Posts Tagged ‘God’s love’
So it’s February. Actually, February 9 as I write this. And—you guessed it!—it’s a Snow Day. All the schools in the area are closed. In fact, nearly everything is closed today due to “heavy bands of snow” and potential blizzard condition whiteouts in some (unpredictable) spots and very cold temperatures combined with the 8-14” forecast.
I’m sitting here by my fire reflecting on all the mixed emotions I’ve always felt about snow days. First of all, I wish they didn’t happen on Mom to Mom days; I hate missing Mom to Mom. But then, there is the excitement and beauty of a good old-fashioned New England Nor’easter. I remember the glorious excitement of kids jumping up and down with joy when they see their school on the TV cancellation list. We’d celebrate with pancakes or French toast and hot chocolate. Followed by layers and layers of snow apparel to prepare for a day of sledding and
snowmen and snow forts and gigantic snowball fights and general snow bliss.
And then—seemingly only 5 minutes later—someone (or several someones) tromping in with half the snowfall attached and trailing through the house to get a drink/go to the bathroom/need a snack/have to warm up/complain about sibling injustice . . . You know the drill. Let me just tell you: A mother never forgets what it takes to undress a snowsuit-clad toddler for the bathroom break that seems to occur every few minutes. And then get them dressed for the Arctic all over again. Or what the whole house smells like at the end of the day with wet mittens and scarves and snow jackets and pants and boots draped absolutely everywhere. Unless you happen to have (sigh) a mudroom the size of a gym. Still, I miss those days.
At this point I’m guessing some of you are nodding in recognition of all I’m describing. Others are probably gloating and thanking God you don’t live in The Land of Snowsuits. And others may be a bit envious. Your kids would love to play in the snow.
Somehow this snow day feels like a microcosm of the mixed feelings February generates. For those of us who love the snow (or at least love looking at it out the window if we don’t have to go anywhere or have kids with very large bladders who love being cold and playing out in the snow all day without needing breaks at 15-minute intervals), let me say it: It IS beautiful. And February seems to be the month that brings the most snow drama—at least here in New England.
February also brings Valentine’s Day. I for one have always loved Valentine’s Day. I liked making Valentine boxes and exchanging valentines in school. Especially if there was candy involved. Years later I loved the great “excuse” for romantic dinners. And more candy. I especially loved making Valentine cookies (I did do that some years—right, kids?) and having special Family Valentine’s Dinners. And now I love sending Valentine boxes to our 11 distant grandchildren.
But not everyone loves Valentine’s Day. For some it is most dreaded or best ignored. Maybe it’s long ago hurt and scarring associated with this day or it could be recent loss and pain—or maybe a lifetime of feeling alone more than ever at this time. This is a hard time—and February is a hard month—for many.
So it is that as I sit here looking out at the beautiful snow and feeling a strange mixture of delight and melancholy in the memories of many years of February, I find myself praying for all the moms I know. For joyful fun in the snow (or joyful gloating in the sand). For patience and endurance when the Snow Days (or any days) get long and lonely. And for healing of many hurting hearts in this February. Psalm 34:18 keeps coming to mind: “The Lord is very close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
For all of us, a reminder that both snow and hearts bring to mind our loving God. The One Who inhabits “the storehouses of the snow” (Job 38:22). The One Who loved us enough to die for us, that our sins, as bright and deep as scarlet, might be “as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18). And The One Who also “loves us with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3).
An old hymn comes to mind: “There is a place of quiet rest, near to the heart of God.” Quiet rest? Are you kidding? For moms? In the heart of God, yes. Yes. Yes.
Feel loved this February, in the snow or not. Because you are.
So it’s January. In fact, we’re already halfway through January, and I feel I’m just coming out of my post-Christmas stupor, blinking my eyes against the sometimes harsh light of the new year. I hate having Christmas over. I’ve always had a problem with saying goodbye to Christmas for another year. My family will tell you how I used to spend New Year’s Day curled up in a fetal position on the couch while Woody took down the Christmas decorations and hauled out the dry bunch of needles that had been our tree.
But there’s also, once I get past my goodbyes to Christmas, something good about January. A sort of cleansing. The house looks pretty good after all without all the clutter of Christmas. And there’s something hopeful about turning the calendar page on to not only a new month, but a whole new year. Who knows what possibilities lie ahead?
