Hey Sweet Friends. Am I allowed to still call you that after so much time has passed since you’ve heard from me here? I want you to know that I have thought of you often and what I would share with you next.
If I was done.
If I was brave enough to keep going.
If I would obey God or remain comfortably disobedient.
It’s Christmas Eve. For weeks, everywhere I look there have been lights, and trees, and smiles, and parties, and bells ringing, and Hallmark Christmas movies playing. Everything is bright and beautiful and we watch as the world ties the year up with a big, beautiful bow. That seed of eternity that was placed in the heart of every human being starts to germinate this time of year. Even for people who don’t know Jesus, this time of year has us all aching for something missing, whether we know it or not. It has us all trying to create magic, and moments, and memories. Sometimes the attempts even work! But give us just a few days after the decorations are all put up, until next year, and the shine is gone.
Christmas celebrations changed for me 12 years ago when my brother was in the hospital from the second week of November to the first week of January. In those terrifying weeks of not knowing if he was going to live or die, the Emmanuel-ness of God had never been more real to me. I didn’t find Jesus in the lights, and traditions, and presents under the tree that year. I found Him in the shallow breaths of my comatose brother, and the miracle of his healing, and the presence of a High Priest who makes intercession for us when we don’t know what to pray.
For the last three weeks the amount of heartache I have been a witness to has been overwhelming. In the span of 10 days I had three young women crack open their hearts and let all the mess out…equal parts confessional, counseling session, and bearing witness to their pain. Within those 10 days a family close to me got a devastating diagnosis for their four year-old daughter. And on day 10 I found out that a former student lost her life to drugs at 22 years-old.
In shock and a breath away from compassion fatigue, I cracked my journal open
“In a season full of light and the wonder of Christmas, everywhere I look it just looks dirty and dark…and as I try to reconcile the darkness and the light in my own mind, I hear you say, ‘This is why I came. Until I return, you cannot have the coming of Christ in Bethlehem without the need for it.’”
I love all things Hallmark Christmas Movies, really, any Hallmark movie, if I’m completely honest, but then if we are Sweet Friends, you know this about me already. The predictability of it all is comforting to this heart who cannot watch violence and suspense anymore…not after Heath. I’m not one of those who is holding out for the magic of Hallmark to become reality. I know too much about the world to hold my breath for that to happen, but if I’m not careful, I can let the glitter and gold of that Hallmark crown distract me from what that first Christmas was like.
That first Christmas in Bethlehem was dirty and dark as well.
Mary and Joseph and the scandal of her pregnancy. When was the last time you really pondered what both of them gave up by saying yes to God? Sure, we know how that story ended, but can you imagine the absolute scandal that it was when it happened…as they were living it?
The stable she gave birth in. Her husband, whom she had never lain with, the only midwife she had. The feeding trough they laid the Son of God in. The shepherds, who were considered unclean by Jewish law, so dirty and undesirable was their work, were the first visitors to the newborn King of Kings.
As I sat there on my couch with the Holy Spirit talking about how dirty and dark my little world was looking, it was His kindness towards me as He reminded me He is no stranger to the dirty and the dark. In fact, if there was a place known for death and darkness, that is where Jesus did some of His best work while He was on earth.
I had some sweet ladies in my home last week for my annual Favorite Things Brunch and my moma came over a little early to help me get ready. She came in with eyes of what was important to her but I had a list for her to get started on. Our lists were not the same.
I had already given myself permission to leave my bathroom a mess and my bed unmade because there wasn’t time. It wasn’t as if I was going to offer to take people on a tour of my house, even if I have made some pretty beautiful changes to my master suite. I needed the grapes washed and the apples sliced. I needed the punch made. But my moma was right. She came in and helped me make the bed up really quickly and when one of the ladies asked if I was finished with the bedroom and asked it she could she see it, I was able to say yes. As long as I was not judged for the cleanliness of my bathroom.
We are taught, at an early age, to hide our dirty and dark places. That is if they are even allowed to exist because we need to keep things clean, as if we can clean ourselves up enough in our own strength. I am not saying that we needn’t care about keeping our homes clean and being a good steward of our blessings, but sometimes we get so used to a thing being true in the tangible world that we think it translates to the emotional and spiritual world as well.
Sweet Friend, you can do all the self-help in the world, you can send out good vibes and try to manifest all the positivity you can muster, but until Christ returns in the Second Advent, the need for His first coming will coexist with us…the dirty and the dark makes its home among us.
