Tuesday, December 03, 2013

How Hope is Born in Dark Places

Just days ago we celebrated my youngest son's fourth birthday.  He is a delight and a treasure and a sweet surprise of Grace that blesses us each day.  I thank God for him often, especially when he presses himself to me in a big embrace for that last hug before we walk out the door.  He is a tangible and sweet expression of God's Goodness in my life.  This truth is not lost on me.  It is the one I make my home in each day.

Yet on his birthday a sadness pressed in on me that kind of took my breath away.  It could be that time is falling away from us, and with it his little-ness.  Soon he will be like his brothers, a big boy out and about in his own world where I cannot follow.  While he will always be my baby, already he gives me a look when I call him my baby.  It is clear to him that he is growing up.  He welcomes it.  I am fitting myself into all this growing up with eyes and heart wide open, so that I don't miss these moments.  I don't want to miss a one.

A deeper truth has been seeking attention though.  The day this sweet angel boy was born was so hard.  And the days following were hard.  His birth demanded something from me that I didn't know I had it within me to give.  The giving of it leveled me in a way that had not happened previously, nor since.  I am hesitant to speak of this. 

My body could kind of tell the story.  It is a reflection of what my soul felt like.  The incision they made to remove him stretched up toward my navel.  What lay beneath the flesh was a mess of scar tissue.  The healing process for such cutting was long, and for a long time looked real ugly.  I guess when God delivers something New into our lives, sometimes the process of  delivery feels anything but life-giving. 

When my baby was so new, I entered an aloneness no one around me could comprehend, an isolation no one could penetrate.  Its dimensions were physical, spiritual, and emotional.  Its walls so high I could not climb out.   I want to say this was not depression.  I've been there before too, and it has its own struggles.  This was not something that originated from within me and impacted things outside of me.  This was something that beset me from circumstances beyond my control, rendering me down to nothing.  I could not fight what I found myself in.  I could not invite anyone to share the burden.  I could not escape the sadness that came with the isolation I felt.

The irony is that this struggle came in the heart of Christmas, my boy being born on December 1st.  During one of the most joyful times of the year, I was trapped in a darkness I could not see my way out of.  Eventually I figured out how badly anger was working to alleviate my heartache.  Eventually I could see that this aloneness was not going to end because I willed it to.  I began to understand that the mess I found myself in was asking me for something that I had not thought to give--relinquishment.

I am not speaking of giving up.  I am speaking of giving over.  To allow this isolation to be changed into something holy.  An offering for God to use however God could use something as broken and empty as that.

I discovered in my surrender that God has a special love for our empty places.  While I was baffled with my abyss, God knew just what to do with it.

I would love to say that everything was instantly better when I began seeking God within my emptiness instead of trying to fight the emptiness.  I would love to say that the darkness I felt within  immediately radiated with light.  But I'm not going to lie to you.  I will speak truth.

At first the measures of peace I felt were incremental.  For a moment here and a moment there, the aloneness didn't matter so much.  Slowly I came to recognize this Quiet, that would settle within me, a gentle Contentment resting gingerly within my soul.  If I tried too hard it would leave.  If I demanded its presence it would vanish.  I had to relinquish my expectations of what healed looked like, accepting instead the healing God would bring.  I found I even had to let go of the isolation itself, choosing to let my heart dwell not so much on the realities only I could know, but to join others where they were, in places where I also could relate.

I had to stop looking at others with the silent demand, "Make this better for me--"  Instead I recognized it was something God alone could do.  When I began resting my need in God's Goodness, this Goodness showed me resiliency within that I had not known was there.  I began to believe in my ability to endure.  And I eventually began to believe that there was once more life outside of my brokenness.

Light came into the darkness, and I found God there.  Not blinding me with Radience, but Holding me until I was brave enough to open my eyes.  I found Grace that allowed my vision to adjust to something beside the blackness I felt. 

Here is my inner dialogue with God at the moment:

"Why would You want me to write about this?!"

"Why, when I have made peace with it, and the blessings of that time are now so evident?!"

"Why should I risk this kind of exposure and the opening of old wounds that have healed?!"

Quite honestly, I rarely think about that time.  There is still pain etched in the memory.  But it pushed itself into my awareness.  Not asking my permission.  And I have looked at it blankly and asked, "Why are you here?"

But the Spirit has been whispering in my heart--

There are some who are sitting right now in that same dark place.  The circumstances are different, but it is that same, dark, isolated place.  They not only feel completely alone, they are completely cut off from human comfort and companionship.   When they say, "no one understands," they are telling the truth.  They are having to walk a road that no one can accompany them on.  They need to know they are not walking alone.

Where human companionship is lacking, the Spirit is able to order their steps.  Where the ache is piercing, the Balm of God's Comfort is close at hand.  There is a genuine need to know that darkness cannot obscure the Light.  And the Power of the Almighty can use this experience to train our eyes to see His Presence no matter where we are.

And when we walk with the Light of God's Presence, everything in the world changes.

I believe this is the true miracle of Christmas.  It's not about tinsel or parades or discounts.  It's about something as sturdy as Hope showing up in unlikely and unwieldy circumstances.  It is the story of how God sees our depravity, our endless uselessness in trying to change things, and how He enters in to lift us up, giving of His Strength to transform the darkness we live in.  The true miracle of Christmas is the story of a Baby born in darkness to reveal to us the Light of the world.  His name is Emmanuel, God With Us:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness--on them light has shined. . . .  For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom.  He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore.  The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.  Isaiah 9:2, 6-7

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