There’s a reason why the month is called January. It traces back to the legendary Roman god Janus, who had two heads, one looking back and one facing forward. He was the god of doorways, gates, and bridges, symbolizing beginnings and ends. Reflection and remembering the past. Hoping and praying into the unknown future.
But you moms of young children are not, I am quite sure, spending hours in reflection. You probably feel jolted into January. Back into school routines and (for us in the North) early morning jackets and boots and lunch boxes. And homework. Yes. Homework.
The month doesn’t slow down. Suddenly all the realities of the world we live in can hit hard. New diagnoses. New challenges at work or school. Back to the grind . . . it can be jolting. Suddenly (or so it seems to me since I’m not the one to whom it is happening) I’m hearing of sad goodbyes two of my friends are saying to their beloved fathers. Two precious ones I pray for are either awaiting or receiving stem cell transplants. My only remaining aunt, dearly loved, is facing unexpected surgery. And one very brave very godly young mom I know is commemorating, along with her four precious children, the sudden death of their husband and daddy in a Marine helicopter crash one year ago in mid-January. There can be a lot of tears in January. And a lot of Hope.
All this is why I am delighted to have a great book to recommend to you. It’s a daily devotional by Paul David Tripp called New Morning Mercies. Wait. Don’t stop reading because the last thing you need is a new devotional to stack with all the other unread volumes—or someone putting you on a guilt trip because you never get to any devotional time at all with young kids needing you every waking moment (even those intended for sleep)! Before you give up, let me tell you what I love about this devotional.
First, it grew out of daily tweets that the author sent out, and every day’s reading begins with a tweet-length thought that will fire up your day even if that’s all you get to. Also, it is saturated beginning to end with grace. And if there is anything we moms need, it is grace. That’s because it is full of Biblical truth (thus infused with grace). This truth is passed through the filter of the author’s experience (seminary training as well as training and experience as both a counselor and a pastor) in such a way that it hits us right where we need it. Yes, it is convicting as well as comforting (remember it is Scripture-saturated). Nearly every day it feels as if it were written just for me. Maybe you, too.
I want to leave you with just one favorite quote. But it is very hard to choose because nearly every page I’ve read is totally marked up with “favorites.” And by the way, a note for you Type A Firstborn Perfectionists (How do I know you so well?!): Do not hesitate because you didn’t start with January 1. I first got this book in September and started reading from there. It works perfectly well wherever you start.
From January 10: “The DNA of joy is thankfulness . . . [but] If my heart is ever going to be freed of grumbling and ruled by gratitude, I need your grace: grace to remember, grace to see, grace that produces a heart of humble joy.”
Grace to remember what God has done in the past. (In his Introduction, Tripp reminds us that “remembering is spiritual warfare; even for this we need grace.”) Grace to see His work in what is before your very eyes. Right now. Right here. Even in January.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22–23 ESV)
“I feel as if I can never cease praising God. Come and rejoice with me over His goodness.” The words keep echoing in my mind. Really, in my heart. They’re the introduction to a paraphrase of Psalm 34 that is, in a sense, our family Psalm. More on that to come.
“Really? Praising God? Now? In the midst of this mess? As I sit by this hospital bed? After I’ve just buried my husband? When I am so desperately concerned about my child’s special needs? While it seems I’m always waiting for a doctor to call back about the next diagnosis/surgery/meds? When my marriage is struggling so? Rejoice? Really?” These are the other words that echo in my head—and heart. They’re not necessarily spoken words. But I see them on strained faces and hear them in worried voices and watch them in weary walks. When I am at Mom to Mom. When I visit with my neighbors. When I answer the phone. I hear them.
It’s these voices, actually, that make me love Psalm 34. I originally loved it as my Nana’s favorite Psalm. It is inscribed on her tombstone. Then I came to love it at deeper levels at the time when my father-in-law was dying by inches over a nine-week period at the age of 52. During those long weeks, my mother-in-law drove into that Chicago hospital every day and sat by his bed. They read this paraphrase of Psalm 34 together nearly every day. I often mention Psalm 34 in my teaching and writing. I often pray this Psalm in dark hours of the night. But in this chapter of my life—and in this month of giving thanks—it means more than ever. For me, it defines gutsy gratitude:
Paraphrase of Psalm 34 (from Psalms Now—Leslie F. Brandt)
I feel at times as if I could never cease praising God.
