Saturday, December 21, 2013

"Stop the beeping!" and other unmentionables.

Two nights ago I stayed up late wrapping presents, criss-cross applesauce on my closet floor for literally hours, surrounded by turquoise bows and rolls of tape and four different designs of pink wrapping paper. Was still sitting there frantically working at midnight-fifteen, and still didn't finish.

Needless to say that last night, after a full day of work, a hectic late-afternoon of driving back and forth into town finishing last minute holiday preparations, and a busy evening at my grandparents' house exchanging gifts with that sweet side of the family, I was ready to crash. Halfway did in the chair anyway with my Little Miss before we officially went to sleep, to the tune of Max & Ruby's Christmas Tree on Nick Jr., after 11 p.m.

I fell into bed, with zero recollection of washing my face but my make up was gone the next morning, so it must have happened.

And was woken up a little over an hour later, around 1 a.m., to a single, piercing BEEP.

Through the haze of sleep and the fog of Christmas cheer and the cloud that can only be described as late night "Huh?", I realized one very unfortunate thing.

Smoke detector.

Not unfortunate in the sense of smelling smoke, but unfortunate all the same in the very real sense of "low battery alert."

I waited. Twenty seconds-ish later. BEEP.

This wasn't going to stop.

I stumbled around the house making sure it was just the one in my room. It was. Stumbled back.
Stood on my vanity stool, gripping the closet door frame with one hand, and tapped the detector with the other. (I'm a handyman by night, can you tell?)


I jerked, shrieked, waited. Twenty seconds-ish later. BEEP.

Now I'm sleepy and mad.

I start pushing on it, twisting, turning, tugging, pulling.


Nothing changes. I finally locate the battery door hinge, and push the plastic lever to swing it open.

The lever breaks off in my hand.



The little compartment is open, though, so one problem at a time. I see the dead battery peering down at me, so I grab it. Tug. Pull. HEAVE. Nothing. It's wedged in there.


The noise is all the more shrill directly above my head, and all the more shrill in accompaniment to the adrenaline rushing in my ears. This is now a direct challenge, this is now a war. My own version of Hunger Games. I yank. Nothing. Nothing except the muscles in my shoulder starting to burn from having my arm over my head for so long.


Little pieces of white plaster and sheet rock and ceiling dust rain.


I  yank the battery again.

It comes out.


Still on the stool, I sag against the door-frame in relief. I did it. Cursed battery out, in my hand, which is coated in a thick layer of white chalky dust, and start to climb down.


I stare in shock at the naked, empty machine and did what any single mom would do.

I Googled.

And promptly discovered it wanted a new battery.

Now it's personal. Who on the green earth actually has a battery at 1 a.m. (now almost 1:30 a.m.) that's not a simple Double A or Triple A? I knew I had both of those, and knew the weird contraption in my hand was neither.


Just to rule out logic, I check the junk drawer in the kitchen where the batteries are, and who knew - a matching weird battery, only one left, right there in the opened package, left over from last time they needed changing years ago.

Hope rose as my unlikely companion as I climbed back on the vanity stool. Grasped the door frame. Attempted to, blindly, (as I'm not 8 feet tall even on a stool) shove the fresh battery back into place.

Won't go. Won't fit. Won't slide. I ask Jesus to help. To guide it, guide me, guide my hand. To make it work. 

But it just won't. 


I turn it over, try again. Now I'm praying for angels to intervene. Attempt again. Shoulder burning, muscles aching, tears building. The sleep-deprived-ness is kicking in, and I'm saying words I shouldn't. Anger and frustration launch a full attack. I fumble with the battery as more white dusty chalk showers down like mock snow.

Now matter what I tried, it just wouldn't go.


Still on the stool, I bend over double and burst into hysterical tears. Sobbing, snotty, wailing, hopeless tears, the kind that can only come at 1:30 a.m. and can only spring from a woman that's not crying about batteries or missed sleep anymore. It was deeper, it was wider, it was much more now. It wasn't the battery, it was my spirit. It wasn't the incessant beep, it was the cry of my soul. It wasn't the ache in my shoulder, it was the sting in my heart.

This wasn't supposed to happen. I wasn't supposed to be a single mom on a stool four nights before Christmas, incapable, helpless, desperate. This changing of the battery was "the husband's job" and I didn't have one anymore, I only had a dead battery and a foul taste in my mouth and a constant monologue of regrets.

The worst part was, it felt like Jesus didn't want to help either.

I had asked Him last year, too. To guide my marriage, guide me, guide my heart. To make us work. 

But no matter what I tried, it just wouldn't. 


I straighten up and try again. Now the battery is wedged half in the broken compartment door, and won't come out or go in correctly.

So I leave it. I step off the stool, calloused. Bruised. Worn. Brush of the dust. Rinse my hands off. Put the stool away. Stoic. Mechanical. Hard.


