The Answer to a Painful Christmas is…Christmas

If you’re one of those people for whom it takes everything you’ve got to not hate this season’s guts, I understand.

When I was seventeen, life and Satan hit right where it most often hurts this time of year: family. After that year, we would never again celebrate the holidays as a family. The head count is always one short now.

Some don’t even get the first seventeen years. Others got fifty, yet are now going through their first Christmas without, and finding it just as shattering. It’s difficult to keep our seasonal joy from being diminished by those losses.

Have you ever noticed how vulnerable Christmas is? As inevitable as its arrival is every year, it doesn’t actually offer everyone refuge. For some, it’s the reverse – a reminder of what they don’t have. As long as Christmas is about perishable things, it will be perishable itself.

It’s a good thing that the true Christmas has something to say about those very losses, then.

Imagine if the manger pointed to nothing but another Jewish prophet standing around on hillsides and boats, telling stories and handing out advice. Awfully anticlimatic, don’t you think? Not much worth celebrating there.

But the manger points to much more. It points to the cross that will triumph over the very things that shatter us today. It was the birth of the Conqueror of death and loss, who will return on a white horse to make all things new.

If we make a soft-focus Hallmark family mentality the central purpose of Christmas, we leave it vulnerable to Satan’s attacks. Though God is powerful and good, he has not promised to always protect even that precious jewel in this life.

But if we make hope the central purpose of Christmas – the hope of redemption – then the season becomes as unshakeable as every other promise of Christ.

Christmas isn’t a family reunion, as wonderful as that is. It’s the promise of greater reunions down the road, the reversal of all the theft and death and destruction the enemy has wreaked upon us. It looms large over the damages looming over us. The properly interpreted Christmas heralds victory over its own oppressors.

This is why Christmas is bigger than our opinion of it. It’s why we can truly celebrate: its promise never lay in the present, but in the future. It may be difficult to find joy now. But perhaps the cure to finding that joy, is delving ever deeper in.

 

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

When You Dislike Being Needy for God

mistLong ago, I listened to a remarkably holy man, a cancer patient, sharing a conversation with God.

It was a naked, piercing, and heavy testimony of the “when you’ve finally just had it” variety. During a morning quiet time in his big easy chair, he is praying and listening for God and suddenly (for are not these things rather sudden?) just explodes into venting about the story God is writing for him. It’s not just the disease. It’s the ongoing changes and the endless appointments and the constant vigilance and the social misunderstandings and the lack of closure and the shame and fear that attend. All his anger and helplessness and isolation explodes before the throne in frustration. He lets God know.

And the man described hearing God reply, “I understand you don’t like the story. How do you feel about the Author?”

Ugh.

It cut me to the quick – one of two things he said that did so. Not a pleasant reveal, but an unmistakably holy one. A divine refocusing.

For though I dared not compare my life’s difficulties to cancer, the question was stil one that I had not wanted to face. For I could tell you exactly how my journey (e.g. my family history, my weird and glitchy personality) has made me feel about God.

The other thing he said was:

“I could just hear the clarity coming to myself, and I finally said it: ‘What I really don’t like is, I’m now living a life where I need you, God, on a day-to-day basis, just to get through it. And I don’t like being desperately needy for you, God.'”

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Struggling to Be Thankful? Just Get Older

When I was younger (not that I’m old now, thank you), I had an issue with being ungrateful.

Every parent out there probably just said “amen”.

When you’re young, you don’t know how much you don’t know. It rarely occurs to us that others have it worse; we just don’t see it. I often struggle with the section of my heart that just plaintively shouts “NO. I’m tired of cliches. Just fix this, God!” whenever hardship shows up. May God have mercy.

But reaching the age of 33 has quieted that voice. Time has given me the chance to see more suffering. It’s devious, unfair, and creative, just how badly the world can go wrong for people. And it makes me thankful.

I’m seeing clients’ bodies break down from cancer, paralysis, mood disorders, even diabetes induced from head injuries in war (didn’t even know that could happen). Six-figure medical bills, ensuring debt for their children no matter how well they settle with the insurance company. It leaves me grateful that I can breathe, run, even walk, or pay for something – and noticing each time I do. Noticing. I thought being grateful for my sight and hearing was for older folks who had ascended to some higher plane of earthly wisdom. Nope – it’s for me, too.

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Christianity Doesn’t Bring Shame. It Removes It.

