It is a time of waiting.
It is a time of waiting in darkness, of waiting in grief, of waiting in loneliness.
We are a people living in a land of darkness, in a land of the shadow of death, and as much as we would wish to skip the waiting and rush straight into the glorious light of Christmas, we are still living in Advent.
It is same as our desire to skip over the ugly of Good Friday and rush straight into the beauties of Easter Sunday. Yet we cannot get to the power of Easter without first living through the pain of Friday.
And we cannot get to the light and wonder of Christmas without first living through the darkness and tenuous hope of Advent.
Even our Christmas hymns hint at this. They speak of a longing for deliverance, a yearning for Immanuel, God with us.
O come, o come Immanuel and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here.
No more let sins and sorrows grow nor thorns infest the ground.
It is a time to linger with the deepest longing of our heart: the longing for God to come, the longing for God to make our world and our hearts right again.
Our world was a land of darkness with only the whisper of a light to come that anyone was able to hold on to.
And then the end of the story broke gloriously into the middle of the story. The Christ, the Messiah, the end of our story came bursting through with light and stars, with angels and worship.
The light came and shone upon the people living in a land of great darkness. The light arrived and we saw that the darkness was not the final word.
We still live in a land of darkness, but now we have more than a whisper. Now we have a glimpse of the Light Himself to hold on to. We have seen the breaking dawn and we know the end of the story.
It is still a time of waiting for yet another Advent.
It is still a time of waiting in the darkness. If we cannot linger through the darkness of our world’s need for the light, if we cannot dwell long in our own need for the darkness of our hearts to be banished, then we cannot ever reach the hope and joy of Christmas.
The deepness of the darkness is what shows us the glory of the light.
So wait. Linger in your waiting.
And then, when Advent is over, when Christmas Day finally arrives, you will be able to revel in the joy and hope of the light that came and that promises to come again.
This time to banish all darkness for good.
Art credit: The Adoration of the Shepherds by Charles Le Brun
It changes nothing. It changes everything.
How do you endure? When everything around you is falling apart, when all that you love on this earth fails you, how do you keep going?
It happens to all of us. At some point in our lives, whether early in life or late, we sit in stunned silence while our world crumbles.
What do we do? What do we do when we or one we love is living in the middle of unimaginable pain? What is it that keeps us going, that lets us perservere?
It changes nothing. It changes everything.
Hope doesn’t heal the sick or take away the pain. It doesn’t fill the stomach or bring your loved one back.
It changes nothing.
Hope gives you a glory-full vision of the end of your story. It gives you a glimpse of the beauty, the joy, the perfection that is promised.
It changes everything.
When you know the end of the story, when you know that Christ wins and that we will be with Him forever, it gives us the power to bear anything. Anything. When you can see the end of fear, the end of despair, the end of pain, when you can see the adventure, the rest, the wholeness that waits for you, you are sustained in the now because you know that this, too, shall pass.
So hope. Hope in what is promised. Hope in what God has promised through the power of the resurrected Christ.
For you who have just received that 3 a.m. phone call, you who walk dazed from your doctor’s office, you who saw your child drift away, you who wish desperately for a child, you who sit weeping in a corner, who think that you will always be alone and unloved, for all of you who live in darkness and doubt…
there is hope. Beautiful, glorious, resurrection hope. So breathe deep of this hope. Let it fill you up with peace and joy so that you are able to endure all things. For He who is our hope is coming.
It is promised. It shall be so.
Art credit: last photograph by R.K. Sewell Photography (photographybysewell.webs.com)
Such an ugly word. A word that is filled with fear and pain, hopelessness and loss. A word in which the treatment is as bad as the disease, a word that contains no promise of a cure.
We’ve lived through cancer twice now in my close family. Once in one who had lived a long and good life and who chose not to fight. Once in one who had just begun her life as wife and mother and who fought with every bit of strength she had. Both times, our cancer word contained death and loss.
Perhaps this is why when someone I know learns firsthand of the horrors of this word, it stirs up something inside of me. We all have causes and issues that make our hearts feel more weighty, that bring us to tears. Causes alone, though, don’t have the power to stir us up the way an individual can. I give money to causes, but a cause will not change me in the way that a person can. God works through the personal to deepen our hearts in a way that a faceless cause never can.
