Inside a Christmas Song

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

A human, broken, and messy perspective is met with a battle for faith in the mighty works of God that are unseen yet supremely powerful and ultimately victorious.
An unlikely scenario for a Christmas song.
Based on a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, this song was written at some point after the end of the Civil War. We can feel the dark times of suffering penned by a master wordsmith, flowing from his heart. We can relate to his expression of pain and futility. Suffering in some way is a part of life for every human being.
We can feel the excitement when the writer tastes victory; when what he knows becomes what he feels. The song frames this climactic moment with hope, and then encourages us to share that hope that now shines forth unobstructed.

Join me as we step into the words of this song.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day, their old familiar carols play, and mild and sweet their songs repeat of peace on earth, good will to men.
It’s Christmas Day in our little village. Cold outside and within. Everyone throughout our close community hears the same old bells ringing out the same old songs every Christmas. All the songs have a central theme of peace on earth and good will to men. The songs are “old familiar carols” and we all know the words of each song. We hear these same songs every single year, in the same exact order, at the same exact time. Over and over and over. We hear, but we stopped listening long ago.

And in despair, I bowed my head. “There is no peace on earth,” I said. “For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.”
For some reason, this year we stop to really listen to the age old words that are running through our minds as the bells play the music. And we suddenly realize that these words depict a time of peace. We are so saddened to grasp for the first time that what these songs express is no longer true. Strong emotions surround us and fill us full of pain and frustration and hopelessness at the realization that peace is gone. Yes, peace is gone forever, and our lives are full of the impact of that. In broken and bleeding and hurting hearts, there is no love, no worth, no hope, and definitely no peace. Hate has overcome. Hate has won. “…for hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then rang the bells more loud and deep. “God is not dead nor doth He sleep.” Peace on Earth, Peace on Earth. “The wrong shall fail, the right prevail with peace on earth, good will to men.”
Do you hear it? It’s a battle cry. Strong and unbelievably loud, yet silent. Gently crashing through our insightful reflection on everything that’s wrong in our world. But also confidently proclaiming with expression stronger than words that there is so much more that’s right. Finally, we look up, and we see. With truly seeing comes understanding. We get it. Hate is strong, but His love is so much stronger. Hate does not have the upper hand or the victory.
Ps 121 1-4: “I lift my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.”
“God is not dead nor doth He sleep”. God is very much alive, and He is working all the time. Even when we see absolutely no evidence that He is doing anything at all.
Case in point: Just think of all that had to perfectly fall into place for Joseph and Mary to arrive in Bethlehem right before Jesus is born so that he would be born there and fulfill prophecy. (Micah 5:2, 4-5; Matt 2:6)
We know with absolute certainty that “the wrong shall fail, the right prevail”. We know because God is always working to bring about His perfect plan that has no room for wrong.

Then ringing, singing on its way, the world revolved from night to day. A voice, a chime, a chant sublime of peace on earth, good will to men.
“The world revolved from night to day”. Now we can see the light of day when before we had gotten so familiar with the darkness of night that we thought this was all that existed. The light of day has pushed out the darkness that marked our lives until we chose to look up and see. The light is incredibly beautiful, and illuminates everything good in our lives. We see love and joy, and yes, we see peace. And now those songs of old are comforting and we cling to their truth.

Do you hear the bells? They’re ringing: “Peace on Earth.” Like the angels singing: “Peace on Earth.” Open up your heart and hear them: “Peace on Earth, good will to men.”
We are so moved by how heaven came down in the form of our Savior Jesus Christ to rescue us. To bring us peace and so much more. He brought us back from our pain and desperation to see beyond the physical to the spiritual truth we stand on. We hold His hand and take in the glorious view of doing life together. We now know we must share this with others and invite them to open their hearts to the truth. A truth that is deeper than words and truer than what we are bombarded with using our five senses. A truth that loves fiercely and unconditionally, forever.

