The Catholic Church has a schedule of readings called the lectionary (as do many other churches). The lectionary reading for this past Sunday was Luke 9:28-36, Luke’s account of the Transfiguration of Jesus.
28 Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white.30 And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. 34 As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” 36 And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen. (ESV)
Crazy things are happening–Jesus is dazzling white, his face shining like the son, his clothes whiter than any launderer could bleach them, as bright as lightning. Two of the most important men in the history of God’s people, Moses and Elijah, are standing there, conversing with Jesus.
It is one of the most intense times in Jesus’s earthly life, and Peter can’t help but put his two cents in. He has this great plan that gets interrupted by the voice of God the Father.
I get Peter. He is a lot like me, speaking before thinking things all the way through. I’ll bet he would consider himself an external processor. It got him rebuked more than a few times by Jesus, but it was for his good. He wasn’t afraid to be himself.
Sometimes, I am afraid to be myself. I talk a lot, about things that nobody cares about and about things that a lot of people care about. When I talk about grammar or etymologies of interesting words, I don’t really offend many people. When I talk about religion or politics, I can easily say things I haven’t thought all the way through or don’t have every piece right. Sometimes I am afraid that if I say something wrong, people will not want to speak to me again, or that I am misrepresenting the truth. I want to be truthful and I want to be consistent, but for an external processor like me it takes a lot of trial and error, and a lot of that in the public square (i.e. social media).
I am learning to have grace with myself, but it’s hard. I do try to think about the things I say or post, wanting them to come from a place of charity and wisdom, but sometimes people are going to get offended or annoyed by what I’m saying. I wonder if God gets offended or annoyed by what I’m saying…and then I have anxiety about whether I should say anything at all.
This is the beauty of the life of the saints–they paint a picture of the love of God for me, wounded and broken as I am. Jesus valued Peter so much, loud mouth and all. He valued and loved him to the point of letting this externally-processing fisherman be the head of his church.
Sunday, the lectionary takes us to Peter saying silly things in front of Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. But Monday, we have the commemoration of the Chair of St. Peter the Apostle. Even if you’re not Catholic, I hope you can appreciate the significance of this, that one day Peter is rebuked for his over-eagerness to please, and the next day the legacy of the Church he helped lead is celebrated.
It gives me hope, this timing. It gives me hope that even with all the things I say, God is still shaping me for a purpose. That he loves me even when I stick my foot in my mouth. That he encourages me to think out loud, because he made me this way.
I pray that I am willing to be vulnerable and share the things I am learning, ask the questions that pose themselves in my mind. I pray that you, too, would be willing to make yourself vulnerable. That’s where we learn. Yes, we will make mistakes, but we can rest in the kindness of God to gently correct us and to comfort us when others say we have pushed things too far.
The Lord keeps urging me to keep writing and keeps encouraging me that I am safe with him with these words: Be not afraid. I am with you, I am for you, and I am mighty to save.
May you know that today, too.
But when that girl smiles, let me tell you–my heart becomes a puddle of love right then and there.
Babies start turning up the corners of their mouths in what we might call a smile from their earliest days. But usually that’s just their expression when they are able to get gas to move through their system. And even though it’s physiological and not the emotional response all humans look for, it’s still cute. I definitely tried to catch a picture of one of those gas-smiles and pass it off as “baby’s first smile.”
Every child is different, but with my three kids, somewhere between two and three months old, something changes. I’ll be chatting it up with Lucy while she is on the changing table, asking her about her night’s sleep or what she dreamed about, and then it happens. We lock eyes and I can’t help but smile–she is so beautiful! so tiny! so amazing! Her eyes squint in delight and she SMILES BACK AT ME. And I know that she means it, that she sees me and is so glad to see me. This isn’t just the gas-smile. This is a real, heartfelt smile, and it communicates her little baby heart of love to me. My heart goes into all sorts of flutters. Warm, ooey-gooey love splashes and saturates my heart. Yes, I have loved her since I found out she was growing inside me, but this is a dynamic–a dynamic of mutual love–that sets my heart on fire and fills me with a special joy. She loves me! She loves me back!
