When the Weary World Still Feels Weary

Last Christmas was the hardest Christmas I have experienced. Days before candles were lit at the Christmas Eve service at my church and merry songs of joy and celebration were sung, I was standing next to my family while my Aunt Shell’s body was lowered into the ground in a casket. I was still raw from the loss, unable to sleep and unable to drive anywhere without weeping in my car, when December 25 rolled around and seemed to demand happiness that felt impossible.

At the start of this Advent season, I was determined that this Christmas would be joyful - holly jolly and merry all the way. I’d decorate. I’d make cookies and turn on twinkle lights to beat away the darkness looming in the corners of my heart. I’d follow old traditions and make new ones if those felt too hard.

For all my good intentions, Advent just hasn’t been what I hoped. We are less than a week away from Christmas and instead of the joy I’ve been trying to muster, sadness has been a more constant companion.

There are big reasons why this season is hard: navigating the particular grief that comes with celebrating the holidays without people you love, totaling my vehicle, moving into a new house. There are smaller things as well, which all seem to have collected into a big pile this month: having to spend Saturdays at the hospital taking glucose tests, not having a working shower in our new house, navigating the frustrating world of car insurance and spending hours on the phone, waiting weeks for wifi to be installed.

All of this feels compounded by the cheer and merriness of the season. The songs and lights and gifts - all of which usually make this season so delightful to me - feel like cruel reminders that I should be rejoicing because Jesus has come!

All of this - this mess of brokenness and frustration and the overwhelming urge to just hunker down until January - this is what Christmas is for. This is the weary world that rejoices at the coming of a Savior. This is the world that Jesus came to, in all its pain and injustice. This is the beauty of Immanuel, God with us. God with us in our grief. God with us in our fear. God with us in our brokenness.

And yet the world today still feels weary and we find ourselves in this messy middle between two Advents. Theologians call this time the “already, not yet.” Yes, Jesus has come and yes, we rejoice, but we are still waiting for him to come again and restore all things. We are still waiting, and our hearts still ache and long for what will be because what is is only part of the story.

Maybe you’ve felt the weight of brokenness this December - broken expectations, broken families, a broken body - and the not yet-ness of Advent is pressing into you. Your sadness is not wrong. Your loneliness and pain is not something you should have “gotten over” by now. That ache in your soul for things to be made right is not something to be silenced. The same God who spoke the world into existence and spoke the babbling cries of an infant in order to be with us is the same God who is sustaining us now in this time of waiting.

The hope of the Christmas season is not a blind hope. It’s not a hope without teeth. It doesn’t demand we close our eyes to everything happening around us while we belt out another verse of Silent Night. This is a hope that finds its way into that empty chair at the table, that heartbreaking test result, that negative pregnancy test, and Immanuel, God with us, whispers that he is here now too. And one day he will come again, not as a baby but as a reigning King, and all will be set right and all will be made well.

unnamed (1).jpg

Car Wrecks and Prosperity Theology

Last week I was in a car accident and totaled my car. Thankfully, I only had a concussion and both my baby and I are doing great. I want to thank everyone who shared kind words, prayed for me, offered their help with moving (because we also moved last week), or encouraged me. Your kindness was more than I could ask for and I am so grateful to have experienced your love after my wreck.

Last Tuesday I left for work early in the morning, driving slow and careful on roads that were untreated and icy. It was 32 degrees. Freezing. On the interstate, I hit ice on a bridge and my car took on a mind of its own, moving out of the boundary line of my lane. I was hit by a truck from behind and found myself in the snow covered median inside a totaled car with a shattered back glass.

6184FFAC-3A2E-4494-8CAC-FD793EC16D71.JPG

I know the tendency to read stories of accidents like this and pick apart where the person went wrong. I’ve certainly done it. It seems to give me some measure of perceived control if I can say, “well that person was driving too fast and that’s why he wrecked,” or “well that person wasn’t paying attention to the roads so that’s why she totaled her car.” My thinking always ends on the note, “That wouldn’t happen to me,” and then I clap the dust off my hands and congratulate myself for a job well done.

