Let Your Hearts Be Light

Christmas candlelight

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas…” It’s always been my favorite Christmas song. I know that’s not very spiritual. Don’t get me wrong- I love a strong “Hark the Herald Angel Sing,” and good “Come All Ye Faithful” in a candlelit sanctuary on Christmas Eve. But when the words “Have yourself a merry little Christmas, let your hearts be light,” pour through the speakers, it speaks to my spirit.

“Let your hearts be light…”

In years past I remember hearing the phrase in the middle of the fray, rushing from event to event, sitting in a dark parking lot waiting for a late Nutcracker rehearsal to finally end, hustling to get it all done, bought, wrapped, sent, cooked… you know the drill. It was like a beacon to my weary soul- “let your hearts be light.”

But this year, in this 2020 Christmas season, it has become much more than a warm holiday sentiment. In this strange moment, when it feels like I have whiplash from the sudden stop, like all the air has been sucked from the room and the vacuum of silence hurts my ears, it feels different. While I systematically erase plans from our calendar as they get cancelled one by one, as I wrestle with deep disappointment from another quarantine after a positive test, as I console heartbroken children after more loss, “let your hearts be light” feels simultaneously impossible and paramount.

How?

I don’t know how you are feeling about Christmas 2020. Some may be ready to throw in the towel as we limp along, praying that the dropping of the 2021 ball  will magically provide some sort of relief. All the cancelled plans and traditions, the cancelled gatherings and traveling may have caused you to want to “cancel Christmas” just like the plot to a darling children’s Christmas special. But this doesn’t feel darling.

I have seen people declare that they will “Christmas so hard” this year as a rebel cry of revolution, trying to cram a year’s worth of cheer and happiness into one fragile month. But that feels risky to my bruised expectations.

May I propose another option?

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your hearts be light.

I think this is actually the year for our merry little Christmas. We say it every December, don’t we? We’ll slow down. We won’t go overboard. We’ll refuse to get sucked into all the rush, the pressure, the keeping up. Less will be more. But we cross the finish line of Christmas night panting, exhausted, and definitely overboard.

The answer is certainly not to cancel Christmas. After all, celebration is a spiritual discipline. Jesus calls us to over and over. Feasts, Holy Days, Sabbaths. Jesus loves a good celebration- water into wine anyone? The world is looking to the people of God like never before to see that we still hold hope, that we are who we say we are in this season, and that our reason for celebration is not shaken.

So what is the key to “letting our hearts be light” in light of 2020. May I propose a few practical keys I am holding to that I found in a super obvious Christmas passage? I  hesitate to even point to it because I’m sure you’ve spent many an Advent morning camped in it already. Ecclesiastes 5:18-20, you know, obviously! No?

Okay, hang with me.

Like any gift under the tree, we should read the tag to find out who it is from before we open it. This one comes straight from King Solomon, the richest, wisest man to ever live. He had every earthly possession one could dream of and had lived every experience you can imagine. His intelligence and power knew no bounds. Here is the gift he is giving us today:

This is what I have observed to be good: this it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink, and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them – for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil – this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.” Ecc. 5:18-20

No matter what the 2020 toll has been on your life, if you are reading this you are breathing. And if you are breathing, you are still eating and drinking. It’s the simplest gift. Food, drink, sustenance. The gift of provision. The gift of the table. The Christmas season is filled with eating and drinking, and the toil it takes to get those meals on the table. And though the feasts may be smaller, and the wine may be cheaper this year, the gift of the table endures.

Solomon pushes us to recognize that it is not only wealth and possessions that are the gift, but the ability to enjoy them. How often do we pray for the blessings and forget to enjoy them? Your Christmas 2020 budget may look a little different than you 2019 budget did. Your “wealth” may feel a bit less sure. But we all know a Scrooge or two who has more than their share and lacks the ability to enjoy it.  Just like a parent wraps a present for their children with the intention that they enjoy it to its fullest, God deeply desires us to enjoy His good gifts in our lives. His sovereign hand is on your lot, and He is glorified in a dark world when we are happy in our work.

So first, PRAY for the ability to enjoy every bit of this weird Christmas season. Write the words “ENJOY” and “ACCEPT” somewhere you can see them as you go about your Christmas work and know that is a gift your Father longs to give.