Yes, right now she loves me because I carried her for nine months. My voice is the one she knows best because she grew inside me and heard everything I did. I am the one who snuggles her, feeds her, wipes up her spit-up, changes her diapers, bathes her. She only knows that I am the one who takes care of her and she loves me for it. (She loves her daddy the same way, too.)
When I smile and she smiles back, it is like the sun is shining for the first time, truly. It makes me think of how the heart of God responds when I smile back at him. And then I think, well, of course! He has expressed this a little through John the Elder in 1 John 4:19–We love because he first loved us–and through the prophet Zephaniah in Zephaniah 3:17.
We smile at him because he smiled at us first.
And I think about his great love for me. God has been smiling at me for a long time, full of delight and love. I have been learning who he is, listening for the sound of his voice like Lucy has been learning to recognize mine. I have been receiving his care and surviving only because he takes such good care of me. And as we interact, he smiles over me and asks me about my night’s sleep, about the dreams I had. And all the while he is smiling over me. He sings little beautiful songs as he carries me throughout my day, like a happy momma caring for her precious baby.
And he cares for me for a long time before I can smile back. BUT WHEN I DO?? I can only imagine that his heart responds a little like mine with Lucy. What world of love is opened to us when I smile back at him? When I love him back in the little ways that I know how to?
Peter denied Jesus three times and then Jesus died. His heart carried around the weight of abandoning his best friend in the hardest time in Jesus’ life. In John 21, even though he has seen the risen Jesus, Peter goes back to fishing. Maybe he was just hungry or maybe he was seeking the solace of the waves, remembering when he walked on water with his best friend, or the time when Jesus calmed the storm.
He and his friends aren’t catching anything, and they hear a voice from the shore. “Children, have you any food?” And like children, they answer, “No.” Maybe they thought it was a beggar asking for scraps. But when person on the shore tells them to lower their nets on the other side of the boat, and they have so much provision that the nets start breaking, John finally gets it and tells Peter, “It’s Jesus!”
Peter goes wild, a little, I imagine, like a child weepy and desperate to see his mother after a long absence. He puts his clothes back on and dives into the water, swimming, swimming. He just has to be with Jesus. I imagine he was probably crying the whole way. In the water. Up on the shore. Into Jesus’ arms.
Jesus cooks them breakfast (like a good mama would for her babies). And after breakfast, he and Peter go for a walk. Three times Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” Now, I have heard the sermons on the three different words Jesus uses to ask Peter and I know that this is commonly referred to as the “reinstatement of Peter.” Yes, I think all those things are good. But I can’t help but think about how excited Jesus was to finally have a conversation with Peter where they could talk about loving each other.
“Peter, do you love me?” Jesus asks a first time.
“Yes, you know I do,” answers Peter. I wonder if Jesus’s heart feels like mine when Lucy and I lock eyes on the changing table.
“Peter, do you love me?” Jesus asks a second time.
“Yes, Jesus, you know I do,” answers Peter. I wonder if Jesus’s heart feels like mine when Lucy’s eyes start to squint.
“Peter, do you love me?” Jesus asks a third time.
Peter gets a little huffy, grieved that maybe Jesus doesn’t believe him. But he still boldly declares, “Yes, Lord–you know all things, and you know that I love you!”
What delight flooded Jesus’s heart at that moment? What does it do to the heart of God to hear his little beloved one say to him, “I love you, too”?
When Lucy smiles at me–a true and genuine smile–because I have loved her and smiled at her and cared for her–what heights of joy I experience! My little girl loves me back!
I love God because he loves me first. I smile at God because he smiles at me first. Today, I want my heart to smile up at Jesus as he takes care of me, letting that little smile say to him, “Lord, you know all things, and you know that I love you!”
My kids are really in to playing hide-and-go-seek. They shut themselves in the bathroom and count to ten (“Count slower!” I tell them), then burst out of the door with “Ready or not, here I come!” or some version of that mixed up with giggles.
