Pink Counters and Cold Hands

It’s cold.

I don’t like being cold.

I’ll trade the rainy warmer days for blue-sky colder ones, but I want to be able to go home at the end of the day and close my front door and be warm. But instead, my hands are like ice and my tea cools, well, conveniently fast actually. But still. I’m buried beneath four blankets, and last night I turned the oven on just for the comfort that something else in my house was emitting heat.

I learned recently that some people’s brains are designed to handle cold better than others. Some people have brains that register cold as pain. And my first thought was, “What do you mean? Not everyone feels like being cold is painful?”

I remember going to Leavenworth with friends and waiting for the tree lighting. They were all cold too, but without the element of, “No, you don’t understand, I’m going to DIE if I stay out here another second,” that I was experiencing. So I slipped into a nearby store and said peace-out to the dark silhouette of a tree: “Catch ya on the flip side. Let me know when you’re all lit up and I’ll ooh and ahh through this here window.”

My friends thought I was being a baby, or being overly dramatic. But maybe there’s a lot we don’t know about pain. And maybe two people can live through similar events and have two really different emotional experiences. And maybe all that we don’t know or understand is another call NOT TO JUDGE. And maybe we can’t always draw from our own frame of understanding and experience to try to relate to another person. Because we’re not all the same.

*

I just wanted a night that felt festive. I brought home pizza and ingredients to make the most chocolate-y, peppermint-y hot cocoa ever. I got out my reindeer mug and bought another sippy cup for Olivia so she could drink it on the couch.

I wanted to watch a Christmas movie and sit, all cuddled up in our pajamas under a mountain of blankets.

They wanted to watch The Lorax.

And actually, they mostly wanted to play and ask for the iPad and wipe pizza grease on furniture.

But it was okay. Because we were together.

And after dinner, I went to shower. And I exhaled deeply all the stress of the day, and I exhaled relief that I survived another week. And I exhaled the loudness- Arlow barking because there was a dog on TV that he wanted to play with, and the kids being kids.

And just as I felt some tension melt away, my phone rang. And I peeked out of the shower curtain to catch a glimpse of it vibrating on the counter and saw the caller was work.

And I was on duty overnight.

So, barely showered, barely dried off, and more than barely freezing, I called work back, trying not to think: “I just wanted a few moments of peace…” And I dealt with that situation while Theo shoved his sippy cup at me, asking for more hot cocoa, and Arlow swiped pizza off the high chair.

And I went to the kitchen to write down some phone numbers the person on the other end of the phone was giving me, and then back to the bathroom where Olivia was standing outside the door, her mouth in the shape of an “o”, pointing inside. Theo was in there, drinking from my giant glass of red pop.

“NO,” I mouthed to him, pushing the pop back further on the counter and ushering him back into the living room.

Then I went back to the kitchen to read off a phone number and call my boss to ask a question about medication delivery for a client.

Then back to the bathroom, where I saw Theo reach for the pop again, hit it with his fingertips, and spill the entire thing onto the counter and the floor, effectively staining everything pink.

So I grabbed his arm and pulled him from the bathroom while he wailed, and grabbed my bath towel, trying to soak up the mess, all the while talking to work.

And in the distance, the Christmas tree lights flickered, and The Lorax sang some song about hope, and Madison cuddled a crying Theo, and I thought: “NO. You don’t get to be the one crying.”

Eventually, we put on The Grinch, and the kids sat still for approximately fifteen seconds. Long enough to stroke their baby soft cheeks and kiss the tops of their heads and tell them I love them. Long enough to hear them giggle and feel them wrap their little arms around me, their bodies squirmy and full of energy beside me.

And then Olivia burped in my face, and Theo ran off to climb the cat tree.

And isn’t that life? I’ve used this analogy before, but I feel like I’m dying from thirst and someone’s given me a damp washcloth to suck water from. And that’s all I have. And I’m so grateful for it. But it doesn’t feel like enough.

Life is hard. It’s really, really hard.

And I keep trying to create moments of magic, moments that feel not hard and worth it and beautiful.

But all of my best efforts and intentions usually aren’t enough. Things rarely ever end up looking or feeling the way I’d hoped, and instead I’m just left feeling exhausted and sorry for myself.

But where does that leave me? Do I stop trying? Do I stop believing in and fighting for magic and beauty?

I don’t know.

All I know to do is keep my eyes heavenward and wait on my God.

And God? I’ve asked Him to be straight with me, to tell it like it is, and still He hasn’t told me to stop hoping that magic and beauty exist in this crazy world.

So I’ll keep making hot cocoa to warm the hands and put a smile on the faces of people I love. And when the house falls quiet at night, I’ll think about the people currently asleep under my roof, and how fiercely I love them. And I’ll watch the tree twinkle and I’ll listen to Arlow snore and I’ll thank  God for every single moment where the fight for life doesn’t feel quite so hard.

And my hands, they’re cold.

And my head is frazzled with activity and worry and all the “I don’t know’s!” filling me up inside.

