Precious times, these years…

The other day, I left Alberton with four belligerent children and three others (people who were, incidentally, astonished by the commotion going on in our van). I departed the area absolutely stunned by the severity with which we battle it out over here in the Gard Household: it matters not where we find ourselves. Mill River, Florida, Dominican Republic- you name it. We fought there. Actually, we no sooner hover a toe over the threshold of the van and it is like a switch is turned on inside our brains that releases our inner warrior/dark side. Darth Vader has nothing on this family. We fight about seat positions. Fight about farting. Fight about burping. Fight about whether or not the sun sets in the west and rises in the east (maybe it does/maybe it doesn’t). Fight about music, about books, about universities that ten year olds wish to attend when they are 20.

We fight- and we do so incessantly. And because of this marvelous fun family fact, I can attest to our permanent membership in the infamous FightClub as members in good standing, with our family having the most experience tearing one another’s heads off/emotional collateral.

When I arrived home that particular day of which I write, I literally fell out if the van, a dazed expression on my face and asked my Husband, above the cacophony of noise, if he had missed us all that morning. His reply:

“Like the plague.”

He was not joking. Not even a little bit.

As I was a Kid Vid Cinema leader at DVBS all week, I had the extreme pleasure of waking my children up at what appeared to be twelve hours before daylight (hard to tell as we had no sun at all this week), coaxing them out of their warm, cozy beds (where in sleeping, they could not make any sound of retaliation/noise) and then driving my children plus three to programming at eight (or whenever) every morning- programming which I must admit that I personally enjoyed almost more than the children as I was able to exercise/hone my dance skills each and every day (to the absolute horror/disgust of my two oldest).

The best part of this experience was that this four hour stretch was a glorious time of no fighting. For four hours, my four children were not clawing each other’s eyes out, were not tearing one another apart. And even better, for most of that time, they were someone elses’ responsibility (so even if they did happen to fight, I could feign ignorance and complete unawareness of what was happening). You cannot even imagine what this opportunity meant to a mother like me who has permanent damage in her ear drums from shrill, ear-splitting screams.

DVBS, while similar to real school, is a wonderful opportunity for mothers such as myself to release their precious offspring into the wild, I mean world, for a few brief and precious hours; handing off the responsibility of breaking up their fights, following them around like a hawk, rescuing them from imminent danger, feeding them snacks, protecting them from injury and in general, basking in their presence. They also get to learn, discover and grow spiritually while there. Bonus! And in doing such (that is, releasing them/freeing yourself), they come to find themselves in the extremely competent and capable hands of other adults who do this kind of stuff for free. For any mother, it is a no-brainer.

Next summer, if our numbers haven’t quadrupled by word-of-mouth advertising I will personally sign on for therapy due to stress incurred from shock and surprise.

The fighting unfortunately does resume once the troops have landed back on home soil. I am sorry to say. We have taken to playing a particular hymn called “They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love” at meal time. Thankfully there are different versions of the song because for quite a while (until we found an electronic version), Brian just sang it himself. He also has been working on “You Picked A Fine Time To Leave Me Lucille” for those days when even the hymn won’t work.

He is learning extra lines of that one.

Interestingly, at bedtime- at the very last possible moment before the kiddos lay their heads on their pillows, there is a brief interlude of peace in which my mind goes blank and I forget any and all bad things that might have happened during the previous fourteen hours. This glorious experience is known as parental amnesia and it is vital to the proper functioning of any mother/father wishing to hang tight for twenty-five or so years of steady parenting and live to talk about it. (Relax: this extended time frame only applies if you have as many kids as me!) Parental amnesia has saved my sanity. It is the reason I poke my head into their rooms each night and say to myself:

“It really wasn’t all that bad of a day”…

…before waking up again the next morning to the precious sounds of kids yelling for their brother/sister to “get out of the bathroom- you’re taking too long!!!!”

Precious times, these years

Falling

image retrieved from stock-clip.com

I am standing, a girl of ten or so. My arms outstretched. And behind me, my playmate’s hands are widespread, in anticipation of my falling limply backward into her awaiting embrace. It is a game we play called Trust. We test the limits to which we can trust that the confidant behind us will support us when we fall.