Perhaps if I see pictures on the news or in the papers of victims of earthquake, flood, drought, I will write a small check for the cause of world hunger, and I may even refrain from meat on Wednesdays; but as long as I am responding to a cause it will not affect my entire life, my very breathing. It is only when I see discrimination and injustice in all its horrendous particularity as I walk along Broadway, that my very life can be changed. If it was necessary for God to come to us as one of us, then it is only in such particularity that I can understand incarnation…But a response to a cause will never change my life, nor open my heart to the promptings of the Spirit. ~ Madeleine L’Engle in The Irrational Season
The differences in the pieces of life we each have lived allows different causes to stir each one of us to action. Cancer, especially when this word contains a parent with children living at home, has become one of those for me. One reason is that this word doesn’t have to end in death, you see. Sometimes there is hope. That hope, however, can be expensive.
May I introduce you to my friend, Mark?
Mark and I worship together and I know him best from making music together in the arts ministry at our church. He is a musician by trade, performing and teaching in order to support his family.
Mark is a husband to Jana and a father of five beautiful children, three of whom still live at home. His wife, Jana, is a self-employed speech pathologist who contracts with several different school systems.
A musician and a self-employed speech pathologist don’t get very good health insurance.
Mark was diagnosed with cancer in 2007; his cancer word will not have within it a cure without also containing a bone marrow transplant. He has not yet found a suitable donor. Mark participated in a clinical trial that held the cancer at bay for several years.
Until this past December. The cancer returned. Mark still does not have a bone marrow donor.
He found another clinical trial, but this one requires that he live in Houston while receiving the treatments from MD Anderson.
A musician and a self-employed speech pathologist also don’t make crazy amounts of money.
He moved from hotel to hotel for awhile, living wherever they could find the cheapest price each week on Priceline. He was finally able to find an apartment, but it is in a crime-ridden area of town. He has been hassled several times when returning from his cancer treatments, and he can’t leave his windows open at night. In Houston. In the summertime. He is trying to find work, but it is difficult to find teaching gigs in a new place when you are in the middle of cancer treatments.
So here they are. Mark, living in a dangerous part of Houston all alone without his family to support him as he gambles for his life. Jana, caring for their kids on her own while traveling hours everyday to and from work. Both of them living 900 miles apart and trying to hold the fraying pieces of their lives together while living with the fear that their time together is slipping through their grasping fingers.
We can’t do much. We can’t take away the cancer. We can’t take away the fear. We can’t take away the loneliness or the desperation of being a single parent or a distant parent.
We can do a little, though. We can take away the one piece of their pain that has to do with their finances. They are not big spenders. They are frugal and they know how to stretch their paychecks. And they will need a bit more while Mark is living in Houston.
I have never done this before on this blog. I may never do it again. But I know these people. I have served with them. And God is working through these individual people to change hearts and lives. Will you join me in helping them? You can give online at GiveForward. (If the link does not work, copy and paste this address: https://www.giveforward.com/fundraiser/4th4/mark-cornell-benefit-fund)
I know that we can’t do it all, that we can’t eliminate all hunger, thirst, suffering, pain. This often frustrates me, but I am struck by the thought that Jesus didn’t do it all either. He didn’t heal all of the blind while here on earth. He didn’t heal all of the lepers or all of the lame, he didn’t feed all of the hungry.
I don’t know why He didn’t make all of the sad things come untrue immediately, but knowing this helps me to be content with not being able to help everyone but to, as Jesus did, help one beautiful person at a time.
Carol Of Joy
by Eileen Berry
Green leaves all fallen, withered and dry;
Brief sunset fading, dim winter sky.
Dark closing in…
Then, through the stillness, carols begin!
Oh fallen world, to you is the song–
Death holds you fast and night tarries long.
Jesus is born, your curse to destroy!
Sweet to your ears, a carol of Joy!
Pale moon ascending, solemn and slow;
Cold barren hillside, shrouded in snow;
Deep, empty valley veiled by the night;
Hear angel music–hopeful and bright!
Oh fearful world, to you is the song–
Peace with your God, and pardon for wrong!
Tidings for sinners, burdened and bound–
A carol of joy!
A Saviour is found!
Earth wrapped in sorrow, lift up your eyes!
Thrill to the chorus filling the skies!
Look up sad hearted–witness God’s love!
Join in the carol swelling above!
Oh friendless world, to you is the song!
All Heaven’s joy to you may belong!
You who are lonely, laden, forlorn—
Oh fallen world!
Oh friendless world!
A Saviour is born!
We are people walking in darkness.
Our souls are dark with selfishness and pride. We are blinded by our own interests so that we cannot truly see anyone else, so that we cannot see God. We seek and chase after happiness, darkened in our false understanding that we can find anything good outside of Jehovah.
We dwell in a land of deep darkness.
We live in a world where children are born needing new hearts, where babies emerge into poverty and hunger. We ache with the knowledge that storms destroy, that hurt people wound, that cancer kills.
We hang our heads to the ground in shame and weep in this darkness brought about by our own turning away from God. Where is hope?