“Although I left Christianity over 20 years ago, it took a long while for me to erase the doctrines that had been embedded within my consciousness for 15+ years. Learning how and why certain doctrines of the Christian faith (e.g., final judgment, burning fires of hell, Satan and his demons, the end-times) were introduced into the faith was extremely liberating … and removed a ton of guilt and fear.”

This individual* could be speaking for much of society.

14517262115_0b7dc7b411_oOur entertainment culture is embroiled in a race to paint Christianity as evil. And it’s got ammunition.

From Carrie to The Shape of Water, from Handmaid’s Tale to Family Guy, Christian faith is portrayed in modern media as a heartless and oppressive force in people’s lives, gone wild to the point of ostracizing, dehumanizing, handcuffing, and even killing in the name of God. Such excesses are so normative in TV and film, in fact, that I can’t remember the last time Hollywood filmed a church as a positive force, or even as a neutral one.

Yet there’s no doubt that such tragic systems have existed, and still do.

Some people have gone through it and escaped. Their testimonies poison our reputation. Christianity is seen as an agent of guilt, an imposer of shame that can only be removed by – I don’t know, what do they claim that churches are selling as a solution? Submitting to the system? Staying in church? Ceasing to dance or have fun? Accepting doctrine? It’s never really made clear.

Doctrine.

That horrifying, cringe-inducing, hateful, joy-sucking, monolithic wrecking ball of a word that so many have come to fear, that evokes structure and hate and frowny-faced elders in suspenders beating you upside the head with a Bible.

Doctrine actually tells a different story entirely.

Christianity is not a faith of guilt and fear, but of forgiveness, freedom and joy…and it is doctrine that tells us that.

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It’s About the Destination, Not the Journey

journeyIt’s one of those little fluffy kerfluffles of human philosophy, one that at least has the honesty to face the reality of we’re not home yet and try to make peace with it.

“Maybe it’s about the journey, not the destination”.

I say bogus.

I say the Christian life is about the destination.

(WARNING: Scripture ahead. I know some of you experience an instinct to kinda “check out” and skip Scripture because it’s too dense, too preposition-heavy, too hard to understand, it’s something you just plain don’t like, etc. DON’T. If you’ve honored me by clicking on this post, I urge you to fight that instinct. Read through the Scriptures. There are treasures waiting.)

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Single and Feeling Like God Doesn’t Care?

thinkingOne of WordPress’ analytics tools, labeled “Search Terms”, shows us the search words by which others are finding our posts (though it doesn’t specify which post).

Most of the time, for (I think) privacy reasons, Google hides the actual search words and just says “Unknown Search Terms”, but occasionally the actual words show. I’ve seen “losing friends” (which presumably led someone to this post), “being godly and sexy” (I’m guessing this), a surprising number containing the phrase “last minute” (which probably all led to this), and some hilarious non sequiturs that aren’t at all appropriate to share.

On Monday, this one popped up: “single and feel like god doesn’t care”

My heart broke.

Illl never know who, out of 7.5 billion people, was led to my site by that search. I can only hit my knees and pray that God helps them.

Because I know what that feeling is like.

Sometimes we must sweep aside the gilded smile on our faces and face what our hearts are really believing. And one of the deep trusts often festering in our hearts is this: when we undergo hard things, it can feel like God doesn’t care. Or at least doesn’t care enough to fix it.

That applies to singleness. No matter how many married people tell you that marriage won’t fix everything (and it won’t) or sweep aside your feelings with a big hearty “You shouldn’t be lonely, you have JESUS!!!”*, loneliness is real. There are those who’d give anything to have someone to share a dinner with, someone to help with the calendar or budget, someone to just touch them on the shoulder, or even just to get to use the word “we” instead of “I”. Only the lonely understand. And that only makes them lonelier.

It’s another level of suck entirely to bear the clenching idea that God doesn’t care. That he’s too concerned with The Plan** to notice how our hearts react to it.

To feel cut off and dismissed by the greatest hope we have? Awful.

I have wonderful news.

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Wait Gracefully

horse“Wait gracefully”.

This truth bomb was dropped on my head by Sarah over at Love/Power/Strength in response to a discussion here on my blog, and my ears are still ringing from the impact.

It’s just such a deceptively great phrase! And it applies regardless of what you’re waiting for.