Get back in bed. Not super-politely remind Jesus He's bigger than a smoke detector and He can make that thing shut up for me to go to sleep, if He really cared enough to. Put the pillow over my head. Defeat. Failure. Again.

And hear Him gently remind me to give thanks anyway.

At this point, there is absolutely zero to lose. So I try. I thank Him that there wasn't actually a fire. Thank Him for my pillow that fit nicely over my head. Thank Him that the chirping detector was in my room and not Little Miss's room, and that she was still able to sleep. Thank Him for His grace and forgiveness for women who have emotional breakdowns on stools and say ungodly things. And thank Him for loving all of the hot mess that equaled me.

Peace be still. 


And I slept.

Slept even though. Slept even so. Slept through the constant beeping that didn't let up all night. Slept through the storm because He was with me, despite not giving me what I wanted, He was with me, despite not solving the problem directly, He was with me, and wasn't that the solution anyway?

He cared. He cared enough to remind me of the bigger picture and the soul-healthy part of pain and frustration and injustice, and cared enough to do a middle of the night work that was even a bigger miracle than Him stopping the beep - He stilled my spirit and let me sleep through the noise.

Mark 4 - And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. But Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?" Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. 

Peace be still. 

I don't know what's beeping incessantly in your soul this Christmas season. I don't know what layers of stress and frustration and defeat are coating your heart like white chalky dust in the middle of the night, but Jesus is there to peel them back. Brush you off. And give you peace.

Even though it's Christmas, start with some Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

As heard from the backseat...

Light filtered through the sunroof of the car, smattering beams of sun between falling leaf dances and country gusts of wind.

"Mama, God died on the cross for our sins. So He can be God...I think."

The kindergartner, wrapped in a coat with a blanket tucked around her legs, tilted her head thoughtfully from her booster seat.

"You're right, baby. And...because He loves us so much." The mama gripped the steering wheel tighter, trying to absorb the truth. Trying to soak it in. It was all that mattered. Love. His love. The only unfailing kind.

"I know. I've learned that a hundred thousand times!" The child's voice squeaked and pitched, part indignant, part proud, part frustrated. Even at 5, she grasped the pain of the mundane. The danger of reciting something until it grows monotonous, until what was meant to bring life seems to suck all the hope out of it completely.

John 3:16.
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.

We all know it. We all say it. We've seen it crossstiched on our grandma's throw pillows and framed on bronze plaques and monogrammed on T-shirts and aprons and kitchen towels.

It's so etched in glass and carved in stone it doesn't even dent our hearts anymore.

The mama swallows hard. "I know you have. But that's because we don't ever want to forget. Right?"

The kindergartner stares out her window, leaves tossing and swirling. A cacophony of burnt color and dried texture. "What would happen if we did ever forget?"

If we forgot love? If we forgot sacrifice? If we forgot hope?

If we forget the cross, we forget all those things.

"I don't want to live in a world that forgets, baby. Let's not forget. Okay?"

So they remember. And they drive. And the verse rings in their hearts. For God so loved the world...He we could remember. So we could embrace life. So we could have hope.

So we could hold onto love when everything else dances and twirls just out of reach. When everything else is as fragile and intangible as sunbeams through glass. When everything else is burned and dried. We remember.

We are loved.

Monday, December 16, 2013

For the broken this Christmas...

"I'm broken."

His voice cracks along with the words, like the holes in his heart are too wide to be contained vocally. Too shattered with the devastation of what he expected life should be or could have been and will never be. He confesses this bravely out loud, like a soldier weary of war, and her heart cracks too as she hears the break in his voice. And she desperately speaks truth, longing to make him whole, but fears the words just curl up in the fetal position at his feet and refuse to budge. Refuse to help. Refuse to sink in to the deep voids and fill.

"I'm broken."

And her heart breaks too, because she knows she can't fix it. Can't fix him. Can't fix the past or alter the present or bring life into the future. She's powerless to save although the depths of her soul longs to do just that.


The child's panicked voice pierces even over the steady hum of the hairdryer, and the warm contraption is dropped on the counter. "What? What's wrong?"

And tears are streaming down the cherub's face and her nose is red and her eyes are puffy and she can't speak, just grabs for mama's hand. "Come see. Come see."

And she follows, heart in throat. "What is it? You have to tell me." Then a brief silence as resignation and mama-instincts merge into one. "Did something break?" She doesn't have to ask, she already knows, and the obvious is confirmed by the nodding mass of dirty blonde curls.

"Look." The child's finger, shaky and tipped with chipped berry nail polish, points to the Peanuts nativity scene on the nook. And the tears drip fresh and Linus, the Shepherd boy, blanket in tow, has been decapitated. His head lies at the feet of baby Jesus wrapped in the swaddling clothes, still smiling, even though he's completely upside down and out of place.

And like the head, the child's heart breaks too, because she knows she can't fix it. Can't fix him. Can't fix the past or alter the present or bring life into the future. She's powerless to save although the depths of  her soul longs to do just that. 

