What could ruin the coming of Christ

This is a repost of something I wrote last Christmas. Last December was the hardest month yet with our daughter and her health; but the gems of truth I learned during that time have carried me through the various sorrows I am carrying into Christmas this year too. I hope this blesses you to read again as I know it blessed me.


There is so much to anticipate about Christmas. The time with family and friends. The presents under the tree. The vacation days. The special feasts that invite us to remember the incarnation with songs sung by candlelight. 

But with every anticipated event comes a certain amount of anxiety; for all of us. To get the shopping done on time. To prepare the food for the guests. To teach our children the meaning behind the celebration, and so much more. The anxieties include the small griefs associated with the plans foiled, the cookies we never baked, the gingerbread houses that were accidentally left in the garage, the advent calendar we didn’t remember to start until halfway through the month.

But sometimes these anxieties run deeper. Sometimes they are the deep fears that are the product of deep griefs. Sometimes the current of suffering and grief drive us through the holiday season at a pace that feels unnatural. It can be hard to sing a Christmas song when it seems like everything around us is wrong. 

Fear and anxiety should not be invited to take a seat at our tables during this joyful time of year, but yet sometimes it seems like they’ve pulled out the seat of honor and made themselves quite at home, always without our consent, and often without our immediate knowledge.

If you are worried about this Christmas, that something might ruin it. That the holiday stress will drag you down. That the traffic will make you angry. That the checkout lines at the shopping mall will frustrate you. Or that your family will be angry with you because you have to work…Fear not.

If you are worried that the grief over a loved one missing around the table will swallow you whole. If you are fearful that the constant suffering that plagues your everyday life might spoil Christmas. If you are alone this year and don’t know who you’ll celebrate with. If your spouse is in prison. If a loved one has cancer. If the budget is too tight for gifts for your kids this year. Fear not.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret; nothing can ruin Christ’s coming. Not then. Not now. Not ever. 

Jesus’ birth occurs in the context of a census taken by the Roman empire. The Jews were being taxed by an oppressive regime, who wanted to count and see just how many of them there were as if counting assets, not people.  He was born in a humble town, after a long on-foot road trip. A town so crowded that no one had room even for a very pregnant woman on the verge of giving birth. He was born in a stable, surrounded by the dirt and the hay and the feces of animals. Delivered by his teenage mother in the usual turmoil of the usual way. Caught by a man whom he would grow to call Father, though he himself had biologically nothing to do with him. Unless of course you considered that is was Jesus’ very breath of life that made Joseph’s own chest rise and fall. 

If I wanted to tell a story of a birth plan spoiled, I don’t have to look any farther than the birth of my own Savior. I wonder what Mary thought, in the midst of intensity of labor. I wonder if she held fast to the faith that all this was as God had planned it, or if she doubted, even for a moment, the way the Lord chose for this Savior to come. Did she wonder if his birth was being profaned by the dung and the dust in that moment? Or did she know with certainty that everything was exactly as it should be.

In the fullness of time, he came. Nothing could stop him. Nothing could ruin it. Every strange, painful, and difficult circumstance along Mary and Joseph’s way, only confirmed the prophecies that had already been spoken of Messiah. All of it was by God’s grace, for his glory. 

The maiden girl, the stall, the manger, was exactly the way he had to come.  It was apart of who he was as “Immanuel”, God with us

He was born to breathe that filthy air. Born to feel the pain of a scraped knee. Born to feel the sting of a harshly spoken word. Born to feel the wrongness of people’s anger towards him. Born to submit to the authority of human parents, though He alone was the ultimate authority in all the Universe. All of this before he even would begin his more official “ministry” among us.  And not one iota of those experiences could ruin his coming, because of course; that was why he came. He was born to feel in the flesh, the effects of the curse as far as it was found, even as he came to ultimately break the curse once and for all, forever.  

Nothing could ruin the miracle of his coming. No corrupt governments, no inns full to bursting, no filthy stalls. 

He came for the social outcasts, as well as those who were held in high esteem. The shepherds, who abandoned their flocks for a chance to touch his sleeping face, were just as welcome as the three kings bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 

We were going to go cut our own tree this year. We’d been planning it for weeks. We thought we’d take some friends with us. We’d warm up with cocoa after. It would be the snowy family adventure we’d been longing for since the hot hot months of summer. 