I was watching Christmas with the Chosen on my couch during the Global Live Event later in the day after I wrote about the dirty and the dark in my journal. From the screen I heard these words from the actor who portrays Thaddeus,
“That’s the thing about being mortal. We can’t see in the dark…but God can. Somehow David knew this and he wrote about it in Psalms. ‘Even the darkness is not dark to you. The night is as bright as the day for darkness is as light with you.’ Even when we can’t see God, He sees us. Even when we can’t see a way forward through the night, He is preparing a way.”
You know those moments when you are sure the Lord gave you a word that answered a prayer of your heart? This was one of those moments for me so I grabbed my journal and under my prayer from earlier that morning I entered this quote and recorded the verse from Psalm 139. And then I wrote,
“Oh Jesus, all that is dark to me and those I love shines like the day to you. Nothing is lost. Not one thing has eluded your gaze in any of the situations and in any of the stories you are weaving together through all of the dirty and the dark.”
Sweet Friends, everywhere we look lately it looks dirty and dark, but here’s what I know to be true…Jesus is the light of the world and He came, continues to come, and is coming again. And John 8 tells us that anyone who follows Him will never walk in the darkness but have the light of life.
One of the things I love most about Jesus is that He never pretended darkness and death and the dirty didn’t exist. He looked it in the face, called it what it was but then He offered a solution. His life…and who did John call Him?
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were created through him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness, and yet the darkness did not overcome it.”John 1:1-5
Darkness is mentioned in the Bible 162 times. Darkness, literal and figurative, is a part of life. There is no escaping it while we are in this world but because Jesus, the Light of the World came to earth, in the first Advent and we have the promise of the Second Advent, there is a way we can walk, and live in light.
So when we get a life altering diagnosis, we can hold fast to the robes of Christ knowing He knows the end from the beginning and holds us in his hands. When we’ve asked God for months, “What is next?” and He remains silent, we can surrender our need to understand and trust that the now He is calling us to will get us to the next, in His time. When the choices we’ve made leave us in a heap of dirty rags, we can trust that God will work every single thing out for our good and His glory if we submit our brokenness to Him. And even in the seemingly premature death of a saint we can both grieve and wonder, holding the paradox of the death of a Believer, both tragic and a miracle, knowing that they now have what is better even while we are heartbroken, having to live in a world without them.
Psalm 119:105 says,
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”
Your word…and the Word was God…Jesus. Jesus is the lamp to my feet and the light to my path because the dirty and the dark aren’t going anywhere until He returns.
This Christmas is my first with my very own home and for the first time I have a yard to decorate. I didn’t have big plans for anything spectacular but I did have the idea of a lighted star on an empty section of siding, but then I realized that my house doesn’t have an electric outlet out front. In order for the vision to be fulfilled I would have to run an extension cord all the way around my house to the back and I wasn’t going to do that. So I called my moma, knowing she would have a solution or an idea.
She immediately said, “There have to be solar powered Christmas lights. You could get some!” She was right, there are solar powered Christmas lights and I did get some. Four strands to be exact. One for my gigantic star and the other three I wrapped around the three big trees in my front yard. It’s a simple start but they make me smile when I see them.
Last week there were several days where it was rainy and a bit cloudy here in Georgia and I wondered if they would still turn on at night since there wasn’t a lot of sunlight. While they certainly weren’t as bright as they would have been if they were electric, they still shone…even the dim light shone enough through the darkness for me to be able to see it and for it to make me smile.
One tiny spark of light can still drown out all the darkness around it and Jesus came to Earth to give us His light. That is perhaps the gift I am most thankful for this Christmas.
There is something about making space for observing Advent that I have experienced the last several years. That seed of eternity that is planted in each of our hearts starts to sprout as we engage with Emmanuel, God with us, and He invites us to look toward the Second Advent. To share His light with others so that they too can have strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.
Sweet Friends, the darkness is not all there is. Revelation tells us that one day there will be no more darkness because He whose face is like the sun at full strength is alive forever and ever and He holds the keys to death and Hades. There is nothing so dirty that He cannot make white as snow and there is no darkness too dark to be drowned out by His light.
Sweet Friends, I’m praying for you. I pray no matter where you are this Christmas that you will find God in the dirty and the dark and that you will be reminded that His heart towards you is good, loving, and kind.
Until next time,
Thank you for being here,
Remember to take deep breaths,
And God has got us!