Broken toward whole

Curled up inside myself. No, that’s not right. The truth is that I’m not inside myself, but I wish I could be. Instead, it’s more like I’m bent down and around and around in a very unusual depiction of a ball. Sure, it’s cramped and very dark, but at the same time it’s the source of a strange and unhealthy comfort. Why?

Because it’s safe. I feel protected and well, pretty much buried beneath the human shield of my compressed physical body – a sort of desperate attempt to keep the bad scary stuff out and away from me. But this is really a useless mission, because the bad and scary is inside and needs to come out. This strange method of trying to be saved from harm is actually keeping harm right at home and comfortable within.
I’m tightly wound like a Jack in the Box toy. But Jack doesn’t work. He no longer jumps out when the handle is turned. I’m all wound up with no release. I can keep turning the handle but there’s no change. Only tension and pain because the choice to stay in this position that is not natural has a high price.
I don’t have a comfort zone. I have a comfort home. It’s where I live. It’s comfortable and familiar and predictable. And if being a contortionist to curl up tightly makes me feel better, I’ll do it. It’s what I know. I’m right at home in this weird upside down and around world.

But is it what is right for me?

No.

I won’t straighten up because I’m afraid to be that vulnerable. And because I’ve been so tightly wound for so long that I think I’ll break if I try to unwind. Instead of a graceful unwinding it would be a messy clumsy painstakingly slow process.

But maybe…
Maybe being broken is what I really need. That sounds strange. But broken means wide open. Falling apart means what was all clumped together is split apart. From that fallout comes opportunity. It allows for space to invite inside what is true and permanent and freeing. If I were to break apart this unique prison, it could be a first step toward being everything I ever dreamed of and more. I could embrace real in all its fullness, knowing I don’t have to hide in fear because I’m not alone. I can be a real person with real thoughts and feelings and desires that go deep and strike resounding chords like they are supposed to. I can completely experience every facet of this life I’ve been given.
Currently, broken also means that my design for life is broken. That knowledge is a good thing because my design has been faulty from the start. It not only doesn’t work right; it works in the wrong direction.
I know that I can’t have a new start without a tough and painful breaking away of the old fortress. But I also know that allowing myself that new start means that I can finally move forward unencumbered to become who I was meant to be.

God did not create me to look like and live like a human ball. He created me to stand tall with my chin up and head held high as required by my position as a much loved princess, the daughter of not a king, but The King.

Introspect

Don’t know, don’t care.
Liar.
OK, here’s the truth:
Don’t know, do care.
There is so much. The lack of so much in the life of one I love more than anything.
Care more than the person who should care.

Don’t know, do care.
Don’t know, but yearn to know, long to know. If I know, maybe I can finally comprehend.
Yet at the same time, I don’t want to know.
Not knowing is wiser and safer. Comprehending is not an option anyway.
But yet, going deep
Where my longings stand strong even when everything I see should obliterate them
I want to relate to, identify with, and understand the one who forever has my heart.
I want a response that mirrors mine: relate to, identify with, understand.
So that there is a relationship built on trust and mutual respect.
But current reality mandates that this is not what is and may never be.
Because I can’t make the effort on both sides.
Hard truth is that I can’t make another want what I want.

Oh, how I yearn to fully, freely love without fear of pain.
I have tried so hard to connect where there is no connection.
There is nothing provided for me to connect to.
Experience guides me away from more violent self-destruction.
So instead, I choose to love deeply, intensely, and quietly.
And I work to accept and move on and really live.
But I pray for a day when my acceptance is replaced with miraculous restoration.