But my heart feels held. The God who made my heart, promises to hold it.

And He is.

The Turning Page

I read today that our tears reveal something about our hearts- and about the God who created our hearts.

After the author made that claim, he continued by naming things that had made him cry- and in doing so, he painted a sort of portrait of who He is.

I was also thinking about how I couldn’t participate in our church activity last Saturday. When the pastor asked us to think back on 2015 and remember what God did, I just stared at the Christmas tree on the stage and counted the lights and tried not to think or cry. And when we got into groups to share, all I said was, “I can’t talk about it. Not because God didn’t do anything, but because the only reason I am here to reflect on 2015 and welcome 2016 is because of Him.”

And I can’t think about it. My mind feels held captive right now, the horror and shame and desperate grasping and clinging for someone to love me. The images and memories. The terror and “I can’t believe this is my life” and the being alone. The “I can’t breathe.” The phone calls. The long nights. …Just listing things is making my heart beat fast and my cheeks redden. The trauma is as real today as it was five months ago. And if I’m not careful, I could drown in it.

But I do want to recap 2015. I want to look at my tears and my blessings and thank God for both. And the rest of it? The thoughts and memories and images that feel like fire to my brain and heart? I’ll leave them alone. I’ll hand them to God to heal or redeem or restore. I’ll continue to fall to my knees and beg Him to take from me what isn’t of Heaven. I’ll try to breathe and trust and believe in hope.

And so, I’m going to make a list. A list of what has made me cry in 2015. And a list of what I’m grateful for.

And I’m going to call it brutiful.

And worth it.

And holy. Because God has never left my side. He’s been the dryer of my tears and the giver of every good thing.

*

Times this year I’ve cried:

Those nondescript, unsuspecting moments when someone I love is talking or sitting silently or reading a book or watching TV and I look at them and I find treasure there in their face, the slope of their nose and the way their eyes look when they smile and the little intricacies and details of who they are- the curve of their fingernails or freckle on their jawline or crooked smile. There, as if written on their forehead, I see: GIFT. And my heart swells to overflowing with fierce love and tenderness and gratitude to the Lord for placing them in my life. And I say a silent prayer that they won’t ever leave- that we’re in this life together, forever.

In the vet’s office, soothing Theodore with coos and promises that it would all be okay as the vet told me the opposite. Watching him get sick and suffer. The thousands of dollars I spent and midnight trips I made trying to find a way to make him be well only to discover I couldn’t fix it and I had to say goodbye. And having Laura offer to be with me when I put him down. Terrible grief. And a verbal hug.

Jordan singing Great is Thy Faithfulness on The Voice, the truth resonating in those words. The way Adam looked at him with uninhibited joy and undisguised pride. And I knew I was watching someone’s dreams come true. And it was beautiful and poignant and made me smile and cry at the same time.

The mail. Painful letters, returned house keys, bills I couldn’t afford and that triggered hard memories, and a Christmas card from the social worker at Good Sam, which reminded me it was all real; I really did live that. I lived it. The trauma. The gripping horror of it. I lived it. And I survived it. And God won’t leave me here in this place of forever, just trying to survive and battle the trauma. Someday the Christmas card will make me smile because she cared and I survived and I forgive myself, because He has forgiven me, and what was lost isn’t beyond His ability to heal, and what is broken isn’t beyond His ability to mend. And nothing is ruined.

Hugging my niece after seven months. Love and grief and sorrow and joy all mixed up together in that moment. Wrapping her up in my arms, lifting her off the ground and carrying her like I did when she was three. Looking at her face- the gradual maturing of it. Memorizing the features and the words she spoke and begging God to help her still love me and remember me. That baby who I loved with a love I’d never felt before, who I’d comforted and delighted in and cuddled and kissed and played with… now eight years old. And rather than being there, a present person in her life, through circumstances out of my control, we are growing apart instead of together. And I knew that. And I felt that. But she was there, before me, still the one who I loved with my whole heart, and I didn’t care if she loved me too- all that mattered was memorizing how it felt to hug her, taking that with me into the next days and weeks and months. And letting myself love her as best as I could from a distance- through prayer.

The moments of aching aloneness. Feeling unwanted, unconnected, like I don’t belong to anyone. Like no one would choose me. Without family or people who carry me in their heart like a mother or sister or aunt or cousin or husband or child would. And I fear that the love I thought I had is fragile or not real or dependent on my behavior and continual efforts to prove myself as lovable.

Reading blogs or books about how He loves us- how near He is and how safe it is to hope that there’s more of Him to experience and discover. The gentle whisper to my soul: “Continue to maintain that wild, irrational hope, child.”

Watching A Little Princess- that scene where Sara is begging her father to remember her. And then he does. And he runs after her just as the cops are putting her in their car and he shouts, with the fierce protectiveness of a loving parent: “Sara!” And she runs to him and leaps into his arms and he holds her and whispers loving things to her and they cry.

When hope feels as impossible to hold on to as smoke or sunlight.

