In search of the light

I’ve started this and deleted the first sentence about twenty-six times in the last thirty minutes. Because sometimes there just aren’t words. Or as Forrest Gump says, “Sometimes there aren’t enough rocks”. I don’t write about current events very much. Not because I don’t care, but because I usually want this to be a place where we can laugh and try to find the lighter side of life.

But right now that place seems hard to find.

If you had asked me on Friday morning what I was going to write about on Monday, I’d have told you it was going to be all about the last six days we’ve spent in New York with Mimi and Bops and my sister and her family. And there is so much to tell.

It was precious time spent with people I love. Getting to show Caroline the city of New York at Christmastime will go down as one of my favorite memories ever. Especially Friday morning when we went to visit Santa Claus at Macy’s on 34th Street. Watching her face light up as she told him what she wanted and Santa taking the extra time to discuss the Percy Jackson books she’s currently reading made it one of those magical moments I’ll remember always. It was one of those rare times when real life surprises you with so much joy.

And I guess that’s part of why I couldn’t stop the tears when we made it back to our hotel later that afternoon and I learned the full extent of what occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary. Because while I was watching Caroline and my niece, Sarah, experience the very best of childhood magic and wonder, there was a school of precious littles, just sixty miles away, experiencing horror beyond comprehension.

Honestly, I don’t even think I can let my mind fully go there or I may never be able to get out of bed again. It’s too much. Too much sadness, too much agony, too much hurt.

As a parent, I hear bad stories and tend to mentally list all the reasons that could never happen to Caroline. I pay attention. I don’t leave her at home alone. I don’t let her walk down the block without watching to make sure she arrives safely at her destination. I make sure I know everyone she comes in contact with in the course of a day.

But what happened Friday shatters any illusion we have of being in control. Those parents dropped their babies off for a day at school. A day that should have been filled with learning how to use verbs in a sentence or adding numbers or eating paste like every other elementary school kid. And the unfathomable happened.

And now there are Christmas presents that will sit unopened, and hearts that are forever broken, and lives that will always bear the scars of a cold Friday in December that was probably filled just hours earlier with weekend plans to look at Christmas lights and visit Santa and drink hot chocolate.

I don’t have any answers because I don’t think we’ll understand as long as we’re here on earth. But here’s what I do know.

I know that this is not our home. I know that there is a God in heaven who is good and faithful and true even when nothing makes sense. And I know that we live in a fallen world filled with sorrow and tragedy and madmen capable of terrible things.

I know that there is no better time than Christmas to remember that God sent his son into the world to save us all from darkness and sin and certain death. And that 2000 years ago, the cry of a baby was a holy roar letting evil forever know that weeping may last for a night, but joy will come in the morning.

One of the parts of the Christmas story that’s often swept under the rug is the mass murder of innocent children at the hands of a crazed King Herod that caused Joseph and Mary to flee with Jesus to Egypt. There’s no way to make that look pretty. No way to dress that up as part of the manger scene with wise men and shepherds and maybe a cow for good measure.

Yet it’s there. In all its ugliness and darkness. But it’s easier to deal with because there is time and distance. It’s part of history. There aren’t pictures of those precious faces all over Facebook, but they, too, were babies whose lives were cut tragically short and left behind parents filled with unimaginable grief.

The truth is our world is filled with darkness and always has been. Satan comes to steal and kill and destroy. And what feels more destructive and violent than innocent lives, who embody the very tenderness of God, filled with so much light and promise and possibility with freckles across their sweet faces?

I know that we are called to be a light in a dark world. And, as much as something like this makes me want to wrap my whole family in protective bubble wrap and spend the rest of our days within the walls of our home, we are called to spread the love of Christ and share that there is hope and redemption and peace and purpose beyond what we can imagine right now. Jesus came in the form of a helpless baby, but he won’t come back that way.

He’ll come as a conqueror. And evil will be vanquished forever.

On the plane ride home, I heard the lyrics from “I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day” and they fell fresh on me.

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

That’s the very heart of what Christmas is all about.

Our hearts are broken for you, Newton, Connecticut. You are in prayers. And we weep for your babies.

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Love never fails

Oh if you only knew the irony of the post I’m about to write. It’s thick. Especially since I tend to stick to writing about reality television and other meaningless nonsense. Like my love for bright yellow jackets on sale for $23.99. I just tend to write about the funny, lighthearted things because I am generally a funny, lighthearted person.

