The Other Side of Christmas

*originally posted December 20, 2012 Our nativities are beautiful. Even when we briefly lament that there was “no room for them in the inn” and that Jesus had to be born in a stable, our nativities are clean, peaceful, idyllic. We imagine the animals keeping watch and the wonder as the shepherds come. We think of little woolly lambs. But it probably wasn’t clean. Because stables smell, we can assume it was smelly. Joseph was probably frantic trying to make a bed in the straw and figure out how he was going to deliver the baby when that was usually left to other women. There were probably bugs. I don’t share that to ruin all nativities for you. We can go back to those pristine images in a bit, but bear with me for a moment. It just seems to me that even those early moments and years of life pointed to the kind of life Jesus would live. Even before birth, Jesus did not have a place to lay his head (Matthew 8:20). When Jesus was a very young child (people disagree on if he was an infant or around two) his family had to flee to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15). They fled in the middle of the night, probably traveling as light as possible, frantic to get away. And the reason they had to flee? Herod wanted to secure his throne by killing the foretold king of the Jews. While God forewarned Joseph and he got Mary and Jesus to safety, other mothers and young boys were not so lucky. It is sometimes referred to as the slaughter...

Don’t Run Alone

I’ve started running the last few years. Actually, I run for about 6 months and then take the next 6 months off. It isn’t intentional. Running is just hard and as spring turns into summer it gets so hot that I lose my motivation for it. Then we get into fall and winter. Why start again if it is just going to get to cold too venture outside? This year has been different. In June I joined a women’s running group and this kept me motivated. To add to that, I decided to sign up for a half marathon — 13.1 miles. I played with the idea in the winter and spring — rationalizing that it would give me something to seriously train for. But I also knew that the farthest I had run was the annual Lake Run — 4.37 miles. In July, I ran our local 5 mile race and was so discouraged. But, I had floated the half marathon idea by a friend in Ohio. We continued to email about it. In August, I took the plunge and sent in my race fees. The Indy Half & Full on Oct. 15, 2011 dawned clear and so cool it was cold to those of us in running gear. Cassie had run three other half marathons. I knew she ran faster than I did. Honestly, I expected I would run alone — just me and my music. Cassie had other ideas. She planned to let me set the pace and to stay with me. We started fast but slowed on the hills that seemed like mountains. Having trained...

When We Want To Be Like Them

Growing up, our street looped in a half mile block. In the summer, we played with the other kids on our street. But once school started, there was a clear division between the Catholics and the Protestants. Ninety percent of the neighborhood went to Catholic school. The rest attended public school. I wished I could go with the bigger crowd of kids. There was an allure to the huge groups of kids walking together in their matching uniforms, a cohesive group that the rest of us could never quite pull off. I wanted to be like them. It is the we-want-to-be-like-them syndrome. We’ve all experienced it. The neighbors buy a new TV and we think we need one too. Someone gets a new car and we go in debt getting one too. It is really as old as Adam and Eve’s sons. Cain makes an offering of grain. Abel makes an offering of his animals. Genesis 4:4 says that the Lord looked with favor on Abel’s offering. When Cain grows angry, the Lord tells him that if he does what is right, he his offering will also be accepted. But Cain cannot stand his brother having the Lord’s favor when he does not. In anger he slays Abel. Fast forward several hundred years. In 1 Samuel 8 (NIV), Israel is living in a theocracy. Simply put, God is the one in charge with prophets who speak for him. As Samuel ages, he appoints his sons to lead after him. His sons are a bit dishonest and the Israelites ask him to appoint a king. At first glance you might...

I Need a GPS Everyday

On July 4th, I ran my community’s 5 mile Park to Park race. I am not particularly fast and though I wasn’t at the end, I found myself in a no man’s land between those so much faster than I was and those slower. I had never run this race and I got a bit disoriented at the end. I looped around up a hill instead of going straight and ended up running an extra third of a mile. My immediate reaction was, “I give up!” It took me a few moments to regroup and head to the finish line. Though frustrated that I had missed the route and that it meant my time would be slower, not finishing would be worse. I’ve run a couple other races this summer and have found a similar pattern. If I don’t know the route and can’t judge how much further, frustration sets in and I find myself wanting to stop and walk rather than keep running. The Christian life is a lot like a race. And just like when I run, I get frustrated when I don’t know where I am going. I want to walk or stop or lie down in the road because I think I can’t go any further or I am so disoriented I fear going in the wrong direction. Maybe it is humanity’s self reliant streak, but God often doesn’t give us all the directions at once. I think it is that if we had the directions we’d all go running off on our own, thinking we knew the way. In Genesis 12:1 it says, “The...

Missing Pieces

Earlier this summer, I came across a deal for a wooden Adirondack chair. It needed to be treated and put together, but I thought I could manage that, even though I am not particularly handy. I spent a Saturday morning staining and on Sunday I began the assembly process. The one glitch was the missing piece in the back of the chair. I hate taking things back. Honestly, I tried to rationalize being able to get by without that missing piece, even if it might not look the greatest. But I realized that I had paid for all the pieces, so I politely contacted them to see what they could do. I now have all the pieces and a nice chair. I find it disturbing how quickly my mind jumped to settling for a chair with a missing piece. Where else might I settle for less than all the pieces? In college I attended Christian leadership camp. One of the speakers expounded on God as our Father. Coming from a very fractured home, I struggled with this. I claimed God as my king and my place as His servant. I wanted little to do with the Father-daughter image. I had to grasp that a poor copy (my earthly father) did not invalidate the original (my heavenly Father). There are many facets to God, but we often focus on the pieces we are comfortable with and neglect the others. God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Just those three can trip people up. But all three are necessary to a balanced faith. Theologian J.I. Packer wrote in Knowing God, “The...