That event where I felt judged and shamed and love felt performance-based. And I felt misunderstood and confused as to what’s real- caught between the opinions of the people I love and respect and admire, and the convictions of my own heart.

Reading about or hearing about or witnessing good mothers. When mothers look at their children with unmasked, limitless love. When I hear children (even grown children) say they don’t know what they’d do without their mom. And, the stabbing pain of knowing that unless God does a miracle in my life and brings me someone who wants a desperate-to-be-loved 28-year-old daughter, I won’t ever have that again. Nor will I ever get to be a mom without His hand in my life.

Each time I’ve left a counseling session that hasn’t helped and I’ve wondered if the problem is them, or if I’m just too screwed up to be helped, or if maybe I’m not screwed up at all and this is just how I’ll feel forever.

The gift of rainbows in the sky. Particularly last month when I saw the barely-there rainbow in the sky on my way to work. And I smiled and whispered, “Thank You.” And then, there, as I rounded a corner, I saw a bright and vibrant and beautiful second rainbow, the end of which was right beside me not even five feet away. It was incredible. And I realized then that the faint rainbow, which I had been so pleased with, had just been a shadow of the real gift He had to give. I imagined God’s eyes twinkling as I thanked Him for that faint rainbow, all the while knowing He had something even better coming just a few seconds later. And I imagined Him there, holding His breath, so excited for me to see.

Each time I’ve prayed a prayer of surrender and trust. Each time I’ve lifted up my heart tentatively and on shaking hands and said, “Take it. I trust You.”

*

Things I’m Grateful For:

I didn’t spend Christmas alone.

Hard, growing, vulnerability-requiring, bonding conversations.

Being able to cry again.

The laps and shoulders I’ve cried on.

Dancing in the rain.

Life-affirming road trips, particularly the one to Cape Flattery and the spontaneous 6:00 p.m. drive to Ocean Shores.

Having–and keeping–a job I love.

People who’ve been there in hard moments. They’ve showed up or answered their phones. They’ve welcomed me into their homes and lives. They’ve prayed for me.

Good books. Books that help me feel like Jesus is right here at my side, filling me with the sense of “life abundant” that I am clinging to as being my birthright.

The kids in my life who love me and who I get to squeeze and cuddle and love on.

The miracle of leaving Bellevue early. And having a ride home.

Getting my head above the water long enough to choose not to give up.

My church family. The increased comfort I feel there. The post-church shared meals and laughter and conversation.

Every single moment someone’s looked at me with love. I notice it- every time. And I store it up in my heart and use it to battle the lies that seem to constantly be threatening to pull me under.

Every night I’ve gone to bed with hope filling me up inside. Every morning I’ve woke up with joy bubbling within me. Every afternoon I’ve suddenly been struck by the assurance that it’s all going to be okay.

*

I still have to ask Him every single night to tuck me in.

I’m 28 and I can’t sleep–I can’t silence my heartache and fear and desire to take control of things I have no control over–without believing the God who calls me daughter stops by my bed at night and tucks the covers up around me and kisses my forehead.

And I calm my heart by meditating on my belief that He stands vigil while I sleep, looking down on me with love, working in my life even while I rest.

And that is how I’ll begin 2016- needing God with a desperate fierceness.

And trusting Him to never leave my side.

How He Came

 

I fell to my knees when I got home from work yesterday afternoon.

I walked inside, set my purse down, pressed my forehead to the ground, and wept.

And I said, “I NEED YOU. I am here, kneeling before You because I NEED You! I need to pee and I’m hungry but I NEED YOU THE MOST!” Because I did. My stomach was growling and my bladder was full but even more than that discomfort, I needed Him. My need for Him hurt more. It was the more pressing issue.

And I cried and cried, the kind of cry that feels like it will never end. I’ve been doing that a lot lately. Multiple times a day. In bathrooms and cars and my shower and bed and on the couch and with my face pressed to the carpet. Forever weeping, emptying my heart out to the Lord in tears because words aren’t always enough.

And yet even while I’m teary and snotty and crying audibly like a child, (it’s all quite dignified and mature), I know He’s there beside me.

I know He was there yesterday afternoon, kneeling at my side, His hand on my back. And He didn’t say anything. He was just there. Present. Letting me wail and weep… and not making me do it alone.

I wonder if He ever feels limited. I wonder if He ever aches to hold us, to be physically present with us, to talk face-to-face.

And so I try to soften my heart to that possibility, to filter my pain through the belief that Jesus is there, at my side whispering, “I’m here, child. I’m right here.”

It helps to keep that in mind because otherwise it all feels like too much to bear – Christmas, grief, longing, embarrassment, the involuntary recap of 2015 as it comes to a close, trauma, shame, fear, sorrow…

There’s a vise-like grip on my insides when I think about what I don’t have and may never have,
and what I’ve only fooled myself into thinking I had,
and what I do have,
and why it isn’t what I DO have enough?,
and why isn’t knowing I have Him enough?,
and what is wrong with me??!,
and maybe I’m destined to live this life of being alone forever because I can’t seem to learn my lesson that God is all I need!