Come and rejoice with me over His goodness!
I reached for Him out of my inner conflicts, and He was there to give me strength and courage.
I wept in utter frustration over my troubles, and He was near to help and support me.
What He has done for me he can do for you.
Turn to Him; He will not turn away from you.
His loving presence encompasses those who yield to Him.
He is with them even in the midst of their troubles and conflicts.
He meets their emptiness with His abundance and shores up their weakness with His divine power.
Listen to me; I know whereof I speak.
I have learned through experience that this is the way to happiness.
God is ever alert to the cries of His children; He feels and bears with them their pains and problems.
He is very near to those who suffer
And reaches out to help those who are battered down with despair.
Even the children of God must experience affliction,
But they have a loving God who will keep them and watch over them.
The godless suffer in loneliness and without hope;
The servant of God finds meaning and purpose even in the midst of his suffering and conflict.
“I reached . . . He gave. I wept . . . He was near to help and support. His loving presence wraps around us. He meets [my] emptiness with His abundance and shores up [my] weakness with His divine power. He is ever alert . . . He is very near . . . He reaches out to help.” These are the reasons—at least a few of them—that we can say the opening lines with integrity. These are the foundation of gutsy gratitude. These are the reasons we can say thank you even when it takes extraordinary courage to hang on to His truth amidst our current realities. Even in the midst of . . . Even “if He does not . . .” (see Daniel 3:18) Even after . . .
These were the words of the ancient Psalmist (probably David, in a time of great trouble). This was the testimony of my grandmother. These were the words that sustained my husband Woody’s parents through a long dark passage. These are the words I live by. This is the truth about our great God. These truths are the reason the Apostle Paul could command us to give thanks in everything. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
Wherever you are in your life, whatever your journey in this November 2016, whatever courage it may take to praise God, even though _______, I do hope these good words from our God will invade your soul and ignite within you a gutsy gratitude. A joyful outpouring of thanks that only He can give. For this I pray—for you, for me, for all of us. Because, as Ann Voskamp says “Our worlds reel unless we rejoice. A song of thanks steadies everything.” (The Greatest Gift, p. 190)
The house is quiet now. Way too quiet. And way too orderly. Only the ticking away of my Mom’s grandfather clock, reminding me that time moves on.
For 38 glorious days, our home has been filled with the voices of children. My ten favorite children, to be precise. Shouts and giggles and fun and laughter and crying and bickering and “time outs” and whispered conversations between cousins coming from the “craft closet” (our master bedroom closet, repurposed) and loud games interspersed with “No, it’s my turn!” . . . You get the picture. 38 days of glorious chaos.
And now they’ve all gone home. As I write this, I shiver with remembrance of that unforgettable sentence about Hannah after her annual visits to the temple to see the son she had dedicated to God: “Then they would go home.” (1 Samuel 2:20b) Not quite the same, for sure. But still, the going home.
Our recycling and trash tell the story. Well, part of it anyway. Yes, the party’s over and they’ve all gone home. But I am left with so much more than the after-the-party remnants. I am a different person. More exhausted, to be sure. But so much more. I am a grateful Nana filled with new memories made over the past 5 weeks.
Games of Candyland and Chutes and Ladders and Sorry and Animal Bingo. Stories read, some by me and some by the children, who range in age from 10 years to ten months. Pirate stories told by “Farfar” (their name for Woody—“father’s father” in Swedish). Trips to splash parks and playgrounds and petting farms and the gorgeous York Beach in Maine—and the Lego Store and Build-a-Bear and the much-loved Superstore of Used Books. Diapers (“nappies” to my Irish crew) changed and tears wiped and grievous wounds cured(!) by Dory or Star Wars bandaids and nights of protest (“But it’s not bedtime yet!”) and disputes of nearly international scope about who got the most wiffle-ball pitches from Farfar. What seems like hundreds of hot dogs and PB&J sandwiches and pizzas and birthday cakes and ginormous ice cream cones consumed.
Ah, summer with grandchildren. I really didn’t want it to end.
