Where are you, Christmas?

December.

Twinkling lights and carols and manger scenes. Crackling fires and candlelight and sugar cookies. Packages and whispered secrets. Advent readings and hope held softly.

Where are you, Christmas?

The memories of last year haunt me, and I am holding back from stirring all that up in my heart. Sometimes it is just easier to stay in the shallow places.

But there is a stubborn joy that summons me. Calls me out of my sadness, hums when I am least inclined to listen. It rises gently, like the sun rising after a long and stormy night.

It stills my soul and softens grief.

Because I remember Christmas.

I remember delighted children and stories read by Christmas tree light. I remember kitchen messes and sticky fingers and the lingering smell of cinnamon.

I remember the warmth of love, how it would catch in the back of my throat, tears filling my eyes at the most mundane of moments.

I remember chaos and laughter and joy.

That is what I remember.

But I know without question there were other emotions present, other happenings. I know there were arguments and melt-downs and impatience. Stress and pressure and exhaustion.

I know that I was often overwhelmed. That calm felt far away at times.

And I feel that now. A searching for peace in this grief that threatens to swallow me. A need for renewal of joy and a contented heart. For truthful worshipping.

Searching for Christmas. Searching for Christ.

And remembering why He came.

Because He came to rescue from all the doing and trying and failing. To rescue from all the darkness and sin inside of us. The sin that separates us from God and never leaves us–selfishness and pride and unbelief. The sin of falling short and never doing enough, never being enough.

Infant child and mighty God–He came to save us.

And He is the only one who can fill that empty place in us. Bring light to our hearts and minds. Give us hope and a future. Provide a way to peace with God.

He is the one who can hold us up, carry us in our weakness. He can put our feet on a rock and make our paths straight. He can revive and restore and bring peace.

He can heal all of the broken places inside of us. The churning and the doubting and the grasping. The longing for more or for different. The disquiet. The sorrow.

He can satisfy. He can penetrate all the hurting places. He can make all things new.

He can still the sadness, speak peace into the not-so-silent night.

Won’t you let Him?

O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering praise

He could have written the story very differently.

I believe that with all my heart.

Any one of a thousand details could have altered the course. We could be celebrating this Thanksgiving week with Marissa healed and well. We could be proclaiming God’s goodness in the victory of successful treatment and answered prayer.

That was the story we longed for and the one we thought would bring Him the most glory.

That is how I would have written the story.

God’s sovereignty is perhaps the most confusing of all of His attributes. We rest in it, but we never fully understand it. We seek peace in it, but we feel vulnerable when suffering.

We believe, but we wonder.

It is the promise of His goodness that comforts us.

God is good. What He does is good. And somehow through His sovereign, guiding hand, He brings all suffering to a place of goodness.

It is the highlight of the story. It is the emotional ending, the satisfying sigh. It is the drama and the climax and the happy conclusion.

It is there on every page if we look for it.

I am looking for it. I am remembering. I am letting the remembrance of God’s goodness surround me.

I am remembering praise. For His sheltering wings. For abundant help in the day of trouble. For grace in every moment. For mercy and salvation. For the keeping power of Christ.

I am remembering all of you. Your prayers that carried us and your many kindnesses that encouraged us.

I am remembering the gifts He has given–shelter and abundant provision. My people. Warmth and joy. Wealth of soul. Peace and beauty.

I am remembering the goodness in Marissa’s story. I remember that she is right now alive. Safe. Kept. Forever healed.

I am remembering the goodness of the Author. I am trusting Him to make everything right, to straighten all the paths. I am anxiously waiting for the sequel.

It will be filled with good lines, and I trust Him with the story.

This I know–the ending will be good because of who He is.

The ending will be glorious.

O LORD, You are my God; I will exalt You, I will give thanks to Your name; for You have worked wonders, plans formed long ago, with perfect faithfulness. Isaiah 25:1

O, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Psalm 34:8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beauty from ashes

I went to the cemetery this week and sat awhile among the stones and the fading flowers and the quiet. I sat there for the longest time.

A strange feeling of anticipation came as I was driving there. Almost as if I were going for a visit. As if I were getting closer to her somehow.

But she was not there. And though there was a whole world of comfort in knowing she was not, I cried. I let myself remember how much I miss her. I let the sadness sweep over me.

I let the weariness of grief sink down in me.

I listened to it, let it sing its silent song.

Life has been busy and noisy, pulsing with activity. My teenagers were at a fine arts festival this past week, and it was joy to watch the young ones sing and play and create. I see their shining faces, all aglow with youth and inspiration and longing.

Marissa was there as a teenager, too. She sang and she laughed and she told stories. I remember her face as she sang. I remember her exuberant joy. She was just living her life, and not one of us knew how short it would be.