But even as I write that I sense Jesus smiling and saying, “Forever is an awfully long time, child.”

And He’s got a point, that all-knowing Creator of mine. And so I try to smile back. I try to roll my eyes at myself, to hold a place for my sorrow–which is real–but to also acknowledge the melodrama.

Forever IS a long time.

And He isn’t up in heaven letting things down here just sort of work themselves out or burn themselves to the ground or whatever. He doesn’t have a “whatever” attitude about anything. He is intimately involved in everything. Not a single thing escapes His notice.

And it doesn’t take Him “forever” to accomplish good things.

Sometimes it only takes a second.

And I try to believe that, to cling to His goodness and foster a bubbling sort of hope within me as I come face-to-face with a new year.

I try to force myself to be excited about it- to praise Him in advance for the good things this upcoming year will hold.

But I can’t seem to really say that without feeling some trepidation and disbelief. Because I’m tired of looking at hard things and calling them good, or seemingly impossible things and calling them possible, or dark situations and modeling my God with a: “Let there be light!”

I’m scared to believe there is good in store. Because I’ve been there, done that. And it didn’t pan out as I had thought it would or prayed it would.

And that HURTS.

And yet, if I stop speaking light and love into this world, if I stop fighting to bring heaven down to earth, where does that leave me? Would it make me any less alone? Any more secure or safe?

It’s scary to hope.

But it’s scarier not to.

And so I look at my situations that seem hopeless and I look at my broken dreams and broken heart and I say, “No. You don’t get to despair. Lift your head. This isn’t the end. God is doing a good thing. Hope on, tender heart. Hope on. Dreams? Stop calling yourself broken. Situations? Stop calling yourself hopeless. Heart? Have you forgotten how much the Lord loves you? Rise up! Take heart! This is not the end!”

And I don’t feel it. But I say it. Because I know it to be true.

It’s hard not to involuntarily recap 2015. My mind is filling with images and memories and things I felt and thought over the course of the year. And I’m remembering… and it feels unreal and too real all at once. It feels both like it never happened (how could it have happened!?) and ongoing.

And it’s too much. It’s terrible. So, so awful.

I can’t bear it.

And so I keep trying to hand those images and memories over to the God, whose ability to heal and make things whole and redeem and restore knows no limits.

And so I say “NO!” to my brain and the panic that threatens to fill me inside. I refuse to entertain those memories or wonder things or replay things or get caught back up in the trauma of it all. Instead, I lay it all down at His feet and I wait. I wait for Him to speak to my sorrow and trauma and fear; I want for Him to heal; I wait for Him to redeem.

And I’m on my knees, and I’m weeping, and I think I could weep forever. But I can’t. I can’t cry forever. Grieving is important, but there’s a limit to what is healthy and what isn’t. And so I demand my heart rest a moment and lift its eyes to heaven. I instruct all that’s within me to take a break from my grieving and sorrow to seek the Lord- to beg Him for comfort or clarity or peace.

And He shows me a baby in a manger.

Helpless. Innocent. Needy. Fragile.

AND FULLY GOD.

And I’m there, with Mary and Joseph and the animals, beholding the Christ-Child. And there’s no place for weeping or sorrow or grief there. Only awe. Reverence. Worship. It’s quiet and still and holy. And hope and love are ALIVE. They are real. They are living. They are a Person.

And I’m there, looking into the face of Wild Hope and Love Unfailing. I am there, beholding the infant Jesus. And I belong.

And I’m there, with Jesus, and I’m also on my floor, tears streaming down my face, needing to pee and thinking a little bit about lunch.

And that is where I was yesterday when Tucker came over to me and started chewing on my hair.

And I laughed. Wracked with grief, unable to do anything but fall to my knees before God and BEG for help, and suddenly I was laughing.

Tears were falling down my face, and JESUS CAME!, and my cat was chewing my hair, and I was laughing.

And maybe that’s life- the good and bad all rolled up together in one brutiful package.

And so we go forward, heads held high, speaking light into impossibly dark situations.

We go forward with hope.

Because we know this is a battle.

And we know who wins.

Love wins.

Hope wins.

Light win.

Joy wins.

And it’s a miraculous thing, but even in the midst of our most intense grief, our loving Father can surprise us with incredible joy.

And so I rise from my knees. I stand, arms outstretched. I lift my head towards heaven. And I hear His gentle beckoning: “Arise, daughter.”

Oh, carry on, warrior heart. The Lord is on your side.

Believe

When people talk on the phone near me, I listen to see if they’ll end their conversation with an “I love you.”

I wait to hear the smile in their voice as they say, “I love you too.”

And it makes me glad for them.

Having someone to say ‘I love you’ to is one of this life’s greatest gifts.

*

Occasionally, you’ll hear someone talk about something good that happened in their life and they’ll say, “That changed me forever.”

They’ll assert that what happened–the event or circumstance of their past–has made who they are in the present richer and more alive and entirely different.