Harvey and Beyond

Images…So many images. So many people. So many men and women and children depicted in the worst nightmares they never dreamed but have been forced to live. And then there are the images seared in my heart of so many brave and compassionate men and women who risked their lives and worked many hours with no relief to save lives at the risk of their own. And there are others who kept working behind the scenes but not unnoticed in all manner of service industries helping to keep people safe and the lines of communication open.
The rains stop. The water begins to recede. This brings more images of lives forcibly hurled great distances away from what was known. So much overwhelming devastation. Ripped out carpet and flooring and furniture and appliances and sheetrock and everything imaginable and unimaginable in the front yards all up and down streets everywhere in our corner of the world. Ripped out hearts. Shredded pieces of lives littering the lawns. Among the debris are little meaningful things lost that make big holes of emptiness when they are on top of a mountain of fear and uncertainty and new unfamiliar terrain. Also, there are big meaningful things, tangible and intangible, that have forever altered individual lives that were once filled with a predictable level of comfort and certainty.

I have learned…I have learned that I began living from a new perspective a couple of weeks ago. I have learned that how I feel has a name. It’s called “Survivor’s Guilt”. I have found that this is a common thread with many I have expressed my heart to in the wake of this tragedy. I’m thankful. Yet at the same time I feel guilty for not experiencing at any level what I see all around me. Why did God choose to completely spare me, yet choose not to spare so many others? I surely don’t deserve it.
I have learned that there are so many caring people who are choosing to put forth monumental effort to help others make a completely impossible cleanup situation not only possible, but efficient and quickly progressive with the highest level of safety. I have learned that there are so many who freely share their knowledge and expertise to help others navigate scenarios they have no GPS for. I have learned that there are wonderful people stepping up to coordinate huge volunteer efforts to match people in need with what they need.
I have learned that I can contribute a little and work at new and different goals for others a little and the impact is felt and appreciated at a level far beyond what I give. My feeble efforts are seen so differently than what I feel they are. To me that means God takes my little and multiplies it. For that I am so grateful.
I have learned that the incredible scenes playing out in our communities are a far cry from what many are still experiencing in other areas. And the devastation continues with new storms and other threats to safety and security. Coincidence? I think not.

I’m learning…I’m learning that I have a choice. I’m shaken even though I’m not facing what so many are. But I’m learning to stand while shaken even as I choose to see beyond the local devastation from just one incredible storm. I’m learning to look up to the God of the universe and acknowledge the state of our nation. We choose violence and entitlement and greed and evil over God. I choose to look up in humility and confession and beseech Him to hear from heaven and see a nation who repents. These catastrophic events and accompanying tremendous fallout can be a catalyst for true and lasting change.

 

And…Again.

Regroup, redirect, refocus, re-visualize.

Reframe.

This thing. It happens.

That means the journey is headed this way. I frame the horizon and take my brush and paint the rest of the path beyond the reaches of my vision. This is how it is, this is what will be.

But then, that thing. It happens.

It totally obliterates my sadly lacking artistic expression. My frame is reduced to pitiful pieces. My painting is completely unrecognizable.

So, what do I do? I regroup, redirect, refocus, and re-visualize.

Reframe. Different direction, different frame, different paint color. And I paint the rest of the path again. Ah, here we go. This is how it is, and this is what will be.

But you guessed it… everything changes again. And my frame is in pieces again. And my childish painting is unrecognizable again, even to me.

I keep thinking that this, or that, or that other thing is the new reality, the way things are, the new route, the updated way. Over the years “the way” has been hope filled and colorful, dark and hopeless, or somewhere in between. Each unforeseen change in direction is the forging of a new path. But if I put all the paths together, it’s a mind-blowing zigzagging new definition of crazy. Ribbons of a journey all tangled up together. The ribbons of a journey that is not mine, yet I still find myself intertwined amid the chaos. And I wonder why I’m breathless and exhausted. Relentlessly chasing down every path that isn’t for my footsteps.

The hard truth? This process could repeat to infinity… if.

If I allow it to. If I choose to follow what I see, which is limited greatly. Limited because though I try so hard, it is not possible to get into another’s mind and see what they see. Yet, I try anyway. I keep trying to make something work that is irrevocably flawed.