But then I spent a large portion of the day reading various things like books and articles and blog posts because P and Caroline went down to the ranch to set some things on fire. And somewhere in the course of the afternoon, I felt a different kind of fire start in me.

(My deepest apologies to those who just stumbled here in search of a cute jacket.)

I am sick and tired of watching Christians eat their own. And what I mean by that is all the attacking and the back-biting and the endless arguments over what Jesus said and how he said it and who is right and who is wrong. I will never claim to be a great theologian, largely because I am not a great theologian, but I believe in a God who loves mercy and grace. I believe in a God that tells us that without love we are just clanging cymbals.

And I believe when we spend so much time dissecting the Word of God merely to argue with others over who is the most right, it makes God sad. I think it makes Him shake His holy head and wonder how we are missing the entire point of Christianity while we eat lunch and go to work and shop the sales at Gap with people all around us who don’t know Him. But instead of showing them who He is, they see us fight and argue and judge each other instead of extending grace and understanding and mercy.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe we are called to examine God’s word and to know it. We are called to be able to give an answer for what we believe and why we believe it. But when we use that knowledge to belittle others or condemn them? OH NO MA’AM.

“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.” 2 Peter 1:5-9

I think Satan (oh yes, I just dropped in a Satan like I’m the church lady) loves when we get so distracted by all these small debates that cause us to become so inwardly focused that we forget about the world around us that is hurting, hopeless and lost. A world that is desperate for something that looks different. Something that offers a hope and a future that’s different from the wreckage of the past and present.

I have lived a large chunk of my thirty-nine years in rebellion against God. I’ve ignored His word, run from His love, and tried my best to screw up my life with a lot of wrong decisions. I’ve also spent many years devoted to Him to the point of becoming legalistic and judgmental and losing the joy of my salvation because I’ve been so worried about the rules. I’ve looked at a lot of specks in other people’s eyes while ignoring the big old plank in my own.

But somewhere over the last several years, I’ve begun to realize that my small mind can’t comprehend the love and mercy of God. He is not a one size fits all Creator. He is the God of the Universe and He has made us all uniquely different and equipped each of us with gifts and abilities to fulfill plans He has for us. Why would we assume that our walks with Him or even our understanding of Him would look the same? As it says in Isaiah 40:13 “Who has understood the mind of the Lord, or instructed him as his counselor?”

My walk with Christ is as uniquely mine as my personality. I’ve spent a lot of time believing I should be more like this Bible teacher or more emotional like this person or hear from God in a certain way or adopt a child from Africa or sell all my earthly possessions, but He’s made me to be me. And He’s made you to be you. If God was only after one type of relationship with one type of person, it probably would have been a whole lot easier for Him to just create one person and be done with it. I speak from experience. I only have one child and it’s easy to know her because she’s the only one I have.

But I know from watching my friends with multiple children that they have unique relationships with each of those kids based on their personalities and their gifts. They talk to their kids differently and show them how they love them in ways that speak to that child.

I believe God is the same way.

And I believe it’s ignorant when we start to think that our understanding of Him is the only way and there’s no room for growth. I don’t believe any of us will get to heaven and receive a trophy or a plaque with “YOU WERE THE MOST RIGHT” engraved on it. Throughout my life, He has been my Redeemer, Protector, Provision, Salvation, Lover, and Friend. He has caused conviction where I am in the wrong and He has loved me lavishly and extravagantly where I am just His child in need of grace and mercy.

I am not a Biblical scholar. I can’t tell you all the Greek and Hebrew translations in the Bible. In fact, I just bought a fancy Bible a few weeks ago with the Greek and Hebrew translations and I’m sure it will be great as soon as I learn how to use the dadgum thing. I’ll keep you posted.

But here’s what I do know. I do not want to serve a God who fits into my limited understanding. I don’t want to serve a God who can be completely explained in the human realm. I want a God that is so much bigger than me that I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to know Him more, love Him more, and serve Him better.

I believe in a God that removes my sins as far as the east is from the west because that’s a distance my mind can’t comprehend. I’m doing Beth Moore’s study of Revelation and she talks about when John has his vision and sees the throne room of God. He describes so many incredible, unbelievable things, but he never describes God. Most likely because God defies description.