We stand until we are fully ready to let go. And then we lurch wildly- backwards. Flailing or otherwise. Trusting that when we land there will be sure and steady hands there to hold us- just before we hit the ground.

I never quite got the hang of it. I’d awkwardly pitch backwards and try to catch myself just before the final inches were reached. I’d go halfway and then stop.

Trusting was too hard for me- it required letting go.

Thirty years later, we are walking the side road that leads from a little paved lane ambling gently away from the river side. And I pour out my cares and my worries and my concerns to a listening ear, expressing my fear for today, concern for the future. Worrying that there is no soft place to fall when life gets rough. I am, and have always been- a glass half–full kind of gal. I try to see things positively, but my mind is often bent on doom and disaster. I have a hard time with hope and an even harder time with trust.

He walks beside me, feet steady and sure. And he says to me, “This is when trust becomes real.”

It is not a simple childhood game, this thing called trust. This ideal of hope. It is a hard fall into dark places. It is a pitch backward into the dark. It is a leap of faith not always knowing exactly where you will land. It is grasping in the black of night for a hand to hold. It is calling out for help. It is waiting. And waiting and waiting and waiting. It is wondering if it will ever come- that wish, that dream, that desire, that longed after, sought after illusion. It is crying and calling out. It can be messy and complicated and ugly and raw. It is long and hard and often agonizing. But it is what we’ve been given so as to cope in this life.

Trust, hope, faith. There is no other viable option.

Without trust- without faith IN hope, we have only a present fragile moment much like a delicate translucent bubble in flight. It is here and then it vanishes. Gone. There is nothing to follow, no promise of more. No next.

Even when we do not know where the moments are leading, when we do not know if there is a soft place to fall, nor do not know even how we will fall; even when do not know the direction in which the paths of life are unfolding, trust is believing that there is always something more. There is always another moment. Always another way. Always another path. Always another option. For trust believes that there is Someone there waiting to receive us, someone there ready to hold us when we let go and descend into the black of night.

Trust believes.

We have the hardest time to trust when we need it the most. When trust is of absolute necessity, we often choose to sacrifice it for worry or fear. We let anxiety take its place, allowing trust to be shelved for lesser antidotes. We believe that these reactions and responses can compensate best for what we are feeling. We think trust is too weak a response. Too hard, too much work. Too taxing and tedious and demanding and onerous.

Trust requires faith- but we want something tangible.

The moments we need trust the most often occur when there is suffering involved. When we suffer, we look for something beyond ourselves on which to lean. We desire a solution. But often rather than looking beyond ourselves for an answer, we look within ourselves for a fix.

Kara Tippetts, an amazing mother of four wrote these words prior to passing from this life to the eternal after a long, hard battle waged with cancer: “when we trust Jesus to be the carrier, protector, redeemer of our hearts, death is no longer dying.” Amen to that.

Death is not dying.
Pain is not final.
Falling is not fatal.
Anguish is not the end.
Suffering will not have the last word.
There is hope.

Tippetts continues with this: “Knowing Jesus, knowing that He understands my hard goodbye, He walks with me in my dying… Because in His dying, He protected my living. My living beyond this place.”

That’s trust.

Trust believes beyond belief that there are always hands extended ready to catch us when we let go. Receive us when we fall. Trust expects- it is a certain knowing that there will be a place to fall. Trust anticipates that falling is never the end. Trusts understands that I must let go if I am ever to feel those arms beneath me, bearing the weight of my pain. My heartache.

And much like Tippetts, for me: trust is all about Jesus.

Two thousand years ago, those two arms outstretched on a rough, rugged plank. Spikes held those hands ready and waiting. The hands that healed and helped the nations, nailed to a tree. Those arms wait even now for me to fall gently- to fall hard. To simply fall.

Simply trusting.

Jesus.

This is when trust becomes real.

Brokenness is better than a hallelujah

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God loves a lullaby
In a mother’s tears in the dead of night
Better than a Hallelujah sometimes

She was just a mess, broken pieces, shards of glass. And as she sat on a bridge one fine October day, feet dangling over the water’s edge, all she could think of was how much she hated him. How much he drove her crazy. They would never make it, him and her. They were too different. Too opposite. And he didn’t understand her- what made her tick, what fueled her tank.