Which makes me think- Okay, so it’s possible not just to have something bad change you, but to have something so miraculous or good happen to you that you are no longer the same person.

That gives me hope- knowing there is the potential to be so undone and transformed by something (or Someone) that it warrants the statement “that changed me forever.”

 

“Miracles can happen in a heartbeat.”

*

I was thinking this morning about home-

The chaos of a bunny and a cat chasing each other through the house.
Something spilled in the bottom of the oven setting off the smoke detector.
Christmas music playing on the TV.
Candles lit.
Blowing a fuse because I forgot to turn the heat off before running the microwave.
Another cat meowing to be fed.
Laundry to do.
Cookies to bake.
Flour spilled on the floor.

And I smiled.

Chaos feels like love.

When you have to open the windows because the house is too hot from movement and conversation and baking- that’s love.

When Madison and the kids come over and one wipes their hands on the carpet and another runs off with my cell phone, and Madison is talking and we are laughing and there’s a movie to watch and kids to put pajamas on…

and I have to open the windows…

That’s love.

And when it’s quiet,
and the kids are softly snoring,
and I say goodnight to Madison and go to bed,
and I curl up beneath my blankets and listen to the bunny scratching at her cage,
and the cats jump on the bed and lay at my feet,
and the soft glow of the twinkle lights are coming from the room Madison and her kids are sleeping in…

That’s love too.

*

Today at Starbucks the barista complimented my freckles.

It always takes me off guard when someone compliments my freckles because I forget I have them. I don’t see them when I look in the mirror. So when someone says, “I love your freckles!” my first thought is: “You can see them!?”

But I love that compliment. Not because it makes me feel beautiful, because I know freckles are not traditionally considered beautiful, but I love it because it reminds me that God put me together special. He placed each one of my freckles.

And when the barista said that today, I felt Him smile at me. I felt Him near- bending down to kiss my forehead. The same freckled forehead He created almost 29 years ago.

I wonder if maybe there’s a reason I look the way I do. Young. Innocent. Not intimidating.

Emily and Kim and I were talking about Batman and who would be cast as who. She said I could be Cat Woman. And I laughed and told her I have zero sex appeal. I said it would make more sense to cast me as a kindergarten teacher or Little Orphan Annie.

Would I like to be beautiful? Sure. But I’m not. I’m “cute”. And that wasn’t a mistake any more than my heart or personality were mistakes. God doesn’t make mistakes.

So maybe my feeling young on the inside isn’t a problem to be solved. Maybe God gave me a face to match my insides.

I’m done calling myself and how I feel “wrong”.

God built me. I am His project. And if there’s anything in me that He wants to change, I trust Him to do it. Otherwise I am going to trust that He looks at me with love and calls me “good”. His creation. His beloved daughter. No less good than the sunrise or stars or birds.

It’s not up to me to call things wrong.

It’s up to me to love-

Him,
others,
and myself.

*

This is beautiful.

So is this.

*

“Liminal space is a unique spiritual position where human beings hate to be but where the biblical God is always leading them. It is when you have left the ‘tried and true’ but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else. It is when you are finally out of the way. It is when you are in between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer.

It is no fun.

Think of Israel in the desert, Joseph in the pit, Jonah in the belly, the three Marys tending the tomb.

If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait—you will run—or more likely you will explain. Not necessarily a true explanation, but any explanation is better than scary liminal space. Anything to flee from this terrible cloud of unknowing.’

Maybe the way forward is not finding THE answer right now but learning to live without an answer, or rather, living towards one.

We need to find our way back to the true meanings of trust, wait and patience; a life of hope.”

*

I wonder if all this pain of feeling like I don’t belong anywhere… I wonder how God will use it.

I wonder if someday I’ll be in a position where I can mother those who feel the way I do.

I’d like that.

I’d like to have an open door, to welcome people in- whether or not I have children of my own. I want all to feel included. Wanted. I want them to come into my home and I want to greet them a warm embrace. Because I’m a hugger…

which, ironically, is something I got from neither parent.

Maybe I got it from my Father.

I close my eyes and smile and picture the Thanksgivings and Christmasses and Friday nights of my future. Sleeping people scattered all throughout house- beds, couch, living room floor on blanket beds. And not because they don’t have a home, but because my home is just as much their home as the one where they have their mail delivered.

What if.

What if I let this make me tender?

What if I let Him empty me out. All of me. My sorrows and grief and longings and hopes and joys and every single corner and facet and moment of my life- committed to Him. In His hands.

What if.

What would He do?

It would be good. I have that promise. And maybe it wouldn’t be what I’d expect- maybe I’ll never be a daughter to anyone. Or a sister. Or carry a baby within my belly. Or be the one someone chooses to spend their life with.

And that? The thought of not ever being anyone’s ever again? That breaks my heart. It’s almost intolerable.

Almost.

But He says not to fear. He says to trust Him. He says He IS Love. He says it’s safe to hope.

He says we won’t understand right now. His ways aren’t our ways.