I’ve rehearsed the morning in my mind probably a hundred times by now trying to find my mistake. When I woke up, I checked school closings to see if the weather had caused delays or closings in my county - it hadn’t. I drove well below the speed limit, especially slowing down around turns and giving myself plenty of room to stop at intersections. I paid attention to the road and whether it had been salted or cleared - it hadn’t; I drove slower. My car has newer tires, newer brakes, and AWD. I was going about 50 mph (on the interstate where the speed limit is 70mph) when I hit ice on the bridge. Cars were passing me going much, much faster.

Aside from impossibly knowing ahead of time that there was a large patch of thick ice in that particular spot of the road, I’m not sure there was anything else I could have done. I did everything I could think of to avoid an accident, and it wasn’t good enough.

This year has been full of these inexplicable mishaps. My aunt and uncle were both healthy and active and young, and they died. My husband and I chose a rental house well within our means with a great landlord, and it was sold. I drove carefully and safely, and I got into a car accident and totaled my car.

I’ve spent most of my Christian life balking at prosperity gospel theology that says if I do good things, right things, faithful things, then God will bless me. And yet I still find myself grasping at those threads and believing those lies when these things happen. Over the past year, I made it my aim to practice daily faithfulness, and in some dark corner of my heart I was placing God in my debt with each small act. I didn’t think about this or make conscious efforts - I wasn’t trying to earn my salvation or store up enough good works to cash them in for something I wanted. But with each inexplicable mishap, I found myself becoming more and more cynical.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so naive to believe my life would be free of suffering, but I was naive enough to believe that the suffering I would experience would more or less make sense. I thought I could put up bumper guards, protecting myself from this suffering and that by avoiding the typical causes. If I didn’t want to be in a car accident, I would guard myself with slow driving and paying careful attention to road conditions. If I didn’t want to move out of a home before I was financially and emotionally ready, I would guard myself by choosing a good landlord.

The truth is that life just doesn’t work like that. There is wisdom in doing things to guard ourselves against suffering as much as possible (see Proverbs), but living faithfully is no guarantee that life will be peaches and cream. We are broken people living in a broken world, and in most cases, we don’t get a choice in the pain we experience. But we do have a choice in how we respond to that pain.

I thought about ending with some blanket statement about how this accident gave me a deeper appreciation for life or how I’m just glad it wasn’t worse. (My car stopped maybe a foot away from the southbound lane; I could have easily found myself t-boned or with severe injuries.) Of course I am thankful my baby and I are both okay, that I walked away with only a concussion and some soreness and that my baby is as healthy as ever. But it would be dishonest for me to tell you that I’m just thankful when, in truth, I wish it had never happened in the first place.

I’ve written some about how unskilled many of us are at grieving ourselves and ministering to others who are grieving around us. This year I’ve found myself again and again in the crucible of learning how to grieve better, how to weep and still trust God, how to be sad but still lean deeply into what I know to be true of God’s character: that he is good, that he does what is best, that he is kind. There is much I am grieving, and the past year has felt like a whirlwind of worst case scenarios flying in the face of my trying to be faithful. But I still believe that God is trustworthy and good. With every moment of pain and inexplicable suffering, I am learning to rehearse the words of Job: “though He slay me, yet will I trust him.

0419F88A-A075-40FB-A9F2-6920DB68A212.JPG

The Rhythm of Our Advent

This little corner of the internet has been quiet the past few weeks for a couple of reasons: 1) I’ve been working on a project for my church that is now in the out-of-my-hands-but-not-yet-into-yours stage. (If you attend Horizons Church, keep an eye out for the Advent guide!) and 2) Josiah and I have been spending most of our spare time preparing to move. I wrote a bit about how our rental home was for sale and it looks like someone is interested in purchasing it, so we’re moving. If you think about it, we’d love your prayers. We love our home and aren’t excited about leaving it, but we’re trusting that this is God’s best for us and trying to walk faithfully in that.  

