Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Naming of a Year

I sit in the middle of a pile of old and broken toys - the ones they've forgotten about and I just want to clear some new space.

As though cleaning out their mess will somehow clean out mine.

He has this week off and we have company coming and we slip out with the kids to run a few last errands. Sit on red benches as the little ones chew through drippy ketchup and steamy hot dogs and I can feel the heaviness press.

He notices as we begin the drive home - asks where the laughter went and where my thoughts are...and I don't know how to explain it, but the words are beating wildly against my heart as though they are caged and the key has been tossed and thrown away.

Four years ago today, he set out in the cold with two of his brothers - drove up that back canyon and found his dad frozen and hanging from a tree.

Four years ago today...

And I think that four years should make a difference, make the remembering less painful - but it doesn't. Still cuts just as sharp, just as joltingly cruel.

Four years ago today, I named my first year because in the days leading up to this day I had felt His prompting, Name this year and I will hold you close...

And He did.

Each year since, in the days or months leading up to the new, He has been faithful to open my eyes to His thoughts.

This year was no exception.

He can be subtle yet persistent and it was finally in August that I begin to catch on,

God kept leading me back to Himself, to Who He is - to the faithfulness and steadfastness of His love.

So I began to trace Him, follow where He was going, write down the scripture in the back of my Bible - desperate for just one more glimpse.

The week before Christmas, a dark doubt began creeping in - wound it's death grip around my heart.

I thought back to an afternoon conversation I had with a dear friend;

It was early fall and I confided in her what I thought the naming of this coming year would be and I told her I was scared - because what happens if? What happens if everything falls apart and He gave me this word because He needs me to know He is faithful, that His love is steadfast? What happens if?

I could feel the terror creep up my throat - since we lost his dad...nothing has been the same.

And I see where I fail so clearly - my faithlessness and the way my will bends so often to sin. His steadfastness only magnifies my shakiness and can I be reminded of this day in and day out, carry this weight of failure at all times?

He brings to mind that passage I memorized, that one in Romans 8 - right at the very beginning:

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ
Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of Spirit Who gives
life has set you free from the law of sin and death.

And then, even before those words have a chance to re-sink in, He opens my eyes again, one last time before the old year closes out and the new one begins,

A Psalm.

                98 Oh sing to the Lord a new song,
for he has done marvelous things!
His right hand and his holy arm
have worked salvation for him.
The Lord has made known his salvation;
he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises!
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody!
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord!

Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
the world and those who dwell in it!
Let the rivers clap their hands;
let the hills sing for joy together
before the Lord, for he comes
to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with equity.

His faithful and steadfast love, His Hesed, is not placed before me to magnify my shortcomings, but to open my eyes to Who He is in light of my lack. By seeing how magnificent and awe-inspiring He is, I find joy and feel joy and speak joy out of everything I am not.

So, before all the unknowns of 2014, even before the first day of January dawns cold and new, He has named this coming year and He has invited me along to know Him deeper, to trust Him more fully, to see with new eyes how faith in His faithfulness will draw out sweet joy.

As I let go of this old year and open my hands to the new, I say yes to my Jesus and to the year of Hesed...

Sunday, December 29, 2013

There is a Tree

Fire rages through the mountains in Idaho this past summer and we sit glued to our television screens.

It's in the back of both of our minds but neither of us says it right away,

but it's there,

that question.

You see, there is a tree.

A tree that started out, who knows when, a tiny seed that fell into soft dirt, growing into a slight sapling that kept reaching for the sun - stretching, reaching, growing stronger and steady and roots sink deep.

I only saw that tree once,

knelt down in the dirt underneath it and traced the footprint that bore witness to my husband's finding.

Only looked up once to see that strong and steady branch marked and marred by a rope that desperation and despair hung from.

That tree grew, ring upon ring, and became scarred by death, and as a summer fire raged up and down canyons and valleys, we couldn't help but wonder, was the tree gone too?

Four years have now passed since I looked up and saw his dad walk out the door. Four years since that first night we went to sleep wondering where he was...four years since he saw the face of Jesus for the very first time.

And all the emotions and grief come rushing in as Zeruiah cries and I know she'll never know the sound of her Papa's soft hush. 

Like that tree scarred by the grip of a rope, our lives are scarred by the grip of suicide.

But, in God's goodness, there is another tree.

Another tree where all pain and sin and shame was nailed. Where Christ's flesh ripped and blood oozed and the weight of it all boiled. 

That tree, cut down and formed into a cruel cross was where my Savior was hung. 

And this could be just another tree marked and scarred by death...

But the One Who died on that wood broke the curse of sin when He gave up His last breath.

And He lives. He lives still and a tree that brought death is now beauty that sings grace and I can grieve today. And I can hurt today, and I can miss him today...

But I do it all with hope. 

Our lives are scarred by the ripping of death, but oh,

they are held together by The One Who gives hope.

I miss you, Dad...

Friday, December 27, 2013

In the Silence

I love words.

I love to read them, love to type them out, love to put pen to paper and let the words flow.

