An article I wrote recently for our parish newsletter:
An article I wrote recently for our parish newsletter:
It’s here whether we like it or not—Christmas.
For many this season is filled with the fullness of family togetherness. The turkey with all the trimmings. It is the time for unwrapping the red-ribbon-gift we placed first on our list. It is the season of sparkly lights and the steady fragrance of evergreen. Cut trees dressed and centered in our homes displaying ornamented memories and present day mementos of our own Christmas present and pasts.
For others—like us— it will be the first without our most cherished loved one (R.I.P Dad Brown). It is the season of skipping to pay the rent in order to afford to put something under the Christmas tree. The homeless among us will seek to find a warmer cover, an even hotter cup to grip away the cruelty of the cold.
Christmas can fill you with joy and wonder and Christmas can make you feel marginalized and alone.
I’ll never forget the Christmas Mommy and I were all set and packed to visit my Grandmother Patricia in Kalamazoo, Michigan for the last time. It would be the last time because cancer… well, cancer said so. “Gabby” had battled hard and surrendered even stronger to the fight. She was still trying to hold on for us though. Mommy and I had our tickets ready on the dining room table. We were sad but excited to have the opportunity to say our final good-bye. We were flying out of Portland bright and early the following morning, but we didn’t make it in time.
Just a few hours before “the call” I sat in our family living room, wrapped in the strong arms of my brand new fiancée. My then boyfriend of two years had popped the question and presented the ring on Christmas Eve. The same ring I was staring at when down the hall I heard my mother scream. Her daughter-griefed-weeping followed, and I knew Gabby was gone.
The sparkle of my new ring and the glare from my streaming tears were both there at that moment, right there at the same time.
Christmas can give you your most desired longing, and it can deliver your greatest heartbreak.
This season, once again I feel like I’m holding a little bit of both possibility and grief. Possibility in that this same Jewish baby Jesus who made His way through oppression, homelessness and rejection will continue to find rescue, covering and favor for me. Grief in knowing that I can’t control the timing of death, the depths and disgust of man’s broken humanity or the schemes and snares of our raging enemy.
But like my ring and my tears I will continue to hold both. This tension of both possibility and grief are calling forth a deeper vulnerability in me, a deeper desperation to both be cherished and rescued.
This Christmas I am desperate to find true meaning in both the unwrapping and the grabbing hold of our Immanuel—God with us, God with me. I’m being drawn to get closer to the Christ child and not Christmas, the holiday. You don’t have to find the “merry” in your Christmas if it’s not there. Just draw near to Him.
Jesus of our possibilities.
Jesus acquainted with our grief.
Jesus of Christmas who knows each of us—that Baby from the manger who knew just how to “be.”
Originally published here.
“A speck of light can reignite the sun
And swallow darkness whole.”
Our theme this month is an important one. It brings the year to a close with essays about what rescue looks like, how deliverance can transform life, where redemption can be found. It’s especially close to my heart.
I’ve been rescued many times in my life. This sounds dramatic and noble and maybe it was on occasion. But to be honest, my rescues also left me bereft.
My rescue began when I was four, I was given up by my mom after social services removed me from her care due to her alcoholism and neglect. This led to a series of foster homes for the remainder of my childhood.
People think when a child is rescued from a dangerous home or family or country, they are overjoyed at their removal, so excited to go to their new home where they will be cared for by strangers and live a life they never thought possible. That’s what we want to believe, and how we play out in our imaginations. And sometimes it does.
But there is a story happening behind the rescue that most people can’t comprehend. As a child I didn’t know what I was being rescued from. I didn’t know that I needed rescuing, I had nothing to compare my life to at that stage. So what did that feel like at four years old? Abandonment. Rejection. Displacement. Fear.
It looked like my world crashing at my feet while I crumbled down in the middle of destruction. It means being torn from the safety of the “known,” however harmful, and thrust into confusion and despair. Sometimes the gravity and necessity of our rescue isn’t understood for years. Instead, rescue has to be worked out in the pain until you live into its “blessing.”
My story is one where rescue wasn’t immediate or complete. Deliverance has been a journey of unearthing fissures and cracks for light to come through. I can, of course, now look back at my life and comprehend the cost of my rescue and see why I needed to be delivered from my circumstances. But even the understanding of it doesn’t erase the darkness it created. Sometimes it makes it worse.
Deliverance can be bloody. It can result in death of some kind. It’s always messy. What one of us hasn’t lived in shadows of one kind or another, shadows of grief and loss, mental illness and addiction, abuse and agony?