Yet as I write this, I am reminded of summers long ago when I felt a bit more ambivalent about summer’s end. The start of school looked pretty good then! ☺ So as I ponder (the end of the annual summer visit) and miss (all of them!) and cherish (such precious memories), I also think of all of you moms out there. Some of you also missing grandkids who’ve gone home. Some counting the days ’til school begins (please Lord, soon!)—or wishing your kids were old enough for school! Others celebrating because school has already begun in your world. And then those moms who’ve made that first long journey (long whether an hour away—or thousands of miles) to college. For all of us, those mixed emotions that come with being a mom/grandmom.
May we always be grateful. May we always savor the memories. And may we always have the necessary strength that comes only from the Father of us all (and the joy as well). Summer, we salute you . . . it’s been oh, so lovely.
C.S. Lewis said it best: “We may ignore, but we nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito.” (from Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, p. 75)
Yes, He often walks incognito through our world. But now and then we get glimpses. I’ve had more than a few “God glimpses” recently—and most of them seem in some way to involve mothers.
First, there is the flurry of activity among mama birds in our neighborhood. We walked by a picturesque little robin’s nest a couple of days ago. We also have a mama bird (I think it’s an Eastern Phoebe) building a nest in our front entrance. It’s really quite a mess (not at all picturesque like the robin’s). But I have learned that warm and cozy and safe homes don’t need to look Pinterest-worthy. They just need a mama. (I don’t dare try to take a picture of this one, BTW, because mama bird is very skittish and protective, and I don’t want to jeopardize our relationship.)
Then there are other mamas through whom I have seen God lately. Mamas who embrace their children with God’s love even when they are lonely (Dad’s gone again for work?) or chronically sleep-deprived (Whaat? This 7-month-old baby still isn’t sleeping through the night?) or even comforting their children (“It’s going to be all right, honey”) when their own heart is shattered by grief into a million pieces (All right? How can it be all right when the love of my life, the father of these children, is snatched away from me in one tiny terrible moment?) Through these mamas—and so very many others, I see God. He’s the only explanation.
Last Thursday I had the joy of hearing moms at a local Mom to Mom share their hearts about this past year. These are just snatches of what I heard (composite paraphrase):
- I’ve recently come to see how different parenting with God is from parenting without Him. Also how different parenting alone is versus sharing the journey with other moms.
- This is the church being the church. It is my primary source of spiritual nourishment.
- Mom to Mom has ignited a fire within me that has been simmering for a long time.
- Here I can be completely myself. I am listened to without judgment. I am reminded that I am not alone. Both my Titus 2 leader and the very practical biblical teaching help me release my burden of perfectionism and trust God with my kids.
- Moms suffer from a kind of occupational irony. We spend our lives continually caring for others. Who cares for us? This is the one place in my week where I don’t have to prepare anything: coffee, goodies, or childcare. Here I am not only cared for but also given dignity and confidence in my role as a mom. A rare gift in our culture.
- In this past year, not much has changed in my circumstances. But a lot has changed in my heart.
Two recurring themes in what I heard: We are cared for. We are loved and accepted—even welcomed—here, just as we are. No matter what. Really. No matter what. And our hearts are changed.
Hmmm. Sounds a lot like grace. Sounds a lot like God. “Surely the Lord is in this place . . .” (Genesis 28:16a) Because the deep deep love of Jesus flows through the “Titus 2 Moms” who have themselves received that love, these moms feel loved. And they can pass that love along to their children.
One reason, I would guess, why “the world is crowded with Him.”
So, as Mother’s Day 2016 approaches, a shout out to all of you who love your children, another mom, or even a would-be mom (I have not forgotten) with His love. Through you we see glimpses of God.
Happy Mother’s Day!
In the midst of Lent and as Easter approaches, a brief reflection from the past. And for the present. And the future.
I was a craft-challenged mama. Sort of the anti-Martha Stewart. The very words “Next week we’re going to do a simple craft” struck terror in my soul. When it came to “making things,” my fingers just didn’t seem to work. The fingers that could play the piano and write essays and turn book pages by the hour simply froze when the popsicle sticks and glue came out. My heart just wasn’t in it. It’s a good thing Pinterest wasn’t around when my kids were small. I can’t imagine how I would have beat down the false-failure-as-a-mom (please note the word “false”) feelings.