I listen to my older daughters sound out words and read stories and learn to form words of their own.

Zeruiah, she babbles nonsensically and then claps three times when she is done.

Words tie hearts together and friendships and relationships are born and supported within the realm of what is spoken and written down and sent.

One of my daughters, she wept in my arms last night - so very terrified to get it all wrong. She curled herself up in the circle of my arms and whispered that she didn't pray.

She doesn't want to get the words wrong,

so tired of starting over every time she thinks she's messed up that she's just given up.

But she doesn't have to get the words right, how could I have never told her that? There is One Who has mined the depths of us and the words that seem to be lost on our tongues are found in His scars and He stands between us and Holy God and He intercedes for His own...

No, our words don't have to be perfect to be heard.

They squabble hard in long shadows of winter,

pick at each others hearts with barbed words that tear wounds into the tender places.

Their eyes are flint and arms crossed like shields and having never had a sister, I find myself lost.

But I know, though I wish I didn't, how words can destroy and lay waste and scar the landscape of a heart. I love words and their flow, but I also know intimately how destructive they can be.

Hardened eyes and protected hearts are only a ruse...

We want to be known and loved and cherished and when it's all threatened, when our greatest fears are realized, we go on the defensive instead of running to our Defender the words we love and cherish can turn into weapons that wreck havoc on the very heart we are trying to protect.

Over a kitchen sink and hot running water this morning, as words were boiling and churning deep inside - as I found myself restless over thoughts and questions I haven't found ways to voice, He spoke.

Not in loud audible ways, but in typed and printed out words that I have placed to the right of my window -

Life is hard and broken and it presses in and brings out the very worst.

But there is One...

There is One Who was beaten, broken, bruised, pierced for our every sin - He was smitten and rejected by His Father all because of the very humanity that was doing the breaking and the beating and the bruising...

And He didn't open His mouth.

I love words, the flow of them; the beauty of them.

I love how they sound and the perfect placement of each one.

But I am asked to love The Word Made Flesh more - to trust that His Words are the ones that can heal and restore.

The Lamb Who Kept Silent sings love over His own and there is healing there in the silence, in the rest.

Sometimes, in the heat of the moment or in the silence of the aftermath or the calm of a day gone right, the only words I need to trace are the ones that He Is...

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

In the Hush of Christmas

We drove west last night, out into the dark. Out of the city and lights and wound through hilly roads under inky, clear skies.

So quiet and calm, I just stopped to look up before I closed the van door and couldn't even imagine...

As warm breath turned to clouds of cold vapor, I couldn't help but wonder at the contrast...

He left.

Bound by nothing, surrounded by the glory and peace of heaven, He left.

He left the freedom of Heaven to come near to the crush and chaos and filth of humanity.

Madison House became a home for Christmas this past Monday with a number nearing 2000 mamas and daddies and little ones coming through...

I stood in the stairway with my own four little ones packed in tight and sharing tired smiles.

I sat down in the basement to watch nervous actors, so thankful that smiles speak clearer than my broken Spanish ever could.  Thankful for the mamas who smile through broken English and press in close because sometimes that's what mamas do. Sometimes that's all we can do, press in close to each other and press in close to Jesus,

because that's what He did.

He left the expanse of Heaven for the crush of earth and for the pursuit of us and I've learned this:

Christ entering in to our mess is beautiful.

He alone makes our mess beautiful.

Jesus stepping onto earth's crust does two things -

it makes me long for the peace of Heaven,

and it opens my eyes to beauty in the ugliness of earth.

It lets me rest in the in between spaces.

I placed tiny paper Jesus into the tiny paper manger before I turned out the lights late last night,

I surrounded Him with the wise men and Mary and that tired old donkey that got her there.

And in the quiet I felt the tension slip away,

there is peace in the in between spaces,

all because He came.

All because He came for love...

Friday, December 20, 2013

When Christmas...and Joy...Are Near

It is five days until Christmas and the sun sinks lower and fast. Shadows begin just after noon and I am running low on candles.

They race to plug in the Christmas lights and I race to get everything done and they do what I used to do and they try and wish the days to race faster.

I just want them to slow down.

The youngest, the smallest, the one who this time last year stretched my skin taut, she stands shaky and takes that first step to the cheers of her daddy and braves 5 steps from table to dishwasher to the tears of her mama.

This is our last *first* Christmas.

The Wise Men Three come with me to the espresso machine in the early hours - I assume they must be weary as well. Maybe the aroma of ground coffee beans will be just the kick they need. They started their journey December 1st around our home and soon they'll find rest and the babe and the little ones won't frantically search for the Searchers each morning.

We light candles in the evening as we read of The Word in His Word and we read of the wait for His first coming and my eyes are opened a bit more to the tension as we wait for His second.

Those Three Kings searched with their eyes on the skies and I have found myself searching with eyes on tissue typed words...