So I have to tell my heart that. I’m not seeing the whole picture right now.

God doesn’t desire for me to live my entire life gripped with sorrow.

This isn’t where I’m meant to stay.

When I worry I’ll hurt forever, He extends His hand.

Because we’re on a journey.

And I can’t see what’s up ahead.

But He can.

And He says it’s good.

*

I was skimming Netflix the other day when I came across a movie that seemed vaguely familiar. It was old- made before I was even born, and yet I had the distinct impression that I had seen it before.

And so I hit play on the movie and watched and suddenly I remembered that yes- I HAD seen it! I remembered being in the living room. I remembered sitting on my mom’s lap. I remembered the scene where the kids are in the car.

And I remembered that was the day of The Penny.

When I was a child, I spent an abnormal amount of time praying. Although my prayer looked more like games of cards and reading library books aloud to God – who, looking back now, I have no doubt delighted in every second of listening to me read or watching me play with Him in mind.

And one Christmas I decided to leave Jesus a birthday present. And so I tucked a penny, a brown penny, between the brown carpet of the stairs and the brown wall. (Lots of brown. It was the early 90’s, folks.)

And I was watching that movie with Mom the next morning when I remembered the penny, so I jumped off her lap to see if Jesus had taken His present.

And it wasn’t there.

And I couldn’t believe it. I looked everywhere. I checked every step because maybe I had just forgotten where I had left it, even though I knew I hadn’t.

And it wasn’t there.

So I ran back upstairs to Mom and told her. And I don’t remember her reacting or seeming nearly as amazed as I did. But neither did she say she had found the penny or maybe vacuumed it up or anything. Rather, she seemed more focused on the movie.

And I crawled back up on her lap and kept watching the movie with her, but I held wonder and love within my chest.

And I remember that still.

When I was a child, God seemed SO near. So real. Alive. No less real or alive than my parents or siblings or next-door neighbor.

And sure, maybe someone found the penny, or maybe my parents vacuumed. But however it disappeared, it was God’s message to a child: “Thank you for thinking of Me. I’m here. And I love you.”

And I don’t know that I’m so far removed from being that child- the one who believes in crazy miracles.

I believe in a God who’d take a penny.

I believe in a God who will tuck me in to bed at night and sit with me until I fall asleep if I ask Him to.

I believe in a God who would sit with a child and listen to her read a Berenstain Bears book.

When I watch movies, movies that would seem impossible, where angels visits or hearts are transformed or someone gets the father or mother or child they’ve always wanted… I believe, in some small corner of my heart, that the movies aren’t just works of fiction and that it’s not naive for me to believe that because our God is our Abba Father and He loves us and NOTHING is impossible for Him.

Nothing we think up even comes close to how big our God is. We can’t dream or hope too big. We can’t out-imagine Him.

*

When I lie in bed at night and sob and tell Him that I need Him or want Him, sometimes it feels as pointless as telling my mom I need or want her. Which can leave me there, wracked with sorrow…

and with something else to grieve.

It HURTS to wanting and needing a God who you think won’t actually show up and be the living and present God He says He is.

And that’s why I am standing firm that there’s more for us.

I’m claiming that nothing is impossible.

I’m going to hope and believe, wildly and irrationally, like a child.

Because God made me.

And I’m done calling who I am wrong.

Maybe all those hours of cards and reading and conversation with God as a child weren’t one-sided. Maybe He used that time to breathe hope in me- the belief in the possibility of the impossible.

*

This year, I won’t be leaving God a penny. But I’ll be loving those who have no one to love them. I’ll donate money and time to people in need.

And I think about how maybe that’s the greatest gift we could give Jesus on His birthday- loving each other. Being together. What could bring Him more joy, after all? Whether we’re loving those we’ve known all our lives or a year or just met in line at the grocery store, we are fulfilling His deepest desire for us, aren’t we? We’re coming together.

He created us individually.

And placed us here lovingly.

And what could bring Him more joy than watching us come together and love each other?

Especially when we’re coming together because of Him.

Oh, happy, happy birthday, sweet Jesus.

*

Someday maybe Christmas will look like hot chocolate going cold on the coffee table and people curled up together on the couch, trying to keep their eyes open as the night comes to a close.

Or maybe it will look like being called someone’s sister. A miracle, undoubtedly, to be grafted into an already established family. But God can do anything.

Maybe I’ll have a husband.

Or a dog.

Maybe I’ll eat dinner alone or serve at a food bank or maybe I’ll be surrounded by people I love.

I don’t know. But I know He loves me.

And He loves them. You.

And He put us together on this big, scary, wonderful, lonely, beautiful planet.

And He whispers in my ear, “Hope wild, child. Nothing is impossible.”

Holding Tight To Heaven

I held her baby. The tiny pencil arms of a four-pound infant. The long fingers. The wrinkly, pink skin. All the features of a grown adult, but miniature. A nose smaller than an M&M. Tiny, perfect, puckered lips that looked like they had been drawn by the hand of some masterful artist. And my breath caught in my chest, held there by awe and tears. And I swallowed hard and smiled softly and said, “Isn’t it incredible that Jesus came to earth as a newborn?”