The 3-year-old is getting really good at the idea of the game–that she closets herself away while I hide and then she comes and finds me. Her little brother only knows one aspect of the game–find Mommy. He isn’t good at hiding (I’ve tried hiding him with me, but he makes too much noise), and the waiting for the counting to finish is a challenge. But he’s good at finding me.
I love how I have to hide myself in obvious places around our home. I love how if it’s taken awhile for them to find me, I have to call out, “Hello?!” until they follow the sound of my voice. I love how they burst into giggles and shrieks when they finally find me. It delights my heart so much for them to enjoy finding me.
“Again? Again?” they beg. And I usually can’t help but oblige. (Unless we’ve already done it 10 times. Then I can usually tell them “no.”)
One particular go-round, I was hiding rather conspicuously in the front hall by the shoe cubby, but it was taking them a long time to find me. I found my anticipation at seeing the joy on their faces growing. I couldn’t wait for them to find me. “Hello?!” I called out. “Hello?!”
Brennan rounded the corner first. Lily was hot on his heels. They squealed! “You found me!” I said, the joy in my heart so great I could barely stand it. Suddenly it hit me–God loves to hide from me SO THAT I can search him out. He gets as much of a kick out of it as I do hiding from my kids. I want them to find me–that’s why I drop big vocal clues. He wants me to find him. It’s crazy how much affection surges in my heart for God when I think about it this way.
Like Graham Cooke says, God hides in plain sight. He makes sure his elbows are sticking out behind the couch or that his foot doesn’t completely go behind the bookshelf. He wants to be easily accessible to me.
Sometimes I don’t find him as easily as I once did. Sometimes I feel like we were playing a fun game of hide-and-go-seek when the lights get turned off without warning. But even though it might get harder to find him or see him when I’m searching, these verses hang in my heart. I try to read them, cherish them, listen to them with the ears of a little kid playing hide-and-go-seek with her royal-but-not-too-proper-for-games father.
It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings to search it out.
from Proverbs 25:2
So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you;
Seek, and you will find;
Knock, and it will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks receives,
and he who seeks finds,
and to him who knocks it will be opened…
If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!
from Luke 11
So here’s your assignment for the week (and I promise to do it to)–
Tell God you want to play hide-and-go-seek with him. See what he has to show you. He might just be hiding in plain sight, saying “Hello?!” hoping that you’ll look for him.
Do you want the short answer or the long answer?
The short answer is no.
The long answer is noooooo.
For so long, I have carried around baggage attached to the pounds my hips bear. This baggage is shame, and this shame is for being overweight.
I cannot remember a time in my life where I did not feel the weight of being fat. I know a lot of people don’t like the term “fat.” It’s a word that I am not completely comfortable using, but I think that it is important to press through my awkwardness.
Being overweight is not a sin.
Being fat is not a sin.
If you’re overweight, how does that statement strike you?
Well, it sounds good but I don’t know if she’s right. I’ve done so much to put myself where I am today, and this weight I carry is a result of poor decisions…I don’t know if I can agree with her.
I totally get you.
Let’s think about it another way.
My mom who is the fairest of the fair–red hair, pale skin, freckles galore. She is simply stunning even in her grandmothering years. I inherited her fair skin, not the deliciously tannable skin of the Cuban stock my dad comes from. My skin shows the years I have gone outside without sunscreen. I have freckles (a mark of beauty, in my opinion) and I have sun damage. I have this sun damage because of a number of factors which may not be apparent at first glance. Mostly, though, it’s because I kept forgetting to put sunscreen on as a kid engaged in the limited outdoor sporting activities forced on me by public education.
I have this skin damage and I could have done something to prevent it. Even now, I could buy creams and wear more sun protection. But even though it’s there, I have no feelings of moral failure about it the way I do about being overweight.
What’s the difference?
I can’t speak for other cultures or other times, but I do know that in our American culture, weight has been attached to a kind of morality. If I eat right and exercise, or at least try to do so, I have moral currency to deposit in the Bank of Health. (I’ll lay aside, for the time being, the Bank of Physical Perfection.)
How many times have you heard this line? As long as you’re healthy…as if health is a measure of a person’s self worth.
It’s not about a number on the scale, I have heard.