Indeed, there was only One who knew.

The leaves have turned beautiful shades of color. It seemed sudden–green and then vibrant. Plain and then beautiful. And already they are blowing to the ground. Already some are damp and brown.

Some beauty is given for only a little while. We hold on to it while it is here. We grasp it imperfectly. We weep when it is gone.

God tells us that this life is a vapor, a breath. A mist. Like smoke that rises from a blackened fire. Like a song that is fading away.

But this life is not the only one.

And the Author of every good thing, each kind of beauty, calls us. He invites us through His Son to spend eternity with Him. He reminds us through pain, through suffering, to let go of this world and its temporary pleasure. To invest in the forever things. To believe.

He invites us to know the source of beauty. To know the forever One.

The One who turns ashes into beauty in His forever world.

His world without end.

This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. John 6:50

Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner; but my salvation will be forever, and my righteousness will never be dismayed. Isaiah 51:6

To grant those who mourn in Zion, giving them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified. Isaiah 61:3

Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Matthew 13:43

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The warmth of His love

There is finally a chill in the air.

It seemed as if summer would just carry on, friendly and warm. Even as I pulled the fall decorations out of the attic and filled my house with yellows and oranges and reds, the grass was still green, the afternoons hot.

In some ways it was a gift to wait. The slowing is often a treasure, because time can soften the sharp edges of grief.

But now the mornings are dark and cool. The days are shorter. And it’s time to make friends with the cold again. Time to make friends with the dark.

“Don’t doubt in the dark what you once believed in the light.”

That, friends, is our faith walk. We must believe in the warmth when we are cold. We must believe in the light when it is dark. It is not faith if we can always understand. It is not faith if we always know the way.

It is not faith if we are always warm.

God sometimes calls us deeper in. He calls us higher up. Where the air stays cold and thin and the view is filled with foggy mist. He calls us where we wouldn’t choose to go. Where we cannot find the way, and we cannot see His face. We are chilled and lonely and frightened.

But we are not alone.

Oh, the deep, deep love of Jesus. It follows us. It surrounds us. It covers us. Even in the coldest place, its warmth protects us and fills us. Its light is enough to brighten the darkest cave. It is a rescuing, pursuing love.

It brings a settling, an aligning, a comforting.

His love always finds me. It helps me wait.

It is deeper than the deepest place.

It blankets me, and I am warmed.

Light arises in the darkness for the upright. Psalm 112:4

You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Psalm 139:5

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

 

 

Forever 26

For Rissa

So this is the first birthday we cannot buy gifts for you, cannot celebrate another year with you, cannot spoil you with chocolate or run to the mountains with you. This is the first year we remember you instead of make memories with you.

There are so many things I want to tell you, and you are so far away.

I know how much you love fall. (Are there seasons in heaven? Do you love it still? Can you smell pumpkin and cinnamon and a warm fire burning?) I’ve been slow to pull out the autumn decorations, slow to move into this season with all of its memories.

We’re going to spend your birthday doing things you loved. We’ll go to your school and read to your children. Visit the beautiful bench and tree placed there in your honor. Go to the mountains and pick some apples. Take a few family pictures, and I’m sure we will smile.

But there will be tears behind the smiles. We will be remembering you.

In the evening, we will all walk around the block together as you loved to do. We will sit around the fire pit. We’ve been avoiding that, so it will be the first time since you’ve been gone.

We will share stories of you. We will talk about your spark, your spunk, your smile. We will laugh, and we will cry. We are putting all the stories in a memory book so we will always remember.

And we will. We will always remember.

Because your story matters, Beanie. God wrote it and you lived it well. You responded joyfully to your trial. You took what God gave you, and you ran with it. Even in the middle of sickness, sorrow, and pain, you gave Him glory. You trusted Him. You loved Him.

And that makes it one of the good stories, the kind you read over and over again.

I remember every medical test, every doctor’s visit, every treatment. I remember all the pain and bad news. I remember some very dark places, some very raw fear.

And I want to say thank you for being a faithful warrior. Thank you for walking in truth through every dark valley. It was an honor to walk with you, Rissa. It was an honor to fight beside you.

It is an honor to be your mom.

I doubt you read blogs in heaven–man’s musings are of no account there. But I hope you still know how much we love you. I hope you know we are doing ok. That God is faithfully leading us along. That we think constantly about heaven–its realities and its joys.

That we love our Savior more. That we are trudging through our own valleys with steadfast hearts. That we are still in the battle, still reaching forward, still walking by faith.

And rejoicing that your faith is now sight.