She nodded solemnly. “It is. He came helpless. Needy.”

“The King of the universe! He came needing to be taken care of! It blows my mind!”

“…And we reflect Him,” I added. “Looking at the face of your baby… she reflects Him because we–man and woman alike–are created in His image.”

I paused.

“And I can feel that, looking at her now and holding her,” I said. “It feels holy. She’s beautiful and perfect, but it’s more than that. I feel like I’m holding a tiny sliver of God.”

And I wasn’t a counselor in that moment. I was just Daughter of the King. Sister of my client. Beholder of the glory of Jesus in the face of her infant.

*

And I cry because this season–both Christmas and this time in my life–is excruciating.

And because it’s beautiful- the decorated trees and houses, the Christmas music. The people who love me, the fur children whose whole worlds are wrapped up in me.

The nearness of heaven.

The place God has brought me to, where I can grieve without wanting to give up.

And I cry because there’s snow falling outside as I type this, and my Father knows how much I love the snow.

And I cry because Jesus came as a baby.

And He knows what it’s like to feel unwanted. To have nowhere to lay His head.

And I cry because He knows the hurt in my heart, and it’s incredible that He’d care to know the contents of my heart. It’s astounding that not a single tear I cry goes unnoticed.

And so I open my eyes, because a God who cares so much about my heart can be trusted. And I know if I just look for His face, for His hand in my life, I will see that He is saying: “I’m here, child. I’m right here.”

When it snows.

As I cradle a diapered rear in my hand and a whispy-haired infant lies in the crook of my arm.

When someone sends me a Christmas card.

When someone seems happy to see me.

Nowhere to lay my head.

But He’s here.

*

And so I’m choosing to go out into this wet and stormy world, heart open.

I’m choosing to wear Him like a garment- a warm coat, boots. He keeps me dry. He protects my heart.

And I will speak love and truth. Because is there any greater weapon in which to go forth into this life?

Heart open.

Entrusted to Him.

*

The mom in the Dolly Parton movie wrapped her arms around her grieving daughter and told her, “Don’t you ever wish you hadn’t loved, baby. There is nothing more powerful on this earth than love.”

Thank you, Dolly’s mom. Thank you for being the voice of my God.

And so I will. I will love.

And at the end of the day, I’ll bury my face against His chest and sob, or talk about my day, or laugh, or muse aloud about the things I wonder.

And that is where I’ll lay my head.

And it will be enough.

*

And I ask Him, “Is this what You want for me? Is this how it will be forever? Will I always feel like this? Will I ever BELONG anywhere again?!” And I’m mad, sure. But mostly I’m hurt. And He knows. He listens with sad, compassionate eyes. And once I finish my teary tirade, He opens His arms for me. And I run towards Him. And that’s enough of a response. Love.

Love as a weapon.

Love as medicine.

Love to cling to like a flotation device.

Love as the calm in the storm.

*

“I miss my mom!” I say. “I miss knowing someone always wants me around- that their every single moment is better if I’m in it.”

And I’m sobbing. I can’t even stand. Wailing. Grieving.

And He opens His arms.

Because the good that Mom brought to my life? It just reflected Him.

He who always wants me around.

He who knows how to make this holiday season feel like magic.

*

He came as a baby.

I will do life eyes open.

I don’t want to miss Him because I’m looking for something else.

*

I don’t know how to feel okay or be okay. And I talked that through with God last night, my hurts constantly rising to the surface while I furiously try to suppress them like a Whack-A-Mole game.

But I can’t fix it.

And staying up, trying to find a way to make everything within me feel okay… it’s just worry calling itself sorrow.

And it’s not trust.

And there’s no way, apart from Him, to feel okay.

I have to trust.

“Rest, child,” He whispers.

“I don’t know how!” I protest. Inside my grief is a squirmy four-year-old. I can’t contain it.

And there, in the silence, I hear, as if spoken through a smile, “Do you have any idea how much I love you?”

And at that, the four-year-old in me pauses. And so I grasp on to that – the only slice of comfort in my grief.

And I close my eyes, my head on the pillow, and tears still leak out involuntarily, and I say, “You love me, You love me, You love me,” over and over again.

And at some point I fall asleep.

My head on His chest.

My heart in His hands.

His love on my lips.

Happy birthday, sweet Jesus.

Thank you for wanting me.

Inhaling, Slow And Deep

All over the globe, people are decorating Christmas trees with their families. And I’m not.

They’re laughing together over hot cocoa with a candy cane stirring stick and whipped cream mustaches. And I’m not.

They’re wrapping presents and stuffing stockings and imagining the look of delight on their loved one’s face when they see their gift. And I’m not.

They’re curling up on the couch together, legs entangled, heads resting on each other, watching Christmas movies. And I’m not.

They’re decorating their house with lights and a mechanical Santa and a blow-up snowman and a manger scene. And I’m not.