Lift up your head, world that is heavy with darkness. Look up and see a great light.
Rise up from the ground, you who are burdened with shame. On you a light has shone.
A light has dawned. A great light has emerged out of the darkness. His name is Christ the Lord. He is Savior and Messiah. He is Mighty God and Prince of Peace. He brings peace to this world and peace to our souls. He is Ruler and King, He is Servant and Love.
We no longer must dwell in darkness but can run strong in the light.
Unto us a son is born, unto us a child is given.
The light has come and we are free. Free from darkness, free to love.
Where is hope? Hope is here.
For unto you is born this day a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
Christ is here.
Christ has come!
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.
Art credit: Fifth and last photos by Kirk Sewell Photography.
Much of the time it doesn’t work out this way because this world is so broken and can be so dark, but every once in a while you are allowed to be a part of, or at least catch a glimpse of, something that points toward something more, something bigger, something so sacred that you want to cup it gently in your hands, speak of it only in whispers, breathe soft so as not to disturb it.
There is a boy. A boy who grows up. A boy who falls in love with and marries a girl. A girl who discovers she is pregnant with a son and fast on the heels of that revelation discovers that she is dying. There is a boy. A boy who sinks down. A boy who clings to his son in order to keep his face above the waves that are drowning him. A boy who continues to seek God even though most of the time he is not convinced that such a God exists and all of the time feels an anger toward Him that threatens to burn his heart into ashes.
There is a God. A God who longs to be found, who deals gently and softly with those who are wounded. A God who slowly soothes and cleanses and heals the heart of a boy using, in part, the heart of a girl.
There is a girl. A girl who has lost the mother she loves yet chooses to cling to the God who gifted her such a mother in the first place. A girl who loved a boy yet was willing to give the boy up to God to be sure that his newly healed heart belonged to God alone.
There is a boy and there is a girl and, most of all, there is a God. A God who is using a story and a wedding and a marriage to tell me and to tell you that there is hope and there is truth and above all there is love. A God who wants you to know as you sit in the dark, hiding or weeping or perhaps both at the same time, that there is light in this dark.
Perhaps it seems like just a candle flame in the dark, flickering uncertainly as though a whisper might extinguish it, but I saw this weekend in the beauty of a wedding that this tiny flame will spread and will pierce the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it.
What I saw this weekend in the crazy-loud joy, in the riotous music and lights, in the feasting and laughing and wide-open grins made me want to jump up with my arms flung out and shout Silence! Listen to the small voice, to the message so sacred and precious, so unbelievable and so true that it makes you stand rooted to the spot with Thomas and whisper My Lord and my God.
Christ is risen. Hold it gently in all of its holiness. He is risen, and because He is risen, His love never fails. In your darkness, in your brokenness, in your fears and doubts and loneliness and amidst all of the shattered pieces that might never get put back together in this life, He loves you and His love never fails.
Much of the time it doesn’t work this way, but this weekend I was a part of something that points toward something bigger and brighter and truer. It is precious and it is holy, so lean close and hear me proclaim in a whisper this thing that is unbelievable and so true. Christ is risen. He is risen and His love never fails you and even though we never fully emerge from the darkness in this life, one day there will be nothing but crazy-loud joy and riotous music and feasting and laughing and light, such bright and brilliant light that the darkness will flee in terror to the deepest of the depths.
So take heart. Be brave and strong and true, and let Him shape your hearts into hearts that are beautiful, hearts that bear to each other that precious, flickering holy flame of love. Take heart.
May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble!
May the name of the God of Jacob protect you!
May he send you help from the sanctuary
and give you support from Zion!
May he remember all your offerings
and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices! Selah
May he grant you your heart’s desire
and fulfill all your plans!
May we shout for joy over your salvation,
and in the name of our God set up our banners!
May the Lord fulfill all your petitions!
Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed;
he will answer him from his holy heaven
with the saving might of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They collapse and fall,
but we rise and stand upright.
Can you feel it?
It is the satin of an apple blossom on your cheek.
Can you smell it?
It is damp earth and greening trees.
Can you hear it?
It is hints on the breeze of a song of new life.
Close your eyes
It is real
and is waiting beneath what you can see.
We are meant
to be real.
We are meant
to recognize the real.
Close your eyes to what you can see
and breathe in
Fill yourself up with what
is given at all times
and is surrounding what you may see.
Can you sense it?
Satisfy yourself with what is deeper for it
…we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. (Heb. 6.18-20)
For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Rom. 8.24-25)
(poem and photos copyright by Made Sacred 2013)
**Be gentle with me, my friends. I’m experimenting with a different style…just for the fun of it!**
Once upon a time, there existed the town of Villacor. It was a beautiful town, full of beautiful people. The townspeople of Villacor loved each other and loved their town. They were lovely because they loved.
