A Pause at the Manger

A Pause at the Manger

I pause at the manger. A thousand times a day I walk by carrying sippy cups and bows, returning blocks and books. But once a day I pause and stare at a piece of African wood carved to reflect a baby in a manger. You came.

Friday, I pulled out Ann Voskamp’s The Greatest Gift to read once again for Advent. As I started to read a song came to mind. I first heard these words at a concert with the Helsers just a couple weeks before we got our final approval for our Eve. I remember standing in my church’s auditorium and praying these words over our family. Never could I have imagined what the next few months would hold for us or how desperately I would need Him to come to me. I listened to the same song as we were descending into Addis Ababa. And at the start of Advent I listened once more.

You stood outside my grave
With tears still on Your face
I heard You say my name
My night was turned to day

You came
I knew that You would come
You sang
My heart it woke up
I’m not afraid, I see Your face
I am alive
You came
I knew that You would come

You said death’s only sleeping
With one word my heart was beating
I rose up from my grave
My fear was turned to faith

You came
I knew that You would come
You sang
My heart it woke up
I’m not afraid, I see Your face
I am alive
You came
I knew that You would come

“You Came” by Jonathan David and Melisssa Helser

This time as I listened I thought of a passage from Hebrews I recently read in The Message.

“Heads up! The days are coming when I’ll set up a new plan for dealing with Israel and Judah. I’ll throw out the old plan I set up with their ancestors when I led them by the hand out of Egypt. They didn’t keep their part of the bargain, so I looked away and let it go. This new plan I’m making with Israel isn’t going to be written on paper, isn’t going to be chiseled in stone; this time I’m writing out the plan in them, carving it on the lining of their hearts. I’ll be their God, they’ll be my people. They won’t go to school to learn about me, or buy a book called God in Five Easy Lessons. They’ll all get to know me firsthand, the little and the big, the small and the great. They’ll get to know me by being kindly forgiven, with the slate of their sins forever wiped clean.”

Hebrews 8:7-12 The Message

That passage has stuck with me because it feels like that’s what this year has been about more than any other year–knowing God firsthand in the little and the big. We’ve felt the carving on the lining of our hearts. We’ve been washed in mercy, wiped clean in His kind forgiveness. We watched one daughter come home and another come up from the baptism tank. We’ve known exhaustion we couldn’t have imagined and renewal that could only come from the Sabbath-Maker. So, when I pause beside the manger and sing in my can’t-carry-a-note voice, “You came. I knew that You would come. You sang. My heart it woke up. I’m not afraid. I see Your face. I am alive. You came. I knew that You would come” it feels like it isn’t just words on my tongue–it’s etchings on my heart.

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The Pain of Advent

The Pain of Advent

*This post was originally published December 2, 2013. While much has changed in two years, my wait is still there. Actually, last week we found out the wait time for Ethiopia was extended once more. This is me writing not from the victorious finish line, but from the messy middle. While I wish it wasn’t the case, I know many I love find themselves in the messy middle of a wait too. This is a call for all of us to remember He hasn’t forgotten us. Advent is a reminder of His faithfulness to those who feel forgotten. 

IMG_8072It wasn’t yet December, but because of holiday travel, we had decided to begin Advent a few days early. I counted out twenty-four waxy candles and placed them in a box, each one awaiting its addition to our advent wreath. We hung on the wall a discarded fir branch, and I cut out little squares depicting images of each story that would create our Jesse tree. I wanted to feel anticipation. I wanted to wait in expectation. But my heart hung heavy like marbles in an old sock.

The irony wasn’t lost on me. Here I was committed to intentionally experiencing Advent this year and here I was snared in the wait. I opened the first page of The Greatest Gift, tears brimming because I already knew what God was trying to teach me, a lesson that prickles my anxious heart. Lydia saw my tears and walked over to me, “What’s wrong, Momma?” I told her I was missing EEOO, wishing this journey didn’t have to be so hard and ready to have EEOO in our arms. My sensitive girl hugged me tight and said, “She’ll be here soon, Momma. We just have to wait a little longer.”

Our home is outside the city limits and because of that there are no street lights in our neighborhood. Especially this time of year when it gets dark so early, I can drive all over town and never see a single star. Among the streetlights and store signs, the car lights and lit-up billboards, the stars become muddled, lost in the contrived illumination we’ve created. But upon entering our neighborhood, a million stars whisper their hellos. They were there all along, but I couldn’t see them until my world got really dark.

As we remember Advent this year, as we turn our focus to the expectant wait, I am having to face my own darkness. This past week has been incredibly discouraging on our adoption journey. Another big form to renew which means another home study update which means more forms, more interviews, more of the same stuff we’ve already done. More delays. October only had one referral and November had none. None. That word slices my heart. With every month that passes our wait increases, not just in anxiousness but in literal days. When we began this journey our wait time was twelve to eighteen months. Now, sixteen months in and we see that wait time slipping further and further away. Meanwhile, dozens of children wait longer and longer in orphanages. And my heart breaks. It cracks and splits and cries and doesn’t understand why. Some days I’m strong. Other days I’m just tired. Tired of fighting. Tired of waiting.