God loves the drunkard’s cry
The soldier’s plea not to let him die
Better than a Hallelujah sometimes

Months had passed into years, and she had all but given up hope. Things were just too far gone. There was no hope for this situation- they would never get it right. Some things were not meant to be. And they were one of these things: mismatched, unevenly aligned. Two people going in two different directions.

We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful, the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah

She had talked about it for quite some time to the one person she trusted the most with these kinds of details. And that person had supported her through it all, but had also stipulated that they believed God was in this marriage, even if the Girl didn’t yet see it. That person said they were praying. They could see the best in this impossible situation. The Girl wasn’t so sure. In spite of her limited faith, the hope that the One Praying had, seemed to do for both of them.

The woman holding on for life
The dying man giving up the fight
Are better than a Hallelujah sometimes

Besides, it was not due to wrongs that either she or the Man had done to one another in any moral sense that this Great Divide had been created: it was due more to those little hurts that come by way of more intangible situations. From depriving one another love, from holding back. From the cold that grows inside a heart that is turned off love. And in time, little hurts like these can give way to bigger ones: anger, resentment, fear, insecurity, sadness, isolation, anxiety, panic and loneliness.

The tears of shame for what’s been done
The silence when the words won’t come
Are better than a Hallelujah sometimes

So when she found herself telling him that she wished it was over, wished that she had never even begun, it was almost like the floor had finally given way in a dilapidated old house that had served its purpose one too many years. Everything fell apart.

We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah

And while I still don’t know quite what happened, I can say that one day the Girl woke up and there was a change in her heart. She couldn’t quite put her finger on the exact moment, the time and day. But she knew somehow, someway- something had changed. She was different- and so was he. There had been something miraculous happen to bridge the Gap between them, something had toppled the massive walls that had been erected to separate, fortresses made from the strongest of materials. Something had changed between them. They were no longer enemies, at odds with one another. They were friends.

Better than a church bell ringing
Better than a choir singing out, singing out

The Girl and the Boy tentatively adjusted to their new life, lived in freedom from the former chains. Chains that had once held them captive and enslaved to their own self-serving interests were now broken. They were gone. And the Girl and her Boy lived in peace with one another, free to love each other. Free to love themselves. And free to serve one another in love.

We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful, the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah

And because they had witnessed nothing short of a miracle, it was right to tell the world. That their broken mess of a marriage had been made into something beautiful. Just like a broken hallelujah from the lips of one breathing their last. Just like a melody from one who has lived to see another day. Their lives were a living testament to grace. Their lips could do nothing less than sing of God’s amazing grace.

We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful, the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah

When we share with one another the brutal in our lives, along with the beautiful, we are able to clearly see the truth on which our lives are built. Unashamed and unconcealed. Broken and free. We are unchained melodies.

For we are more than just the pretty details we show one another in social media, more than the cute pictures we post on Facebook, the funny stories we share in our news feeds. We are more than just the casual “I’m fine” that we say so flippantly when asked how we are doing. We are people with real lives, real stories. Real pain. And none of our lives are perfect. None of us has that market cornered yet. We live lives of suffering that can be marked on a continuum that measures the varying degrees. And none can judge the shoes another walks in because we cannot ever know the pain we feel inside. Cannot really know the emptiness of wondering, “Is this all there really is?” This has to be one of the greatest points of despair in a person’s journey: wondering what is the purpose of a pointless life that seems to be heading nowhere. This is grief at its lowest, this is emptiness in its fullest.

We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful, the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah

Can we believe this truth?
Our lives are better than a beautiful melody sung by angels.
Our tears are better than a hallelujah uttered in church on Sunday morning.
Our cries are better than an Amen.
Our rage is better than apathy.
Our anger is better than indifference.
Our acknowledgement of the brokenness of our lives is better than a hallelujah.

Bearing truth to the messy, complicated in our lives is better than a Hallelujah sometimes.