I am praising the God who formed you and measured all your days. The One who loved you and gave His Son to ransom you. The One who gave you breath and life, the One who carried you and holds you still.

Today should be a day of celebration, so I am reaching back for all of the happy memories. All of the good things, all of the pleasures of knowing you. On your birthday, I am remembering the gift of you, the joy of you. I am remembering my curly-headed sunshine.

I am remembering all of your moments.

I am remembering you.

I love you, Rissa. Happy birthday.

 

Walking by starlight

There is a moment that comes every day. It often goes unnoticed as we rush about in our frantic doing, but it calls us silently with its color song, simple and sacred. We hardly hear it–the day melting into night. Sometimes there is the lightest shade of pink and sometimes an almost garish beauty. It’s the moment when light falls away to dark.

And suddenly we are walking by starlight.

This sparkly wonder doesn’t mask night’s blackness; in fact, its unique glory shines best in the darkest dark.

Two years ago on this day Marissa was given a positive diagnosis of breast cancer. It felt very much like being thrust into an unlit night. Confused and frightened, we stumbled on the unexpected path. Perhaps there were clouds, because I don’t remember the stars shining.

Yes, there were definitely clouds for awhile.

And looking back, I could choose to look only at the blackness. I could remember only the dark and the fear, and I could be swept away in the force of despair.

I could remember only the falling.

But I remember the stars. I remember that there was enough light for every step. I remember the color and the beauty and the rescuing. I remember peace beyond comprehension.

I remember God. I remember His felt presence. I remember an awareness of His power and keeping grace. I remember being lifted when weary.

I remember singing in the night.

I choose to remember the starlight.

He who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning and darkens the day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out on the surface of the earth, the LORD is his name. Amos 5:8

All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies. Psalm 25:10

 

  

 

Called to sadness

There has been the smallest whisper of autumn in the air this week. And I am trying to move forward with a grateful heart.

I am trying not to be afraid of fall. Marissa’s birthday. The anniversary of her diagnosis. Holidays and family trips, chemo and radiation–the memories swirl around inside my head.

And the longing for more of them feels like a stone in my heart.

The weariness of grief just weighs heavier some days. It slows me to a sluggish pace, as if I can’t quite get to where I need to go. My brain is dull and tired and filled with shadows.

No amount of gratefulness can wake me up.

I am reminded that grief does not really end. You never get to the other side of it. Rather, it is woven together with all of the threads of your life to make you the person you are, the person God intends you to be.

I feel a sense of pressure to move on, to leave heartache behind me. And yet God has given me this sorrow. He knows it is part of my story and part of my heart. He knows that I will walk with this sadness inside of me for all my days. He knows that I will never stop missing her.

He has called me to this sadness.

And so I trust Him with it. I trust that this sorrow is my best path to bring Him glory. I trust that He will show me how to keep it close yet bear it well. I trust that I will know Him better because of it.

And I move my feet slowly. I carry God’s words in my mind and my heart. I plan birthday parties and drive to soccer practices and manage my home. I pray for people who are hurting, those who are in pain and facing their own sadness.

I hold close my daughter who has suddenly become afraid of the dark.

I smile at the sunrise and laugh at my husband’s jokes. I remember God’s morning words, and the joy is there inside of me. It lives beside the sadness, and I guess in some ways they are becoming friends. They are both a part of my story.

Yes, I am called to this sadness. But it is not my only calling.

I am also called to light and to salvation. To faith and a steadfast hope. To soul rest and forgiveness and covenant love. To a strength that is not my own. To an eternity without tears or sorrow with the Creator of my world and days.

Called by grace and to grace. To a song of deep lament mingled with choruses of joy.

And to a Savior who blends all of my callings into a symphony of praise.

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places. Habakkuk 3:17-19

Blessed are the people who know the festal shout, who walk, O Lord, in the light of your face, who exult in your name all the day and in your righteousness are exalted. For you are the glory of their strength. Psalm 89:15-17

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Path of totality

We witnessed a total solar eclipse this week.

It was stunning. Glorious. Beautifully sobering. God displayed in His creation–its order and majesty and power all pointing to Him.

Don’t you feel the pull of His glory?

Eclipse darkness is so different than normal darkness. There is an almost eerie quality to the air and light. I can imagine the fear in days long ago when there was little knowledge of the wonders and workings of the universe.

I can imagine a fear of not knowing what the darkness meant.

The eclipse surprised me. Surprised me by its quiet power. But startled me most of all by the light that escaped during totality. Fully dark for just a second, and then a burst of white light surrounding the moon.

The light that could not be held back.

I expected the darkness. I expected the blocking of the sun. But I did not expect the cold, dark moon to be surrounded by such glorious light.

I was startled by the light in the darkness.

