When Advent Hurts

We went to a Christmas Eve service at my mother-in-law’s church the other night. Why they had a Christmas Eve service 10 days early, I do not know, but that is beside the point. The point is that I broke down crying while trying to sing “Joy to the World” because I just don’t feel all that joyful.

When we found out I was pregnant, before we got the official due date from the doctor, we estimated that we’d be expecting a baby on Christmas Eve. I loved the thought of expecting our own baby as we also anticipated the celebration of the birth of Christ. I thought about how special Advent would be this year, how much more meaningful. I looked forward to the lessons I would learn and the ways I would be able to identify with Mary. I was excited about experiencing Advent in a deeper way because of my own state of expecting.

But instead of singing Mary’s song of rejoicing, I find myself identifying more with the Psalmist: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?” Instead of feeling like joy has come to the world, I feel like I’m still longing and pleading for it.

Maybe “Joy to the World” is just not my song this year. Maybe this year, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is the one for me. I’ve always liked it, but this year, I understand it more. Mourn, lonely, hell, gloomy, shadows, dark, death, misery – these are things I get. There are also things I want – Emmanuel (God with us), wisdom, knowledge, freedom, victory, cheer, strength, mercy, peace.

I guess in a very sad, unexpected way, I am experiencing Advent in a deeper way. It’s just not the way I wanted. So I listen to this version of it on repeat and try to think that maybe we all go through cycles of painful longing and joyful receiving all the time, and it’s just unfortunate that my own personal Advent isn’t lining up with the one on the church calendar.

Healing

They say that time heals all wounds, but I don’t think I believe that. I think it takes time for wounds to heal, but I don’t think time itself is the healer. I’ve read a lot of the internet, and I’ve come across a whole slew of message boards where women who’ve lost a child to PPROM discuss their struggles. And there are plenty of ladies out there who seem no better off after two years than other ladies after two months. But then there are ladies who seem further along in their healing process at six months than ladies who’ve waited six years. I’m very careful to use the word “seem” in this discussion because I clearly have no idea what’s really going on in their hearts. I can only see what gets typed on the internet. But everyone is different, so I think there must be more at play than just time alone.

As a Christian, I believe that God is the best healer there is, but I think I also play a role in my own healing, so the whole process is a sort of dance, a cooperative effort, a give and take that eventually results in acceptance of my situation and myself in it.

Everyone participates in this process in their own way, so it can take more or less time depending on who you are, and it looks different for everyone because God relates to unique people in unique ways designed to best engage them. For some people, reading about God’s loving nature and promises in scripture is the only thing that helps them feel better. Other people connect with God more through music. Some of us need to feel a physical presence, and for that, God gives us people to hug. Some of us need to feel peace in the midst of turmoil, and for that, he gives sleep. Some of us need chocolate cake for a week, and for that, God gives us old high school friends who own a bakery and are willing to make deliveries.

My temptation is to say that your healing will only go as quickly as the extent to which you engage with God in his healing offerings, but I don’t know if that’s true. I just don’t know. And I won’t attempt to box up healing in a tidy 3-step process because it’s not that simple. What I have experienced, though, is that when I acknowledge the good things in my life – our friends and family, the support they’ve shown us, my cuddly husband, the love I feel for others, the love they show me, the freedom I feel to be myself knowing that God accepts me completely, good sleep, good music, a great job with amazing coworkers and students, chocolate cake, etc. – when I acknowledge all these good things, it feels like they replace little bits of the bad.

Maybe that’s what Isaiah was getting at when he said that the Lord had anointed him to provide for those who grieve, to give them “a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of despair” (Isaiah 61:3). Maybe everyone who has loved and supported us through the loss of our daughter has been anointed by God to provide for us, to switch out the bad for the good, little by little. And maybe very slowly, I’ll even start to find good things in what right now feels like an entirely bad situation. I’ll let you know if/when that happens, but in the meantime, thank you for everything. I hope you know how big a part of my healing you’ve been so far, and I want you to know that I see it, and I appreciate it more than I can say.

Reality Check

This is going to be a very Christiany post. If you’re not into that sort of thing, I’d encourage you to read it anyway. It’s something new for me, so maybe it will be something new for you as well. If Christiany posts are exactly what you’re into, this one might make you nervous. I don’t know. We’ll see. I’d be happy to hear your thoughts either way.

