Christmas earthiness

Have you taken the time to contemplate Christmas: the beauty and hope…but also the earthiness? God made flesh. Immanuel. 

I read recently that the Bible doesn’t record the bloody agony of Jesus’ entrance into the world, not because God is ashamed of Jesus’ humanity in light of His deity, but because those things were so normal that they weren’t noted. Everything was remarkable about a virgin great with child. What wasn’t so remarkable were the hours she spent delivering that Child. 

Jesus was divine, yes. But He was also human. And when we forget His humanity, we forget how much we are known. 

Hebrews says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace” (4:16). Why? Because He was tempted as we are, yet without sin. Therefore, He can sympathize with us in our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15). 

That, of course, is only one part of the Word being made flesh, but it’s a part that I tend to forget. We are not fighting life’s battles alone. We can come boldly to the throne of grace to “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).

Merry Christmas to you all!

Ireland- part 3

Our Country Cottage Oasis awaited.

Both my friend and I were looking forward to having a place to base from for the next couple of days. A charming little cottage with great reviews and maybe even a fireplace. We had put in an order for a sturdy drizzle so we could curl up in snug armchairs with tea and a meaty book.

We found out by accident that our hostess, who lived in the cottage, wouldn’t be there to welcome us. No problem, we decided. Surely someone else would be there.

We wound through the countryside to a charming tree-lined walkway; though, admittedly, it would have been more charming had it been daylight. But we found the gate and rumbled our suitcases up the gravel driveway.

When no one answered the doorbell, we hesitantly stepped in the unlocked door. A draft sailed down the hallway to greet us. Although the entryway was dark, a welcoming glow was coming from one of the rooms. We removed our damp boots so not to leave tracks and headed toward the light. It led us to a cluttered sitting room with a pair of ghostly pink slippers residing on a carpet thick with dog hair.

We shuddered. Surely that wasn’t our room. But the rest of the cottage was dark and silent. Were we even in the right house? We tiptoed around, trying in vain to forget every Agatha Christie novel we’d ever read, because this was assuredly the perfect place for murder. “Foreign guests lured to countryside cottage…”

We found our room, at least a room that resembled the photos on the airbnb page. But could we be sure? The trash was overflowing and used towels hung on the back of the door.

My friend tried in vain to shut the patio door, the source of the draft. I set down my luggage, preparing to make myself at home. It was then that I began to notice the depth of the grime. It was also then that I began to lose my composure. We shot our hostess some questions: “Key? Washer and dryer? Wifi password?” but left out the most pressing: “Were you really expecting us? Because it sure doesn’t look like it!”

We left to grab a few groceries and, well, to evaluate our situation. Then we ate in one of the grimiest first-world kitchens I’ve ever seen, washing everything before and after we used it. A powerful odor wafted from the refrigerator, which we hoped were just the aging strawberries. I gnawed on cucumbers and broccoli, glum.

My poor friend was trying to make the best of the situation while I broke down bit by bit.

“Go take a hot shower and you’ll feel better,” she said.

She hunted down relatively clean towels in the overstuffed wardrobe in our bedroom. I went to the shower, hauling my entire suitcase with me so not to gather any extra filth by setting my clothes on her crowded bathroom furniture.

Soon, my friend heard a bellow, which happened to be the last of my expectations oozing out and spiraling down the shower drain. There was no hot water. Nor heat, as we soon discovered. We buried ourselves under blankets of questionable cleanliness which my friend had also dug out of that same overstuffed wardrobe.

My wounded sense of justice was still sending off flares when I fell asleep in a bed that was actually pretty comfortable.

My friend chose to believe that our hostess was grief-stricken, since she had mentioned she was at a funeral. Actually, over the next couple of days, even with socks laden with dog hair, we made quite a few excuses for her. She was a very nice lady, after all. Even if she did forget to clean her house. Or which amenities she had listed on her airbnb page. Or that we needed hot water and heat in an Irish November. Or that the last guest (or maybe the one before) had left a liter of milk and hummus in the window sill.

We began to refer to our country cottage as our “Hairy Haven,” a generous term for a place that wasn’t a haven at all. Although, it wasn’t a total loss for it did provide a space for bonding and quite a few opportunities for memory-making.

