The Casket & The Manger

It’s the weekend after ringing in the New Year and we’re all bemoaning taking down the decorations, dragging the tree to the curb, and we’re wondering out loud if maybe just for a little-while-longer we can keep up the twinkle lights.

I don’t think any of us are ever ready to wipe out the magic and the glitter, especially when what’s outside is just cold and gray.

We want it to stay sparkly as long as it can, don’t we?
Because the wrappings and the ribbons put a little hope in our hearts.

From the last week of November until the first week of January we essentially hit ‘pause’ on all that’s painful and we go to parties and sip cider and turn a broken, broken world into something pretty and festive. Something to look forward to. Something magical.

But there really is no pause button for pain… no way to keep it from coming.
And this year more than any other pain rang big and loud!
Death drug it’s long dark cloak around every festive corner of this holiday.

On Christmas Day last year, my beloveds and I  were struck a blow.  And out of those sharp tears and new worries, I awoke the next morning to a voice calming me from so many miles away. That man who spoke gently to my heart on that December 26th, and every day after, proved to calm me, comfort me, and love me more than anyone ever had.
He was my gift last Christmas. He was was my gift every single day onward.
And then this holiday, he chose our separation.
The hope that had been cradled in my heart, and written in pen on the calendar, was suddenly the deepest, deepest pain I’d ever known.
He walked away as lovingly and honorably as possible, but in that moment he kissed me goodbye and called me ‘sweetheart’ for the last time, it was as though my heart was physically ripped out of my body. I could physically feel more pain that I have ever felt.
In the days to follow, as his already wrapped Christmas and anniversary and birthday presents sat on the top of the stairs, as those penned-in hearts on my calendar laughed at me, as my keen eyes saw memories of us on every street in this city, I have swung between praying God wouldn’t wake me up in the morning to praying God wouldn’t waste this pain.  I have not stopped loving him.  I can’t just stop loving him. I don’t think love works like that.
I have been shown love in uncomfortable places.  I’ve crumpled into a friend’s arms when she showed up with soup and I’ve been prayed with over the phone after I broke down at the dentist’s office.  Pain won’t stay stuffed in the shoebox where you hide the notes he wrote, despair doesn’t stay hunkered down under the blanket waiting for you to slide back under the sheets at night.  Pain and despair and fear and hurt and anger and grief braid themselves into a leaden chain and then they snake their way around your neck.  The bind your wrists and ankles and lock the heaviest of padlocks over that hole in your chest, and you feel the weight of each link every single waking moment.

People who really love you hold the weight of that chain for a little while so you can breathe, but no one friend can take on your loss in it’s entirety.

My loss pales in comparison to what some around me are facing.
In the last few weeks, my boss lost her mother unexpectedly, my co-worker lost her grandmother, and today I walked past the open casket of a friend.

On New Year’s Eve day, this little home was already full by early afternoon with fellow co-hosts of my biggest bash of the year.
As we unwound decorative gold ribbon and melted chocolates for fancy desserts, I got the news that a young beautiful former coworker had died in her sleep.
I sat on the stairs in disbelief while everyone downstairs buzzed with excitement for the night’s festivities.

We want to push the pause button on pain.
So they buzzed, and I cried and stood out in the cold to compose myself.

I believe in God…
If for no other reason than I find creation to be undeniable evidence for His existence.  I believe in Him as Father and Judge and Warrior and Great Physician and Jehoveh-Jireh and when I pray I tend to address my verbal heavenward letters with His name at the top.
I believe in the Holy Spirit…
Though, raised Baptist, I can be itchy and uncomfortable trying to wrap my mind around just what He is and exactly what He does… but I know we’ve been promised a comforter, and I believe in His continuing work as He takes up residence in our insides.
I believe in Jesus…
Sort of.
I believe he was born and that every inerrant word in scripture about His life on earth and His beautiful ministry is accurate. I believe that He was tortured and murdered on a cross for our sins and that He is the only path to eternal life.
But after that moment at 12 years old when I prayed and accept ‘Christ into my heart’ … I don’t know what else to do with Him.

I pray to God.
I wait for the Spirit to work and move and direct and comfort.
But what do I do with this Jesus who died for me?

 

I’ve been angry a lot this holiday.
Angry that all of these magical days weren’t magical.
Weren’t sparkly.
Weren’t beautiful.
They were miserable reminders of what goodness and hope had been snuffed out of my life, and the lives of people I care about.

And if all these days were meant to be was sparkly, then they were a grand disappointment.
But if these days were meant to be beautiful- I have to ask myself why I measure that they weren’t.
Because if these days are simply about garland and gifting than the hand that wasn’t in mine, and all the gravesides visited surely do dim the beauty.
But if these days were truly about the Jesus who came to right all that is wrong with our world and all it wasn’t intended to be…
If the beauty is in the fact that the death & pain & despair &  hopelessness which wasn’t in the original design was CONQUERED by that baby whose birth is my Christmas, than there is no more beautiful string of days.
Pain included.
Pain necessary.
…or there would be no beauty.

Jesus HAD to come because Death drags his dark cloak up and down every street in our world.
Jesus HAD to come because we each have a leaden chain of pain & despair & hopelessness padlocked over our hearts.
So this Son of God that I don’t know how to include in my everyday life is the one whose existence is making my LIFE possible.
He is the one vanquishing death and offering not just salvation for eternity but salvation FOR TODAY… hand in hand with the Spirit and the Father.

Truth be told, there is no ‘better’ time to face searing pain than the holidays… but only if we shift our lens to what the holidays truly are about.

If my holidays were about presents and parties, then pain ruined the fun.
If my holiday was spent acknowledging that a cure for all death and an answer to ALL pain and suffering was stitched in to skin and came to us as a baby turned man turned ultimate sacrifice, then pain gave the holiday more necessity.

Here I stood putting my hope in wrappings and ribbon and I’ve sunk under the weight of what Jesus was created to carry.
I’ve let heartbreak & death ruin my holidays when the holiday exists because death has been conquered.
I’ve let the casket mean more than the manger.

 

Loss, grief, pain, and hurt are all very real. They exist because the enemy exists.
They exist to ruin God’s intended plan and beauty.
They exist to ruin life itself.
To tarnish every good thing.
To swallow good relationships and good people whole.

So while we stand here together at the end of a less than sparkly holiday season that Death sought to ruin, with armfuls of hopelessness and lists long with questions…

Is Jesus the answer?

 

utter no answer

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One Response

  1. Do you think it’s possible to find pleasure in the place of your deepest pain? It seems incomprehensible, even ridiculous, doesn’t it? That’s because we don’t really think the grace Jesus has promised us is all that good. We don’t think it will be enough–not enough to fill our emptiness, not enough to meet our needs. When Jesus offers Himself to us in the midst of our pain, most of us think, “That’s it? That’s the best You can do? I was hoping for more.” The truth is, we’re often more interested in getting what God’s got, not getting more of God. We’ve put in our order for a miracle of healing or relief, and the miracle of His presence seems to us like the consolation prize…. The grace that God provides is enough to generate joy in the midst of your great sorrow. It’s enough to enable you to endure the loneliness and the reminders of loss everywhere you turn. It’s enough to keep you believing that God is good and that He loves you. What Jesus said to Paul, he also says to you and me: “My grace is enough for you today and for everything you will face in the days to come. It will be enough–I will be enough–for whatever I allow into your life.” ~ NG

    As an encouragement…….copied from Laurie Dutton’s wall post. I think she’s going through a very difficult time. Not sure the source:(

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