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
“The very thing we are afraid of, our brokenness, is the door to our Father’s Heart.” (Paul Miller)
And what about those times when you feel like you’re just not making a good confession?
No matter how weak you are, do not think that what you need to do in order to enjoy his redemption is impossible or so difficult that you have to despair of obtaining it. It is enough for you to direct a heartfelt sigh to God, with sorrow for having offended such a Father and with the intention of amendment. Make known your sins to a priest who can absolve you. For your greater consolation, even your ears of flesh will hear the sentence of your trial in what is said to you: “I absolve you from all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Even if it seems to you that your sorrow is not as perfect as it ought to be, and for this reason you lose heart, do not be discouraged. So great are the Lord’s desires you be saved that he supplies what we lack with the privilege he gave to his sacrament of making one who is without sorrow to be contrite. If it seems to one that you are not even capable of doing this little bit, I tell you not to presume to do it on your own, but call upon the heavenly Father. Ask him, through Jesus Christ, his Son, to help you to be sorry for your past life, to propose amendment for the future, to confess well, and finally, for whatever else may be necessary. He is such that there is no reason to expect from his hands anything other than every kind of tenderness and help. Since he is the one who gives pardon, he inspires disposition for it.
If, with all this, you do not feel consolation, even though you have heard the sentence of your absolution, do not be discouraged or abandon what you have begun. If in one confession you do not experience consolation, in another or in others you will . . . . Certainly it happens that the words of sacramental absolution may not give the man such certainty of pardon that he may have security or evidence of it. But they do provide such rest and consolation that the powers of his soul, humiliated and broken by sin, rejoice. (St. John of Avila)
Some of you may remember Colleen’s post a couple months ago. She’s the sister of one of our Sisters who broke her leg severely. She is now on the mend and can walk with a walker. Here she shares the tough time she went through after Christmas and the beautiful work God is doing in her life:
Along with my outward healing the real renovation is happening on the inside. A peace has come over me that has never resided in me before… it is profoundly stripping away the exterior noise. When I gave my life to the Lord in a new way 3 years ago I jumped into everything I could to “soak up” the Lord – I sought Him in programs, retreats, charismatic renewal events, the crazier the better – and all of those things were good, I think they served a very necessary purpose at the time… I was leaving an entertainment rich lifestyle but entering into something rich and busy and the transformation wasn’t horrible – it was livable – God filled the gap of missing friendships with new friendships in Christ, our social calendar was just as packed and God was always a topic at social gatherings. I thought “this is it Lord, this is what conversion is all about! it isn’t so bad, you have filled my plate – and it is good.”
I began going to daily Mass, weekly confession and thought “oh, oh, okay God, THIS is what you meant by conversion, the crowds are smaller a lot older more quieter… but this is what you are putting on my plate – and it is good”.
When my fall first happened I was filled with God’s grace, seeing a blessing in every day. I knew that people’s prayers were sustaining me, I felt full of hope, I had many visitors, things were a bit quieter than daily Mass as I relied on others to drop by – but God often brought people at my doorstep and my days were filled with lovely visits and tea and prayer. I had finished my first course at Sacred Heart Seminary, I felt like “wow this isn’t so bad – even in physical difficulty God filled my plate – and it is good”
After Christmas the change was different, I had to go out of the house for doctors appointments and weekly Mass bringing a fear that wasn’t there before. Day’s were much lonelier as life resumed, kids went back to school and less apt to help with my day to day needs, I no longer had personal support workers in, My husband was taken away for several days at a time with work presenting new challenges and fears about being alone, I began a new course in Sacred Scripture – which was totally of God, but much more challenging and I didn’t see His reasoning in that right away… my plate felt empty, abandon. Weekly confession (in my home, Father would drop by) wasn’t possible anymore as Father’s schedule had changed, the people who were bringing me communion during the week stopped for valid reasons too. I was confused, I thought “Lord you know I need to receive you in the Sacraments, why are you not providing this for me?” I felt like the Lord had somehow dropped the ball, did He not see that I needed Him more than ever??? For weeks I was agitated and I couldn’t focus on prayer or school or anything. Many church related social things were happening and I thought “Lord I am supposed to be doing all these things, learning about You, growing in faith – why am I shut in? why am I being removed from all of these GOOD things??” No answer. No answer. No answer.