This picture that remains in my mind is so dear to me. I will hold it to my heart forever.

There is no darkness that can obliterate God’s light. Even when your journey takes you down a path of unusual night, where the light is dim and frightening and fading, you can look up and be amazed at the glory of God.

He is always there. He never leaves you. In the most unnatural darkness, He provides a panoramic view of His beauty. Sometimes subtle, sometimes startling.

But always enough.

Enough to light the path ahead. Enough to assure you of His presence. Enough to disperse fear and gloom. Enough to instill hope.

The darkness is the perfect stage to display His glorious light.

He stretches out the north over the void and hangs the earth on nothing. He binds up the waters in his thick clouds, and the cloud is not split open under them. He covers the face of the full moon and spreads over it his cloud. He has inscribed a circle on the face of the waters at the boundary between light and darkness. The pillars of heaven tremble and are astounded at his rebuke. By his power he stilled the sea; by his understanding he shattered Rahab. By his wind the heavens were made fair; his hand pierced the fleeing serpent. Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand? Job 26:7-14

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If not, then it’s paradise

This post was originally published over a year ago after we learned of Marissa’s recurrence. This past week a 24 year old young woman I was praying for was welcomed into God’s presence without much warning. We weep but hang on to hope in our sorrow.

I know two mamas who said good-bye to their babies not so small this week. Said good-bye before they were ready and before they knew how.

It can shatter the heart.

And it would be so hopeless without Jesus. Without His promises which slowly seep back in to heal the shattered pieces. Without the knowledge of redemption and peace and eternity with God. Without His nail-scarred hands pulling us in and holding us close.

Jesus is our only hope in the sadness.

He makes real the truth we did not know before this sadness. He’s a friend and He’s a conqueror and He speaks peace. He binds our wounds and He heals our hearts and He carries us. He reminds us of a forever-after with no sorrow and no pain. With no sickness and no separation and no fear.

I always want to be open, always honest about the sadness. I want to be able to talk about hard things. I want to show my children that God is real and He meets us in our real. He meets us in our hard.

He has met with us this year.

On a Sunday just after Marissa’s biopsy, we went to church and I felt truth wash over me. Afterwards, we had a sweet talk with our pastor. He gently encouraged our fearful hearts. He reminded us of God’s providence and sovereignty. He told Marissa he expected her to be here for many years. But if not? If God was doing something unusual and painful and hard?

If not, then it’s paradise.

Marissa is not afraid of dying. She doesn’t want to, but she is not afraid. She knows God as her Savior and she is settled in His hands. We trudge on and we wade through and we expect God to answer our prayers for healing. We know He is able. We know what our hearts seek, what they desire.

But if not, then we unclench our fists and open our hands fully to God. If not, then we remind ourselves of the painful glory of the cross. If not, then we rejoice through tears.

Because if not, then it’s a safe passage for her through the swollen waters of the Jordan. If not, then it’s streets of gold and eternal harps and angel choirs. If not, then it’s the forever healing in the presence of God, her King.

If not, then it’s paradise.

The journey home

For Jennifer, and all of us in the middle of the story

We did some traveling this past week, and we drove through Durham and right past the exit for Duke where Marissa spent so many days. Where we fought and some would say lost. So much happened there, and I feel such a tumble of emotion–and not just for the physical battle.

No, the battle was much more than that.

Floods of memory rush in with a growing thickness in the throat. A sigh for all the ways the battle changed us. And a heaviness. For Marissa, the horrific fight but then a full transformation into glory. For us left behind, some growth. Some faith. A new realization of God.

But many scars. Fear. And a struggle moving forward some days.

I suppose this is how soldiers feel after a great battle. Where do we go from here?

A friend has finished her cancer treatment and is searching for a new normal. She knows Marissa and knows the end of that story and wonders about her own.

And wonders how to trust God with all the stories.

Because all the stories are different. All the stories are His. Short or long, peaceful or battle-filled, joyful or laced with sorrow, they are His. He writes them. He fills each line.

Some are filled with excitement and wonder. Some are funny and light-hearted. Some are settled and beautiful. Some have one great battle and then peace. And some, endless conflict.

What is there to do but trust the Author? To remember His skill and His purpose and His love. To keep moving through the pages with faith. To be patient. To wait expectantly for Him to resolve, renew, and restore. To believe that He will direct each step and give strength for each new fight.

To stop looking at the words on the page and to trust in the proven One.

To believe in His plan, His beauty, His grace. To settle our hearts in truth.

To believe that it ends well.

That our journey ends with the warmth and joy of home.

Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. John 6:68

You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever. Psalm 16:11

And the Lord GOD will wipe tears away from all faces. Isaiah 25:8