Last November, before my first Deeply Rooted worship event, I struggled with serious spiritual oppression and after, I crashed hard. I spiraled into depression which led to relapse which led to shame which led to despair which led to more depression. I, again, needed rescue. The darkness I was under felt heavy and strong. I was tempted to believe I’d lost my last chance with God.
Light flickered in occasionally, taking different forms. A friend emailed me, not even knowing what I was going through, and shared her similar struggle that was becoming uncontrollable. I confessed to friends and my husband. I lay on the floor, face down, crying, begging for mercy. I knew I had opened a door that would be near impossible to close.
But God. He continued this work of rescue in my life. In April I flew to Guatemala City with Children’s HopeChest as part of a team of four female bloggers. The first day we visited a school and two of the students brought half of us home to meet their mom. We listened as the mom shared their story of hardship and hope.
We ask to pray for her, she says only if she can pray for us too. I raise my head and catch her eye and she doesn’t look away. She tells me the Holy Spirit has given her something to say. She takes my hands looks in my eyes and tears well up. She raises her voice and every statement is spoken with authority.
“Your feet were chosen by God since your mother’s womb, Wherever you go the Lord is in front of you. Wherever your feet touch, the Lord has been there before for you. The earth is yours. Whatever your feet touch, the Lord has given it to you. Walk in holiness.”
My eyes are wide open in surprise as this beautiful woman with a gold cross is clutching me and praying a blessing. It is being prayed twice over me, in emphatic Spanish and then beautifully-accented English. Doubly blessed. She embraces me and holds me tight, crooning over me in Spanish and swaying back and forth like she is sending me off to sleep. I hug her again as we left and she prayed over me again, another flicker of light:“Don’t be afraid, whatever God has called you to do he will train you for.”
Last month I celebrated the first anniversary of Deeply Rooted, doing what God called me to do, providing a space for women to be seen and heard. I was afraid, afraid no one would show up and terrified of bottoming out again. People did show up, truth was spoken and hearts were rekindled with hope. After the last night I was hanging out with Anita Scott, our spoken-word poet, who also performed the previous year.
She knew how hard this year was for me, she had been a constant source of prayer and encouragement. She told me, “When you got up on stage, you glowed. You radiated light. I thought maybe it was because you were dressed really nice and I’ve never seen you like that before, but the next day, in your jeans and flannel, it was still true. The words that came to me were spiritually clean.”
Anita named my redemption. What had started out as one of my darkest years, had ended with someone seeing light in me. Throughout this year, I have seen the promise of Isaiah 58 in my life:
And the Lord will guide you continually
and satisfy your desire in scorched places
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters do not fail.
And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to dwell in.
He is my God, my rescuer, my restorer, the One who gives me a new name, a new life, new hope. God is a redeemer. He has been working to deliver me from something, he also has delivered me to something and that something is Himself.
This season of waiting for the light to overcome the darkness can leave us feeling weary and cynical. We’re crying out for the rescue of children in Aleppo, the deliverance of our country from racism and fear-mongering. We’re longing for the redemption Jesus promises us, over and over again, in his very Word spoken to us. Whatever darkness you are in right now, he holds it in his hands and lets that darkness pierce his own heart so that light will shine through his wounds, and bring you back to life
A very good article by Stephen H. Webb on depression from First Things:
Christians don’t talk enough about depression. Emotional pain, for one thing, can be hard to share. Despair can feel very physical for the sufferer, weighing heavily on the heart and clogging the brain, but its surface features can be easily overlooked or
missing altogether. A depression that finally lifts leaves no scars on the
skin to show how deep the wound was and how long the healing took. Besides, such anguish is so personal that it is hard to share it with anyone other than members of the family or the medical profession.
Those who suffer from depression are usually very grateful for all the pharmacological breakthroughs surrounding serotonin and other neurotransmitters. Philip Rieff brilliantly criticized the triumph of the therapeutic in American culture, but the fact is that chemistry has rendered psychology suspect at best or irrelevant at worst in the treatment of mental illness. This trend has not served the church well. Theology is a form—arguably the original form—of therapy, and if the church is to compete with the pharmacy, it has to have some good news of its own concerning depression.
Depression is a complex phenomenon with multi-causal roots. Medical definitions are informative and essential, but no other kind of pain has such a visceral spiritual component. Ironically, faith can be a source of aggravation as well as relief. Anyone who even thinks about suicide typically feels deeply ashamed, but Christians in this situation have even more guilt heaped upon them due to the way suicide is usually treated as the gravest of sins. The helpful sometimes tell Christian depressants that they should look outward, to the service of others, and upward toward God rather than obsessing over inward states of mind that are typically defined in secular psychological terms. This is surely right, but Paul tells us that the faithful have the mind of Christ. Does that apply to the faithful whose minds have become utterly confused?