I was also a tradition-oriented mama. I loved creating family traditions that would make memories for our kids and help them remember the things that really mattered. I believed deeply that children often remember feelings more than facts. I also knew my three children had very different learning styles. One remembered every word ever read to him. Another wanted to build things and take things apart (and put them back together—the only one in our family who could do that!). Our third loved—and remembered–anything you could sing and dance to.
So what do our kids remember about Easter? A cross and a lily. Every Easter morning (well, most Easter mornings), they awoke to something special for breakfast (the kind of “special” that you can manage when running off to teach Sunday School classes before church). And Easter baskets accompanied by an “Easter book” which was a Bible story of some kind. But also—and maybe especially—an Easter lily with a simple white cross in it. I even made the cross—very simply cut out of cardboard and planted in the midst of the lily.
Why am I telling you this? Two reasons. First: Because of Mom to Mom, I know—and love—scores of young moms. Very dedicated moms. Very gifted moms. Very busy moms. They want desperately to make memories for their children. To help them know and treasure in their hearts the things that really matter. They have tons of great ideas for ways to do all that. They do, after all, live with Facebook and Pinterest. And, those glossy magazines illustrating all-you-can-do-with-your-kids are still there at the checkout. And most of them are probably not craft-challenged like me. But these moms also have children. And, as you may have noticed, children can be very time-consuming. And they tend to get sick at holiday seasons.
So I want to commend to you the simple lily and the cross. Not elaborate. Very simple. But they remember it. Also the reading of the Easter story. Again and again. From different age-appropriate Bible story books with different styles and illustrations. Act it out. I still remember our 4-year-old on our back porch instructing his mystified (but learning!) friend in his role in their self-directed little Easter play. (“No, Mark. You are the angel. You say “He is not here. He is risen, just as He said.”) Build the story with blocks. Use some of their action figures to represent the major players. Sing it. With “He’s alive!” hand motions if possible. Or maybe dancing.
Because here’s the second reason I’m telling you this. The cross and the lily are, in the end, what matters most about Easter. In any season of life. In the good times and the bad. When you have a houseful of kids or grandkids. And when you don’t. Jesus died. He rose. He lives. All for the love of you and me. And when you “get” that love (and help your kids to), it makes all the difference. As one physically-challenged young mom told me years ago, “Linda, here at Mom to Mom I have understood, for the first time, how much God loves me. And when you get that—really get it—it makes all the difference.”
Yes it does, sweet mom-friend. The cross and the lily. They make all the difference. From here to eternity.
It’s February. So I guess it’s no surprise that I’m thinking about hearts. But my thoughts at the moment are not the stuff of Hallmark cards or romantic gifts or candlelight dinners—though I actually do love all those things.
This year my thoughts are overtaken by other kinds of hearts. Broken hearts. Anxious hearts. Losing heart. Or more accurately, not losing heart.
It seems a lot of precious people I know are grieving. Deeply grieving. Daughters for their mothers. Parents for their sons. A brave, beautiful, Godly young mother of four for her beloved husband, gone from them all in an instant. Too many broken hearts in my world. And, I would bet, in yours, too.
And so many anxious hearts. Some await the results of the next biopsy. Or they wonder what the next doctor’s appointment will bring. Hope for their husband? Help for their son? Better treatment options for the disease or depression? Many hearts I know cry out “How long O Lord, how long?” Will this last IVF finally work? Will the adoption ever be finalized? Still others worry about finances and employment (or unemployment) issues. Is there really a job out there to support their family? Or their marriages, breaking apart at the seams though no one else knows. Can this broken place be mended, this marriage restored and made new?
I hope you are still reading after this gloomy start. Because God has been reminding me that hearts are His business. In His Word, He talks about the heart all the time. Over 1000 times, actually, throughout the Old and New Testaments.
“The Lord is close to the broken-hearted,” we read in Psalm 34:18, “and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” He “heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3) The Prophet Isaiah, in a passage Jesus later applied to Himself, proclaimed that “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted…” (Isaiah 61:1)
This same God of the brokenhearted knows about anxious hearts as well. “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts, and have sorrow in my heart everyday?” the Psalmist cried out in his angst. (Psalm 13:2) One of my favorite passages is Psalm 94:18-19: “When I said ‘My foot is slipping,’ your love, O Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.”