Anyone who knows me well has likely heard a little about the mentoring group I’ve been a part of for the past three years. After three years, it’s still hard to explain. When I go to meetings now, Will says, “Have fun at group. Enjoy listening and responding and crying.” That’s pretty much how it goes. There’s not always crying, but the listening and responding part is the best description I can give you. It’s deeper than that, though. It’s not the same listening and responding that we tend to do in life and relationships. It’s listening without judgment or agenda and responding with truth and love. It’s pointing out God in others. It’s reflecting the character of God by telling others how we see the character of God reflected in them. It’s naming and encouraging and truth-telling. It’s hard work, and it’s good.

A couple of weeks ago, we went on our annual retreat, and one of the exercises we did was to brainstorm attributes of God that we’ve experienced. Among them were love, peace, acceptance, grace, hope, and protection.

In another exercise, we were encouraged to consider why we do the things we do that are not loving, peaceful, accepting, gracious, hopeful, and protective, and I had a realization. When I choose to do something that goes against the character of God, it is because, in that moment, I want some aspect of God’s character, but I don’t believe he gives it to me freely. I believe instead that I must take it for myself.

Take vanity, for example (no really, take it – Ha! See what I did there? Comic relief). I care about my appearance because I want people to think I’m beautiful because I want them to accept me, to love me. I want to be loved so desperately, and I think the way to get that love is to make myself look good. Then people will compliment me, and I’ll feel good about myself. I’ll feel loved.

Or falsehood. When I tell a lie (or don’t tell the whole truth), I am protecting myself from something, probably shame. I’m not believing that grace, acceptance and protection are available to me, so I’m getting the closest thing to them – avoiding shame and punishment while believing I deserve them both.

What about gossip? When I gossip, let’s be honest, it’s probably because I’m either jealous or self-righteous (or both). I believe that someone else is loved while I am not. I believe that someone else is getting grace that they don’t deserve. I want to be loved. I want the grace that person is receiving. When I gossip, I knock the other person down a notch in my mind so that I feel more loved/lovable.

But here’s the truth. We live, currently (not sometime in the future), in an actual, physical, real world where God loves us perfectly, completely, and unconditionally. And he gives all of himself freely, liberally, without limit to anyone who’s interested. He gives us love, peace, acceptance, grace, hope, and protection.

The only requirement from us is that we accept this as reality. And I’ll be honest – sometimes that’s really hard.

Sometimes I don’t want a handout. I just want to do it myself. Sometimes I don’t trust that there are no strings attached, and my skepticism pushes my own agenda forward. Sometimes my perfectionist tendencies come out. I’ve made a mistake, and in my mind, grace is unacceptable. I know I don’t deserve it, and I can’t bring myself to accept that I’m fully loved and accepted, so I choose to punish myself rather than let grace in.

But when I can remember what’s real – that love, peace, acceptance, grace, hope, and protection are mine for the taking because the source of them gives them to me freely – I don’t have to fight for myself. I don’t have to take love at someone else’s expense. I don’t have to fend off shame by withholding truth. I don’t have to knock other people down so I feel built up.

This is not about behavior management. It’s not about behavior at all so much as it is about belief. I’ve been in church all my life, and I’ve heard theology, justification, sanctification, atonement, sin, redemption, and repentance described in a hundred different ways that never impacted me like this has. I thought for a long time that the message was, “Stop sinning.” Then I heard, “No, it’s not about your actions. It’s about your heart. Make your heart right.” Then it was, “No, you can’t make your heart right. Only God can do that. You have to surrender to him.” But the explanations for how to surrender to God, if existent at all, are always either vague or based on ME doing a prescribed set of spiritual activities, which doesn’t seem like surrendering very much at all.

But recognizing true reality (redundant, but you understand) and false reality (oxymoron, but you understand) for what they are and choosing truth has made things much clearer for me.

This is what I think Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection were all about. I think he came to open up this reality for all people in all places and all times who would accept it. It’s not about what we do; it’s about what’s true and real and available to us all.

Oh Golly Gee

There is SO much to tell you. I want to do a birthday post because this past year has been quite the journey, and I have learned a LOT. I want to tell you all about my travels thus far (For those who do not know, I am in Spain at the moment, going to Italy on Wednesday). I want to explain that I am not using contractions in this post because I am on a Spanish keyboard that uses a funky one I am not sure will translate properly. Oh hey, I did one! Success!