Now that that’s out of the way, I wanted to share a few ways that I celebrate the season of Advent. Advent is the season on the church calendar that stretches the four weeks leading up to Christmas, and it’s traditionally a season to practice expectant waiting for Jesus’s coming.

There are probably hundreds of lists on the internet about ways to maximize your time this Christmas to attend all the parties and see all the lights and wrap all the presents with picture perfect homemade bows. If that is how you love to celebrate Christmas, then please do those things and enjoy them! I’ve found that a slower pace makes it easier for me to focus my heart on Jesus and enjoy the good gifts of this season without feeling rushed and frantic. Below are some of the traditions I’ve made that help foster that slowness and expectancy.

Before I got married, I celebrated Advent on my own using a few different devotionals/guides over the years. (One of my favorites was The Dawning of Indestructible Joy which I still highly recommend!) Last year, Josiah and I tried the She Reads Truth and He Reads Truth Advent books and loved them so we’re doing the same thing this year. Each day of Advent, there’s a scripture reading and online devotional that we do on our own. Then, each Sunday of Advent, we read the scripture together and light the candles in our Advent wreath. Celebrating Advent this way is one of my favorite traditions.

I’ve already started listening to Christmas music this year and have been loving The Oh Hellos’ Family Christmas Album. The songs/movements are soulful and deep with bouts of joy and celebration mixed in, which feels like the perfect mix for a season where there is much to celebrate but there is also much we are still waiting for expectantly while suffering presses into us. This album balances that in a really unique way.

Last year I perfected the art of the homemade chai tea latte. I use Twinings Chai Tea (which you can find at nearly every grocery store) and heat up about ¼ cup whole milk while the tea is brewing. My younger brother gave me a milk frother (like this) for Christmas a couple years ago and I use it to froth the warm milk before pouring it into my cup of tea. I top it off with a sprinkle of cinnamon and it always makes me feel Christmas-y to drink it in the morning!

One of the ways I practice simplicity during the Advent season is in the way I wrap gifts. Every year I buy a big roll of plain butcher paper and use it as wrapping paper. It’s significantly more cost effective than buying rolls of bright glittery wrapping paper, and I personally prefer the understated look of the matching gifts under our tree. To decorate them a bit, sometimes I’ll add a sprig of greenery from outside, some red or dark green yarn, or a hand-lettered word on the package like “merry” or “holly.”

A few years ago I tried my hand at making clay gift tags and I’ve made them every year since. They are a bit more labor-intensive, but I love the way they look on packages, and it’s a fun project to take on while listening to Christmas music. I used to use salt dough, but last year I tried a recipe for cornstarch dough and it’s what I’ll use again this year. It’s whiter than salt dough and smoother to write on. The recipe talks about adding glitter and making different shapes, but I like to keep it simple by making plain white circular tags that I can write on later with a Sharpie.

While not exactly an Advent-specific tradition, I love to make homemade bread this time of year. I follow a simple recipe and the rise time reminds me that Advent is a season of waiting. While it’s baking, our whole house smells wonderful and inviting, and the best part (of course) is eating it warm out of the oven with butter.

During Advent, Josiah and I love to diffuse Young Living’s Christmas Spirit essential oil. I don’t sell essential oils and nearly all of mine are the cheapest brands I could find on Amazon or at Target, but this little bottle is worth the $10. It smells like a Christmas tree and oranges and cinnamon, and it always lasts the entire month of December even though we diffuse it every time we are home and awake. Whenever I smell it now, I think of sweet Christmas memories with my husband and the cozy feeling of our home in the winter.

However you choose to celebrate, I hope this season is full and rich with reminders to you of the Lord’s faithfulness and love.

IMG_0840.JPG