Many depressed Christians instinctively turn to God-help, not self-help, literature, but there is little of that out there, and God himself is distant to their cries. Perhaps that can serve as a theological definition of depression: When your need for God is as great as your feeling of God’s absence.
You can read the rest here.
For a long time the threat of a new year brought with it an onslaught of more darkness, more enervating melancholy, more long, gray days ahead to suffer through. It was nothing to celebrate.
At the end of one of those especially difficult years I met Alece Ronzino online. She too had experienced a year (or more!) like that, punctuated by loss and betrayal and hopelessness. In 2009 she decided to find one word to focus on in the new year, instead of a list of resolutions that were quickly and quietly abandoned. One Word 365was born.
One word can change everything. Forget New Year’s Resolutions. Scrap the long list of goals that you won’t remember three weeks from now anyway. Choose just one word. One word that sums up who you want to be or how you want to live or what you want to achieve by the end of 2016. One word. 365 days. A changed life. ~Alece Ronzino
The last four years I’ve participated brought some incredible changes to my life. I became more focused, more hopeful, more inspired to hold fast, keep going, and expect good things. I’ve been challenged to be fearless. I have committed to believing. I have thrown myself into creativity. Most recently, I have spent a year contemplating possibility and what that looks like fleshed out in real life, and right now it looks like The Mudroom. I doubted it was possible a year ago, yet giving space for possibility to bloom made it a reality.
I’ve been brought low and robbed of energy by chronic pain. I’ve spiraled into dark depression. Anxiety has left me dizzy and breathless. I’ve been facing childhood sexual abuse head on and I have the bruises and scars to show for it. I’ve been humbled by my own darkness, my secret sins that cast a shadow over my heart and steal the light from my eyes. I’ve staggered under the weight of loneliness and grief and fear and despaired of ever feeling strong again.
My One Word for 2016 is restore.
The locusts have ravaged me, leaving me bereft. I hardly know what plenty, abundance, fullness feels like. I find myself returning to that field of devastation, the locusts leaving nothing of worth behind. But there is a promise and I am claiming it.
25 I will restore to you the years
that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
my great army, which I sent among you.
26 “You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
and praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has dealt wondrously with you.
And my people shall never again be put to shame.
27 You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else.
In these verses God is not telling his people to buck up, man up, cowgirl up, grow up, deal with it, get over it, or pull yourself together. He is acknowledging that this is a straight-up disaster, a full-on calamity. He sees and validates the wreckage and the ruin that has devastated his people, who have been left desolate. He tells them that it was his great army, obeying his command, meting out justice, which caused this cataclysm.
God is a God of restoration, redemption, healing, and deliverance. He is a God of double portions and spacious places. He removes shame and exchanges it for radiance.
For I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal, declares the Lord
Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion
“Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.”
He will not leave us as orphans. He will not treat us as our sins deserve. He will not ignore our cries for mercy. There is no shadow of turning in him.
In Life Together, Dietrich Bohoeffer penned a paragraph that all of us should write on our mirrors. He was referring to the morning, but I have replaced day with year.
For Christians the beginning of the [year] should not be burdened and oppressed by besetting concerns for the [year’s] work. At the threshold of the new [year] stands the Lord who made it. All the darkness and distraction of the dreams of night retreat before the clear light of Jesus Christ and his wakening Word. All unrest, all impurity, all care and anxiety flee before him. Therefore, at the beginning of the [year] let all distraction and empty talk be silenced and let the first thought and the first word belong to him whom our whole life belongs.
My proclamation for 2016 is to not be oppressed by the besetting concerns for this year’s work, but to face it with excitement and expectation. I will remember that God stands at the threshold of this year, like a sentry, offering protection but also reminding me that every day is a battle, but one I don’t fight in vain or alone. Darkness and distraction are no match for the light of Jesus and his wakening Word. Restlessness, impurity, worry, and fear have no place in this year. My first thought and first word of this year, and every morning in it, belong to God who has “destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”
The onset of a new year isn’t a threat to me anymore. It doesn’t hold the same bleakness and grim prospects as it did previously. I’m determined to wrestle until I’m limping. I’m done with ashes and mourning and shadows and death. I’ve had enough of despondency and gloom. I’m aching for the light.