But I also want to go to bed because it is after midnight, and I have to get on a bus to Madrid in the morning. So I will keep it short. The people I have met so far are amazing, and I have had so much fun seeing the country and hanging out with them. They have been extremely welcoming and taken excellent care of me. And I am pretty sure I am allergic to my apartment because when I am not there, I feel fine, but when I go back, I start coughing, and my nose starts running. Mold? I am suspicious. When I left, I had chest and head congestion, but after running through the airport to catch a 6-hour flight, sitting in recycled air for all that time, barely sleeping for the past four nights and traveling to a foreign place with foreign germs, I feel totally fine. You are suspicious too.

Anyhoe, tomorrow, I head back to Madrid to meet up with Amaris (!!!!!), and then I head to ITALY!!!!!! Then back to Madrid to hang out with Ana!!!!!!! Then back home. (!?) I will be happy to fill you all in on the whole trip when I get back, but for now I would just like to close with this…

When I got on the bus, I opened up my journal to jot down some thoughts. It has a Bible verse on every page, and this was what I saw today:
“I am teaching you the way of wisdom;
I am guiding you on straight paths.” Prov. 4:11

Not bad, huh?

Created

A lot of things have come together today to form these thoughts, and while they’re not yet fully coherent, I wanted to share with you what I’ve got so far.

We are not polliwogs. Wait, you already knew that? That’s because you’re brilliant. But allow me to explain. We come into the world as fully formed human beings. We’re not born in some other form to become human beings later on. We grow and change, but that’s just the development of what we already are.

I won’t tell you what to believe, but I’ll tell you what I believe to be true, and that’s that we were created uniquely by God, which is pretty cool because that means that our “wiring” has already been created when we’re born. If you have kids (especially if you have more than one), you can attest to the fact that they are different from the get-go. I think about my friend Rachel’s two kiddos, and really, there was a big difference in them even during the two pregnancies. I’m not enough of an expert on that to go into any more detail, but I’m sure y’all have seen it for yourselves. So just think, God created you, not just your body, but your personality as well. He came up with the way you relate to the world around you, the ways you like to be loved, the ways you demonstrate love to others, the things that break your heart, the things that stir your soul.

My friend Carla is easily startled, and she told me once that her mother said that even when she was in the womb, when the creepy theme music of a crime drama TV show came on, she would wriggle around like crazy, making her poor mama very uncomfortable. And I don’t remember a time ever in my life that I didn’t love music. Maybe my mom can shed more light on that, but for as long as I can remember, it’s been my favorite thing.

I realize there are all kinds of scientific arguments you could make to explain these things, but I don’t think any of them negate the idea of a creator. In fact, I think they support it, but that is beside the point.

We’ve been created. We were born with the basics fully formed and only in need of development, yet we still allow ourselves to be re-created by things that are not our creator. We let the media tell us that our bodies were formed incorrectly and should be adjusted to adapt to society’s standard of beauty. We let our teachers tell us that if we don’t follow the right 5-paragraph formula, our way of communicating is wrong. We let boys tell us that if we were more like so-and-so, we’d be worthy of their adoration. We let a lack of curiosity in others create in us the sense that we’re not worth pursuing or being known. We let laziness in others tell us that we are too much (too fill-in-the-blank). We let men who don’t want to understand us tell us that we’re crazy. We let so many things tell us that we are in some way shameful.

But just like God asked Adam and Eve, “Who told you that you were naked?” (Genesis 3:11), he asks us, “Who told you that you were malformed/unacceptable/unworthy/not valuable/too much/crazy/shameful?” Why do we allow someone who is not our creator to tell us who we are? What do they know? And what gives them the right? Yes, Adam and Eve were naked, but Genesis 2:25 says they felt no shame about it. The shame was added later.

So what if you don’t look like Scarlett Johansson? It doesn’t matter. There’s no shame there. And say you’re really, really organized or boisterous or intense or tall or talkative or bold. Who told you those were bad things? I’ll tell you who: Jerks who were too lazy to find a way to use those things to benefit everyone, so they told you to be less of yourself to make things easier on them in that moment. And if you’re 30 years old and have never even held hands with a boy, it is not because you’re unlovable, unworthy, or in any way not completely special. Here’s who you are:

  • a unique creation of God
  • someone God knows and loves (yes, at the same time)
  • someone Jesus died to set free

Y’all, don’t let anyone or anything in the world re-create you to be anyone other than who God made you to be. You are already loved, and that’s enough.

 

A Few Unrelated Things

1. I’m totally addicted to Pinterest. I love it, and I want to spend more time browsing the internet looking for things to pin, but I just don’t have that much time to waste. I think it’s probably for the best.

2. I’m in the middle of the second Bible test, and so far, I think I’m doing much better on this one. It’s essay questions, though, so that is not shocking for anyone.