Secondly, SIT DOWN Sister. The house looks fine. The gifts are great. We are after a merry little Christmas this year, remember. Your heart being light is more important than the lights on the house or the tree, I promise. Schedule time into the season to enjoy it. It won’t happen by accident. This will be the only Christmas that that child will be that age. This may be the last Christmas with that family member at your table, or that beloved dog sleeping under the tree. If 2020 has taught us anything it is that we really can’t count on anything staying the same. So stop. Take it in. Don’t look up in January and realized you never took the time to enjoy it.

Third, STOP comparing your wealth, possessions, and lot to anyone else’s. We all know the damage the comparison trap can do, and yet so often I find myself walking straight into it like a moth to a Instagram flame. I am not called to accept your lot. I am not called to be happy in your toil, even when it looks a whole lot prettier or easier than mine. Also, stop comparing your lot to your own expectations, to what you thought it would be, to what you think it should be, to what was. Can you live with gratitude in the tension of what is good even when it’s not perfect? When we surrender our expectations we find contentment, but comparison will steal our joy.

When we unwrap the gift Solomon is offering- when we eat, drink, find satisfaction in our Christmas toil, when we enjoy exactly what we have this 2020 holiday season and accept our lot this year- what are we promised? Ecclesiastes 5:20 says, “They seldom reflect of the days of their life because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart. (NIV)” The NKJV says, “For he will not dwell unduly on the days of his life, because God keeps him (her) busy with the joy of his heart.”  That is the kind of busy I can get behind this Christmas, how about you? Finally, the Message says it like this, “God deals out joy in the present, the now. It’s useless to brood over how long we might live.”  

None of us could have known all that 2020 was going to deal us. And the truth is, the moment the ball drops to usher in 2021 is not magical. We don’t know what is coming. Maybe like never before the enemy has come to “steal, kill, and destroy.” He has divided. He has burdened. Our weapon? Light hearts. Embracing the simplest things; the table, good work to do, the present- just as it is. It is not a question of having the gifts, it is a question of letting them be the gifts.

The Word says that God will keep us so busy, so occupied with gladness of heart, we won’t have time to worry about what we thought it was going to look like, or what it might look like in the future. I don’t know about you but I have spent a lot of wasted time this year “unduly dwelling on the days of my life.” Worrying. Comparing. Regretting. Grieving. And I want to say no more!

So that is my prayer for all of us this 2020 Christmas… that we will be so occupied with gladness of heart, busy with joy in the now, that we would look up to find we have indeed had a very merry little Christmas.

Let your hearts be light.

The Cougar on the Table: My First 3 Thoughts

I don’t watch any sort of animal or vet shows. Ever.  My creature-loving heart cannot handle it. This is common knowledge. In fact, my 5th grade teacher excused me from reading “Ole Yeller,” and my 8th grade teacher told me I could leave the room when we dissected dogfish sharks (FLA y’all). I also don’t do any sort of nature show where the injured/old/baby/vulnerable anything is being stalked. Nope. I can ‘Greys Anatomy” all day long but don’t put a 4-legged patient on the table.

But…

One night I found myself uncharacteristically flipping the channels when I came across a cougar on a table. By the looks of the uniformed crew surrounding the enormous, sedated cat, I had landed on some sort of zoo program.

I was spellbound.

Maybe it was the size of the cougar- her nose the size of the vet’s open hand, her paws even bigger. Maybe it was the eerie way she lay there so quiet and unmoving. Maybe it was the tender way “her” zookeeper kept speaking quietly into her huge ear, and stroking her golden face- taking advantage of her anesthetized state. Or maybe it was the knowing voice and skill of the old doctor attending her.

The cougar on the table looked fine to my untrained eye. No wounds to be seen. No blood. Strong. Healthy. But the vet knew. He had seen the slight swelling of her mouth. He had watched her turn food away.   He had sensed the hidden infection.  And sure enough, when he pulled back her monstrous lips, there was a huge, festering, abscessed blister.

I sat staring, as we do, unable to look away, as he inserted a large knitting needle type tool into the wound and the sickness poured out. He massaged it, un-phased by the gore, the mess, the smell I imagine, until the flesh was clean, pink, and healthy. Then he gingerly stitched it up, confident in his work and the outcome for the cougar on the table.

Y’all, I have not been able to get her out of my mind.

God has had me on a journey over the last couple of years I haven’t even been able to verbalize fully. But when I saw that cougar on the table, as I watched that old doctor lance the wound, as I witnessed the healing that was taking place as she simply slept, I knew it was the picture of these lessons.

I’m the cougar on the table and I bet you are too.

I believe she will be with me for a long time and the lessons she has for me haven’t all surfaced yet. But today can I process 3 thoughts with you?