I was looking for the fire and the earthquake, the action so to speak. Feeling empty and useless, I picked up scripture… and I heard a small voice. The next day I picked up scripture, and I felt the Lord speaking to me. I had read scripture and certainly felt the Lord before – but this was different – this was very very different. Each day I poured over scripture and something inside of me changed. I would go to mass on Sunday and cry through the readings and then the liturgy of the Eucharist came alive like it never had before.
The other day a friend came to visit and confided in me about things that were happening on a social level, which I would normally jump into and try to problem solve and I felt the Lord tell me it was no longer my place – the Lord was clear, I clearly heard His voice and I knew my life as I had known it would be changed again. Who I thought I was, was fading away… my old habits, even one’s I thought were good – were not inline with what God’s plan for me is. I have no idea what His plan is, yet I am being told clearly to abandon the ideas I had for my life. Open you schedule, clear your calendar, listen to My voice. I remember my mum emptying her purse twice a year, and then transfer everything from her “winter purse” to her “summer purse”…. the Lord is telling me to empty my purse and there is no indication of picking up anything from the old and putting it in the new – like scripture talks about the wine skin…
At the beginning of lent I received a scripture that I know is God’s living word for me right now ““Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her.” Hosea 2:14 And God is, and in this the pace for my life has changed. Whatever happens around me, is going to happen around me, but God is fastening me to His Word – He is setting up an eternal desert for me to return to – not a desert of tumble weeds and desolation – this desert is a quiet place to hear His voice, where an oasis of living water stands and when the world claims to have the answers, or life is difficult on the outside, or busy in a good way with the Lords’s work….I will be drawn back. It is our place, where He allures me and speaks to my heart.
“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.
“According to St. Thomas Aquinas, in its effect on us, despair, the abandonment of hope, is the gravest of sins. It is the devil’s chief weapon of attack. As Chesterton’s Father Brown says to Arnold Aylmer when he receives a deaththreat: ‘These devils always try to make us helpless by making us hopeless.'” (John Saward)
I frequently turn to Catherine Doherty’s writings when I am struggling. This is one of my favorites of hers. May reading it bring you hope.
Faith is a country of darkness into which we venture because we love and believe in the Beloved, who is beyond all reasoning, all understanding, all comprehension. And at the same time, paradoxically, is enclosed within us: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Faith must go through this strange dark land, following him whom it loves.
Christ, our Beloved, becomes the door, the way into and through this darkness. And suddenly our heart knows that if we will pass through the door and walk along that way, we will see the Father.
What does it mean to see the Father? It means to assuage that hunger that has been put in man’s heart by God himself, the hunger of finally meeting absolute love. We yearn for it. All of us do. We arise and go on a pilgrimage, guided only by faith that we must journey toward the face of perfect Love–because for this we were created, to be one with the Love.
If we embark upon this quest, into the land where we may not be able to hear, may not be able to see, may not be able even to speak, suddenly we will be mysteriously visited. A hand will touch our ears and they will be opened, not only to the speech of man but to the speech of God. A hand will touch our eyes and we will see, not only with our eyes, but with the sight of God. A hand will touch our tongue, and we will speak, not only as men do, but as God speaks, and we will become prophets of the Lord.
True, on the road to the Father we shall fall, for we shall sin. We may turn away from God, we may leave the Church, we may think that we have left everything. But faith being a gift of God, it does not desert us; we desert it, but it follows us. We leave the Church, but the Church–which is part of faith, for it is part of Christs–does not leave us. We turn away from God, but God never turns away from us.