Advent: Darkness

I am inclined to write during this Advent season. I have no idea what, in particular; there is no theme. I anticipate a lack of consistency, which is a theme of my life lately, to be honest. But having just whirled through the Thanksgiving holiday and weekend, which included the 21st birthday of my next-to-youngest offspring, I am bedraggled and worn. I have long proclaimed Thanksgiving as my favorite holiday, and it has been, mostly. But everything changed this year. Not all the kids were around the table on Thursday; they are growing older, and they have responsibilities and commitments to a larger family than the one in which they were born. Wings are spreading; souls are stretching. There are changes afoot, and some of those changes are pulling at the seams of my maternal identity. I’m not sure, exactly, where to stand and how to navigate these days.

I thought I’d have most of it figured out by now, you know. And certainly there are some things I understand; there’s not much that scares me when it comes to parenting, but that’s mostly because I’ve fallen down and gotten back up enough times to know that you do what you have to do, even if you’re scraped and bloodied from the trials; and, inevitably, it gets done. The grace of God availeth much.

But as the days and months and years unfold, it becomes obvious that there’s a lot I have yet to figure out, because I don’t even know it exists yet. I told one of the kids this weekend that I would parent them – in the active verb sense – for as long as I lived, and what that active verb looked like would be different for each child, because they are different people with different needs. And that’s the thing that I didn’t expect; as challenging as it was to raise five kids when they were younger, in diapers, in school, in need – that was nothing compared to the challenges of figuring out where to stand in my relationship with them as young adults.

But oh, it is a rich and beautifully rewarding experiment, for sure. I treasure my kids. I am often in awe of the lives they are creating.

But some days I just don’t know where to stand. I don’t really expect to “figure this out”; I think a still small voice has whispered to me that the ride will continue to be a fast one, full of curves and unforeseen roadblocks and interruption and much that we couldn’t have possibly planned for. You steady yourself and wait for what comes, surrounded by grace and hopeful that there will be more when you need it.

Advent is a season of waiting. There is, at the heart of this season, an anticipation. There are shadows. There is the people walking in darkness have seen a great light; these weeks leading up to Christmas Day are all about the waiting.

And the walking.

And the waiting some more, eyes searching for the light. the-people-walking-in-darkness-have-seen-a-great-lighton-those-living-in-the-land-of-deep-darkness-a-light-has-dawned

When Despair Takes Over

We are exhausted. Worn out, most of us. I see it in online dialogue, it underscoresfullsizerender-63 meetings at work and Sunday gatherings. It rumbles even under our celebrations; we are tired, and weary, and worn.

Even in my own house, here at home; the evenings are made for collapsing, it seems, or curling up on the couch, mute, or literally pulling the bedcovers over our heads.

There are moments, to be sure – bursts of joyful glory; the Cubbies finally won the World Series, and that in itself gives us some glimmer of hope; maybe things don’t always have to stay the same. Maybe losers sometimes win. Maybe we can rise above.

But that hope is fleeting.

I’ve never felt more ‘American’ than I do these days, but it’s a different sort of patriotism. Usually, we wave the flag and celebrate freedom with declarations of our independence, our good fortune, the thrill of victory and the underlying conviction that God did, indeed, shed his grace on us. We are hashtag-blessed and we know it and we proclaim it with joy. But in the throes of an election season that has revealed the dirt and grime of not just the candidates, not just the process – but of us; well, that blessing seems to have been yanked from our shoulders and stomped on. The heels of a sneering enemy is grinding our optimism into the dirt – and what are we, if we cannot be hopeful? We are obstinate and self-righteous and we seem to have forgotten that we are all – ALL – made in the image of God.

Yes, even her.

Yes, even him.

We are this, I think; weary, worn, tired, exhausted, anxious. All around me right now, people are jacked up. People prone to mania and anxiety are pulled hard into that affliction. Outbursts, anger, threats of harm – every day some news arrives at my door, via text or call or email or conversation, of people who seem to be spinning out of control.

And the opposite side – the giving in, giving up; the heavy despair of depression seeps into every nook and cranny it can find. We are slowed, numbed, surrounded by fog. We can’t think straight, much less find hope.

It seems rather bleak, and we seemed to be racing toward some end point – November 8 -that will offer some release of all this pent-up worry; and yet that in itself is cause for concern, because what comes after? Who are we? Who will we become?

Even the most die-hard political operative is probably willing, at this point, to crawl under the collective covers and hide.

I hate this season, mostly because there is pain lurking in my own family and I feel powerless to give relief. My profession compels me to open my hands and receive the heartache, the tears, the exhaustion that runs rampant in those who are suffering, and mostly there’s little to do but simply be present. To pray. To encourage. And with that, I am also simply a human; I see and hear of friends hurting and suffering and I am well-aware of how little can be done.

Despair is easy to come by, these days.

I had lunch this week with a friend whom I would not include in these descriptions. He feels alive these days, in a new way. His eyes are seeing with fresh vision and he wants to tell his stories. He said, I have lived my entire life in a depressed state. It is gone now. I feel alive. There is something he is experiencing that runs contrary to everything I just detailed above.

I smiled and said, What’s that about? What’s happening? He skirted around a bit, spoke of a few changes in his current lifestyle, but then he mentioned a medical issue that he has. Not life-threatening at the moment, but enough to keep him on his toes – and his friends and family know it.

I keep getting messages from people, just saying they care. I’m not dying, but people are just letting me know they care. It means so much – more than I can say. 

This morning, I awoke with the heavy awareness of the pain around me – but I had this in my heart, too; and I wonder, if only for the next five days, whether we might be able to collectively ward off the specter of depression and anxiety by bringing some light into the worlds of our friends and acquaintances. I wonder if the little things might be enough; I wonder if a few texts that says, Hey – I care about you. You matter to me. I love you. – might help turn the tide, push back the demons, invite in the healing.

As I wrote this morning, proverbs kept poking at my brain. I know there are several places in the Bible that mention the power of words; I went to look for something that applied specifically to what I was thinking and feeling today. I found this:

Gracious speech is like clover honey – good taste to the soul, quick energy for the body.-Proverbs 16.24 (The Message) 

That’s rich; that’s good. That’s what I wanted to say. Let’s give one another some gracious speech, some quick energy; lets speak to our souls. Let’s be kind; let’s make an effort to bring life to those around us as we navigate these next few days. Call somebody up and say something nice.

But then something else happened.

You know how sometimes God speaks in weird little ways? Coincidences that you can’t really deny?

My eyes scanned through the rest of that chapter, just in case there were other mentions of the power of words. I landed here, at the end; the final verse says:  

Make your motions and cast your votes,  but God has the final say. (Proverbs 16.33, The Message)

Well, then.

I feel quite put in my place, but with a gentle hope and caring correction. All the words I say don’t mean squat, put in proper perspective.

And I’m okay with that. It’s rather comforting, to be honest.

And yet – what we do and say can make a difference, so let’s speak life these days. Pick a few people and reach out. Let them know you care, just because. Let’s help one another. Let’s find our hope. Let’s bear these burdens, together.

Let’s believe the best; let’s love each other through.

(Go see for yourself, here.)