Then Friday night came with another auto-immune flare up in our little girl. We were up all night holding her, consoling her. Praying for her. Singing over her. Holding back her hair and wiping the tears from her cheeks. And when the new mercy light of Saturday morning finally came, I knew there was no way we were going to go cut our own tree. 

So we traded off taking naps and watching the kids. We ate leftovers. We cancelled our plans. And when four o’clock came around, I made my husband a thermos of coffee and sent he and our middle son out in the snow to find the perfect tree from a local tree lot. 

Ellie woke up to find them gone, and though she knew we would have been cutting our own tree if not for her flare up of illness, she took it as a kindness that the boys were out finding the perfect one just for us. Just to cheer us up. 

In the fullness of time; even if our timing seems off for everything, God is always on time. Nothing is by accident. All is for our good and his glory. That baby in the manger didn’t come because he wanted to be apart of some idyllic winter solstice celebration—he came because we are broken, and he wants to heal us. 

If you feel broken down and beat up by life right now: Christmas is for you. If you feel weighed down by the burdens of past hurts laid upon you by others: Christmas is for you.  If you are afraid of the emotional, or physical pain that you are experiencing and very well may continue to experience all throughout the Christmas season, Christmas is for you.

If you are tired of muddling through life in your own strength. If you have nothing left when the dawn finds you, then take heart! Christmas is for YOU. 


The holiness of this Holy Night of the Incarnation mirrors the holiness for which God has set us apart: the holiness is not clean and tidy like the stained glass images of the birth of Christ, but in the midst of the mess and the mud and the blood, it is set apart. And if you believe in Christ Jesus, then you are set apart, by God’s grace and for his glory. And nothing can take that away from you.

Glory. That’s what makes the more obviously sacred and the seemingly profane aspects of our lives  the same in the economy of God. Because God redeems profane people with profane pasts into the sacred work of his coming Kingdom. And the redemptive power of Jesus more than defeats the pervasive power of sin and shame. 

Nothing can ruin the coming of Christ.  Not then, not now, not ever.

Not the oppression of governments. Not abuse. Not job loss or relationship loss. Not homelessness. Not the diagnosis. Not school shootings. Not the death of a loved one. Neither height nor depth, neither angels nor demons, nor things present, nor things to come, nor anything else can separate us from the love of God, made incarnate, in  Christ Jesus our Lord. (Paraphrase from Romans 8:38) 

Fear not. No matter what trials your Christmas holds, the best gift of Christmas is always and already yours to hold; the very presence of God with you in the midst of whatever you are going through. 

You are not alone. If there’s anything I can be praying for you for this Christmas, please leave a comment below, or click reply to one of my emails if you are a subscriber. I’d love to hear from you; and I’d love to pray for you.

Gracie

{Photos shown in post, in order they appear  c/o Francois Pistorius, Dan Kiefer, Davidsonluna on Unsplash} 

This post is dedicated to my three youngest siblings, and all the survivors of the Arapahoe High School shooting on December 13, 2013. 6 years ago I didn’t know what to say. Now, I do. 

For when they’ve left you all alone

Loneliness opens up like a sink hole in my chest. It sucks in everything; my joy in the small moments, my hopes for the future, the lessons I have learned from the past. It turns my whole body numb with longing and the desperate question—does anybody see me?

Suffering can be one of the loneliest places; there are many reasons for this; enough in fact that I could do a whole blog series on it. (And maybe I will, let me know in the comments below if that’s something you’d be interested in.) There are many reasons why the sufferer herself might be the cause of some of her own loneliness, but in this post I would like to examine what I believe is the central reason why other’s pull away from the sufferer in her hour of need: unbelief in the goodness of God, and the fear that comes from realizing the depth of our own unbelief.

The reality is that it is excruciatingly hard to look in to the eyes of someone tortured by the terrible illness of a child they love, when there is nothing they can do to make it better. It’s hard when they don’t know what to say, and the silence gapes wide like a chasm. They know if they stand of the porch a second longer and look into your soul-haunted gaze, they will have to reconcile some things in their faith that aren’t currently matching up.

Standing with those who suffer is sometimes like signing up for a weekly wrestling match with God. Because when you love them, and you look in their eyes, and you hear their hearts beating and breaking—you will howl right along with them: Why God?