1.  LANCE THE WOUND. We all have them.  Sometimes they are on display for all to see, gaping and bloody, and sometimes they are hidden.  I have had both.  The longer I live the more I know this is true: my hard and your hard may be different, but we all have hard.  And the hard hurts.  The hard can wound.  So whatever your hard has been- never assume it doesn’t matter, and never assume you’re the only one hurting.  Life blisters us.

When the blisters rub, and the wounds appear- hidden or gaping- what do we do?   I’m a “ignore it and it will go away” kind of girl… except sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes it gets infected.  Maybe you’re a “WebMD it and obsess over it” kind of girl…. But all that focus and information just scares you.  It doesn’t heal.   

I’m learning we have to recognize the wound without worshiping it.

Naming the wound is powerful.  The whole body can get sick from one tiny sore.  The whole spirit can feel crushed from one ignored wound.  When we find it, when we name it and lance it, it loses the power to spread.

It’s painful.  It’s gross.  Looking at the junk in your life, the mistakes, the hurts, the insecurities, the lies- it isn’t fun.  But until the infection is lanced in the light of Truth, it can’t heal and we won’t be healthy.

2.  SUCCUMB TO THE STILLNESS.  The team of vets would not have been able to help the cougar had she been awake.    She would have been a danger to herself and everyone around if they came at her wound as she roamed her enclosure, walking wounded. But the stillness would have come for her one way or another.  Sickness causes stillness.  Death causes stillness.  That is not the stillness we want.

We have to succumb to the stillness that heals, before it is too late.  I believe this is the biggest lesson God has been trying to teach me over the last few years- REST.  It’s so counter-cultural that we don’t even know it when we see it.  We think it means a few more hours of sleep, a lazy afternoon binging on the couch, a mind-numbing scroll on Instagram.  But we get up less than restored, more frazzled. Unhealed.

The stillness of Sabbath heals.  We are healed in it and we are healed by it.  It was God’s plan from the beginning and it is His plan now.  The whole earth has a Sabbath rhythm built into it.  Why do we think it is optional?  How do we think we can out work, out hustle, out pace it?  Why do we want to?  

I am reading the fascinating book “Sacred Rest” by Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith M.D.  In it she describes the 7 ways we become tired, and explains that rest (or restoration) will look different in each area.  We tend to think that sleep is the answer but that may only be true when we are physically drained.  Sleep does nothing to restore life-giving relationships when we are socially depleted, and it can’t fill the void when we are spiritually exhausted, etc.  To rest well we will actually have to pay attention to our lives and intentionally go after what we need for restoration and healing.

And it will take stillness to hear- from our surgeon and from our soul.  Like that cougar, we are dangerous when we are walking wounded.  And like the cougar, stillness is coming for us one way or the other.  Succumbing to stillness is the only path to healing.

3.  TRUST THE SURGEON.  When I come to the doctor with my wound do I trust Him for healing or have I already written my own prescription?  When I allow for stillness and come to God, do I come with my own agenda or can I simply trust His presence to heal?  Do I sprinkle a little “Amen” on top of a bunch of self-help and wonder what is taking so long?

We have to trust our Great Healer for healing.  His path may look different than the spiritual formation plan we have for ourselves.  While we are asleep on His table, we have no control of how he dresses our wounds.  Is His presence enough?  Without the books and studies and plans?  Can He heal simply with His hands and His love?  Do we trust Him?  Do I?

So I’m giving some time to recognizing my wounds- old and new.  I’m doing the work of lancing them through prayer and hard conversations when needed.  I am succumbing to the stillness of Sabbath to listen to the Holy Spirit and my own soul.  And I am trying to trust in the simple capacity of my Surgeon.  His presence is the foundation of all healing.

Those are some pretty deep lessons from 10 minutes of a zoo show.  You just never know where and when God will show up.  I am eternally grateful for the Cougar on the Table.

 

Why We Bought Another Trampoline- Honoring Their Childhood

Trampoline

My kids got another trampoline for Christmas.

Not another as in, now they have two, but another as in a replacement for the one that had fallen apart. And to be fair, we got our money’s worth over the last decade of jumping… Jumping with friends, jumping with the hose on, jumping with balls, jumping during the day, jumping in the middle of the night, jumping like a ninja, jumping like a tiger.

And not just jumping… reading, playing, fort-making. sleeping.

