I am up early this Christmas morning. Insomnia? Maybe. My family and I have been living in Michigan for three and a half years now. I believe these have been the hardest three and a half years of my marriage, and maybe my life. So much growth which is so much work. As I am up this morning I am reflecting first of all on why we celebrate this holiday: God came to us in the form of a man, Jesus the Son. We celebrate Emmanuel, God with us.
This Christmas looks very, very different than I anticipated. One thing I have learned in the last three and a half years is to hold my plans loosely. I have learned it over and over and over again. Apparently I am not the quickest learner. I am so grateful my loving Heavenly Father loves me unconditionally and has the patience for me as I, like a baby, take my first steps, stumble and fall, get up and keep trying. Even when the basics of how to walk are learned, it takes months to build the muscle and balance to be able to walk with more stability and speed. And there is grace for that.
In the past, my battles with insomnia have brought me great anxiety. This present battle I am recognizing that we are in the midst of a very challenging time. It absolutely makes sense that I am having some trouble sleeping. I know this is temporary and that I will get through it. When I find myself awake for a certain period of time, I just get up and head downstairs to have some quiet time. Something that I cherish as a mom of two beautiful little humans. I step back and look at myself and I am so grateful for how God has grown me these last three and a half years. Before, this battle might have destroyed me. Made me a shadow of myself like anxiety, depression, and insomnia have in the past. Not this time. And I say that only by the grace of God.
The holidays are a funny thing. Filled with joy and wonder for some. For others, they are filled with unmet expectations, loneliness, and pain. I have honestly dreaded the holidays the last few years. I thrive on routine and the holidays absolutely disrupt that. There are all of these extra commitments. Expectations placed on me by myself and others. I have just wanted to take a vacation and not be home in order to get away from the expectations. Thanks to a beautiful group of mamas I have the privilege of sharing life with, this Christmas I took back my holiday. David and I decided what our ideal Christmas would look like and then we communicated that to those who needed to know. And we stuck to our plan. Now, that plan has hit the proverbial fan. The result of which has given me the gift of a completely quiet Christmas at home with the three humans I love most in this world. Just us. Celebrating the birth of our Savior and spending time together as a family. Creating new traditions. Blazing our own trail. And I have never felt more at peace.
A few weeks ago two beloved friends from Austin introduced me to an Advent study produced by the In Process Collective called Advent/Emmanuel: God with Us in the Mess of Life. They shared some pages that spoke to them and I realized I needed a copy of it for myself. The book was sold out by the time I went to order it but the PDF was available so I purchased and printed a copy for myself. I had no idea how much I would need this study when I bought it. It has truly been a God send. My Heavenly Father sees me. He knows me. He loves me. He has got me.
Yesterday morning I was reading about Emmanuel: God with us when we're rejected. I underlined several sentences that really spoke to my heart.
"God built us to experience intimacy on the other side of vulnerability... intimacy is not simply about knowing something about someone; it's the experience of them courageously and vulnerably sharing that part of themselves with us. The problem is, we run around handing ourselves -- these divine magnificent works of art -- to people who are woefully unqualified to assess the value of what they hold in their hands. Then we treat their appraisal, as if it determines our value. We give their rejection too much weight. Thus rejection -- which was always painful -- becomes dangerous when it holds the power to make us feel worthless" (42).
I wrote in the margin: WOAH. Then I continued reading and underlined several other sentences that continued to speak to my heart.
"God became a men to be rejected by men. This is the story of Advent... But one thing Jesus never put in human hands was the power to determine His value. Humans are not qualified appraisers of God's work... As you listen to Jesus today, ask Him -- as a qualified appraiser -- to tell you the value of God's artwork that is you. Ask Him to teach you what it would mean to hand yourself to others in vulnerability, without giving them the power or right to determine worth" (43).
And again I wrote in the margin: WOAH.
Then I proceeded to begin writing in my journal: JESUS CAME TO BE REJECTED. He knows what it is like. Rejection leading to his death. Wrongly accused. Misunderstood. To the point of DEATH. He identifies with me. He knows. And as he hung on the cross to die he looked at those who had rejected him, wrongly accused him, misunderstood him, and said, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." MAN MY GOD IS OUT OF THIS WORLD. Jesus knew who He was. The Father knew who He was. And that is all that mattered. Rejected by men, but CHOSEN BY GOD. Lord, teach me what it would mean to hand myself to others in vulnerability, without giving them the power or right to determine worth.
When we first arrived in Michigan and I began my journey as a stay at home mom, one of my top priorities was to intentionally cultivate a community of support. I knew from moving across the country several times that it takes about a year to begin to build your community and settle in. I hit the ground running pursuing different communities of mamas. I joined a mom's meet up group. We found a church and got plugged into a small group on our first Sunday there. The wife of the couple that led the group introduced me to her Mothers of Pre-Schoolers (MOPS) group that I attended for two years before moving to my current group at Ward Church. I joined Bible Study Fellowship.