To me, that’s the God who is worth my devotion. That’s a God I want to share with a lost world instead of reducing him to what my limited human perspective can understand.

It makes me think of a passage I read to Caroline last night in Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis where Lucy sees Aslan after a long time apart and exclaims, “Aslan! You’re bigger.”

“That is because you are older, little one, ” answered he.

“Not because you are?”

“I am not. But every year you grow you will find me bigger.”

I pray that every year I grow I will find Him bigger.

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” I Corinthians 13: 1-3

The where against the why

Okay. Here I go. This is a lot for me to get out in the aftermath of a post about my sheer giddiness over the Aggies victory against Oklahoma.

The last few months have been filled with a few things that have made me feel left out. Nothing huge or earth-shattering by any stretch of the imagination, but enough to make me feel a little bit like I’m in fourth grade again and the last one picked for the kickball team. Even though this is different because it has been YEARS since I’ve kicked a big, red rubber ball straight back to the pitcher making myself what is known as an easy out.

(Which only actually happened TWICE, by the way. But, gah, fourth graders are an unforgiving bunch where kickball is concerned.)

And, honestly, I’d like to pretend like I am way too secure and confident to ever feel left out. I’d like to say that I’m a bigger person than that. But apparently I’m not.

Gulley and I have this theory that sometimes the hardest thing about being the bigger person in a situation is that no one ever tells you you’re being the bigger person. Which is why we now always make a point to tell each other when we think the other one is being a bigger person. We’ve had several conversations that end with one of us saying, “WELL, let me assure you that YOU are the bigger person”.

Which really has nothing to do with any of this but should rather be viewed as just a side note providing full access into our brand of lunacy.

Anyway, the thing about feeling left out is it turns into some sort of quicksand of self-doubt. What’s wrong with me? Am I not a likable person? Is it because I’m socially awkward? Am I not good enough? Is it because I admit to watching every season of The Bachelor? Do people think I’m shallow?

Then I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and lose my train of thought because I notice a new gray hair which leads to a full evaluation regarding the state of my eyebrows until I realize it’s time for a new episode of the Real Housewives of Atlanta.

No way anyone thinks I’m shallow.

So, basically, I’ve been struggling with all these feelings of being inadequate and questioning why things happen the way they do and wondering why I’m not good enough for this or that.

Friday night I got in bed and couldn’t sleep. Mainly because I forgot to take a Benadryl. I tossed and turned and eventually just decided to get still and hope that sleep would win out at some point. But my mind started racing with all these things that I’ve perceived as slights and I began to get all worked up. All my doubts and fears came flying to the surface until I felt like I wanted to cry.

And at that moment I felt God speak to my heart and say, “You need to quit asking ‘Why?’ and start asking me ‘Where?'”

I knew immediately it was God because I wouldn’t have come up with anything that profound. And I certainly wouldn’t have come up with something that succinct.

I’ve been in a cycle of asking “Why not me?” or “Why me?” or “Why is this so hard?” and it’s time for me to ask “Where would you have me go? Where would you have me serve? Where are you leading me?”

Don’t get me wrong. I think there is a time to ask why. I have friends that are facing hard circumstances that are the kinds of things that can only leave them to question why. And I think God understands that, even if we don’t always find out the answer.

But my “Why?” had become a question that had me spiraling down into a pit of self-pity. Which is hard to admit because I’d like to think I’m better than that.

See? I want to be the bigger person.

However, asking “Where?” changes things. It takes the focus off me and what I perceive to be my failures and shortcomings and puts the focus where it belongs. On God. The One who has plans and purposes for me in spite of all my failures and fears. He knows what they are because He made me this way. And when I look to see where He’s leading, I’m too busy to spend a lot of useless time asking why.

Because the why doesn’t really matter as much as the where.

The where is the question that asks, “What am I supposed to be doing?” instead of the why that seems to say, “What am I doing wrong?” I hope that makes sense because it made total sense to me around 2:30 a.m. on Saturday morning. And it still made sense the next day. And it makes sense now even though I feel like I’m not conveying it very well.

I wish I could tie this all up and say I know exactly where I’m headed and what God has in store for me. I don’t. I don’t know any of that right now.

But I do know that I’m asking the right question for the first time in a long time. It’s not about me. It’s about Him.

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do; Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.” Phillipians 3:12-13