It’s not about your outward appearance.
It’s not about the size you wear.
It’s about your health.
So if I am overweight and in a bigger size than most stores sell, I don’t get any health bucks. If I carry more padding than is culturally attractive, I don’t get any health bucks.
“Let’s do something about this,” someone might say. “Let’s add some money into your Bank of Health account.”
I can do this in a few ways–actually start working out. That’s like 5 health bucks per workout. I could give up gluten–that’s like a hundred a week. If I want to be healthy and so I am trying and failing–either by missing my workout or by eating healthy all day until I blow it with ice cream after the kids are in bed–I earn one health buck for trying.
That’s what we’ve learned, right? What counts is that I’m trying not to be fat anymore?
But what if I don’t want to try anymore? What if I refuse to play the game where being overweight is equated with being morally inferior?
What if I recognize that no matter how little or how much I weigh, or how well or how poorly I fit into clothing, weight is not a moral issue?
That takes a whole restructuring of how my mind works towards food, exercise, health, and physical appearance.
It means once I convince myself that being overweight is not sinful, I can be content with myself even when I’m not trying to be healthy. No more shame about not trying to get to the gym.
It means that food can be enjoyed, because I’m not basing my eating decisions on how good or how bad a person this apple pie is going to make me. No more shame about eating a tortilla that isn’t ‘carb balanced.’
It means that I can love myself more freely because I have stopped judging every freaking thing I do in relation to how much I weigh or how I look.
It means that I can love the people around me more freely because I have stopped judging myself and so I can stop judging other people for how they look, eat, or move.
To get to this place, I have to stop using language that attaches moral value to food. No more “good food, bad food.” Food is morally neutral.
And that’s a good place to begin.
Hey, ladies. Yes, I’m talking to you.
Have you ever looked at old pictures of yourself and thought, “Why did I think I was fat?”
This whole new Facebook “See your memories” thing has brought it up a lot for me lately.
For example: the picture on top is the second time I ever saw the stud who became my husband, in January 2008. We had met on a blind date in November 2007, and I was struggling with weight-related self-image issues, like I had my whole life.
I have always known I am pretty, but that hasn’t stopped me from thinking, “If I weighed less, I would have more friends…be more confident…accomplish more in the world…”
I truly believed that I would be a better person if I shed the extra poundage I carried then.
I look at that picture now, knowing the happiness and pain that await ‘skinny me’ (the happiness outweighs the pain, but the pain is still there).
The picture on bottom is us last week, 6.5 years of marriage and 3 kids later. I compare my current body to my 2008 body and I catch myself thinking, “If only I could go back to that size…Why did I think I was fat? Look at me now…”
But, no. Wait. Stop right there, mama. Let’s look at the assumptions wrapped up in this line of thinking:
- Weighing less means being a better person. Which I know–at a factual level–isn’t true. But at a gut level, that lie is still there. We have all felt the pressure to continually strive to be a better person, and for me the issue of weight management is in the “be better at” compartment. But my weight has little-to-nothing to do with how good a person I am.
- Weighing less means being more beautiful. Which I kinda know at a factual level isn’t true, but it is definitely a lie that I believe in my gut. So many images of beautiful and thin women bombard my vision. I have to go out of my way to find beauty portrayed in the media in people of bigger size.
- Weighing less means more people will like me. As I type this out, it feels like I am still in high school, with assumptions like this. Surely I know that my friends are not focused on my appearance, right? But I still believe this deep down. And I want to be liked. So I feel pressured to weigh less.
- Weighing less means fewer wounds for me to carry. Now this one might be legitimate. Let’s talk more about this.
Fewer pounds = Fewer Wounds?
I have told myself (and that this message reinforced by movies, tv, music, and social media) that weighing less will mean a healthier, happier, hotter me. Surely a lot of my wounds do come from feeling out of place in a skinny-worshipping world, judging myself by other people’s standards and coming up short. There is a feeling of insignificance and insecurity that plague me with the temptation to believe that I am a lesser person because I am overweight. This is not true.
