how to have a (brave) merry Christmas

"I'm just not looking forward to the holidays this year. I feel jaded by the whole thing."

When the holiday season kicks off with this type of conversation between you and your sister. 

How does one celebrate the joy of Christmas on days when your heart is too heavy? As if it's sitting stone-like in your chest, dark and cold. Afraid to beat again. Afraid of getting hurt.

Just afraid. 

This year, the search for our Christmas tree led us to a beautiful farm ten minutes from our home. It was oddly warm for this time of year. The sun draped on the shoulders of watchful hills as we sized up potential trees. 

Sometimes it feels like nothing will ever size up around here. 

How do you wrestle with the truth that the Christ-babe came to heal when  people you love are still laying busted and bleeding from living  life in a broken world? This weight in my chest aches. I've been wide awake at night lately crying out to Jesus for this one to find freedom, for that one to be healed, for this beloved one to rise from the ashes. 

Everywhere I look, we're cutting down trees to string up at home. All the while, lives I know are being sliced down and strung out too.

It seems folly doesn't it? To march outside during the onset of Winter; to celebrate anything when the whole of nature is quite literally dying around us. But maybe that's just exactly when we need to celebrate the most. Maybe it's less about waiting for the " happy feelings" to show up, and more about preparing for Christ to arrive. 

Perhaps preparing--in hopeful, stubborn faith--for the miracle to come, becomes part of the miracle itself. 

The grass is cold under our feet. I watch as a woodpecker lands in a walnut tree to my right. He flies off, bobbing in the wind like a cork in water.  I think maybe a lot of us are just trying to stay afloat too.

Behr looks at tree after tree and does that crinkle-face he makes when he's amused. For some reason, a forest of fir trees was something completely hilarious to our boy.  Watching him sparks a bit of light into the shade cast over my spirit. "A joyful heart is good medicine..." -Proverbs 17:22

Scout rides in the hollow on my chest, the same place Behr used to.  Enjoying her cosmic eyes and deliciously round cheeks remind me of how much I longed for days like just like this last year. 

We decided on our tree just as the day's last light was winking into the West hollows surrounding the farm. I stopped myself for a minute. Breathe this in. I thought.

"I sought the Lord, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to Him are radiant and their faces shall never be ashamed. This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him from all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and delivers them." Psalm 34:4-7

I have to pocket light and truth when they're unavoidably evident. That way, on the days when darkness paces thick on the edges, I can have a match to strike for the torch I need to wield it off. 

As I'm writing this, our tree is sitting just there over my left shoulder. Once we stood it up in the living room, we laughed. Out on the farm, we didn't realize how big it was. 

Isn't the hope Jesus offers like that? It's more vast than we realize and kind of ridiculous in how it keeps showing up no matter how bleak things feel. 

So here I am, heart a bit heavy, spirit a bit wearied, but hopeful. People I know may be hurting, my anxiety might still be robbing me of confidence and rest, but the brave cheer of Christmas (of Christ coming, hallelujah!) is just what I need. And maybe you do too. 

"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them a light has shined." Isaiah 9:2

expectations

I didn't get to see the ginkgo trees this year. 

Every Fall, I keep a watchful eye out for my favorite fan-leafed trees to don their gold coats. There's a particularly glorious row of ginkgos--at our Wal-mart no less--that gets set ablaze in every shade of yellow during Autumn.  I look forward to seeing it unfold every late October. 

It was the middle of November before I realized, "Wait. We haven't drove by to see them!" My sentimental heart twinged a little with disappointment. Well, it's too late now.  

Life hasn't been easy lately. I wouldn't call it particularly hard (just like, everyday life sort of hard). I'm a bit...weary. I simply feel as though I've been so deep in the trenches of nursing every two hours and potty training and coaxing to sleep and cutting grapes in half and tending to diaper rash and three year old emotions and hormonal adjustments and the time change that I'm missing the flashes of joy God has lovingly placed in this intense season. 

This past Tuesday, we made the worthwhile drive to Newport for some Carabello Coffee; our favorite little corner coffee shop just across the river from Cincinnati. We stepped from the van onto the cold sidewalk and soon found ourselves shuffling through a confetti  explosion of gold completely covering the street. 