Wait a minute! Joy? Joy? Are you kidding? In the midst of grief and pain and anxiety . . . joy? Not happiness, you understand. Joy. Author Walter Wangerin says it best:
“The difference between shallow happiness and a deep, sustaining joy is sorrow. Happiness lives where sorrow is not. When sorrow arrives, happiness dies. It can’t stand pain. Joy, on the other hand, rises from sorrow and therefore can withstand all grief. Joy, by the grace of God, is the transfiguration of suffering into endurance, and of endurance into character, and of character into hope—and the hope that has become our joy does not (as happiness must, for those who depend on it) disappoint us.” (Reliving the Passion, p. 31)
Maybe, just maybe, this is the key to not losing heart, which is the third thing I’ve been thinking about. How do we help one another not lose heart? It’s certainly at the heart of the mission of Mom to Mom: encouraging moms—all moms (whether with rejoicing hearts, broken hearts, anxious hearts, exhausted hearts—all kinds of hearts) to “not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:3) We’re called to “Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong; do not fear; your God will come….” (Isaiah 35:3-4) We’re called to walk alongside, listen more than talk, love and pray and cook and care for kids and . . . so that we point them to the only One Who can give real joy.
All so that one day, one day, for all hearts who trust in Him, “Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” (Isaiah 35:10)
In the meantime, keep looking to Him “so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:3) OK, moms, I know you are weary. Of course you are. It comes with the job. But you know what I mean by not losing heart…
“I see you.” Those words have haunted me ever since I read the chapter with that title in Sara Hagerty’s new book Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet.
I have followed Sara’s writing for a while through her blog by the same name. I have also followed her story a bit through my daughter-in-law, who (full disclosure) is a college friend of Sara’s. Now what a joy to receive her book for Christmas—and to pass along a new book recommendation to all of you.
Yes, all of you. Especially for anyone dealing with infertility issues. But also for anyone dealing with the unexpected twists and turns of life, the things we might never have imagined ourselves walking through. Sara’s story is a story of conversations with God through the hard times. Through disappointment and disillusionment and lonely pain.
Yes, lonely pain. Especially lonely pain. The deep-down pain that isolates you in a crowd, that makes you feel invisible, like no one else has any idea what you’re going through.
Which brings me to my favorite chapter of the book: “I see you.” As Sara struggles through yet another baby shower filled with women’s tales of giving birth, feeling invisible and as if she’ll never “fit in,” God whispers these words: “I see you.”
I see you. Powerful words. Words to live by. Words that outshout—if we let them—all the voices that tell us know one will ever understand, no one “gets” what we’re going through. It may not be, for you, infertility. But perhaps a struggling marriage. An extremely needy child. The loneliness of single parenting. A medical condition no one else knows about—or no one else would understand. A deep pain from your past. A private battle you cannot share with others. Does anyone see?
HE does. God does. And He says it over and over in Scripture—both in words and in deeds. In her chapter Sara focuses on the bleeding woman whose story is told in Luke 8: 40-48. The woman who came to my mind immediately is Hagar, running away from her life in fear and misery. Who shows up but God? Read her story in Genesis 16 and listen as she proclaims: “You are the God who sees me.” That’s indeed who He is: the God who sees. Who sees an obscure “unclean” woman. A frightened, pregnant servant girl. Sara Haggerty. And you. And me.
And here’s a bonus. Not only does He see you, but being seen by Him helps us in turn to see Him. Hagerty puts it this way: “…knowing that God sees me frees me actually to see Him.” (Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet, p. 160). And Hagar exclaims, “I have now seen the God who sees me.” (Genesis 16: 13)
Certainly, not everyone struggles with infertility. And not everyone’s story ends like Sara’s. But we all can learn the truth of the Scripture on which the book title is based: “A satisfied soul loathes the honeycomb, But to a hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet.” (Proverbs 27:7, NKJV)
Feeling alone? God sees. And cares. And offers the sweetness of His presence even amidst our “bitter.”
The moment is etched in my memory forever. It was the week before Christmas. Our first Christmas in Wisconsin. It was bitterly cold. A piercing wind cut through my layers of thermal clothing. And all the way into my heart.
Everything about me felt cold. We had moved from a place where we had lived many years, surrounded by multiple circles of friends and family, enveloped in warm memories and fireside moments. And this new place felt cold. Very very cold.