She didn't remember the head had broken off years ago, and every season since, her mom had just propped the head atop the body, half resting against the side of the stable.

"It's okay, baby. It was already broken."

And the tears dry and the sobs slow to a whimper of relief.

And the mama's heart goes back to her friend. "I'm broken." And she weeps because she knows and she feels it and sees the answer in an equally broken Nativity. If he, too, could just rest his head at Jesus's feet, he'd be made whole. If he could lean the weight of his weary body against the side of the manger this season, he'd find life. Find purpose. Find intent.

Find Christmas.

This season is hard. It's dark and cold and it's waiting for joy and waiting for peace. There's more tear-stained pillows than yuletide bliss. There's more spiritual warfare than Christmas magic. There's more blood-streaked armor than crystal-white snow.

But this Christmas is perhaps the one that most relates back to the first. For the holding breath of the Chosen ones awaiting their Saviour. For the brutal murder of innocence and expectations. For the heart plucking hope from a hay-strewn manger.

For the broken longing to be made whole.

Because we're all, down deep, already broken.

So let the tears dry and the sobs slow to a whimper of relief as you come and rest at His feet.

Emmanuel. God IS with us.

Friday, December 6, 2013

When the season of "God with us" feels more like "God, where did You go?"

For me this season, Emmanuel "God with us", feels a whole lot more like "God, where did You go?"

It seems like everywhere I look right now there is heartache, tragedy, death, destruction, loss, and brokenness. Shattered pieces with sharp edges. Tear-streaked faces. Trembling hearts and shaky hands.

There's a lot of pain, and not a lot of Presence.

Broken hearts are crying out in a deafening roar, only to be met with holy silence.

I wanted to have the answers. Struggled to. Thought I did. Maybe.

Yet I feel it fading.

Suffocating darkness taking over, clouding out the light. Facts become doubts. Truth becomes suspicion. Motivation seeping into worthlessness. Hope crowded by dullness. Joy shoved aside by depression. Peace morphed into constant chaos of the soul.

I know there's a battle. Warfare waged. Especially here at Christmas, where the light of Christ should shine the brightest, should offer the MOST hope, the MOST joy, the MOST peace...

Yet suddenly, it's least.

Where did it go?

Can it even come back?

Maybe these questions are circling in your heart like vultures, too, pecking, diving, swooping, taunting, ready to go in for the kill. You've fought. You've tried. You've done all you can. You've prayed and read your Bible and sought God. Wrestled. Demanded answers. Begged for rescue. You were brave. You did "everything right" and yet nothing changed. The waves kept right on pounding, and now you can't breathe, and you know Jesus told you to keep your eyes above the waves but the saltwater is stinging them and you don't want to swim anymore. You're sinking, and you can't do anything about it, and you cry out, but it feels like He doesn't hear you.

You know there's a war, but the battlefield is so messy and there is so much blood and the causalities are piling up and your arm is sore from holding your sword. Your back hurts from all you carry and your armor is chinked and cracked and feels like more of a burden than protection. You're tired. So very tired.

It'd be easier to give up. So much easier. To put it all down and roll over and play dead. What's the fight worth, anyway, if everything just gets harder? If you're going down anyway? If you're drowning anyway?

My wise brother in Christ said something recently that resonated, and I think it all boils down to this one thing.

"When I feel like I can't fight anymore, when I can't go another step, I go back to this simple question - could I stop believing in Jesus? The answer is no, I can't."

Can you stop believing in Jesus?

I can't.

Even when it seems like NOTHING is fair and there is ONLY heartache and pain and despair. When it feels like the future ahead is bleak and hopeless, when it feels like everything you've ever known is crumbling or maybe never even existed in the first place...I can't stop. I won't stop.

My friend said to me "We can't stop believing, because we know the truth, and its because of that truth that you'll come  through this, and this will pass."

Do you believe that? Do you feel that glimmer of hope in your soul? It's tiny, so tiny -- I know. But it's there. Let it grow. Let it shimmer. Don't douse it.

My friend said "Jesus is strong when you're weak, and even when you can't see Him or feel him or hear Him, He is still fighting for you."

He's still fighting. Even when you can't.

Surrender your battle. Not to the enemy, but to our fierce, loving Warrior. He won't be silent forever. He won't let you drown. It might feel like you're coughing up water and choking on the tears, but He's got you.

Let Him carry you a while. Then get back in it. Because the battle is REAL. And all of this DOES matter. You matter. Your reactions and responses matter. Your influence matters - probably a lot more than you will ever realize.

Emmanuel. God with us.

He first came thousands of years ago on a cold, dark night - and He'll come on this, your cold, dark night of the soul, too.

Don't stop asking for Him to come. Don't stop looking, even when you're sure He's given up on you. He hasn't. Don't stop seeking, even when you're certain He's gone. He's not. Just wait.

Don't stop believing.

Don't stop.