“And take up their cross.” That cross is already there, ready, from the very beginning; we need only take it up. But to keep us from believing that we must simply choose any arbitrary cross, or simply pick out our suffering as we will, Jesus emphasizes that each of us has his or her own cross, ready, appointed, and appropriately measured by God. (Dieterich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship)
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me. (Psalm 51:1-3, ESV)
While we’re entering the most wonderful time of the year for most people, we’re entering the darkest, hardest part of it for me, and no doubt countless others who suffer through the holidays hoping to survive them somewhat intact.
For me, it’s not just the physical darkness that makes it so bleak, it’s the memories full of pain and horrific actions, and death and frozen ground, and grief, what seems at times to be never ending grief.
I hate it and I hate me for being this way even more so this time of year.
No matter how I pretend, no matter how much I play the game trying to fit in and feel something different, it doesn’t change the facts.
Christmas music round the clock and twinkling lights don’t help. Increased pressure to socialize and “be happy” make it worse. Broken relationships hurt more. The stark reality of being alone presses in.
It’s been exactly a month since the person I had first felt safe with told me to “forget all the crap and get over it.” And in the same conversation told me that my perceptions were wrong, my feelings were wrong, and what I was thinking was wrong. What that person pronounced as a “start” as the conversation wrapped up, I viewed as an “end.”
I felt like a freak. Attacked. Devastated. And the after-effects have only served to reinforce how deficient and unworthy I am.
The exact same day, a six week old puppy came into my home, full of life and adventure. And I am thankful for both pups who love unconditionally and make me laugh, who cuddle when I cry and snuggle when the bad dreams come.
Most days it’s a struggle to breath. And I don’t know what to do about it anymore.
One of my favorite reads this year is Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist. I’ve actually made several of the recipes contained within, but it’s been her words, and her honesty with her struggles that have really fed me.
In our lowest, most fragmented moments, we feel out of control—controlled, in fact, by expectations and to-do lists and commitments and traditions. It’s that time of year, we shrug, when things get a little crazy. No avoiding it.
But that’s not true. And that’s shifting the blame. We have, each one of us, been entrusted with one life, made up of days and hours and minutes. We’re spending them according to our values, whether or not we admit it.
When things are too crazy, the only voices I hear are the voices of fear and shame. I stop being able to hear the voice of God, the voice of rest, the voice of hope and healing and restoration, the voice that gives new life to dry old bones. And instead a I hear that old song I’ve hear all my life: You’re not good enough. You’re not good enough.
But that voice is a lie. And it’s a terrible guide. When I listen to it, I burn the candle at both ends and try to light the middle while I’m at it. The voice of God invites us to full, whole living—to rest , to abundance, to enough. To say no. To say no more. To say I’m going to choose to live wholly and completely in the present, even though this ragged, run-down person I am right now is so far from perfect.
Let’s be courageous in these days. Let’s choose love and rest and grace. Let’s use our minutes and hours
To create memories with the people we love instead of dragging them on one more errand or shushing them while we accomplish one more seemingly necessary thing. Let’s honor the story—the silent night, the angels, the miracle child, the simple birth, with each choice that we make.
My prayer is that we’ll find ourselves drawn closer and closer to the heart of the story, the beautiful beating heart of it all, that the chaos around us and within us will recede, and the most important things will be clear and lovely at every turn. I pray that we’ll understand the transforming power that lies in saying no, because it’s an act of faith, a tangible demonstration of the belief that you are so much more than what you do. I pray that we’ll live with intention, hope, and love in this wild season and in every season, and that the God who loves us will bring new life to our worn-out hearts this year and every year, that we’ll live, truly and deeply, in the present, instead of waiting, waiting, waiting for perfect. (169-170)
I can get through the next two months, right?
After the Storm The duel of the warring clouds Hath ended with the day; Their scintillant, electric blades Have ceased their fearful play; The pent up fury of their hate Hath found at last release, And o’er the tempest-stricken earth Broods now the hush of peace. The passing of the hurricane Hath swept the sultry skies; The clearness of the atmosphere Brings jubilant surprise; The mountain peaks are glorified With freshly-fallen snow, And, stealing o’er their coronets, Appears the sunset glow. An hour since, a torrid heat Oppressed the languid frame; The wind was as the khamseen’s breath, The solar touch seemed flame; But now the air rejuvenates, The breeze refreshment brings, The lustrous leaves drop diamonds, The lark with rapture sings. Fear not, dear heart! life’s darkest storms Shall likewise end in light; Behind the blackest thundercloud The sun shines clear and bright; Once more celestial heights shall wear Their sheen of spotless snow, And on the bravely steadfast soul The smile of God shall glow. John L Stoddard
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. Romans 15:13