In the cacophony of confusion and frustration, in the longing to be free, in the heart wrenching gap between what I should do and what I end up doing, I know I can choose to stop and listen.  When I do that, I hear the undeniable silent voice that speaks to the deepest part of my soul, and I work to follow the sound and allow it to lead me.

Look – over here. See this? Master artistry at work, color and light and love and hope and compassion. See the beauty? This is My plan. And over here – hidden by the brilliant light? These are the intricately connected paths that you don’t see because they are Mine.
You, my dear one, are continually chasing what you want to know so that you can rest in the knowledge. But this kind of knowledge is a moving target, ever changing. Choose instead to know Me more and rest in Me. I’ll take care of everything else. I love You.

Progress is painstakingly slow, but my God knows every facet of the mess that is me and loves me anyway.  He continually encourages, and He shows me the way, again and again.  I am a willing student, and I will continue to allow Him to complete His work in me.

I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Ps 16:8, 11

 

It’s About Time

Time. It invokes many different images for people from all walks of life. So many facets of time shape us. Fond memories of special heartwarming events, both simple and elaborate. Painful memories that we wish we could erase. Life changing moments, both good and bad. Then there is the day-in-day-out time dance. Always forward movement, never stopping. Time truly does march on. Running late. Being too early and in awkward limbo waiting for what you came for to start. Frantic. Rushing. Striving. Resting. Longing. Waiting, and waiting, and waiting, and then striving to accept unfulfilled dreams. Looking to the future with joy and expectancy. Looking to the future with fear and dread. Hoping and experiencing. Despairing, then hoping again. We each see an individualized entire spectrum uniquely created for us within the divine plan of God.

Time is fixed. Yet time is also variable. A paradox. We each have equal units assigned to a variety of time periods in our current Gregorian calendar. We all have the same number of: hours in a day, days in a week, weeks in specific months, months in every year. But how many of these time periods we participate in from the beginning of our existence in this world until the end is different. Yet I know that I tend to live without this truth in mind. And the choices we make in each time period have a significant bearing on our quality of life. We have flexibility and discretion on how to use each unit of time we participate in.

Can you tell? I’m a bit OCD about time. OK, a lot. I’ve been like this for forever. Probably a little chapter in the whole book on controlling everything that I tend to live by but try not to.

I am always conscious of the passage of time. I can’t fathom how people can become so engrossed in their work or play that they are shocked when they realize how much time has passed. My life is one of order as much as I can make it that way. And when it’s not, I am scrambling to put everything back like it should be. This includes doing my best to order how I spend my time. This began in childhood.

When I was a little girl, I scheduled playtime with my little girl friends when they came over to my house. I would announce which imaginary scenario we would participate in when. Scenarios like Barbie Dolls, playing “school”, and a variety of other children’s role-playing games. I suppose I was a bossy child when my friends were in my domain. I thought this was normal to schedule something that should have been flexible and childish and free. Now looking back, it seems really weird. I was definitely a “unique” child. 😊

Now I utilize my to do list. I prioritize everything and try to work through my list in specific order. Now in the real world, my plan falls apart frequently. Reality means that deviations from plans are a vital part of life. But at least occasionally this deviation is a source of frustration for me.

I take to heart the saying: “Time is of the essence”. And while in many ways this is true, I tend take it to a level that is not only self-serving, but detrimental. I am aware of this and I am working to shift my focus from it’s all about me and my time and my plans and my wants…to it’s all about God and obediently following where He leads.

Why is insecurity so strong in my life that I think my perfect plans should fit into my perfect schedule so that I feel perfectly safe? I know that my plans and my schedules and my steps are not ordered by me.

The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. Prov. 16:9
Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. Prov. 19:21

It’s all about time and what I tend to see as my gatekeeper role. I want to control what I let in and keep out of my life story. I know it’s not possible logically or realistically. God has shown me over and over that He is the one in control, not me. He orchestrates events in my life to bring this home to me in ways that are always intense and sometimes very painful. But old habits, those old deep inviting ruts, are difficult to circumvent even though I know better.