These questions can be scary, and I believe they are the very reason that many shy away from sitting with someone who is deep in the midst of suffering. The greatest relief I have experienced though, as someone who ministers to those who suffer, has come through realizing that these questions must come.

In one of the great paradoxes of the world we live in, sometimes the quickest way to faith is through doubt, and so I have stopped measuring my faith by a lack of doubt, and instead have begun thinking only of how quickly I surrender to God when we wrestle—because wrestle, we will.

During seasons of suffering in my own life, I have felt the rage bubble up, as well meaning people tried to white wash over my pain. And it seems like an impossible ask, but here it is: I think sometimes God asks us, as ones who are suffering, to have grace on those that are less than helpful around us, and even on those who abandon us in our hour of need.

It feels like insult to injury I know, to say that as those who are hurting we might even have to forgive the well meaning friends who say all the wrong things, or the friends that once loved us and now seem to have forgotten us completely; but there it is. Because where there is hurt, there must be forgiveness. And we must entrust ourselves to the love of our good God, who will provide for us what we need to take the next step—the next breath.

As a survivor of sexual abuse, some of my deepest wounds are not from the abuse itself, but from those who should have stood in the gap for me. Those who claimed to be our friends, but who left us in our hour of need. Friends whose negligence led to my being abused in the first place; because they knew something was wrong, and yet they kept silent.

If you are reading this, and you were one of these people, I want you to know—I have forgiven you. Before the Lord, in prayer, by name. You are forgiven by God, and you are forgiven by me.

In turn, I’m sure I also have been a means of wounding some; maybe even some of you who may be reading this. Maybe it was a casual word spoken out of turn, or maybe it was the words I should have said but didn’t. If I have ever added pain onto your pain, I pray that you would also forgive me. I too am a work in progress, and have sometimes chosen wrongly. I do not get it all right. But I trust that even here, God will redeem.

Because here’s the really beautiful part: partially as a result of who God made me, partially as a result of the lack we suffered when I was a kid, God has grown me into a woman who cares deeply about the suffering and hardship of others. It’s a part of my story—that I am committed to the long road with people. That I will take the time to wrestle with my God for the truth that He is good even when circumstances seem to shout otherwise. In many ways that’s what this blog is all about.

This isolation––this loneliness––may feel like an insult to the injury of your present hardship, but this too will be redeemed by the God who takes every broken thing and makes it beautiful. And no matter how many people hurt you, abandon you, whitewash over your pain, or condemn you in the face of your suffering, you are not alone.

You are seen. You are held. You are loved. Even when the people who ought to be there, run away. Even when the family members don’t know what to do or say. Even when your friends withdraw and you come to that painful realization that where you are going, they cannot come…even then. You are seen, you are held, you are loved; by the God who paid everything to make you His. By the God who suffered also from loneliness in His hour of deepest need. By the Savior who was betrayed and abandoned by His friends. He knows. He cares. He sees. He has not forgotten you.

Dearest Reader, my prayer for you today is that the overwhelming peace and love of the Lord Jesus would surround you today, wherever you are. And through this peace, I pray we will be able also, by God’s power, to extend forgiveness and grace to those who have hurt us by their words, actions, or lack-thereof, in our hour of deepest need.


Do you need someone to kneel down in the dirt with you? To help you scatter seeds of hope in the midst of hardship? It would be my greatest honor and privilege to minister to you in this way; to give to you a little of the comfort with which my God has comforted me.

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Cultivating Margin in the Midst of Hardship

I used to think margins were a luxury for the very, very rich. I thought that if someone felt good enough about their work done in the main hours of anything to cultivate spaces in between it all, then they must have been rich indeed. Or maybe they really just had money seeping out their ears while they slept on the couch after a movie marathon, and that was how they could justify the rest. It is as ridiculous as it sounds.

But just the other day the thought struck me; that it’s more than margins. It’s more like refusing to do the opposite of leaving margins. It’s refusing to cut it too close.

“Well, you probably missed that one,” we heard from under the furrowed brow of the man clicking on his computer at the Air Canada check in desk. My best friend and I had just enjoyed the most magical week on Prince Edward Island. We saw some sights, walked on the red sand beaches and ate Canada’s most famous Cow’s Creamery ice cream. But when it came time to leave early that Friday morning, we had forgotten that we needed to put gas in the rental car.