Even when people eschew the ‘skinny’ language and replace it with ‘healthy’ language, I am still affected. Because I am not focusing on eating healthy and losing weight, I am not on the path to the good life. I carry a lot of shameful feelings because I am still eating wheat, drinking soda, and not scheduling regular exercise. But I’ve been reading some Brené Brown and I know that while shame is a powerful thing, it is not a good thing. I want to be through with the shame of being overweight. And therefore I have to throw my assumptions about being skinny out the window.
So, for some truth:
- I can develop into a better person regardless of how much I weigh. The choices to shape my character, to love myself and others well–these are not dependent on whether I am fat or skinny.
- I am beautiful in my current body. It is true. I am attractive. I am lovely. The gifts and creativity and love and kindness that flow through me make me lovely. I am also pretty.
- People may or may not like me, but I am likable. This has nothing to do with my weight and everything to do with being myself. Some people won’t like me because I am assertive, confident, and truth-speaking. But that has nothing to do with me being fat or skinny.
- People of all sizes and shapes carry wounds, big wounds. If by some chance I do lose weight, I will not be wound-proof. Wounds are inevitable as we walk through this pilgrimage called life. If the wounds I carry are related to being overweight, I can address them and seek healing.
So when I am tempted to long for the days of “skinny me,” as if going back to a certain size could change my life for the better, I remember that life was not all peaches and cream back then. Pain and joy still awaited ‘skinny me’ and they had nothing to do with how much I weighed. My desire to go back to that time is what Sara Groves calls “painting pictures of Egypt.”
I’ve been painting pictures of Egypt
Leaving out what it lacks
The future looks so cold and I want to go back
But the places they used to fit me
Cannot hold the things I’ve learned
And that road was closed off to me
While my back was turned…
In 2008, I could not have imagined the challenges and the joys that lay ahead of me. I have grown and learned so much. I have gained so much trust, confidence, love, and weight. But honestly, I would not change it. The journey I have walked has shaped me, and I embrace the shape I’m in because of it.
My body tells my story. It’s a beautiful story and I will not be ashamed of it.
I’ll leave you with one particular song that gives me courage to keep walking forward, leaving shame and regret behind, and embracing who I am now and who God is for me all the time.
Click the picture above or here to watch the music video for “Painting Pictures of Egypt” by Sara Groves.
If it comes to quick
I may not appreciate it
Is that the reason behind all this time and sand?
If it comes to quick
I may not recognize it
Is that the reason behind all this time and sand?
Today is the third day of Christmas, the third of twelve days in which Christians worldwide celebrate the feast of the Incarnation.
Today in particular, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family, and the Gospel reading tells us about Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.
As I sat in church today and listened to the Scripture, I was taken aback.
We are celebrating the Holy Family with a story about how Mary and Joseph lost Jesus?
Wouldn’t it make more sense to tell some other story? Maybe another look at the scene of the baby wrapped in swaddling cloths, surrounded by his adoring mother and father? Messy, yes. But cleaning up a messy child is much easier than finding a lost one.
But this is what the lives of the saints are about–how God reaches into our daily lives, when we are desperate for him,to help us in the time of our greatest need.
Catholic and Orthodox Christians believe that God preserved Mary from sin from the moment of her conception so she could choose God’s will without the hindrance of sin and give the most beautiful ‘yes’ to God when Gabriel brings her the offer of an unplanned and amazing pregnancy to bear the Son of God. The grace of Jesus on the cross reached back through time to save her, to prepare her to be the ark of God’s new covenant, Jesus the Christ.
Maybe that’s too farfetched for you to accept, and that is okay. But when I think of the Gospel account on this feast day, I can’t help but rejoice…
Mary, the mother of God, LOST HER SON on vacation (okay, on a religious pilgrimage, but still).
Through no fault of her own.
It wasn’t her own personal failings that caused something bad to happen.
It wasn’t her lack of attention because of selfishness.
And we can’t blame it on her kid, because we know for sure he was blameless in the whole ordeal.
Now before you blame it on Joseph, just think about this. I think this story on this day tells us that sometimes parenting fails happen when nobody is to blame.