Who’s aching with me?
“Anxiety and depression have been God’s way of reminding me that I don’t have to be awesome.”
If that strikes some kind of chord with you, then you should read this: “When you find hidden graces in the dark places”. Made my day anyway.
And my final excerpt from Fr. Marc Foley’s book, The Context of Holiness:
Acts of faith are expressed in two ways. The first is our willingness to jump into the darkness, that is, choosing to trust in God’s guidance as we venture into the unknown. The second is our willingness to sit in the darkness, which is continuing to do God’s will when our emotional resources are depleted and life seems hollow, meaningless and absurd. . . .
These are the worst times in our life of faith when viewed from a psychological and emotional perspective. But from a spiritual vantage point, they are potentially the best of times. For when we continue to do God’s will without emotional support, our love for God and neighbor grows and is purified.
Jerry Sitter, in his outstanding book on loss, A Grace Disguised, writes about the sudden loss of his wife, his daughter, and his mother, all in one tragic car accident. We all suffer loss and Jerry writes so well about what is common to all of us in our losses. Here is one sampling:
Loss forces us to see the dominant role our environment plays in determining our happiness. Loss strips us of the props we rely on for our well-being. It knocks us off our feet and puts us on our backs. In the experience of loss, we come to the end of ourselves.
But in coming to the end of ourselves, we can also come to the beginning of a vital relationship with God. Our failures can lead us to grace and to a profound spiritual awakening. This process occurs frequently with those who suffer loss. It often begin when we face our own weaknesses and realize how much we take favorable circumstances for granted. When loss deprives us of those circumstances, our anger, depression, and ingratitude expose the true state of our souls, showing us how small we really are. We see that our identity is largely external, not internal.
Finally, we reach the point where we begin to search for a new life, one that depends less on circumstances and more on the depth of our souls. That, in turn, opens us to new ideas and perspectives, including spiritual ones. We feel the need for something beyond ourselves, and it begins to dawn o nus that reality may be more than we once thought it to be. We begin to perceive hints of the divine, and our longing grows. To our shock and bewilderment, we discover that there is a Being in the universe who, despite our brokenness and sin, loves us fiercely. In coming to the end ourselves, we have come to the beginning of our true and deepest selves. We have found the One whose love gives shape to our being.
Praying for you, that through whatever loss you are experiencing right now, that you might know the fierce love of God for you.
Reblogged from Mary Ann Morgan:
It was one of those days. I never saw the ledge, but I surely stepped off and fell right into the darkness. I am surprised by these dark days and I am grateful that they are more the exception and not the rule anymore. For a brief period of my life, they were my normal. For a season — an awful season — I found myself swirling, spiraling into the blackness every day.
If this is something you know well, I am so sorry. Here are some things I have learned to do when these days come.
1. Rest. Sometimes I just need to pull back from the stresses of life and rest. Giving myself permission to take a nap or a walk instead of working incessantly can do wonders for me.
2. Remember. This is just a day. This will not last forever. I remember God’s goodness in my life and ask for his perspective. Mine is obviously skewed and I need to know things from his point of view. Counting gifts does wonders for the heart.
3. Reach out. When I am feeling this way, the last thing I want to do is reach out to my friends. I don’t know why we are like this. Maybe pride? Fear? I have to remind myself of the times others have reached out to me in need and how it endeared them to me. We love to help others. Why would I deny someone the joy of being my friend when I need them?
It’s days like this I miss my daddy most. I just want to call him and hear his voice again. “Hey Mary Babe” he would always say. He was always so glad to hear my voice. I loved chatting with him about the flowers. He was a gardener and we shared a love for planting things. He would always tell me what was coming up in his yard. The tulips I planted for him are coming up around my birdhouse now. I just want to tell him about them, “Dad, I planted Tulips for you. They are red, your favorite color.”
I miss my dad, and it’s okay to cry about it. I think I can finally do that.
If you have had a hard day, or a bad week, my heart aches for you. I think we go through things sometimes just so we can be a better friend to others. Compassion sews threads of kindness into the lives of others. We cannot have it if we have not experienced pain of some sort in our own lives. Know this: God is with you and he loves you dearly. He is present with you and he will give you just what you need. You are not alone. Ever.
Psalm 34:4-7 ~
“I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me.
He freed me from all my fears.
Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy;
no shadow of shame will darken their faces.
In my desperation I prayed, and the Lord listened;
he saved me from all my troubles.
For the angel of the Lord is a guard;
he surrounds and defends all who fear him.”