I secretly wish there had been a camera filming the action as we struggled to figure out a) how to open the gas compartment on a mini-cooper b)how to pre-pay in liters for enough gas to fill said mini cooper, and c) how to realize earlier that google was taking us on a 45 minutes detour instead of just telling us to make a u-turn, on our way back to the road from the gas station.

When we ended up on a one-way dirt track we realized it: we had cut it all way, way too close, and we were very possibly going to miss our flight to Toronto. But we had a hope, that since the airport we were leaving from only had two gates, that we would probably be able to sneak in 30 minutes before our flight left.

“I don’t suppose you can get two more suitcases on the plane Brody…” the grouchy man with the furrowed white brows spoke into the walkie, he seemed to be willing Brody to say no.

“OH YEAH…” we heard the cheerful voice on the other side, “No problem at all!”

We owe the happy ending of this story to a man with a cart who was not afraid to come and get our tardy baggage. We made it on the plane just as the sun was coming up over the Island, but as we stood on the stairway waiting to board, there was no doubt in our minds, that aside from blindly following google’s directions, the main problem was that we had cut it all way too close. Though this week of rest with my best friend was in so many ways a testament to my learned ability to rest in the midst of seasons of intensity and hardship, I had forgotten to leave margin at the end of it all, to leave room for inevitable hiccups that come when you are traveling, especially in another country.

For so many years I lived a “cutting it close” kind of life. I respected following distance when driving to be sure (I was and am, a rule follower by nature), but when it came to cultivating any kind of personal margin to preserve my sanity; I wasn’t into it. I think I actually felt crazier when I tried to STOP what I was doing in order to rest. As newlyweds, my husband saw this monster of perfectionism up close and personal, as I obsessively cleaned late into the evening and refused to respect my bedtime. Always to my own detriment, and his. How would it be that years later, when I became the parent of a daughter who suffered from terrible tummy pain, that I would finally learn how to rest?

I think so often when we are faced with suffering of any kind, but especially the suffering of our children, it can be so easy to swing the pendulum the opposite direction, and try desperately, to control the situation. And to be sure; as parents we are called to steward our children as best we can, to keep them safe from harm and to help them heal when harm has been done. But there is also peace in realizing that it is not all up to me. There is a heavenly father who loves my daughter, who cherishes her, even as He cherishes me. He watches over Ellie on the couch when I take five minutes to go get a glass of water and wash my face. He comforts her in the quiet dark when I can do nothing more than sit next to her and rub her feet. When I am hungry in the middle of the night, having stayed awake every hour when I would normally be resting to take care of a little girl in flare-up, it behooves me to leave enough margin in my own heart, to accept the rest that God wants to give to me: to heat up a bowl of the soup a loving friend brought for me, and then go and resume my place next to her on the couch.

This is how I refuse to cut things too close; not that I take or fight my way for what I feel are my own personal needs—but that in those moments, I quiet my heart before the Lord, and I accept the rest that He wants to give me. I leave room. As I provide, I must also accept His gracious provision.

It is in the spaces in between; the space between the loading of the groceries and the drive home. The space between the laying down of the last sleepy head, and the laying of my own weary head on the pillow. The space between the alarm clock ringing, and the words I write so early on the page. These are the spaces that God invites me to rest in the fullness of who He is; and who I am as a result of that. He invites me to create space in my mind and my heart, to welcome Him into whatever difficultly, I am currently facing.

If you are suffering; or if you are walking through suffering with someone else, what would it look like for you to cultivate a little margin today? How can you accept the rest that God wants to provide to you, even in the smallest moments, so that you can endure the trials and cheer on others who are enduring with you?

Dearest Reader, it takes a recognition that we are not in control to sit down for a moment and rest in the midst of hardship, but in the end, that surrender is where peace comes. Here we make space for the small things that could become as urgent as a missed flight if left unattended. Here we make space to fill up a glass of water for ourselves, as well as for someone else. Here we make space to acknowledge that God is God, and we are not. We are finite, and so needy, and that is not a liability, it’s an opportunity for God to meet us.

