“Need a Little Christmas Now”

Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. Growing up we always had to wait till after Thanksgiving to listen to Christmas Music and we didn’t decorate the tree till my birthday, twelve days before Christmas. But for the last few years I have done Christmas earlier. While I completely disagree with the store isles being jam-packed with Christmas decorations in August, I did break out the Christmas music early and decked out my house a week before December. While partly practical, (Finals are coming, and if I don’t do it now, when?) the other part is more deep-seated than that, I NEED Christmas.

There is something so comforting and peaceful about Christmas for me. In the middle of all the craziness, there is something that never changes, something that is joyful and good. Constant reminders of hope.

This year Christmas started for me sometime in October. I was in Target, and as I walked by the Christmas section at the back of the store, a Christmas carol was playing. I don’t remember which one. But right there in Target, over the speakers someone was singing about my Jesus, come to earth as a baby. I sang along and left the store humming and smiling. I listen to Christian radio all year round. But there is something different about Christmas music. It is filled with celebration, hope, and promise.

And so as I baked pies the day before Thanksgiving, I was feeling tired and worn out by life. I needed Christmas. I opened iTunes and went to my Christmas playlist. Suddenly, all was right with the world.

I started with my new favorite obscure Christmas album from last year. (Download Here, free!) The first song is about Zechariah and Elizabeth; my favorite line is “God keeps slipping out of underneath rocks, in alleys off the beaten path, open both your eyes.” That is how I feel about Christmas time; God keeps slipping out. No matter how materialistic or politically correct we get, He is there. In a million little ways, if we would just open our eyes.

More about Christmas coming up.

 

Doesn’t God Care?

Recently I had a conversation with a friend that went something like this: “Doesn’t God care that I could be homeless for Christmas? What else can he take from me?”  Before I could respond this was quickly followed by  “And don’t tell me he wouldn’t do that to me…Because he would!” And I had to answer, “yes that is true…but I don’t think he wants to.”

What do you say when the pain is so real and the reality is so grim? The answers seem so cliché. God loves you. He will never leave you. He will take care of you. He will provide. He has a plan for you. I will be praying for you. Time heals. It will get better. These are all true, but they sound so hollow. So what do you say? I am sorry, that sucks.?

I remember hearing all of those things, and thinking, that was all well and good for them to say, but they weren’t walking in my shoes.  Until you have been torn apart and put back together those words are just that, words. The only way that they have any meaning is if you can back them up.

Every time these words come out of my mouth I cringe inside, because I am painfully aware of how they sound. So when they do, I always try to qualify it. I say: I know how it feels. Everything you are saying I have said before. It doesn’t make sense. It isn’t easy. And yet, I KNOW these things to be true. I KNOW he loves, I KNOW he provides, I KNOW he has a plan, I KNOW time heals, I KNOW it will get better. Not because someone told me so, but because I have been there.

I don’t have easy answers, magic prayers, or 10 step plans. But I know that God is good and he loves you, and if you cry out to him from the depths of your hurt and your pain, he will be with you. While I can’t promise that you won’t be homeless for Christmas, I do know, that even in that, he will provide for you. I can’t promise he won’t take anything else away from you, or give you exactly what you want, because he will do what he needs to do, to get your attention and change your heart, but if he wants your attention and your heart, he has to have a plan for you.  I know what it feels like, to feel like nothing will ever be “normal” again, and but I also I know that, with time, it will.

It is weird being on the outside looking in., seeing the pain and the devastation, but because I am not in the middle of it, I can see God’s fingerprints all over it. And I can honestly tell my friend that “It is going to be alright,” because, in the end, it will be. I wish I could just push a button and make the end magically appear. But it doesn’t work that way. We all have to walk through our own trials; we have to do the hard work. We have to surrender ourselves to the work God is doing in us. We have to wrestle with the why questions, even if in the end we realize we may never know why. We heal, we move forward, we come out the other side, stronger and more of the person God wants us to be.

We also come out being the kind of person who can say these words and mean every one.

And even if we never talk again

“And even if we never talk again, please remember that I am forever changed by who you are and what you meant to me”

This quote hits home and has inspired me to write about something very personal.

This time last year I was in a relationship, my first (and only) one since the divorce. I had told God that if he wanted me to be in a relationship with someone he was going to have to make it very, very clear, because I was too afraid to trust myself to make a decision like that. Of course being God he came through, and not only did he make it very clear, but just so I couldn’t talk myself into thinking it was coming from me, he made it someone I would not have chosen on my own. And in the process, taught me a very important lesson that He “does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at outward appearance (and circumstances), but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Sam 16: 7)

So knowing 100% that this was a relationship that God wanted me in I entered into it with my heart open, not holding back.  I have never known anyone who probed so deep into my heart and required so much honesty from me. As a result deep places of fear, scars, and confusion that I didn’t even know were there, were opened to the light of day. God taught me so, so much and I had a period of very concentrated spiritual growth.

Then it ended. I was confused, hurt, and angry, not with him, but with God. Why had he put me in this relationship, just to take it away? Had a misread the signs? What was the purpose? It took me a while to wade through the emotions. But I came out the other side with a better understanding of God and of myself.

A bit of back-story: I was raised with I Kissed Dating Goodbye and was taught not to give my heart away. I married my high school sweetheart. It was what I always dreamed of, I didn’t want to give pieces of my heart away; I didn’t want to have a broken heart. After less than a year of “dating” I told him I didn’t want to be in a relationship, if it was just going to be a short-term thing, he agreed and we decided that our intention in dating was to develop a relationship that would lead toward marriage. Heavy stuff for a 16-year-old. Fast forward. After 5 years of marriage, we separate and eventually divorce. And here I am, single for the first time since I was 15. Never having “dated” and left to sift through my previous thoughts and convictions on relationships and dating. Talk about baggage.

Based on my previous “dating is bad” and “don’t give your heart away” ideas, I never would have opened my heart up the way I did, if God hadn’t been very clear from the beginning that I was supposed to be in this relationship. My problem was, based on these ideas, I assumed that because God led me into this relationship that it was going to be a permanent thing. I assumed I knew what God’s purpose was and it was only my assumptions, me trying to be God, which caused me hurt.

As I sorted through things, God was very clear with me, the relationship was exactly what it was supposed to be. He used it to bring things to light that needed healing that I didn’t even know were there. He used to test me, and grow me. He used it to make me a better person. He used it to change my assumptions. And most of all He used it to show me how much he loved me. Based on my old view, by loving this man, being emotionally open and vulnerable, I would have somehow lost something. But I didn’t lose a thing; I gained so much!

He also used it to change my views on relationships. There is no “right or wrong” way to go about “dating,” as long as I follow His lead I will be doing the right thing. If God brings someone into my life, he has a plan for that person, for that relationship, and for my heart. I have learned to have an open heart, that there is nothing to fear. I don’t need to fear loving, and I don’t need to fear losing.

Again it comes down to “do I really believe what I say I believe”. If I believe that God loves me and has a good plan for me, how can I not trust him with my heart? If I open it, it might get hurt, but if I keep it closed I will miss the opportunity to learn and grow.