(It’s better than a hallelujah sometimes)

Words to the song “Better Than A Hallelujah” are written by Amy Grant

The Purpose of Prayer

Prayer is something we as Christians take for granted as part and parcel of our life and calling, but it is something really of an enigma for most of us. You see, we are told that we can ask anything in Jesus’ name and it will be given to us. But when we ask, we so often find that there is no response. We sense quiet from God. Maybe even an absence.

Prayer can seem like a wasted moment at best- a farce at worst.

I am in the kitchen watching my Mom make us coffee when she casually mentions that she and a mutual friend (living at a distance from her for every year she has known her) have prayed for each others’ children, as part of a promise to one another made many years earlier. The fact that I have been prayed for by a woman who has not really known me (and who has largely just heard of me through stories told of me by my own mother) is all quite humbling. I have been thought of and mentioned in the presence of God, before His face- by someone who considers my life to be of value enough to pray for me daily. Incredibly touching.

In fact, Mom tells me that this friend has been praying for her five children (and vice versa) since we were all knee-high to a grasshopper. That is a long time to pray, as I am now 40 and no longer a child. I marvel at the commitment this kind of prayer practice takes- to pray for your friend’s children year after year after year, and I think about this a bit before I find myself heading to beat the rush to the shower. As I continue to get ready for the day, I am struck by the fact that I do not pray as vigilantly for my own four children, let alone anyone elses’ (for that matter), as do these two women. They are amazing prayer warriors. In fact, when I consider my personal belief in the power of prayer, I find myself coming up short. I have to ask myself: do I believe that prayer works? And that it can impact lives?
Do I really think prayer changes things?

As I am thinking, I begin to reflect on some recent changes in my life and how these changes have made a major impact on the relationships I hold the closest. In fact, I think of marriage and my relationship to Husband and how our whole married life has been a struggle to find common ground. I consider the fact that marriage has never come easy to either one of us and that we have too many times wondered if marriage was really the right decision for us as a couple. I think about the times we both hit rock bottom, wondering if we would ever find ourselves rising to the surface again. I think of the despair.

And while I am thinking, I consider my own life- the dreams and hopes and aspirations. I think about the ‘would have beens’, the ‘could have beens’- the seemingly missed opportunities. The regrets.

I think about the struggle I have had in finding and nurturing my passion.
I think about how hard parenting has been.
I think about relationships and how difficult they sometimes can be.
I think about my struggle with depression and loneliness- my insecurities and anxiety.

And I think, as I contemplate my life in a nutshell- all while standing there in the shower- I think about two women praying for me. Daily. Consistently. Without fail.

Has the hope I have sensed of late been a long-time answer to an unmet prayer humbly offered by two faithful praying women?
I cannot help but surmise that it wasn’t answers they sought, trophies they pursued: it was hope they were after. Believing that their faith would be honored, knowing that the regularity in which they petitioned their Savior would not return to them void. And all because two praying women believed.

Faith is believing.
Not just in what we hope for- but in what our wildest hopes could never even imagine.
Faith is knowing.
Not just what we think might be true- but what we can hardly even envisage might be possible.
Faith is trusting.
Not just in what seems like a sure bet- but in what feels unattainable.
Faith is expectant.
Already trusting that what is about to unfold is carefully being held in God’s faithful, loving Hands. It has already happened in God’s eyes. We just need to trust.

When relationships are built on believing conviction like this, it no longer matters what we are asking from the One involved in this dynamic- what matters is Who we are asking. The crux of prayer is: Who we are praying to. Who is listening? And Who can meet the need? I really think the point of prayer is not to see a wish-list/bucket list of wants and desires granted, as if God were some Fairy God-father, but rather it is there to grow us in relationship. Closer to Him. Closer to each other.

Prayer is our connection to God. And it strengthens our connections to one another.

It’s the point of prayer- to draw us close.

As I stand there in the shower, on yet another Good Friday morning (two more days until Easter and the hope and promise it offers), I start to see that there is evidence that Someone is changing me, drawing me ever closer to His Heart. Evidence that Someone loves me and wants me to love Him back. And evidence that Someone desires to know me- my needs and wants and fears and joys. Someone is reaching out to me- I just have to have faith to know He’s there. I just have to believe even as I reach out myself, through prayer.