Waiting in the Wilderness

Four years ago, April 2015, we were in the final stretch of our time living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After a long year lived far away from our families, which neither my husband nor I had ever done up until that point, it was almost time to pull the boxes we had saved from our move a year ago out of the detached garage of our apartment. To say I was excited was an understatement. I was counting down the literal days to the day when I could “reasonably” start packing for our trip home. In my defense, I think I was probably nesting just as much as I was preparing to head home. I had dreamed and planned my second baby in Wisconsin, but my plans included him being born in Colorado.

It had been a bit of a wilderness season for us out there, beautiful as it was and as many new friends and new adventures as we were privileged to enjoy on those strange shores of lake Michigan. In May of 2014, Willy drove a truck loaded to the gills with all our worldly possessions, and I, who had made my own parents grandparents only eight months before, said goodbye to them at the curbside of the airport, and held my own tiny daughter in my arms on a one-way flight to a place I’d never been.

Wisconsin was a season of waiting in the wilderness. We had been told right from the outset that the assignment would last a year, and though we felt this to be a blessing in so many aspects, it also felt like a curse. It would be hard to choose to get attached to people and to a place that we would certainly be leaving. And in turn, I found that people were hesitant to get attached to me in turn. That waiting place, like most waiting places, was extraordinarily lonely.

May 2015 my husband’s work informed us that they needed us to extended our time in Milwaukee by a month. And though 30 days was far from long in that grand scheme of our time there, that extra month that I had to wait to start packing felt like an eternity.

But there was one fear I held onto while I filled those boxes and taped and labeled them for our longed for journey home. What if they don’t recognize me?

I was 30 weeks pregnant with our second child when we finally made our journey home. I remember the heat of our new rental house on that July day; the stale air of a house that had been sitting empty, to me smelled like the sweet aroma of a longing fulfilled. But it wasn’t the growth of my belly that made me fear the lack of recognition by my family and friends; it was something much deeper than that. I was different now.

The wilderness had changed me.

Recently, we were talking with our small group about waiting on the Lord. We talked about seasons of waiting, what was hard about them, and what they produced in us. One of my good friends mentioned how seasons of waiting, are often seasons of being stripped down to the bare essentials. God whittles away our idols in seasons of waiting, in seasons of wilderness. In those times more than any others, it becomes easy to see what things we are truly waiting for—what we are truly hoping in.

That year was a stretching time. That summer, removed from every support system, like scaffolding, we wondered if we could stand on our own two feet. Now, when I look back on that time, though I still feel the ache of that deep loneliness I experienced there, I also see roots of strong relationship between my husband and I. When the last piece of scaffolding fell, and the last apron string was cut, we held on to each other, and to the God who had brought us to the wilderness for a reason.

As a people pleaser in a season with very few people to please, God revealed to me that my longing to be useful and needed, had the potential underbelly of inflating my ego. My longing for connection, though good, revealed my unbelief in the sufficiency of God and His presence with me in all circumstances. It was there that I battled idols of entertainment, which made my hollow life feel less lonely, but which were steadily whittling away the time which God had purposes and intentions for, if only for a year.

My definition of a full life changed dramatically that year. When we had once had friends for dinner almost every night of the week, for months there was nothing. By the end of our time there, I was overjoyed to have one playdate every other week, and I deeply enjoyed the one night a week when we were privileged to host our neighbor for dinner.

Our waiting changed us. That time created in us a pure desire to not only be apart of community, but to help create it. That time cemented us in our marriage in ways that would not have happened otherwise. That time revealed to me the idols in my heart that desperately needed to be dethroned. And it was there again, and the desk in my living room, that I finally began writing again. The Lord began to stir passions in my heart, many of which I couldn’t yet name.

All this and so much more. And I wouldn’t trade that wilderness for anything; not because it was easy, but because it was just another step on my journey to becoming the woman that God has always planned for me to be. I’ve seen glimpses of her in a window pane sometimes, just a sideways glance, nothing more. She’s beautiful and fearless. She loves fiercely with bold affection. She speaks words of truth and is always ready to hold out a hand in forgiveness and in grace. She knows that her life is not her own, and she’s okay with that. She trusts in the sufficiency of Jesus in the midst of all circumstances, and she helps others do the same.

I want to be her. I want that more than anything.

And if the wilderness has helped me get there? Then I thank God for the wilderness.