I was making my way across a supermarket parking lot, pushing a very heavy basket. Here was the good part: We were preparing for a visit from all of our children that Christmas, so my basket was loaded with the promise of good times, warm moments around the fire. But the moments would be fleeting. The kids would leave, and it would be cold and lonely again. Against my best judgment, self-pity was slouching its way into my soul.
Then I saw her. Creeping along next to me, hunched over her basket filled with only one lonely bag of groceries, was a woman who reminded me of long-ago pictures of my German immigrant grandmother. She wore a babushka over her wrinkled head, her claw-like fingers were crippled with arthritis, and she leaned heavily into her cart for support. She wore an old cloth coat so thin I could almost see through it.
Seeing her, I paused. Was there some way I could help her? Offer to push her basket to her car (Did she really drive? I didn’t see anyone with her, and the old car to which she seemed to be headed was empty.) so her progress across the lot would be less snail-like? But my cart was so loaded, so heavy, that I was afraid it could lunge into another car if I let go of it. I was moving slowly enough with the weight of it.
Then she saw me. Before I could make a move, she slowly, painfully approached me. “Ah, ah…such heavy burdens you have. Your load is heavy. I wish I could help you.”
I was stunned into silence. Before I could move or speak, she was gone. It seemed as if she vaporized. Probably she made her way to her car while I stood there frozen in shock. Probably. I’m just not sure.
I never saw her again. In fact, I never saw anyone who looked like her in the rest of our years in that town. I have no idea who she was.
But I thought of her again this week. I was re-reading parts of a favorite book: Somewhere More Holy, by Tony Woodlief. The author, who has described the shattering tragedy of losing a young daughter, is reflecting on the Incarnation, “the coming of God to live with us as a man, shouldering our burdens, enduring with us our trials.” And he asks the question: “Have you ever tried to carry a heavy burden, felt its weight on your shoulder or against your leg, and then suddenly felt it lighten as a friend arrived to help you with it? This is Christmas to us.” (p. 50)
Indeed. This is Christmas. This, and so much more. A God Who came to “live in the neighborhood” for a time. A God who calls us to bring our heavy burdens to Him. A God who shows up in the most unlikely ways and places.
Be watchful this Christmas.
It’s happened again. The Light. Just showing up when and where I least expect it. I’ve written before—in past Christmases, I think—about that “certain slant of light” that sneaks across the nativity set on our mantle on certain early mornings when the sun shines here in Wisconsin.
But this happened in the dark. Just the day before yesterday. I got up and stumbled into the kitchen, before coffee, and it was cold. And dark. Very dark.
And there it was. One single candle on the mantle, just to the right of the Bethlehem gathering, with its bulb lit. The candle next to it (both of them battery run) remained dark. They had, after all, been turned off before we went to bed.
But there it was. Stubborn, persistent, wonderful light. Penetrating the darkness and the cold with the reminder that the Light of Christmas isn’t extinguished after the holiday. It remains—persists, even—right on into the New Year, into the January of our lives.
Startled as I was by the light, I had a sudden flashback. One dark night long ago, early in our marriage, Woody and I were working as short-term missionaries in a very remote area in Northern Kenya. We had just finished dinner with a missionary couple and were leaving to cross a winding dirt road to the little cottage where we slept. As we started out the door, the missionary ran after us with a flashlight: “You’d better take this,” he said.
We resisted: “Oh no, we won’t need it,” we assured him. “There’s moonlight, it’s a short distance, and we know the way.”
“Oh, if I were you I’d take it,” he insisted. “There’s a leopard that likes to hang out around that road at night. But he’s very afraid of the light.”
We took the flashlight.
The memory came back to me as I contemplated that candle. I reflected on the closing days of 2012 and wondered about 2013. There’s been a lot of darkness lately. And 2013 is looking a bit murky just now. You never know what leopards might be lurking around. What did Peter say? Something about lion-like evil that prowls around, seeking to devour? (I Peter 5:8)
But there’s that Light. It’s persistent. Steady. Stubborn, even. John said even the darkness can’t put it out. (John 1:5) So I feel I can wish you—even despite and amidst any darkness in our world, or in your personal world—a Happy New Year.
And don’t forget—Take the Light!