It’s about time. About how as I continue to work hard and seek Him, in His timing I will be free.

He Chose. I Choose. A Journey of the Heart

Come with me on a journey of the heart. As a child, I loved to pretend to be someone else, somewhere else, doing something else.  And as an adult, I still love to imagine, but with a different goal.  I find that imagining sometimes helps me understand and relate better.  So come, take a little side trip with me.  Let’s go back in time, and let’s see and hear Jesus.  Let’s follow His footsteps and watch and hear Him.

If I had lived 2,000 years ago as a Jew, seeing Jesus, hearing Him speak, watching Him perform miracles, what would my reaction have been?  I like to think I would have been among those who followed Him. Perhaps I was in with the group of the women who went where He went and ministered to His needs and the needs of the disciples. That’s a nice, sweet thought.  Makes me feel warm inside, like drinking hot chocolate when it’s cold out. How must it have felt to be with Jesus, a silent listener just soaking it all in like a sponge?  Being there as He visited and taught and hung out with the disciples. How wonderful would that have been?

But if I am honest, I must say that is wishful thinking. Could that have been me? Sure. But given my personality and my love for the routine and predictable, I don’t know.

I could also have easily have been among those Jews who whispered among themselves as He walked by. The ones who smiled at Him when He made eye contact, but then turned to whisper when He walked past.  Whispers about how He must be a liar, He must be using the power of demons to perform miracles. He can’t be who He says He is. For that to be true defies all that I have ever heard and all that I have been taught. He is the extreme opposite of all the rules, traditions, and rituals of my culture. He wants us to abandon so much of the belief system we have always known and accept a completely new reality. He is not predictable, not routine, not structured.  At all. He is here in this day and time just like I am, yet He is so not like me, not like anyone.  He is so very different.  And different must be wrong. Yes, I could have fit right in taking that side.

Of course here and now I know that He wasn’t wrong at all. He was so right, perfectly right. And He wasn’t demon possessed or crazy. He stood firm against the fierce and intense flow of insanity as the only sane one. The Anointed One, the real and true Messiah. The Savior of the world.

We have what those who lived then don’t have. We have the Bible that shares His life and death and resurrection. We know what happened to Him and we know why. We know the story. But if we aren’t careful, “we know the story” can become “we know the drill”. It becomes just another truth tucked away with things like “The sky is blue”.  A fact.  Head knowledge.  Not even close to touching the heart because we have not respected it for the treasure it is.

Easter Sunday services.  A celebration of what Jesus did for us.  But if we aren’t proactive we can easily miss it – present physically, but not mentally or spiritually.  We are busy with our busy lives.  We can get lost in those Easter tradition details and forget the significance. We allow our minds to just keep going and going and going like the Energizer Bunny:  Jesus-was-crucified-and-died-and-rose-again-I-hope-it-doesn’t-rain-during-the-Easter-egg-hunt-but-it-did-rain-yesterday-I-hope-it’s-not-muddy-will-everybody-be-on-time-this-year-for-our-family-get-together-will-Johnny’s-girlfriend-pick-a-fight-again-in-front-of-everyone…  Our minds wander, and our hearts wander instead of focusing on what really matters.

This year, join me in making a choice.  I choose to focus on Him.  I choose to think through every single detail of His incredible suffering and death.  I choose to experience afresh the true story of God’s elaborate plan to save me.  I choose to ponder the fact that Jesus was left utterly alone in agony because God could not look upon the sin state of the world that Jesus was embracing, bearing, and pulling up from the depths of evil and depravity and despair.

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised, and we esteemed him not.  Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions, upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.   Is 53:3-7   

 

I choose humble and all encompassing gratitude to Him for my very life.  I choose, because He chose.