They’re licking sticky frosting off their fingers and using the frosting to attach candy to little houses made of gingerbread. And I’m not.

They are shopping together, bags slung over arms, soaking in the garland and Christmas music and the bells and laughter of the mall Santa. And I’m not.

 

I get home from work and my cats run to greet me. And I’m not alone.

My house fills with candlelight and the voices of Christian artists singing Christmas music. And I’m not alone.

I knead dough and put cookies in the oven and deliver them to neighbors and the fire station. And I’m not alone.

I thank the cashier at the store with a warm smile. And I’m not alone.

I send an “I love you” text to someone who occupies a large space in my heart. And I’m not alone.

I go to church and look into the eyes of beautiful, imperfect people. And I’m not alone.

I open my Bible and my heart. And I’m not alone.

The Ultimate Gift-Giver

Sometimes I want to weep with the heavy truth that this world doesn’t have to be nice to me.

No one has to return my smile, no one has to match my tender heart with a tender heart of their own, no one has to love me through all things.

This will be the first Christmas I wake up in an empty house. No presents will be under the tree. No stockings hung. No one to make breakfast for.

And that makes me feel really, really sad. Like, “lump of coal in the pit of my stomach” sad. (I know typically people say “rock in the pit of my stomach”, but ’tis the season for coal, right? …Even my sorrow wants to get into the Christmas spirit. 😉 ).

But then, as I nurse that sorrow, I remember the last two years.

I hadn’t been physically alone on Christmas morning, but I had still found myself weeping from the shattered hope that the Christmas I was trying so hard to make special would end up feeling like love. I was trying to look facts in the face and still assert that there was love present in the room- that it wasn’t just me and my hopeful heart, and the lights on the tree adding a soft glow to the room, and the smell of a breakfast I had excitedly made that no one even wanted to eat.

And I think about how every Christmas has been heartbreak and tears since Mom died.

And I think about how the last Christmas she was with us, just a little over a month before she died, she knelt on the floor and made blankets for my sister and I. Tired and in pain, she knelt. She metaphorically washed our feet.

And I think about how, tired as she was, she refused to go to bed. “Stay up with me,” she whispered. And so I did. She didn’t want to say goodnight.

She didn’t want to say goodbye.

And shortly after that, Mom didn’t get out of bed again.

And so I, desperate and shattered inside, knelt. She had bought fabric to make herself a blanket, but hadn’t had the energy to actually make it, so I made it for her.  And as a token of love, I crept into her room–where she now slept in a hospital bed as opposed to her own bed–and I wrapped it around her shoulders.

“Look, Mama,” I said gently. And slowly, she opened her eyes. “I made it for you!”

And she smiled and as she was closing her eyes again, she whispered, “You’re a good daughter.”

And my eyes stung with tears. That’s the only time she ever said that to me. Always, the opposite had seemed to resonate as truer to her.

And so I wonder, how often are there gifts in the suffering?

Is it a gift–to her and to me–that Mom got her blanket before she died- that my token of love was there, wrapped around her shoulders, every single moment until she passed? And that, in response, she was able to gift me with the words that I am a good daughter?

How about the year after Mom’s death, when I poured out the little money I had to create a special Christmas for my father, and I stood there Christmas morning, excited for him to see the surprise I had packed under the tree for him, and he hadn’t even cared? Is that a gift?

Perhaps.

Because in giving to him I got to understand what Jesus did on the cross- pouring himself out for a people who might never appreciate it.

Is it a gift to grasp all the magic of Christmas between my hands and force it into the Decembers since Mom died?

Is there a gift to be found in feeling like I’m alone in my efforts- the only one with a heart beating the slow and steady and tentative beat of hope?

Is it a gift to wake up on Christmas morning looking for evidence that, contrary to what the other ordinary, busier days of the year might suggest, there is magic to be found in this life?

And is it a gift to instead be met with half-hearted, obligatory presents, forced smiles, and a lovingly-made breakfast going unwanted and getting cold?

Maybe.

Maybe the gift is having to run to Jesus and bury my face in His chest and let Him hold me while I weep. Maybe the gift is looking in His eyes alone for hope. Maybe the gift was the shedding of the Hold It All Together role I had taken on. Maybe the gift was the grieving of what no longer was. Maybe the gift was the heart-breaking and beautiful acceptance that His arms were the only ones that would hold me while I cried.

And waking up alone on Christmas morning?

Maybe that’s a gift, too.

Maybe, even in the sorrow and broken-heartedness, He is gifting me with a response to my prayer: “Let me know You as More Than Enough.”

And so I will wake up Christmas morning and look at the no presents, and the no smiling faces, and the empty house that feels like it does any other day, and say, “It’s okay. Because He came. He came. And He has never left.”

It’s an excruciating process, I think, to come to know God as More Than Enough.

But is there any other way to get to that place but to have Him standing there, tender and loving and present, in the middle of your nothing else?

Maybe not having anything to open on Christmas is actually a gift.