And when I do, I sense that knowing- that understanding. God is there. He’s real. And prayer really works- maybe not for the self-serving intents of my own needs and wants, but certainly for the Higher Purpose of drawing me close to the One who’s got the whole world in His Hands.
Prayer works- if for nothing else than to change me from the inside out, and that is more than enough reason to choose to really pray, starting today.

All is Grace

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The sun beckons through the glass of my kitchen windows. We are now on Daylight Savings time and the possibilities seem endless for a low-key Monday evening. I suggest a walk through the field by snowshoe and then call for the girls to resume their igloo building while I finish up a few last-minute errands. I slip on my snowshoes and climb the steep incline to the field where the girls are forming a play-fire from some branches and small evergreens twigs. It is just one of those perfect evenings made for play and whimsy.
Husband and I set out through the field with the sun behind us, the effect of which makes the landscape a tableau of brilliant white as far as the eye can see. The contours of the land are increasingly difficult to navigate and predict, and I find myself catching a snowshoe here and there, nearly tumbling face-first in a less than glamorous free-fall. I steady myself and stay the course, sinking more and more the further we advance with the softer snow drifts.
We walk back to the old tree that marks the land. It has been a marker of the passage of time, but time does take its toll. A large branch has been whiplashed by our fierce winter winds and now lies perpendicular to the stately boughs that still stretch up to the sky. I rest over the branch for a while and gaze pensively off into the distance. Husband stands beside me and we pass the moments in silence.
I find myself thinking more and more about the moments and days and months and years that are quickly passing us by. It seems like five minutes ago that Husband and I first laid eyes on one another. In truth- that moment was 23 years ago. And with two decades and a bit under our belts, you would think we must have found the secret that happy couples ascribe to so as to keep the tenderness alive, keep the fires burning. Think we’d know the answers.
In truth, marriage is hard. It doesn’t get any easier either. But then again, so is life and it doesn’t get easier either.
I read tonight of Kara Tippetts, a beautiful mama and wife who is fighting cancer- but claiming that every day is grace. I think of my own dear warrior friend Wendy Gallant who lost her battle to cancer but has left behind her incredible legacy as a wife, mama, friend, community member and influence. I feel tears fall as I think that the world will be/is emptier for the loss of women like these two. I grieve the change that the passage of seasons brings.
Kara describes death as leaving the party too early. She talks about feeling like a little girl whose Daddy has come to pick her up before the birthday party has officially ended. She says it is not that she is afraid to die- she just isn’t wanting to leave yet. I wonder if this is how my dear Wendy felt. I’m sure she would have asked for just one more day if the suggestion had been offered.
Life is so difficult to comprehend even in its raw, jagged beauty.
I turn to Husband and I wrap my arms around his solid frame. I feel that this is where I need to be right now. Right here. We embrace in the quiet solitude. All is peace. All is grace.
We fight continually for that peace and grace to hold us even as the storms of life rage around our fragile vulnerability. We are so weak- so frail. And yet there is a strength that sustains even in the midst of life’s uncertainties. There is always enough grace for the day.
Grace holds tenderly.
And that is what knits me together in this fading light of the day. That Grace. Felt in a Husband’s embrace. Whispered on the evening breeze- I will always love you- for I always have. And I always will. A Father’s grace- eternal, sustaining and unending.
And it is enough. It is more than enough.

Worthy of Grace

There once was a little girl. And she was a beautiful child- a funny, wise, intuitive, kind and loving child. Her mama and daddy loved her to the moon and back again.  They loved her so much.

The little girl loved to play and laugh. She loved life and she was full of joy. Everything about that little girl proclaimed exuberance, enchantment, enthusiasm and excitement. She was a beacon of light to all who knew her well.

One day, that little girl was playing- having fun with her friends. Being a kid. But as she was caught up in what was happening around her, she forgot herself for a moment. A decision that would serve to unravel her composure. Would serve to undo her reputation somewhat.

And so while she was playing- in a moment of little-girl impulsivity, she opened her mouth and words came flying out.

Words.