The weeks of Advent have been intentional this year and as we entered into this week of Joy, I assumed that is what I would easily find - only, before there is to be Joy, there first needs to be a revealing...and as we draw nearer to the solstice, when the day will be shortest and the night longest the contrast between light and dark becomes ever clearer as one wick is ignited and then another into the hungry and surrounding shadows.

And His light - it is what He does - reveals the deepest and the darkest places in us that need examining. Lifts that curtain on hidden sin and pierces deeply.

Then waits expectantly.

Tuesday found me sitting with Nehemiah as he and Ezra and the priests and elders stood before and among the Israelites and read from the Torah - heavy words weighted down with all of the places they had fallen short.

They wept.

They were grieved.

They were failures.

And it is here that I realized that until there is deep and true repentance, Joy remains elusive. Until there is a turning from, there is never a turning up of the corners of a mouth or a lightness in the heart.

Nehemiah, he saw the grief and he knew the solution,

And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them. Nehemiah 8:9-11

I think of Mary, whose skin stretched tight with her Savior and who held His newborn skin close. The mama who clapped for God-in-the-flesh as He took His first wobbly steps across a dusty floor. The mama whose first born Son knew her before she ever was and she cradled Him in her arms and ached for days to slow by.

Ached as He was beaten.

Broke as He was nailed to a tree.

Wept as He died for her,

for me,

for you.

It's five days until Christmas and the One Who came as Mary's Firstborn, God as Babe - He came to be with us. To take on our skin and break the curse that courses through our sin-caked veins.  That tender, fragile Infant, born into the filth of a stable, He took on all our filth and became The Way for us to come Home.

But first, I sit with the Baby. I sit and I wonder at a limitless God Who took on the limitations of our dust and I hold on to the sureness of Him.

And I find Joy is His nearness...


You came as Mary's Firstborn. You came close and You took on the form of a small and helpless Babe.

Thank You. God Who flung the galaxy in space and created silky grass and the blue of the sky, You came near to be born, to fill lungs with our air and Your heart beat in time with our own.

You reveal the dark places in me and You, Light of the world break the curse of sin and darkness and You strengthen me with joy as I turn from and learn in towards You.

Thank you for coming, for coming to rescue us who are desperately lost without You.  

Friday, December 6, 2013

When Hope Meets Grief

It's been almost 4 Christmases since that rope and his neck and that tree out in the woods. 4 Christmases since everything changed and the landscape of our lives was lost under a flood of grief.

It has been 3 Christmases since we packed up our life and our children and dreams and left in the bright sunlight of that bitterly cold morning in January.

This season has become one that is marked now by the number of years since - since grief entered in. I can still remember how it was marked by the anticipation of songs and carols and decorations, crazy snowfalls and the warmth of home...

It can all change so quickly.

This season? Underneath all that is beautiful, all that is anticipated, all that is wonderful and bright - it can be marked with an undeniable ache, a yearning for what once was, what we wish could be and the darkened days can match that hollowed out howl and the days leading up to the days of Christ's birth can be a stark pain of salt rubbed into raw wounds.

I can forget, under all that is merry and bright that the One Who came wrapped in an infant's skin and wrapped in torn cloths and placed in the brittle straw of a manger, that He came not indifferent, but as God, as One acquainted with grief. 

Each night, the four little ones and us, we sit close and read of Christ's history, of the story of His coming that stretched right back into the very beginning of Genesis. Each night we light the advent candle that shines brightly into the hushed dark.

This week has been the week of Hope. Of a wick lit and a flame burning brightly when everything else around it is dark. All week I have been reading Words woven throughout Scripture that breathe Hope back into my heart. Back into the days that have become marked with dread.

He entered in, stepped through the veil of the unseen to become fully seen and it's the question that has been echoing in my heart as I grab hold of His Hope -

Will I cling to Him too? Will I cling to the One Who is a Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief, rejected, despised...One not esteemed?

Will I identify my life with One Who broke through and identified with mine so that He could save and mend and heal the brokenness and clothe me with His righteousness?

This season, with the holly and the twinkling lights and the softly lit nativity scenes - they are only the opening notes that move my heart to remember why it was that Jesus came.

Grief marks my Christmas, but grief and sorrow marked my Savior and out of Him came new life and hope and He comes to redeem and make new.

So I can worship and praise and sing carols with tears on my face because He knows. And He came. And in the darkest night, Hope shines brightly...

Hope fills the afflicted soul with such inward joy and consolation, that it can laugh while tears are in the eye, sigh and sing all in a breath; it is called “the rejoicing of hope” (Hebrews 3:6).  William Gurnall


God Who is acquainted with grief, Who is acquainted with the very depths of me - I come before You in quiet adoration. Underneath the unsteady days of memories and hearts that are still broken, You hold firm and hold us fast. You are peace in the darkest of storms and the Hope that shines brightly to pierce the blackest night.

I praise and thank You for Your compassion, for not coming to us as unfeeling or too lofty, but for bending low in the dirt of us and for weeping over the wreckage of sin in us and for dying for us so our souls could be redeemed. You are so good, so amazing and this season, with all its joys and grief is itself redeemed when my eyes are fixed on the beauty of You.