When Grief and Joy Collide

photo (8)
photo (8)

This is a picture of the lovely bunch of roses given to me by my husband yesterday, in celebration of our fourteenth wedding anniversary.

As children across the world were fleeing violence, as race riots were happening over the death of yet another black teenager, and as we were having a national discussion about depression and suicide, it was my anniversary. It was a day of joy and gratitude standing in stark contrast to the day of lament for so many others. Also? I was sick.

Life is never experienced one feeling at a time.

We give birth to babies while others struggle with infertility. We hate our jobs or lose our jobs while others get exciting promotions. We join a friend at a birthday parties after going to visit another in the hospital.

What do we do with all that?

There is so much of it that is out of our control. We cannot will the good to rain down on us instead of the bad. We cannot manufacture easy answers to why some prayers seem to get answers and some do not. We cannot ensure that days of celebration do not crash against times of disaster.

So what do we do? How do we handle the collision of grief and joy that greets us each day of our lives?

Lately I’ve been thinking about the importance of the word with.

With is used over 1300 times in the New Testament. The first time is in Matthew chapter 1, as Mary is described as being with child. The second is when that child is described as being God with us.

With is the word of the incarnation.

With pushes us to feel the presence of God in our midst, through every high and low moment of our lives. With knows that comfort is found less in the search for answers and more in the manifestation of grace.

God with us was Jesus in perfect love coming into a world of broken love, showing us that the two are held together in Him.

We are raised with Christ and indwelled with the Spirit, so that we might follow in the legacy of incarnation. To bear with one another in love, to sit with one another in grief, to join with one another in celebration.

God with us can give us the courage to be present with it all. Present with those we love, even when it’s hard. Present with the news, even when it makes us cry. Present with our kids, even when something else needs to get done. Present with our feelings, even when avoiding them would be so much easier. Present with our experiences, even when they conflict with what is going on all around us.

God with us allows us to be present with God in prayer with it all, whether lament, gratitude, praise, anger, clarity, or confusion.

With is not an answer, yet somehow, it feels like exactly what we need to know.

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Wonder: How Do You Wrap Up the Son of God?

When I looked down at his scrunched up little face, it was so surreal.  

That moment, when the nurses place a newborn baby in a mother’s arms, is the stuff of television finales and movies scenes designed to make us cry. There is an overflow of excitement and an instant gushing of love and kisses.

 

But the truth is, all mamas react differently to the experience. That moment when we finally get to look into the eyes of the little being that has shared out bodies for months causes a variety of feelings to wash over the women who have borne them.

 

For me, it was a kind out of body experience. I knew it was my baby, but my brain couldn’t fully wrap itself around the truth of all that had just transpired. Mainly, I was bone tired, with the foggy brain of exhaustion that caused the world to feel one step ahead of what I could process.

 

I wanted to hold him, but I also really, really wanted to put him down and get some sleep. Please.

 

I was glad for the nurses who could wrap him tight in a swaddle. Blankets that could help him feel safe within the new wide-open feeling of being out in the world, away from the protection of my body.

 

Then I think of that moment we celebrate at Christmas.

 

She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them. – Luke 2:7

 

Mary gave birth next to animals, away from her family, after a long and arduous journey. When she finally reached that moment, and was able to gaze into the eyes of Jesus, what was it like for her? Was there a fog of exhaustion laying heavy on Mary as she tried to process her experience?

 

Mary looked down at a baby who had shared her body for 9 months, but before that couldn’t even be contained by the Cosmos.

 

Surreal to say the least.

 

How do you wrap up the baby who was the firstborn over all creation? How do you wrap up a moment that had been building not just for months, but for thousands of years?

 

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. – John 1:14

 

Jesus wasn’t just being wrapped in cloths for the first time, He was being wrapped in skin for the first time. The Word who gave life to all took His first breaths within the world He created. The eyes that had seen eternal possibilities for the first time looked at His surroundings from within the boundaries time and space.

The quiet baby lying in the bed of hay cannot be contained in our nativity scenes and simple visualizing of that first Christmas. When Jesus was born, He exploded everything about the world as we had known it.

 

 

God wrapped in skin. Jesus wrapped in cloths. This is a moment that cannot be wrapped up within our minds and hearts. It is surreal. It is beautiful. It is holy.

 

It is Christmas.

 

Wonder: Rediscover the Christmas Story is an Advent series designed to help us pause and reflect on how amazing the stories of Jesus’ birth really are. To break through the cluttered busyness of the season and touch our hearts with the awe of what God has done. Let’s make this a season of wonder and worship, marveling together at our great God.

Advent Series Day 9: Immanuel

If you didn’t know the story already, how would you think the Messiah would arrive on the earth? From what I have read in the prophecies of Genesis through Psalms, I might assume that God would send His Messiah onto the scene as a grown man. But, hundreds of years after David, a prophet named Isaiah appears in Israel, and says this is not how He will arrive.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. – Isaiah 7:14

Pregnancy is a mysterious thing. Some women get morning sickness, others do not. Some get cravings, others do not.  Some have babies so full of kicks that they can’t sleep at night, others look forward to the reassurance of the heart rate monitor because their babies are so still. Some gain tons of weight, others gain so little that they end up on a show called “I Didn’t Know I was Pregnant.”

There is one thing, though, that all pregnancies have in common. In every pregnancy, the baby in the womb is dependent on his or her mother for survival. What she eats, how much sleep she gets, how stressed she is- all of these affect her unborn child.

Yet, it was God’s redemption plan that His Son would be conceived within a virgin. It is astonishing that the God who created humanity would put on human skin. And then, to not only become a human, but to become a fetus.

The incarnation baffles my mind.

The fact that the woman in whose womb the Messiah would reside is a virgin is not very surprising to me. If God is going to take such a drastic step as to become a fetus, I would expect the process to be different from a normal pregnancy.

In Matthew, it is confirmed that this is just the type of pregnancy Mary has.

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). – Matthew 1:22-23

How the virgin birth takes place is a mystery. God never gives us the answer to that question. Because, that is not the right question to ask.

The question is not how- the question is why. Why would God’s Son confine himself to a womb for nine months?

God does give us the answer to that question: Immanuel.

The Messiah comes to save us. But it is not salvation from a distance. The Messiah is God with us. The Messiah is God going through every human experience personally. Knowing what it is like to be born, to scrape a knee, to have tears stream down His cheeks. And through it all, remaining sinless, trusting His Father, and staying on the mission to take the penalty of sin upon His shoulders.

The Messiah is humble. He

… being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. – Philippians 2:6-7

The Messiah is Immanuel.