The perfect Son and his mother face an incredibly difficult situation, not because someone did something wrong, but because life is hard and raising kids is really really hard.
So next time you feel like you’re a horrible parent because x, y, and z have happened to you and your kids, remember this: parenting is hard.
I love this reading on this day because it comforts me. Yes, my sin gets in the way of parenting well. I am selfish. I am unkind at times. I am rude and lash out at my kids. But I am seeking the Lord’s help in this.
God knows how hard raising children is. His own Son was lost for a few days and the family He entrusted His most precious One to was frantic to find him.
Don’t be afraid. You’re not screwing this up irreparably.
Lean into Him when it’s hard. Take guidance from the other New Testament reading for the day, Colossians 3. It’s a guide for family life.
In the midst of all the crying and yelling, dress yourselves in compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.
In the evenings when they’re fussy, bear with one another, and forgive one another because God has forgiven you.
On the messy days, most importantly, put on love.It’s the bond of perfection, completion.
When your kid gets lost and you don’t know how it happened or exactly what to do, let the peace of Christ control your hearts, and be thankful.
On the hard days, let God’s word fill you up, and seek his wisdom.
In the parent fails, sing songs to God, with gratitude.
And every day with kids, whatever you do, in word or in deed,
do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Merry Christmas, y’all. 9 more days to go.
Christmas is so much more than Jesus’s birthday.
I will probably regret writing this vulnerable post, not because of what I say, but because I’m afraid some of my friends will miss the point and try to get me interested in their weight-loss products.
This is not a post about losing weight.
It’s not a post about wishing things were different.
It’s a post about my desperate need for the Incarnation of Jesus Christ to be a real and pertinent thing in my life.
My daughter just turned 8 weeks old yesterday. I haven’t been able to post much in the last two months because we are getting used to our new normal, life with three children three and under. It has been crazy, with ups and downs, but I am loving it. The big kids are in love with their little sister, and Zachary and I take so much joy in being a family of five, even though we are sleep-deprived for the time being.
I caught my reflection the other day in the automatic sliding door at Walmart, and I did not like what I saw.
I don’t keep a lot of mirrors in my house. In fact, there are only 4–one in each of the two bathrooms (so, only waist-up), one on top of a dresser that is too tall for me to look into (for the tall hubs), and one full-length on the inside of our closet door.
I saw my reflection, really, for the first time since giving birth. I might try to soften the phrase “I did not like what I saw” to “I wasn’t thrilled with my appearance,” but it would not do justice to the feelings I have experienced since then. I was embarrassed.
I know that this may be hard to believe, but I have never hated one aspect of my body. I have always felt generally overweight and been frustrated at the inability to purchase flattering outfits without breaking the bank. But I have never stood in front of my reflection and felt how I have in the past several days.
This belly. This I-make-jeans-unflattering belly. This I-have-carried-three-big-children belly. This I-have-eaten-my-feelings-for-years belly.
I have been self-conscious of it for the past five or six days in a way that I have never experienced before.
I had started formulating all sorts of plans to minimize its appearance–from only wearing dresses (pants seem to emphasize it) to working out and actually losing the extra weight I’m carrying around. But last night I faced the reality that my body isn’t ever going to look the same as it did before I had children.
I have read the inspirational memes about stretch marks being tiger stripes earned through childbearing. I have seen the encouragement to moms to love their bodies post-pregnancy because sagging skin and lack of toning can indicate the joys of bearing a lot of kids.
But last night, I faced the reality that my body isn’t ever going to look the same as it did before I had children. And I cried.
There are so many feelings wrapped up in this realization, this acceptance of reality. I want to look cute and trendy. I want to be able to wear flattering clothes more easily. I want to lose weight and feel better. I really want to feel attractive and be attractive, especially for my husband (who is totally supportive and encouraging on this journey, by the way).
All of these desires are important, some moreso than others. But never before have I felt such a need for Jesus.
It’s interesting that these feelings and realizations come in this holiday season. In a few short days, Christians will celebrate Christmas. Christmas is a big deal.
