly more subdued.

but, you know what? it was beautiful.
and even in the midst of this awful, painful stuff, we both felt the peace and presence of God.

God who holds the oceans in the very palm of his hand (isaiah 40:12), will hold this woman who holds on tightly to Him.

so i share this tonight, asking you to keep my sweet mother-in-law in your prayers.
we love her and we'd like an army of people praying for her!
yes, she knows the water ahead is deep ... but she also knows she's not alone in this ocean.
her hope is in Jesus who holds and heals and has a plan for her.

 and peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” so peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.  but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “o you of little faith, why did you doubt?” and when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. and those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “truly you are the Son of God.”  ~ matthew 14:32

Sunday, December 7, 2014

when christmas finds us fragile

 with a few moves in the past few years, it didn't surprise me -- after all, things do tend to break.

most of our christmas ornaments and decorations did okay in our recent (annual) upheaval,
but we were bound to have at least a few casualties.
and this year, opening up the holiday crates, it was clear ... we did.

we can chalk up some of the breakage to our moving and some of it to just our normal mayhem. and of course there's always the few we lose each year because little hands are helping. we could do it ourselves and tell them to "stand clear" ... but that wouldn't be right.
easier, yes. right, no. 
heck, this year, i was the culprit carelessly crushing one of my very favorite ornaments in my hurry -- uugh.
it almost happens daily -- just this morning i found an ornament smashed on the fireplace hearth. it must have, unsuspectingly, rolled off the mantel in the middle of the night. poor thing.

it's what happens when we deal in the delicate.

and ornaments are one thing, but, isn't there a lot about christmas that can feel fragile?

no doubt, it's the most wonderful time of the year, but it can also be the most vulnerable time.

there's nothing better than celebrating christmas when you're in that sweet spot of living. when it's all going grand and everyone's healthy and the children are all happy and the days are both merry and bright. nothing better!

but what about when life isn't going along quite like that?

what about those who have lost jobs or spouses or children or their health?
what about those who are broken and bruised and heavily burdened?

i think it's possible, christmas can feel not festive, but instead, more fragile.

maybe for some, it even seems smashed to smithereens like the ornaments in the bottom of our boxes. 

yes, even like that.

because life has a way of rolling us, unsuspectingly, off of high mantels and onto hard places.

and some years, when christmas comes, we find ourselves not in peace, but in pieces.

sitting here this morning, i'm thinking about the way Jesus came at christmas -- a newborn baby. fresh and fragile. this delicate deity born to a girl, fresh and fragile herself. a girl overwhelmed, unprepared, ill-equipped, vulnerable. probably even pretty darn scared.

can't you see her shaking arms as she transferred tiny babe to feeding trough?
maybe some motherly resistance to this crude-type cradle.
but maybe also a mix of relief on her face to put something so small into something so strong.
dirty, perhaps, but still solid and safe.

baby Jesus laid in a manger of wood. wee babe placed in a box built strong to endure oxen and ass. 
tender meets tough.
frail meets firm.
soft meets sturdy.

God come to His wooden cradle to become God on His wooden cross.

God in His birth and God in His death --- human. fragile. even broken.

but come.


come down from heaven to live amongst the smashed pieces of our sin-riddled world.
come down from the perfect right hand of God to this place where things are far from perfect or right and, let's face it, sometimes way out of hand.


He didn't have to.
i know i probably would have argued that one out with the Father -- (thanks, but no thanks).

but Jesus came.

and because of the cradle and because of the cross we have something strong to hold on to in the weakness of our frail living.

and for you --
overwhelmed mama, out of work man, rebellious child, hard-hearted husband, weary woman, lonely grandparent ...
for your pain and your problems.
for your diagnosis and your disaster.
for your fears and your failures.
for you. for me. for us. for all.

Jesus came.

and this Jesus who left a throne in heaven and came vulnerable in His humanity to the throes of earthly pain, understands our need for something solid in our suffering.

He not only understands it, but was willing to sacrifice Himself to be it.

come laid in wood 
and hung on wood 
that He would 
take our place 
and take our pain.

to be the thing which is both tender enough and tough enough for our tears.

mary laid Jesus in the rough cradle of wood and the angels rejoiced. for this humble place with this holy babe, held the strong Salvation of the world. and those angels, they knew it.

maybe this christmas you are feeling fragile.
{alone. angry. afraid. hurt. hopeless}.

my prayer this sunday morning for you dear one -- and for all of us -- is that in this christmas, we would keep our eyes on the cradle and on the cross. that in the fragile parts of living, our faith might find strength in His coming.

"I came that they might have life and have it abundantly." 
~ john 10:10

a little end note:
i started this blog post yesterday - saturday - and in the middle of my writing, the christmas tree fell over. yep. no reason. no one was in there. just toppled over. broken ornaments galore! talk about fragile. just had to share that hopefully for your amusement. =)