Thursday, December 18, 2014

God's Word at Christmas

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.

I still remember chanting this line during my elementary school years. Interesting defense, but it doesn’t work. It’s a lie.

Words can hurt me.

Words can also heal me.

Hundreds of years before Jesus was born, a man name Isaiah prophesied the first Christmas.

Isaiah 7:14
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

Immanuel. It’s a Hebrew word which means “God with us.”

Imagine that. GOD with us?!

We’re talking about God here, not a celebrity, not a top dog in a business organization, not a sports-team owner, not a major scientist or Nobel Peace Prize winner. We’re talking about the Almighty God, the Creator of the world, who chooses to be with us.

And how about the preposition “with”? God WITH us.

“With”…in the middle of, among, alongside. Not above, around, behind, before. God sent Jesus to be with us. God’s presence is with us in the middle of the messes, the joys, the funny slices of life, the scary nights.

And how special to know God wants to be with US. You and me, personally, one on one.
No matter what kind of month we had, what kind of year it is, whether we are joyful or sad or hopeful or afraid, God chooses to be with us.

Now that’s the best Christmas present of all.

Words do matter.

Luke 2:16
“So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.”

Yup, that’s a pretty good line right there.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Letting Go at Christmas

It’s the weekend before the big news. My son applied to Princeton and his early-decision response should arrive next week.

Yes, he’s qualified. The boy is not only insanely intelligent, but bright, sensitive, loving and thoughtful too. But Princeton has more than my son’s personality and abilities to consider. They have a school to fill; a student roster to generate; a package of incoming freshmen which will add credibility, talent and diversity to their university package.

Regardless of Alex’s statistics, there is a randomness to whether he will be selected.

This is where I need to trust God.

I believe God already knows where Alex should spend his college years. I believe God knows who Alex will meet, what Alex will learn, and how Alex will experience his young adult years. I believe it’s not only the education which makes a school special, but the relationships developed, the freedom to explore and the environment to grow as a young adult which factor into choosing the right college.

While I sit on my hands waiting impatiently for results, I believe God has Alex’s plans for good.

Maybe it’s hard to grasp this belief all the way to the core of my being, but I will write and say and read it until I get it.

I’m excited for him but know there’s a bottomless well of tears ready to flood the uncertainties and pain of letting go I need to experience as a Mom.

This is why, during this year’s Christmas season, I wonder what Mary, the mother of Jesus was thinking.

She is the rock star of letting go.

The Bible says she ‘treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart’ when the wise men and shepherds visited. I get that. As a woman and a Mom, I notice things which at times amaze me. All I can do is package up the experience and treasure it, like a personal Christmas gift.

I also get the fact that Mary, in her last stages of pregnancy and the start of labor, wanted an actual room to stay in, not an animal manger. Was she annoyed about the lack of reservations being made by the oh-so-godly husband of hers? They certainly could have enjoyed a nice bed and breakfast with perhaps a birthing room and midwife to help, but instead roomed in a stable with animals and a straw bed. But she had to let go of those desires, too.

Instead, she treasured up these things in her heart. The blessings. The fact that she knew, deep down, there was a bigger experience going on when her little boy was born. He was going to be the Savior of the world.

Now this is a version of letting go I can aspire to.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Diving into Christmas

Every Christmas season, I dive into a new book or devotional to discover more deeply the meaning of Jesus being sent to earth for me. This year, I am guided by Ann Voskamp's new book "The Greatest Gift" and it already feels as if there’s a new depth to the diving. There’s always fear, though, when it comes to diving. I fear falling in and I fear not being able to get out. I’m reminded of an article I wrote about a fear I experienced in childhood, shared below. This is the way I want to experience Christmas this year, fears and all.

Heights of Fear

Parents trickled into the cavernous room, immediately overwhelmed by the stench of chlorine and oppressive humidity. Dissonant sounds of unclear origin echoed the children’s pounding hearts as they lined up against the gray cement wall on the far side. Moms searched the line for their own children, sending reassurance with a wave and a forced smile. The adults continued to methodically fill the metal bleachers while the swim coaches entered, quietly reminding the children of the basics taught over the past eight weeks. Meanwhile, the high dive platform projected its majestic presence thirty feet up, commanding acknowledgement from its royal subjects.

Staring down at the pattern of tiny gray tiles under my pudgy bare feet, I tugged at my white rubber cap again, wondering how to make the ominous white platform disappear. The muddled sounds of the coach’s voice reminded me to glance up at her lips to glean a word or two of the instructions she was giving. I couldn’t wear my hearing aids in the pool since they couldn’t get wet. Goosebumps and the knotted pit in my gut accompanied my walk along the slippery poolside plank as I waited my turn for the final requirement to finish my swim class. I didn’t want to look up as the first kid tentatively climbed the ladder to his fate at the top. I couldn’t help peeking though; I held my breath for him as he climbed and climbed and climbed some more; then skipped forward off the board to make the dreaded descent. Thwomp. It was a loud landing into the dark descent of the deep water, even to my ears. I bet it hurt. I continued to hold my breath, shivering, until I saw his dark shadow moving closer and closer to the surface of the water. He doggie paddled his way to the side of the pool and climbed out. I exhaled.

After what seemed like an eternity, it was my turn. I stood at the bottom of the ladder looking up, wondering if it reached heaven. Taking a deep breath, I started to climb slowly, keeping my focus straight ahead. I didn’t even want to try to see if my mom noticed me from the bleachers because it meant I had to look somewhere else. One-two-three. I’ll just count my way up there. Four-five-six. Taking my time, I considered going down instead of up again. Seven-eight-nine. The goosebumps and pit in my stomach were now accompanied by the fact that I couldn’t breathe. Inhale, exhale. Ten-eleven-twelve. Inhale, exhale. Thirty four- thirty five- thirty six. I was at the top. The grit of the board scratched the bottom of my feet as I took tiny steps forward to reach the end. There were a couple more steps to take and I stopped and peeked. All I could see was a black square of motion down there, and it didn’t look big enough to catch me.

Time froze; bile caught in the back of my throat, threatening to give me a new way to embarrass myself in front of other people. I swallowed. I slid my right foot forward; dragged my left foot to meet it. I did it again. Oh God I can’t do this. Will I die now? One more step to go. At the end of the board, I knew I had to move fast or freak out, big time. I sucked in a short breath and jumped forward. I don’t know if the screaming was in my head or out of my mouth but it was all I could hear. Falling falling falling until I slammed into a cold wet wall. That hurt. Flailing, I sank sank sank for what seemed like another eternity. My chest tightened with fear, my nose flooded with pool water. At last, I stopped sinking and was still. Silence surrounded me; isolated me; threatened me.
Motivated by my need to get out of there, I finally remembered to move my arms and legs. My chest tightened more. Blowing out through my nose, bubbles tickled my cheeks as they swam to the surface faster than I ever could. I followed the bubbles up the water. Swim swim swim. Swim some more. My arms got heavier but I moved them anyway. The light from the top of the water started to get brighter. I swam some more. Breaking through the wet ceiling, I sucked in air while I kicked my way to the side of the pool. My chest was still heaving as I grabbed the ladder and climbed out. Dripping, I looked in the bleachers for my mom. I took a few steps and finally saw her frantically waving from the sea of parents. I walked the slippery path back to the group of kids in my class to join the land of the living.

Today, I understand how the jump off the high dive was a critical turning point in learning how to trust. No matter how many swim lessons I had, there was a level of trust beyond my understanding which propelled my jump. To trust the God of heaven to love me so much to send His Son—for ME!--is a jump into overwhelming love which I hope catches me each time I fall.