These are the days when I have to remember what Mary did. She treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. Mary knew what it was to wait, and she knew what it was to see God’s faithfulness. These are the days I have to pull out my journals and remember. I remember our wait for Lydia, our wait for Charlotte.  Along the margin of a page in one journal these words from Romans are scribbled, tear-stained and desperately penned, “Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Here’s what Paul knew vividly… In the pitch-black of night, the stars are most resplendent. In the darkest hour of our waiting, hope pierces through like a star in the east.

In a world that says comfort is everything, it doesn’t make sense that suffering gives birth to hope. It seems more like suffering smothers hope like a wet towel over a flickering candle. Often, I feel like hope would swell if I could just hear some good news about our adoption or if I could see the wait times decrease. But the hard lesson I’m learning is God does His life-changing work through my perseverance in the wait. Yesterday, my pastor taught from Isaiah 8, and I’m claiming verse 17 as my anthem during this Advent season, “I will wait for the Lord.” My hope comes not from getting that which I desire. My hope comes from being used by my Redeemer to pen His love story, to be the black and white words that illuminate faith and hope for those around me.

At the start of our new series, Everything Changed, my worship pastor introduced the song that inspired the name of the series. My heart quickly tethered to these words…

When our dreams grow dim and our hearts grow cold
He is never far away from our broken soul

At the start of this Advent season, my soul feels broken, my heart fractured and vulnerable. Today and in the days to come, I will wait for the Lord, hunkered down in the darkness, at peace with the wait, but looking above to a blanket of stars, each one shimmering hope.

Behold, Christmas.

Behold, Christmas.

IMG_2793Behold. Be still and hold on.

When I chose my word for 2014, I had no idea what a literal manifestation it would take in my life. When mid-way through the pregnancy the ultrasound tech measured my amniotic fluid on the low side, my doctor told me to rest as much as possible. I asked her if she had met my girls, particularly my curly-headed Firecracker. She laughed and told me to do my best. This Type-A personality struggled with it, but I knew it was necessary for the baby so I forced myself to rest.

Now, I have a precious newborn to feed which means hours spent on the couch staring at the Christmas lights and those tiny ears and eyelashes and fingernails. I still remember the first Christmas after becoming a mom. I remember looking at the nativity one night and tears welling up in my eyes. I was flattened by the weight of a mother’s love for her Son and even more so a Father’s Love for His children.

As we celebrate Advent, I pray my heart waits in expectation and anticipation of not only God’s provision but of His very Presence. For it is in that wait, that stillness, that holding pattern, that my heart hears, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Emmanuel. God with us. 

Behold, indeed.

Preparing

Preparing

IMG_2170I blinked and suddenly I’m wearing fuzzy boots with my fingers wrapped around a warm mug of steaming apple cider, the spicy scent of cinnamon and cloves filling my home. I know the holidays are near because Germantown Parkway has suddenly become a parking lot and our Netflix queue is filled with Polar Express and Mickey’s Christmas Carol. Every year around this time I make new resolutions, resolving to give love instead of desperate gifts from the end caps at Target, determined to remember the needy in my own community and around the world instead of filling toy baskets with more pink plastic, intent on celebrating that holy night when a brilliant star pierced the velvety sky illuminating a tattered stable, the night Love was born and Hope entered the world.

But while I start out with the best of intentions, my people-pleasing tendencies catch up with me, and I want to be everywhere and do everything. A couple years ago my favorite author, Shauna Niequist, wrote about this time of year inviting us to choose present over perfect. Those words reverberate in my soul throughout the year, but never more so than this time of year. Present over perfect.

I just got Ann Voskamp’s new book The Greatest Gift, unwrapping the full love story of Christmas. On the back cover, Ann writes, “I don’t want a Christmas you can buy. I don’t want a Christmas you can make. What I want is a Christmas you can hold. A Christmas that holds me, remakes me, revives me. I want a Christmas that whispers, Jesus.” Yes, yes, yes. The book walks you through the Advent tradition of the Jesse tree. Ann’s son Caleb carves these exquisite oak advent wreaths, and last year we used some of the girls’ Christmas money to purchase one. My heart is warmed just anticipating the memories we will make circled around our little kitchen table our faces aglow with the countdown of candles. I know in reality someone will probably burn a finger or singe an eyebrow or something else fun like that, but nevertheless we will gather together to remember how God used an imperfect lineage to show a world His perfect love.

I’ll never forget the Christmas after Lydia was born, my first Christmas as a mom. On a frigid night in December I held this child I’d longed for, ached for, waited for. I cradled her in my arms while staring at our nativity. Salty tears fell down my cheeks, and I was overcome with this gift unfathomable. My heart now knew what it meant to love a child, so great a love that I would give my own life to save hers. Most of the time when I look at a nativity, I want to see how the artist represented the Baby, but this time I could only see Mary. I imagined myriad of emotions she must have felt as she waited and wondered and watched her womb swell with her Son and her Savior.

I want to abide in the wait, to treasure, to ponder. I don’t want to be so busy with cookie swaps and Christmas parties that I miss out on these moments, these times to reflect and remember, to celebrate and stand in awe of that Holy Night. The night pain and darkness were shattered. The night Love was born.