But there would be no curling up in front of fireplaces here. And so we slayed our dreams.


Photo by Oliver Hale on Unsplash

It’s easy to forget

"Hey! Hey!"
I turn to wave,
his kiss still wet on my cheek.
I can, in these moments,
forget that dogged darkness from the womb,
the dark that swallows him now.
Life feels so much like life
when his eyes still glitter hope.
So it's easy to forget.
Or not to remember.

And then I do,
and I want to run back
and snatch him
from what his family and his god
demand of him.
Because who will he be
when he reaches the end of his hope?
The end of his life?

"Hey! Hey!"
I turned around again
to see him looking over his shoulder
as his mother's hand leads him away.

Photo credit: Scott Szarapka on Unsplash

I wish I knew you

Maybe you think I don’t notice that bruise on half your face. You light the room with a smile and a dignified calm.

But I wish I could grab him by the throat and not let go until I know that he will never touch you again.

Except with love.

But how can I know unless you tell me? And how can you tell me unless you trust me? And how can you trust me when you just met me and he calls your phone and you need to go before we even know each other?

We say goodbye with an embrace, two kisses, and a few besides.

Then I stand and watch you walk away, wishing I knew the you behind that sparkling smile. 

And that black eye.


Photo by mostafa meraji on Unsplash

It’s hard

It’s hard not to look at cancer as a monster. Sometimes, it’s even hard to remember that God is sovereign.

A while back, my niece memorized Psalm 23. It was delightful to hear her cement the words that have challenged and comforted for millennia. “He leadeth me in the paths of risheshness for his name’s sake… Mommy, why’s his name ‘Sake’?… Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of deaf…” They made a video of memory verses to send to Mommy’s friend who was sick with cancer.

It’s hard to watch someone we love walk through the valley of the shadow of death. “Hard” is simplistic; it doesn’t really touch that helpless gnawing. But she feared no evil, not because it wasn’t hard but because she bravely clung to God’s goodness and mercy. He was with her, comforting her with His rod and His staff.

It’s hard to believe that death hasn’t won after all. But what is death for her except an opportunity to dwell in the house of the Lord for ever?

It’s quiet here

It’s quiet here.
Above, the sun comes and goes
More going than coming
Behind stubborn clouds.
Below is small but grinding
With a today of
Abuse and addiction
Suffering and slavery
In our own town, in our own people.

But it’s quiet here,
Here in my heart:
A mountain reaching up from a dark sea
To that sun swallowed by haze.

In a world gone mad
We long
We laugh
But we live following.
Because behind a cloud
The sun is quiet like the moon,
Searchable, findable.

Photo by Timothy Dykes on Unsplash

A light has dawned

Merry Christmas, everyone! This year is different than most. A lot of traditions are mandated aside. As much as I love traditions and festivities–they make Christmas magical– celebration of Christmas goes far beyond “how.” It’s “why.”

I’m reading Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ by Timothy Keller. (No, I won’t finish it by Christmas; therefore, I’m delighted that Spanish Christmas lasts until January 6!) Keller says,

“The Christmas message is that ‘on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.’ Notice that it doesn’t say from the world a light has sprung, but upon the world a light has dawned. It has come from the outside. There is light outside of this world, and Jesus has brought that light to save us; indeed, he is the Light (John 8:12).” (p.10)

Miserable mandates or no, that’s a reason to celebrate Christmas. 🙂 

For some of you, this year the loss is more painful than breaking a tradition– during the biggest holiday of the year, you are staring at loneliness and grief and you can’t find the strength to stare either of them down. That hurts.

Another dear friend passed away this week. Right now, it feels like life is going on because it has to, not because we want it to. Could the world just pause as we all gather our bearings and sob our grief? Why does time march on, so unaffected?

But there is light, and it’s not at the end of the tunnel–somewhere beyond 2020 and covid and pain and death. The light is here because Immanuel is the Light. 

Merry Christmas.

Memories, tears, and such

A great man passed away today. It shouldn’t have stunned me; we saw it far off. Yet, facing the world and knowing that he’s not here facing it with us…

I have so many memories tucked away, memories I pull up regularly. Words I use because he used them first. Foods I love because he introduced them to me. 

