Friday, December 15, 2017

Comfort and Joy Advent: Days 8-15

Comfort and Joy Advent- Day 8: New traditions//
We’re still figuring the whole tradition thing out. Yesterday I mentioned how much I love family traditions, but I didn’t mention how complicated it can feel to start new ones as a family of seven that appears to be a family of two. Who do we include on our Christmas card? How do we settle into this rare form of normal?
I don’t have all the answers, but I do know this with certainty. Ethan, our twins, and the tiny babies we never met have absolutely no expectations of how we continue our family traditions. Whether they are celebrated with grand gestures or their memories are simply cherished in our hearts, they are WHOLE, and lacking absolutely nothing. They are not disappointed by what we do or do not choose to do. I picture them dancing in the presence of our Holy God, free from sickness, pain, sin, and death. They are standing in the presence of Jesus, free from worry or tears. They are whole.
This brings me such comfort as I navigate through the complicated process of creating new traditions.

Comfort and Joy Advent- Day 9: Silent night//
“I cry to you for help and you do not answer me; I stand, and you only look at me.” Job 30:20
Have you ever felt like Job? Perhaps you’ve been crying out to God over and over without any clear answers. Perhaps you’re still waiting for healing, provision, or clarity. Perhaps you’ve heard him say no and it makes no sense. Perhaps God feel silent as you cry out into the night.
Earlier this month as we prepared for our latest episode of @throughthelenspodcast, my friend Holly reminded me of this quote I had read by Vaneetha Risner. She says, "Read the Bible even when it feels like eating cardboard. And pray even when it feels like talking to a wall." I don’t know about you, but I’ve felt this way in various seasons. Yet, we are called to remain steadfast and to cling to what is true when we are faced with discontentment and doubt. Like any discipline, spiritual discipline can be hard work. Sometimes we simply don't "feel" like praying. Yet even in those moments, God wants to hear from us. He calls for us to draw near to him. He has never left us. He remains faithful, even when we only hear silence.
When we find ourself in the midst of what feels like a silent night--not the warm and peaceful Christmas kind, but the distressing and lonely kind--may we find hope in the knowledge that God sent Jesus to earth so that we could have a relationship with Him. So that we could come blameless before His throne and speak to him. Because of Jesus, we know that God hears us even when things feel silent.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.” Isaiah 55:8.

Comfort and Joy Advent- Day 10: Faith//
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” James 1:2–3
I’ve read this verse so many times and it wasn’t until recently that the phrase “the testing of your faith” caught my eye. I understand that suffering can produce steadfastness in our lives, but lately I’ve been thinking more about how the TESTING of our faith produces steadfastness.
Faith is defined as a “complete trust or confidence in someone or something”. Sometimes we’re afraid to admit when this confidence has been rocked. Perhaps people have told us we shouldn’t question--that we should simply “have faith”. While we are called to faith, what a gift to know that growth and intimacy can come through the testing of our faith--through the questions, through the wrestling. As I have wrestled with God, he has drawn close to me. As I have hurled questions at him, he has patiently remained steadfast and revealed truth to me. I’m grateful for seasons of doubt and wrestling because of the ways they have strengthened my faith.

Comfort and Joy Advent- Day 11: Christmas mourning//
Christmas was immensely painful the year Ethan died. Everywhere I looked I was surrounded by smiling faces, jubilant carols, and festive decor. The world looked so happy, but my heart was breaking. How could everyone celebrate? I walked through the season surrounded by people who were celebrating, without any idea that I had watched my beautiful, yet incredibly weak little boy fight for his life and die in my arms just months before. I didn’t expect them to know, but the contrast was jarring.
Christmas mourning is hard. It’s not well understood, nor is it popular. Christmas mourning felt socially unacceptable—almost like a disease other people were afraid to catch, despite the fact that it wasn’t contagious.
But that first year, in the midst of Christmas mourning, I was given a gift. I gained a whole new appreciation for the gift of God sending Jesus to earth to be our redeemer. I saw the need for a Savior. I saw that He came to earth to die so that we may live. So that we could be reconciled before the Father and have relationship with him.
This gift brings me such joy in Christmas mourning, and always.