Because there’s so many directions you can take the idea of “graceful”, at least in my mind. And because there’s an alternative: to wait gracelessly. I’ve done my share of that.

What could “wait gracefully” mean?

 

1. Graceful appearance

The outward appearance of our lives can be staggered, jerky, tumultuous and ungainly, or it can be smooth, tranquil, flowing, and confident – pleasing to the eye.

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When 1 Samuel 16:7 Rescues a Disappointing Life

crossingI’m not where I hoped to be.

That’s a common phrase amongst us, but there are seasons that echo it louder than others.

It used to be that when I looked around and saw others living larger lives than mine, I’d console myself with the knowledge that they were older than I. You’re young. Just give it a few more years, I’d say. Then I’ll be there.

Didn’t happen.

Well, I overstate. Getting a bachelor’s degree and being almost out of debt from it is an elephantine blessing. I could certainly be in worse health. I’m not desperately miserable at work. The list goes on. I’ve known for a while that there will always be someone better off, and that chasing that is chasing after the wind.

But the battle rose to a new pitch recently when I took another look around at the powerful men surrounding me and realized with a start…they’re all my age.

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Not Excited Enough

catA few years ago, I and my friends DJ and Sarah, married for 2.25 years, took a road trip to Seattle. We were visiting our respective families, and as a bonus, DJ and I were going to catch a Seahawks game (during what turned out to be their Super Bowl season).

As we drove along a remote highway with the sun just dawning behind us, I remembered that I needed to check something on our online tickets. I’ve never bothered keeping up with the Joneses, so I had no smartphone. I asked DJ if I could borrow his, and I went to Google to type in my mailbox’s address. Well, as you know, when you use Google, it brings up the user’s Google “search history”. Here’s how DJ’s search history looked:

“what to eat while pregnant”
“how to exercise while pregnant”
“maternity clothes”

My mouth dropped open. I showed the screen to DJ with raised eyebrows and in his classic aw-shucks form, he grinned, “Oh. Yeah.”

They were gonna have a kid!

I was ecstatic. Two of my favorite people in the world and now there would be more of them??? Hot dog!!!! The world could only be improved by this development.

But the cool part was – I was actually the first person to find out besides DJ and Sarah themselves. Their real purpose for their trip (Seahawks, psh) was actually to announce the coming baby to her family; his family hadn’t heard yet. By accident, I, just a friend, intercepted a giant gobsmack of very privileged information. It was humbling, but also quite sneakily cool. Now, of course, that gobsmack is a delightful little girl of almost three, running around the church sanctuary with hands in the air and jumping up and down on the pews during worship.

And as I sat in church this last weekend behind that very family, hearing about the mystery of the Gospel, a question occurred to me.

Why was I more excited about that news than I ever am about my salvation?

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A Contentment Story that Won’t Stay in Vegas

You know the saying “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas?”

Not this time. You’re hearing it.

Don’t worry, it’s not tawdry.

A couple years ago, I was acting as chaperone for a senior trip. My students had chosen Las Vegas for the destination, and despite their penchant for mischief, the week had gone well (i.e. nobody arrested or kicked out of the hotel). Perhaps it was just the desert heat sucking all the energy out of them; after all, they were northern kids. But whatever. They’d had fun, seen things they’d never seen before (water park, amusement park, strip, restaurants, taxi rides), and there we were at the Vegas airport ready to fly home. My trip leader’s only regret was that she hadn’t been able to see the “Old Strip”; apparently there was a former Strip before the current one we’ve all heard of.

But a problem struck. One of our students was not being allowed past airport security. Vegas TSA was apparently deciding that his ID wasn’t sufficient – even though Montana’s TSA had found no problem with it.

So one of our students was stuck in Vegas.

And since the student was male, and I was the only male chaperone on the trip, guess who had to stay with him?

This guy.

The trip leader handed me a benjamin and an apologetic grin. I had to escort an antsy, somewhat reckless 18-year-old back home, across the country, by bus. And to make things better, it was 7 in the morning and the next Greyhound north to Salt Lake City didn’t leave until 10:15pm.

Did I mention that I was already missing the wedding of two good friends – including a former student I’d mentored for four years – to go on this trip?

Sigh.

So the student and I grabbed a taxi to the city Greyhound station, plunked our butts firmly down in some highly uncomfortable seats, and settled in to wait. For 14 hours.

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