No one who knew him can pretend they’re not mourning. He created community wherever he went. He gave and gave, not piles of dust-collecting trinkets, but himself. He was hospitality both at home and away from home.

And he’s gone.

I only had an hour before I left to visit a friend and her family. After five months of being apart, she and I had a lot of catching up to do. I even met the family’s feisty Siamese kitten. 

The daughters were trying to get their 20,000 words in for the day and I learned all sorts of things. Oldest daughter said her classmates bought bags of suckers and sawed off the sticks. They could eat them behind their masks during class. “What happens if the teacher asks a question?” I asked. Younger daughter was feasting on my fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies when she announced that she didn’t really like chocolate. In fact, she preferred peas. Next time should I bring cookies with peas in them? She giggled.

The girls begged me to resume English class with them because of their “fatal” English grades this year.

We looked at pictures of my sister’s wedding. “And you? Did you find a husband in your country?” My friend leaned in close, wanting every juicy detail. But just then, her daughters noticed the Christmas tree of lights along the boulevard and called us to the patio door to see.

Slowly I walked home, winding my way up the flights of apartment stairs, smelling the aromas of the various apartments until I entered our quiet space that still smelled like biryani–the lunch I had made shortly before I heard the news and the food that will forever remind me of him. Unmopped floors and overflowing trash cans demanded attention, but I sat down with another round of tears. 

Just this week, someone told me that when we reach eternity, we will look back at the gulf between missing a loved one and joining them. That gulf will be a tiny blip, inconsequential. I agree, but today feels bigger than that blip already.

Oh, God. What were You thinking?

It’s not a fair question, I know. But that’s where I am today: grateful God is big enough to listen to unfair questions.


Photo by Rafael Garcin on Unsplash

Recommended books for you

Merry Christmas everyone! A day late and a euro short, perhaps, but who wanted to sit down and read my blog yesterday anyway?

As 2019 closes, I decided to give you a few recommendations from my 2019 reading list. This is just a list; if you want to know more about a particular book, check out the link provided. 

Spiritual Enrichment

No God But One: Allah or Jesus? by Nabeel Qureshi. I have always appreciated Qureshi’s gentle but uncompromising approach to rift between Islam and Christianity.

The Insanity of God by Nik Ripken. This book is full of stories of God at work in the hardest places on earth. I also recommend The Insanity of Obedience

Every Bitter Thing is Sweet by Sara Hagerty is a true journey woven with story and reflection. This book helped me on my journey, realizing that God, in His love and sovereignty, wants to make the bitter times sweet times as we cling to Him.

Memoir / Non-Fiction

Behind the Veils of Yemen by Audra Grace Shelby. A peek into one woman’s life as she struggles to maintain her faith in Christ in the midst of conservative Islam. The author’s honesty about her struggles makes this book a gem, especially if you’ve worked in a similar setting.

My Name is Mahtob by Mahtob Mahmoody. Mahtob’s version of what happened in Not Without My Daughter. This fascinating book begins with a child’s perspective as she grapples with love, fear, anger, and forgiveness. 

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield is a woman’s journey to faith in Jesus.  Interesting and challenging. Although I didn’t read it this year, I also recommend her book on hospitality, The Gospel Comes with a House Key.

Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber is a fantastic memoir. I don’t think I can explain why exactly. Although the author and I don’t have similar stories, this memoir hit many warm and familiar spots for me. Check it out for yourself.

Fiction

A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza. A story of a Muslim immigrant family in America. Although the work is fiction, the story is real. Today, many immigrant families deal with the shifting worldview between generations of immigrants, Islam mingling with the forbidden, honor and shame, etc. A teammate bought me this book and I’m glad she did!

Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster. This is a free Kindle book that is worth much more than you’ll pay for it. It’s cute. It’s fun. It’s fiction. If you like it, note that the sequel, Dear Enemy, is also worth downloading. 

That’s all until next year! Lord willing, tomorrow at this time, I should be suspended somewhere between Madrid and Chicago. I can’t wait. You probably won’t be hearing from me for a few weeks. 🙂