From our church small group we would build relationships with the two families that have had the most influence on us during our time here thus far. God happened to take both of them away this past summer. I am forever grateful for the three years we had with them here. They remain dear friends and always will be. They have shaped us for the better and introduced us to invaluable tools like Emotionally Healthy Spirituality and the Enneagram. They have modeled emotional health and setting boundaries. Loving their families well. Standing up for truth even when it hurts. Even when it means standing alone. I know David and I would not be who we are today without these influences. I marvel at the grace of God for honoring my commitment to pursuing community and giving us such beautiful examples, dear mentors and friends.
When those two families from our church broke the news that they were going to be moving away, we considered it might be time to make a move to a church close by that I had frequented to use their stellar indoor playscape and last year joined their MOPS group. We headed to Ward Church just before Juniper was born in February. When she was born, we had five weeks of meals provided by our old church and my MOPS group. Even though we had moved on to another church, our old church loved us well and provided meals to help ease our transition from a family of three to a family of four. I began a little mamas of babies group that meets every Friday morning in the lobby of Ward Church from about 11am-1pm mostly comprised of mamas from our old church. It is sweet to be able to see them on a regular basis even though we are no longer attendees at the same church.
This year I am serving on the MOPS leadership team at Ward Church. I was unable to attend the leadership team Christmas party recently because, well, motherhood. We were all sick and sick mama was taking care of sick babies. I have been struggling with feeling incredibly misunderstood by those who should know me most, but do not. At our last MOPS meeting, one of the co-coordinators handed a bag of gifts to me from the party. Included was a card written by the co-coordinators. Words of affirmation is one of my love languages and boy did they deliver! One sentence in particular spoke to my weary soul. They wrote, "Your eye for making things beautiful and connecting with other moms are just a few ways you help make MOPS awesome." At a time in my life where I have never felt more misunderstood by some, these two beautiful women of God spoke life over me and recognized the two things that I think define me: my eye for making things beautiful and my commitment to connecting with others. I have never felt so seen and understood.
I look back over my marriage to David these last 11 years and I just marvel at the incredible kindness and grace of God. God has grown us so very much in every way. We have faced some really hard things together and have come through them with God, continually conformed more to His image. Continually humbled, continually filled with more compassion and understanding and realizing at the same time how much more we have yet to understand. I absolutely love the life David and I have built together. I adore the two tiny humans God has allowed us to grow and birth and raise. I love our community. I love the friends we have across the country and the globe from different seasons of our lives together. Some that we talk to regularly, some infrequently. And whenever we are together it feels like it has been no time at all since we were last in the same place. What a gift. What a beautiful life.
At the beginning of this year when Juniper was born, I felt God telling me that this is the start of a new season. A season of joy. And if I am honest, this year did not look the way I expected. There were days, weeks and months when I did not feel the joy. But I did know in the midst of it all that God was with me. That He has never left or forsaken me. That his love is unconditional. That He is loving and just and kind and good. As this year comes to a close I am looking to the next with eager anticipation. A taste of freedom. Authenticity like never before. Trial and error and struggle and tension and heartache and transition. Hanging onto the hope that I have in Christ Jesus my Lord. Writing these words, verses from the book of Romans come to my mind.
Therefore since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Suffering. Perseverance. Character. Hope. This is my 2019. We close the year remembering that God came to us. Emmanuel. God with us. Remembering that no matter the circumstances, no matter who we are with or not with, no matter whether we are sick or well, no matter our financial state: GOD. IS. WITH. US. God is all we need. And He has given me abundant life with beautiful humans to enjoy and share it with. The family of God. My brothers and sisters in Jesus. We who celebrate God with us in the mess of life and find beauty in ashes.
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all -- how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died -- more than that, who was raised to life -- is at the right hand of God and is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or anger or sword? As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
God became a man to be rejected by men. This is the story of Advent. The story of a God who knows what it is like to (as the headings of the days of my advent study show) be busy, feel alone, be wrongly accused, needy, grieving, misrepresented, abandoned, feel like life is meaningless, feel forgotten, humiliated, unwanted, rejected, not believed, to be in physical pain, to have faith that feels futile, to crave unity, feel misunderstood, unimportant, ashamed, like a failure, and told "no." God is not a God who is unable to sympathize with our struggles. No. He has experienced them himself and so he can sympathize with us on every count. And because he faced each of these struggles when he came to earth as Jesus the Son and yet was without sin, he was able to be the perfect sacrifice for us to cover over all of our sin and restore us to a right relationship with the Father God. That is the gospel, the good news. God has made a way back to himself. Our creator and redeemer. Emmanuel. God with us. God with us in the mess of life.
Merry Christmas, from my family to yours.