The words weren’t really like her. They were a bit ugly and mean. A bit hurtful and sharp. And as soon as she said them, the little girl realized that a line had been crossed. That a heart had been hurt. That the words from her mouth, which were now floating out there in the big, wide space that she and others occupied, could not be gathered back in or be reversed. Couldn’t be hauled back and erased. For the words had been spoken- they were now out there in the atmosphere- out there in the air, somewhere. They were now audible and had been heard- hanging suspended in time and place as if they were a pendulum ready to swing.

As soon as she said them, the little girl regretted her decision. She knew better. She was a kind little girl, and saying mean and hurtful things was not her usual style. But she had spoken, and the consequences of speaking are always to deal with what comes next.

The aftermath.

That little girl- she cried. She cried and she cried and she cried when she realized the power of her words. She cried and she cried when she understood the significance of it all. And even though she had been given time in which to process the earlier decision to speak, time in which to take stock and move on- that little girl, she couldn’t shake the deep-seated feelings of shame she was experiencing for having failed. Feelings internalized for having fallen short from the mark- the expected standards she usually exceeded.

After some time had passed, the little girl and her mama were together in the kitchen talking. And the mama decided it was the right moment to talk about what had happened. And so they did- they talked. And as they talked, the little girl told her mama she was afraid to face the people involved in her story because she knew she’d disappointed them. She knew that she had failed.

She was very anxious about it all.

And as her mama watched her little girl’s face- a sweet little face etched with worry and concern, eyes welling up with tears: her mama made a decision that she hoped would give the little girl some hope. Because she loved her so. So that mama- she told that little girl about grace.  Told her that tomorrow was another day. That the mistakes of today were now forgiven and that tomorrow would be a fresh beginning. That there was always another chance. That there was always another opportunity to get it right. There was always tomorrow.

There was hope through the wonder of grace.

And what the mama really meant to say, in not so many words, was that there are second chances- possibilities. All found in hope through redemption, found through belief in Love’s amazing grace. What the mama meant to say was that there is deliverance in aspiration.  Aspiring to believe. That’s what starting over is for, that’s what it’s all about. Because if we live our lives in constant shame for what we’ve done, failing to embrace the hope we’ve been given, we never come to realize the power in redemptive love. Never come to realize that this is where it’s at: renewal begins with pain. Growth comes through anguish. Possibility is the offspring born of disappointment. Grace. When we make mistakes and fail, there is always the chance to begin again. Always the opportunity to start over.

There is always tomorrow.

Redemptive love and healing grace makes this possible. And what better example of the power of redemption can we find than of the story of the prodigal son.

The little girl- she clung to her mama’s few words like a lifeline. She wanted to believe. And so she did- she chose to believe that even she was worthy of redemption. Even she was worthy of a fresh beginning- today, tomorrow- and every day after that.

And so she was- worthy of grace.
How very much she was.

The Story of the Prodigal Son
“There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

What Christmas was meant to be

image retrieved from http://www.themotherhuddle.com

Christmas time. A wondrous time of year. We wait for it, long for it- anticipating the smells and sounds, sights and feelings of another festive holiday season.

Christmas. That time of year we associate with peace and goodwill and joy. That time of year for baking and presents, music and laughter. That time of year for believing there is a silver lining to the dark clouds of life. That time of year we hold out a reason for hope. A reason for a miracle.

That special time of year.

It’s Christmas time. A time we have relegated to the magical at one end of the spectrum, the miraculous at the other. So expectant are we, so desiring of wonder. So eager for a sign. We want so much, and yet we settle for so little.

I talk to her on the phone and she recounts the fact that there is water damage in the thousands. That, added to the already overwhelming circumstances in her life, those intervening variables that have shifted the course and re-routed the journey of a life to a new path not easily traveled. And she says to me, “I can’t believe this is Christmas.”

Can’t believe that real life is happening in spite of the fact that Christmas is here upon us, waiting in the wings ready to make its grand entrance. Can’t believe that Christmas can happen within the mess of everyday living- the jumble of disaster and heartache and sorrow and pain- as a steady as a summer rain. The one thing we can count on for sure in this life is we will have trouble. It’s a promise.

Yes. It’s Christmas time. And life goes on. Life continues to travel forward, following the worn, rugged path etched out in time. Continues to make a passageway through hills and valleys, crossing roads that climb the steep incline. We walk, stumble forward- as weary travelers bent on reaching our destination, come what may. And all along the way, we face our trouble. Square on at times, in fits and starts at others.