3. In my slang class, I’ve been teaching them lists of words that all mean the same thing. They’re usually 10, 15 or 20 words/phrases/expressions for something. I’ve done words for “easy,” “great,” “good-bye,” “money,” “crazy,” “nothing” and “vomit.” These lists have been QUITE a hit, and they’re pretty fun for me to come up with as well. The words we use for vomit, especially, are just so descriptive. If you have an idea for a future list, please share. I’m open to suggestions, and my students will love you for it.

4. I’m going to Wilmington this weekend, and I am super-excited about it.

The end.

What I’ve Really Been Doing

Ok so now that everybody pretty much knows, I guess I can talk about it.

I might be moving to Europe. It’s weird to type it out into the world like that. So far, it’s just been discussed privately among a few close, trusted friends and people I knew would understand and be excited with me. Honestly, I have no idea what’s going to happen. I’ve been taking things one step at a time, and really, at any point, the whole process could just be over, and that would be it. We’ll see. But for now, we press on.

I’m applying to go with World Team either to Italy or Spain. This is the same organization I went to Italy with back in June, and so far, this process has been…quite thorough. It’s been very cool – I’m learning a lot about myself as I go – but it has also been taking up lots and lots of time that I might have otherwise spent blogging. Or (let’s be honest) watching every episode of Bones (again) on Netflix. The application alone was at least twelve typed pages, and then they sent me the personality tests, the spiritual gifts test and the Bible tests (one of which I told you I flunked miserably, the other I haven’t been brave enough to take yet).

Then they sent me the official invitation to join them for a week of information, evaluation and mutual assessment, and suddenly things got really real. First of all, I need about $700 to make it happen, which is the first real commitment I’ve had to make. Until now, it’s all been literally on paper. Just theoretical. Just a really, really amazing dream of a possibility. Just paella and/or pizza, European public transit, Romance languages and adventure abounding on every side. But when it hits your pocketbook, it hits home.

Then, speaking of home, I started thinking about all the things I’ll miss if I leave. Weddings, birthdays, family reunions, my godchildren growing like weeds, Baby Josh, maybe Moravian Sugar Cake in my PJs with my family on Christmas morning. I don’t know what I’ll miss and what I won’t, but I know I’m asking my family and friends to make as big a sacrifice as I’d be making in going.

But then I started thinking of all the things I’d miss if I didn’t go, namely the chance to do something awesome, something bigger than myself, something impossible, something I’ve felt compelled to do for the last seven years. I don’t know the details of what’s in store for me. I just know that if I don’t at least try, I’ll always regret it and wonder.

I think y’all would too. You know me. You know I’ve got this crazy pull toward Europe. I honestly think if I didn’t at least try to go, some of you would be disappointed. So I’m asking you to sacrifice with me, but also to share in the awesomeness, knowing that your letting go is fueling something incredible.

I didn’t intend to make this a fundraising post, so you can stop reading now if you want it to not be about money. But if you’re still with me, and you want to give a little bit to help me get to the assessment week, please contact me. Comment, call, email, text, smoke signals, carrier pigeon, dream invasion, note in study hall, whatever. But maybe don’t send me a pigeon. You know how I feel about birds.

Numbers Hate Me

So I just took a Bible test, which I’m pretty sure I failed miserably. It’s not that I don’t know what it says, it’s just that I don’t know where it says it. There were all these questions about where one might find certain verses or passages on certain topics, and I sat here staring at the screen going, “Uhhhhhh…,” and then just laughing out loud because I had NO. Earthly. Idea. At least one of them was even a verse that we studied IN DEPTH in Community Group like two weeks ago. Not a clue.

Yes, I have problems memorizing things that are not set to music or quoted in films, but the words are not as problematic as the verse references. I remember some verses verbatim, but I could not tell you where to find them. I just don’t think in numbers. I think in stories and voices and experiences. I remember movie quotes because all of those things come together as I put the quote in the context of the story, remember the inflection of the actor’s voice and think about where I was and how I felt as I watched the movie. I remember song lyrics because songs tell stories, recordings invite me to add my own voice to the story, and music always evokes feelings that come back every time you hear that song. I remember Malachi 3:10 because I said it every flippin’ Sunday of my life for about ten years.

I don’t have ten years to spend on each verse in the Bible.

So if you have a nifty trick for me, a recording of Scripture set to music, or a movie that quotes the Bible and isn’t boring or super-cheesy, please let me know because these numbers are killing me.