This town was ruled by a king. He had lived in the town at one time, but now was absent, having returned to his own country for a time. The townspeople didn’t remember him very well, but they loved each other and loved their town, so they tried to care for each other the best they could. All was lovely because they loved.
Over time, the townspeople began to feel a strange kind of burning inside of them. They weren’t sure that they were very important to the king anymore. He hadn’t been to visit them in such a long time, perhaps he didn’t care anymore, maybe he wasn’t ever coming back. Besides, they reasoned that if he did ever return, surely he would take them away to his own country, which must be perfection itself, rather than forcing them to stay in their own place.
As they wondered these things, the townspeople of Villacor began to love not quite so well. It showed up in small things at first: an unkind look, a piece of trash, a little less food left for the animals. Yet as time went on and the king did not return to look after his town, this not-loving grew bigger and bigger. And things began to look less lovely because they were less loved.
The town grew dirtier and more cluttered. Even the people began to look ugly. The people began hating each other and hurting each other, which left scars. The animals were neglected and began to turn on themselves and to destroy the plants for food. All was ugly because they were not loved.
Then one day a small group of Villacorians looked around at each other and at their town and decided to trust what the king had told them. If the king had promised to return, then he would one day return. If the king had said that he loved them and loved their town, then it must be so. And if the king loved their town, then he must mean for them to remain in it. This little group of people looked around at the town that was loved by the king and they began to love it too, for his sake, even though it was still ugly for having been so unloved.
This little group began caring for the town and for each other. They treated their fellow townspeople with kindness and gave grace in return for hate. They picked up trash where they found it and tended the plants and animals. The town and its people began to look a little more lovely because they were once again being loved.
Time continued to pass, and even though the king still had not returned, the little group of townspeople worked hard at loving their town as their group grew and grew until finally, once again, the town was beautiful, full of beautiful people who loved each other and loved their town. They didn’t know when the king would return, but they trusted that he would someday return because he had promised that he would always love them. They were lovely because they loved.
Finally the day came. Trumpets sounded over the trees and lakes as the sun burst over the hilltop. The townspeople of Villacor rushed out of the town into the countryside to greet their king. They surrounded him and brought him back into their town to show him how they had cared for their town. They showed the king the beauty and cleanliness of the town, the well-tended plants and animals, and demonstrated the acts of kindness that they showed to each other.
One small girl asked the king why it had taken so long for him to return. Another little boy asked if the king was going to carry them all back to his own country. The king smiled at them all and said, “My children, I was waiting for you. It was only when you began to care for the town and each other that everything grew into the way that I had intended all along. When you began loving each other and loving your town, you changed into a new people and a new town, as beautiful as you were in the beginning. Now I have come, and rather than take you away from this town you have learned to love, I will now make my home with you.”
And the king’s love became a physical shining that encompassed them all and made everything it touched even more beautiful than it had been before. They were lovely because they were loved.
It has been a beautiful time and a difficult time, this time I have spent away from this space.
Breathing in the scent of my newborn, surrounded by the warmth of family and friends, secluding myself from the world while I both soak up and exude the love and joy of my little family.
Passing my baby on his way out of this world, my Papa said farewell to us and greeted his Father with joy.
Unable to travel long miles that soon after giving birth, I did much of my grieving alone.
My heart was reminded too often of our Kristina, of the thoughts and emotions of her loss only a year and a half ago.
Birth and death. Being and dying.
I often think of and long to know the meaning of this cycle of life and death.
in the light of love of the Creator, who brought them all into being, who brought me into being, and you…It is part of the deepest longing of the human psyche, a recurrent ache in the hearts of all of God’s creatures.
I am reminded once again of Love.
Of Love that wants the best for us, regardless of the cost.
Of Love that walked this earth with us and died for us and then showed us how to have everlasting life.
Of Love that promises that this is not the end, these dying breaths, that promises that we have life.
As I open myself up once again to loving another baby, to making myself vulnerable to the possibility of pain that loving brings, I wonder long about meaning and whether any of this is truly worth it.
Yet even as I wonder, I know. I know that love is always worth it. I know, even in the ugly and the pain, that this life is beautiful because we are loved by One who gives Himself with no hesitation, no conditions.
I know because even though I don’t understand our God, even though I don’t understand this life or the next or how any of this works and fits together, I find yet that I know what it is about. I know what HE is about.
As long as we know what it’s about, then we can have the courage to go wherever we are asked to go, even if we fear that the road may take us through danger and pain.