Come what may.

And what may will come- we can be sure of that. Sickness and sorrow, death and devastation. Nothing stops for Christmas. Nothing is placed on hold as a promise for a single day. Trouble is here, even at this special time of year. This we know for sure.

For life is hard, even at Christmas time. Perhaps especially at Christmas time. Life is hard. And living is never really easy. Getting up and facing another day, another challenge is a tremendous struggle. Placing one foot in front of the other enough of an obstacle.

Life is brutally hard.
Ask the woman with cancer.
Ask the man with Parkinson’s.
Ask the child without hot water.
Ask the boy who wears the thin smile to hide the pain. The girl whose Daddy isn’t coming home. The person you see standing there in the doctor’s office looking death in the face.
Ask anyone with any trouble of any varying degree if the burden is easy to carry.

Or save yourself the trouble- don’t bother asking. Just look at your own life and you will say with certainty: life is hard.

I am making the bed in the far bedroom when she tells me over the phone wires, that this year she feels the gentle pull of the heart to make this Christmas simpler. To eliminate everything that hinders, consumes, overwhelms and occupies her time, reverting her focus. Because time is precious. And Christmas is fleeting. This year, she’s keeping it simple.

She says her plan this year is to remember what’s important. To remember that Christmas is not about how much stuff we accumulate, but about the people we’ve been given to bless our lives- for however short or lengthy a given time. Her plan is to keep it simple. To remember that we don’t have to run around like banshees making something happen, cooking up a storm. For Christmas is a place in our hearts, not a spot located under the tree or a container stashed away inside a kitchen pantry. Her plan is to just let Christmas happen- let it unfold, without adding unnecessary things or events to clutter the soul.

Christmas was never about all that stuff anyway.

So many Christmases ago, another woman- worn and weary from travel, aching from the load she bore, came to rest in a humble cattle shed. Pregnant, she longed for a place to lie down, having just traversed with her husband-to-be over an eighty mile trek. All this, mostly by foot. Consider the thoughts in her head- fear mixed with worry. Wonder mixed with concern. The two sojourned through country riddled with robbers and vagrants waiting for an easy target, yet still she and Joseph pressed onwards- knowing all the while that her body housed the Savior of the world. Tradition would have us to believe that she traveled on the back of a donkey. We will never know for sure in this life; but if it were a donkey, consider the ride a woman in her state would have taken. Awkward, uncomfortable, painful at worst. She must have felt like giving up, turning back. Must have wanted to cry and scream out for the exhaustion of it all. Tired, hungry and thirsty, they forged onward- in spite of the harsh reality of their lives. In spite of it all. And all this, so as to bring Christmas to all of us, to deliver hope to a cold, dark, dreary world.

Jesus never came to us when life was good. He came to earth when it was not. So as to give us Christmas. So as to bring us so much more. He came to bring hope. Came to bring healing. Came so as to comfort us. Provide us with salvation. That baby born rough and ready in Bethlehem became a man who indentified and does even still today, understanding the pain and hurt of our situation. Because the life He lived here on earth as a human was never easy, was never simple. But He lived it so as to give us hope that we can do the same.

Because He lived as we did, we too can face our present situation, our uncertain tomorrows. Because He still lives within the heart of humankind, for all those willing to provide Him room- we too can face the future without fear, finding hope in the knowing that because He lives, so can we.

This year, Christmas will be different in our immediate family. Life doesn’t always work out how you plan it, how you wish it would be. But life can still be beautiful even in the messy. Can still be precious even with the unexpected. Christmas can still be miraculous even in the harshest realities of the moment. For Christmas is in our heart. And we hold it carefully as a precious gift, thanking God that He has granted us the opportunity to experience the wonder of it all for yet another year.

This year, I too am keeping it simpler. Cutting out the stuff that really doesn’t matter anyway. And I pray that this Christmas will be one I never forget. That this Christmas will be one I remember forever.
That Christmas this year will be a place in my heart, not an event on my calendar. A blessed Christmas of hope and healing.

That’s what Christmas was meant to be from the very beginning.