Lots of trampoline sleepovers happen on the Ranchito. It’s an easy yes. Snacks packed, sleeping bags fetched, usually Dad’s electric lantern in tow, and they all pile on for night under the stars. Sometimes they’re cold, sometimes they’re hot, sometimes they’re a little scared, but they’re always happy.

And honestly, it’s what I pray they remember the most.

Honoring the childhoods’ of my sons and daughters is a pillar in my mothering that becomes all the more load-bearing as they get older.

Do you feel it too? The overwhelming crush to reduce motherhood to management... Manage the schedules of the small adults the world is trying to steal from us? From childhood? From play? From the land of trampolines and imagination? Manage their activities, and meal plans, and grades, and friendships, and every single second of their entire lives?

I have preached it before and I will preach it again… Not on my watch!

And let me be clear… as of last week 1/2 of my four children are officially teenagers. I’m not talking about Blues Clues (is that even a thing anymore?) and Cheerios.. I’m talking about wrestling matches, and punching bags. I’m talking about I-don’t-even-want-to-know-how-much-$ in Legos and Nerf guns. I’m talking about Go-Karts and “yes the cross-country team can walk over after practice and jump in the freezing pool.”

I’m talking about laughter.

You may have heard that “LAUGHTER” is my Word of the Year. I wasn’t happy about it at first. It felt less than inspiring and spiritual. It felt… well, it felt childish.

HA! Okay God, I see you.

As my children get older, I realize that laughter will be glue for our family. It’s what they value. It’s what they want to participate in. It’s what draws them and their friends in and what keeps them around a dinner table. And laughter simply needs space to live.

As Christians, we like to tout joy as holy- and it is. But I’m just saying that joy no one can see or hear isn’t all that powerful or convincing. Joy out loud is laughter and it will live here this year.

So I’ll watch the animal videos again. I’ll try to understand the Vines and the inside jokes they still want to tell me about. I’ll participate in the GIF wars and sit through the Will Ferrel movies.

I’ll never say, “Aren’t you a little old for that?”

My 9 year old asked for a wagon for Christmas and I watched her bravely stand by her request as adults and children alike questioned her on it over and over.

“A wagon? What are you going to do with a wagon?”

“Like a little red wagon?”

“Aren’t you a little old for a wagon?”

Not on my watch.

She loves the wagon. (It’s a big purple wagon by the way). She hauls stuff all over the Ranchito. She helps with the groceries and chicken feed. She gives her dogs and her little brother rides. She takes the sleeping bags and snacks out to the trampoline for the sleep over.

Long live wagons and trampolines.

So some of my kids do really well in school and some struggle. Some of my kids are EXTREMELY COMMITTED to their “sports” and some can take it or leave it. Some of my kids never miss an opportunity to socialize and some need a little encouragement (AHEM) to participate. Some are self-starters and some are great at sleeping in. Some are a bit moody these days and some are hysterical. And it is my joy and job to honor the childhoods of each. It takes attention and intention. It takes flexibility as that charge changes daily. And I’m thinking it’s going to take a lot of laughter.

My peace and quiet, my tidy house, are ransomed at it’s cost most days and I figure there will be years to come for that.

Around here we love shark movies and ballet. We love Pirates of the Caribbean and Guardians of the Galaxy. We love family fondue nights and road trips. We love to rescue animals and to grow plants. We love Michael Jackson and Bethel Worship. We love John Christ and Taylor Swift. We still dress up to go out in public most days and a light saber is never out of reach. We drink a lot of hot chocolate (from scratch of course) and eat a lot of popcorn. We fight sometimes but we laugh too.

Long live childhood. Not just historically or generically. Let it live long in your home. Let it linger into the teenage years. Don’t rush it. Don’t let the “hurry sickness” of the world rob your kids. Be a mother, not a manager. Be the gatekeeper for childhood. Guard it and participate in it. Laugh like it is warfare, because I believe it is. Anyone can manage… only you can mother.

I pulled in the other day, on my son’s 13th birthday, and he and his buddy were jumping on the trampoline like the kids they are. Give them space and they’ll remember that they’re not too cool to play.

So if you need permission to buy another trampoline for your teenagers, here it is. If your big kids want a wagon, get it. If you need to push pause on all the activities to have a dance party to Vanilla Ice in your kitchen, do it. Don’t shush the laughter in the name of peace and order. Don’t get sucked into the lie that it’s your job to manage them.

Childhood is hallowed ground. Laughter is holy work. Let it be part of your legacy, the Land You Leave. The magic of it will live long after the years pass if we honor it today.