Ginkgo leaves. 

A mosaic of Jesus' loving placed details spread thick right there at our feet. 

He made sure I got to see them after all

Inside Carabello, we sat at a square table with the bright afternoon sun leaking light through the windowpanes. Scout wobbled on Jonathan's lap while Behr played a game on a phone so we could sip our coffee in peace. I exhaled a little. The view from where I sat: our little family, the ones I get to love the most. All of us will never be this young together again. What a beautiful thing to partake in. 

She's got cheeks as round and fluffy-soft as cumulus clouds. We can't help but leave ten kisses on each one every hour. His inquisitive, connective spirit has rocketed in intensity since he turned three. I'm simultaneously playing an exhausting game of catch up and and in awe of the person he's becoming. 

Then Jonathan and I, we're tired. So tired. Have you ever tried to keep two beautifully needy humans alive, clean, fed and happy while also working demanding jobs while also trying to make sure your marriage doesn't shrivel up from neglect? It's hard, you guys. But I can't think of more worthwhile work. 

After a hot maple spice latte for me , an iced mocha for Jonathan, and a tiny cup of  "coffee" (almond milk) for Behr we walked back out into the crisp air. 

Behr threw a small tantrum when we took the phone away but quickly recovered when he got to hold Jonathan's hand to cross the street instead of being carried. We stopped where the ginkgo leaves had fallen for a few pictures. I knelt down to Behr's level to find him holding a single leaf in his ever growing but still baby-dimpled hands. "Is that for me, buddy? Oh, this is my favorite!" He nodded, a bit bashful that I was making such a fuss. 

I've got news for him: I'll always make a fuss over Jesus using other's to shout His love right when we need it most.

Ok, so maybe life currently isn't what I thought it would be. Maybe we're still figuring it all out as we go (I have a growing, relieving sort of suspicion that we're all still figuring out as we go).

Maybe I'm learning to stop holding onto my expectations and instead live expectant for whatever goodness God chooses to bring our way. 

Inconvenient Joy

It wasn't a good time for a walk. 

We'd been out for hours and still had a thirty minute drive home. Jonathan was leaving at 4:30am for work the next morning. We were skirting dangerously close to bedtime with our two children who thrive on keeping as close to nighttime schedules as possible. My new shoes were giving me blisters.

Like I said, it wasn't a good time. But, we needed this.  

In case you missed it, we just had a baby. And as much as I'd love to impress everyone with how quickly we've "bounced back", the truth is that recovery has been slow. Good and beautiful and full of rest, but also very, very slow. I'm ok with it most days. But there's also times I think I might lose my marbles over how much we've had to be indoors this Summer. 

That's when I end up begging Jonathan to take us somewhere--anywhere--with some green, a bit of sunlight and space to breathe in the open air. 

So we ignored convenience and sought out some beauty together. We watched Behr trot about under the green-burdened trees. We held hands and inhaled relief while the sun softly caressed the earth to sleep. 

I've learned more about fighting for joy in the past year than any other time of life. I've realized that it's rarely ever convenient to push back fear and seek out the light. It's laborious and uncomfortable (and will definitely give you blisters). In fact, it honestly feels easier in the moment to just sit in the dark. But that's when the need to cultivate joy is at it's highest. 

Read these verses and see how many references there are to active participation despite the bleak circumstances the writer is facing:

"O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me." Psalm 63:1-8

"earnestly I seek you" / "I will bless you"/ "when I remember you...and meditate on you" / "I will sing" / "my soul clings to you".  

Joy in the Lord can feel inconvenient but, it's worth every sweat drop of work you put into pursuing it.

>>> 

The pathway back to our car yawned into the embrace of the sunset. I found myself  walking slowly, wading as deeply as I could into the thick stream of yellow light. Remember this, I told myself. Remember this when the days are darker and you need to be brave. There is deeply satisfying, healing joy in the world and God brings it along right when I need it. 

So, no. It wasn't a good time for a walk.

Or maybe, it really was.