Comfort and Joy Advent- Day 12: Light in the darkness//
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5
Two weeks ago, our pastor spoke on John 1:1-14 and something he said really left an impact on me. Scripture tells us that the light--Jesus Christ--shines in the darkness. It does not say that he shone in the darkness, or that he will shine in the darkness eventually. It tells us that he SHINES in the darkness.
Jesus overcame darkness and death in the Resurrection. He is still winning NOW, even when things may seem so dark. He will win in the end, at his final coming. He shines in the darkness.
It’s easy to look around and to feel so discouraged by all of the evil in the world. While the world is indeed filled with brokenness, God graciously holds back the amount of evil that could unfold. His light still pierces through the darkness. And one day, Jesus will return to conquer injustice, evil, and death once and for all. Hallelujah.

Comfort and Joy Advent- Day 13: Scripture//
Then Job answered the Lord and said: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,  but now my eye sees you;therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”-Job 42:1-6
This scripture may seem out of place in the season of advent, but it is a passage that has been burning in my heart for the last few months. This past summer, shortly after losing our twins, I participated in a study on the book of Job. I had read the book a few times before and, to be honest, it had never left much of an impression on me until then. This time, as I read the book with a helpful commentary, I began to see the ways that Job points to Jesus (“If only there were an advocate to speak on my behalf!”), responds to criticism from his friends (“Surely this is the result of your sin”), suffers righteously, and comes to see who God is in the midst of his pain.
As the book concludes, Job finds answers in WHO God is. God doesn’t tell him the specific reasons for allowing Job to suffer--He simply reveals himself and that is enough. Despite Job’s right standing with God, he still falls on his face in awe and repentance.
I have seen that He can do all things and no purpose of His can be thwarted. I have uttered things that I did not understand, things too wonderful for me that I did not know. I had heard of him, but now my eyes see him.

Comfort and Joy Advent- Day 14: Savoring the season//
When I was a child, I dreamed of being older. When I was in high school, I looked back on my childhood with nostalgia and yearned for college life. When Chris and I were first married, I yearned for the season when we could finally purchase our first home, and looked back on those simple college days with sentimentality. When we bought our first home, I looked forward to the days when our home would be filled with children and looked back on that newlywed season in our one-bedroom apartment with such nostalgia.
It has been all too easy for me to miss my current season because my eyes were set on both the past and the future. Ironically, the seasons I have looked back on with such sweet memories have been ones that I couldn’t wait to move forward from at the time.
A year ago I made a resolution to fight against the discontentment and to savor the season I have been given. To praise God for placing me in this exact place for this exact time. To open my eyes to the opportunities around me and to be fully present.
Today, I savor this beautiful season of our lives. I savor the spontaneous dinner dates, spur-of-the-moment movie nights, and last-minute get-togethers with friends. I savor sleeping in on the weekend. I savor that I can be out the door in 5 minutes if needed. I savor being able to let my dog sit in the front seat.  I savor weekend camping trips. I savor going on a run whenever I feel like it. I savor the opportunities for ministry that we’ve been given. I savor having so much uninterrupted one-on-one time with my husband. I know this season will not last forever and rather than miss these sweet moments I’ve been given, I choose to cherish them. I didn’t expect this to be my season at 29, but I am savoring it while it is here.

Comfort and Joy Advent- Day 15: The first Christmas//
The first Christmas without Ethan is both incredibly hazy, yet wildly vivid. I can clearly remember the discomfort that accompanied that first holiday season without our son, yet I can hardly remember the details of the places we went or the things we did. Last year, someone asked me what we had done for Christmas the year before and I couldn’t remember. It startled me for a moment to realize that such a large block of time was missing from my memories. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and everything in between was so foggy. It wasn’t until later when I scrolled through old pictures on my phone that memories slowly started to fall into place like puzzle pieces. It was as if my mind had subconsciously blocked out that time in an attempt to shield me from some trauma.

When I think back on that painful Christmas, I cannot help but feel so grateful for the original first Christmas. I am thankful that God sent Jesus down to earth to be our advocate and our redeemer. I am thankful that Jesus came to earth to die in our place and to conquer sin and death in the process. Hallelujah.

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