I remember being ten or eleven and baking a cake with my younger sister in late December. We put candles on the cake and sang “Happy Birthday” to Jesus. I remember feeling justified in our celebration–I mean, who doesn’t want to celebrate the birthday of a person you love?
It took me many years to understand why, and I am still unwrapping it, but I have learned this important fact:
Christmas is so much more than Jesus’s birthday.
We can argue over whether or not Jesus was actually born on December 25 (note: he probably wasn’t). We can argue over whether the roots of Christmas are actually Christian. What we can’t argue, though, is the meaning of Christmas.
It’s not just that God’s son would be born to a virgin, wrapped in swaddling cloths, and laid in a manger.
It’s not just that he would be worshiped by the poor and the rich together, the shepherds and the wise men.
It’s not even just that His son would grow up to die on the cross and save us.
Yes, all these things are important. But the most important thing to wrap my mind and my heart around this season is this:
We are celebrating the Feast of the Incarnation.
In the Christian calendar, followed by Christians of many ilks and persuasions, the Feast of the Incarnation is the biggest feast of the year. It’s a twelve day celebration that starts on Christmas day and last for TWELVE. STINKIN. DAYS.
In-carn-ation. God wraps himself in flesh. Forever.
The second person of the holy Trinity unites himself to us in a way that blows my mind every time I pause to think about it–HE IS A HUMAN. The body I bear indeed is created in his image, but more there is more to it than that: Jesus is my brother of flesh. We don’t just share a spiritual heritage; we are both children of Adam.
As I sit here and type, I feel my flesh all too much. My belly rests on my thighs, stretch out from bearing babies and eating my feelings for many many years.
And yet (rather counterintuitively, given my weight and food issues), Jesus invites me into a feast. A TWELVE DAY feast. At the time when I want to run away and hide and never face the decision of what to eat or how much…He invites me to his feast. The feast that celebrates when he became a human.
He knows the weakness of my human body. He has known it himself. And he still invites me to feast.
Because he is a man of flesh and blood, I can breathe deeply and let his holy Spirit change my mind. Because he has bound himself to humankind through muscle and bone, blood and raw matter, I can trust him to know what I am feeling. No, he has never borne a baby in his body, but he has lived a whole life, beaten and wounded by those of us living in this physical world. And yet, instead of admonishing me to watch what I eat over the next two weeks, he still invites me to feast.
I am overwhelmed by his kindness, and yet I am still afraid of the aftermath.
So I ask him to let his perfect love drive away this immobilizing fear of screwing up this body and being rejected and alone.
So I ask him, in these last two days of Advent, this time of preparing him room in my heart and in my earthly life, to please come, Lord Jesus.
So I ask him to teach me, in the way that only he can, how to truly feast.
It’s a risky and a dangerous place to be. But I can trust him, because he is fully God and fully Man, and that is what this season is all about.
Have you ever come across a piece of art–a line of poetry, an image in a movie, a passage of Scripture–that captures your imagination? It’s the kind of thing that can mark your soul for ages, occupying your thoughts in the middle of the night months from your first exposure to it, dominating the landscape of your dreams, changing the shape of your heart’s desires. I call these occurrences “marvelous moments,” because they reveal to me something worthy of marvel and awe in this life.
Two such moments have so captured my imagination. I was reminded of my first experience of this captivation by the daily readings in the lectionary yesterday.
The angel brought me
back to the entrance of the temple,
and I saw water flowing out
from beneath the threshold of the temple toward the east,
for the façade of the temple was toward the east;
the water flowed down from the southern side of the temple,
south of the altar.
He led me outside by the north gate,
and around to the outer gate facing the east,
where I saw water trickling from the southern side.
He said to me,
“This water flows into the eastern district down upon the Arabah,
and empties into the sea, the salt waters, which it makes fresh.
Wherever the river flows,
every sort of living creature that can multiply shall live,
and there shall be abundant fish,
for wherever this water comes the sea shall be made fresh.
Along both banks of the river, fruit trees of every kind shall grow;
their leaves shall not fade, nor their fruit fail.
Every month they shall bear fresh fruit,
for they shall be watered by the flow from the sanctuary.