Satisfied

I like my air conditioner in the summer and my heavy down comforter in the winter. I like my clothes clean, a shower every morning, and knowing that if I’m hungry there is always food available. I like to be comfortable. I like to be satisfied. But lately I’ve been thinking that there is a danger to being comfortable: to being too satisfied. That sense of comfort, that sense of satisfaction whispers to us to be content–that this is all there is. It makes us content to hold to the status quo rather than seeking hard after God. It makes us not want to let go of this world. I get grumpy when the storms come and toss my little boat about. I don’t like it when there is too much month left over at the end of the pay check or when people I care about are sick. I hate it when I struggle with loneliness. These things leave me anything but satisfied and comfortable. In fact, they often make me angry and resentful. I have a friend who is sixteen years older than I am. Like me, she has never been married and never had kids. Once she told me that while these are things she longs for, she chooses to trust God that for whatever reason He is using her singleness to make her more like Him. What if we saw the challenges of our lives like my friend? What if we saw them as things to refine us rather than break us? In Psalm 84:10 (NIV) , the psalmist writes, Better is one day in...

Living Out the Lottery

Congratulations to our giveaway winners!     Though it has been numerous years, I confess, once or twice I’ve given in to playing the lottery. Typically, it is when it reaches some astronomical number and every one at work chips into buy a few tickets. While I know it is essentially throwing that money away, it is tempting to think of what I might do with that money — both the good and some of the luxuries I might enjoy. But, I know I really would be a fool if I bought a ticket and then started living like I had the money in hand already. If I gave away more than I make in a year in one full swoop or bought a new this or that, all on the notion that my winning day was coming, betting my life on what might happen. I use to think that eternal life was a little like that — betting my today on what would happen tomorrow. But then a few years ago I came across John 17:3. It’s embedded in John’s rendition of the last supper. Jesus prays for his disciples, thanking God for the authority that God has given him to grant eternal life. And there it is in verse 3 (NIV) a definition of eternal life unlike anything you will find in Webster’s:   Now this eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Eternal life is not simply about living forever. It is far grander and more far reaching than that. It is relational. It is knowing God...

Never Said Goodbye

Loose ends drive me bonkers. Anyone at work can tell you, I’m constantly running around tying up the loose ends. If my loose ends are securely anchored, I’ll worry about yours. But the loose ends I can least tolerate are the relational ones. If I don’t get relational closure, I obsess. Being a pessimist, my issue is always what it is about me that made you leave. That obsession spills over into my relationship with God. What if I mess up? What if I’m not good enough? Will He walk away? From talking to other Christians, I know that there are times when God seems silent. With the recurrence of  depression, God has seemed silent to me. It has been lifting, but there is still that struggle to feel as if He is near. But recently He spoke to me in a song. Carolyn Arends is my favorite Christian musician, with songs running the gamut from fast and sometimes quirky to pensive. Her lyrics ask hard questions and look to the Word for answers. I want to share her paraphrased lyrical bits of Matthew 28:20 (the Great Commission) and John 14:3 (Jesus’ promise to prepare a place for us) from the album Love Was Here First and the song “Never Say Goodbye.”   I know when You were here You spoke a lot of words To disturb the comfortable And comfort the disturbed But those who knew you best Must have wondered why You never said good-bye   You said, “Lo, I’m with you always Always know that I’m Making preparations In a world beyond all time Where we never say...

Bravery and Bridges

Have you ever said, “I could never do _______?” Maybe it is speak in front of a large crowd. Maybe it is run a mile, let alone a marathon. Maybe it is write a book or learn to dance. Or have you ever looked at someone else’s circumstances with cancer or a drug addicted child or a marital affair and said, “I could never handle that.” With either scenario, we look at the impossibilities. We see all the reasons why we could never pack up and do missions work in Africa. We see reasons why we could never handle a special needs child.We are (at least I am) plagued by impossibility. But, I’ve been thinking about what it means to be brave. I read somewhere once that bravery was running towards danger to help when everyone else is running away. Yes, that probably is brave. But I think that for most of us bravery is much more simple but no less hard. Bravery is simply taking the first step into the unknown. It’s stepping on a bridge you cannot see but one that God says is there. And it is a bridge to peace. Jesus spoke with a very brave father once. In Mark 9, a man had brought his son to the disciples to be healed. The boy had been robbed of speech and had seizures that threw him to the ground. When Jesus heard that the disciples had not been able to heal the boy, he declared them an unbelieving generation and asked the disciples to bring the boy to him. Mark 9:21-24 Jesus asked the boy’s...

Finding My Awe

I have lost my awe. I have lost the moments that take my breath away when the only true response is an “Oh!” It would be easy to pass that off with the fact that I don’t live somewhere that routinely takes my breath away. I am in a town with street lights. The snow is gray with accumulated dirt. I see the stars only through roof tops. There are no mountains or ocean beaches in the heart of Illinois. But it seems like there should be something that takes my breath away. Maybe there is. A year or so ago, I started knitting again. I have had some success with it and someone started bugging me about trying socks. That seemed daunting. Socks are often worked on with needles pointed on both ends. And instead of two needles you work with four or five. But I’ve started my first pair of socks. For reference sake, here is a comparison of the size of the needles with a pencil: I have found it a bit challenging. The stitches are so tiny. But God is using it to increase my awe. It turns out that knitting is a “heavenly” activity (Psalm 139:13-18 NIV) For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the...