Their fruit shall serve for food, and their leaves for medicine.”
Ezekiel 47: 1-2, 8-9, 12
The prophet Ezekiel is shown a vision where there is a river that makes salt water sweet. Along its banks are trees that bear fruit every month of the year, which is good for food. And their leaves are for medicine, for the healing of the nations (echoed by John in Revelation 22:2). The image of this scene took root in my imagination during my senior year of high school. I got home every day from school at 2 p.m. and I had more than two hours to myself before my mom picked my sister up from school and made it home. I would walk around the ponds behind our house and when I finished, I would read Ezekiel.
Not the normal light reading of a 17-year-old, but I definitely wasn’t a ‘normal’ teenager.
Chapter 1 in Ezekiel opens with some pretty strange things, and my mind and heart were ripe for the magic of it. I say “magic” because that’s what it felt like–all the colors and strange creatures and the sounds described…it reads like something out of a fantasy novel. The book of Ezekiel goes on to speak with vivid imagery of the story of God’s beloved wife who turns her back on him, but there is redemption in the end. Especially in chapter 47, when I first encountered this river and all its trees.
It has haunted me since then, for over 13 years. In a good way.
That’s what good literature and good art are supposed to do–to capture our imagination and not let it go. We turn over images and phrases in our minds and our hearts until they are a part of us. The things we read, watch, touch, taste, feel, and experience mark us, change us powerfully–for better or worse.
The second marvelous moment is from the film adaptation of J.R.R Tolkein’s The Two Towers, the second installment in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. It’s the battle of Helm’s Deep, where there seems to be no hope against the forces of Saruman. But Aragorn remembers the words of Gandalf–“Look to my coming at first light on the fifth day. At dawn, look to the East.” In faith, the overwhelmed captives break forth from their stronghold in the face of the invading army, and Gandalf appears, true to his word, with the Erkenbrand and 1,000 Rohirrhim. It is a powerful scene. You can watch it here.
Looking for the light of dawn to come through the window, determining to fight in the face of overwhelming odds, being willing to fight together with one’s friends to the death–these things have marked me deeply and have shaped me into who I am today.
Have you experienced a marvelous moment like either of these? What was it like for you?
Today is my daughter Lucy’s due date, and she is already a week old.
Allow me to indulge in some pictures of my beautiful girl.
I am so thankful for this little life. She has already made our family richer. My other children are as much in love with her as her daddy and I are.
She sneezes a lot.
I wonder if it’s allergies or just getting adjusted to the world around her.
It reminds me of the prolific pollen that will descend on us here in East Texas in the spring–the distinct yellow of pine pollen. When I am tempted to be annoyed by it, the Lord reminds me how passionate He is for life, so much so that He has the humble pine tree spread its seed far and wide so that we can have more of these towering, beautiful trees in our natural home.
Being open to new life, like the East Texas soil is to the showering of yellow pixie dust, is not always convenient or pleasant, but it is so worth it.
I’m not a very patient person by nature. That’s why being fewer than 24 hours from delivering this baby is a big deal. It’s finally here…and it’s wonderful and weird and strange and delightful all at the same time.
Being able to schedule a delivery is a relatively new phenomenon for the human species, and I don’t take that for granted. In my mind, there is something risky and magical and greatly rewarding about waiting to go into labor, but in my three pregnancies, I have not had that privilege. (For the story of our journey to Caesarian, check out the post I wrote shortly after our second child was born, Diary of a Wimpy Mom.)
I don’t know if I will be able to sleep tonight. I can’t wait to meet our daughter. The thoughts of anesthesia are fear-inducing, so I will probably be praying a lot trough that tonight. Life is such a risky thing, but as the adage says, “El que no arriesga no cruce la mar.” That means, “She who never takes a risk never crosses the sea.”
That’s kind of our philosophy with having kids…it’s a risk to have kids. It’s a risk to be in any kind of relationship. But it is so very rewarding.
As you go into your day tomorrow, will you pray for me and for baby Lucy’s entrance into the world outside? And while you’re at it, know that I am praying for you to take that next big risk.