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Tuesday, December 4, 2018

"How Is Your Heart?" this Advent Season

“I trust your finger has continued to heal,” he opened with. “How is your heart?”

It’s so easy to ask and answer about the physical—even when the physical is not good. Why is it so hard to ask and answer about the heart?

But when asked, directly, gently, authentically like that—it stopped me in my tracks. This was not a question meant to incite the polite, passing closure of a “Fine. And you?”

I was, naturally, busy. Busy with the things of the day that happen everywhere—food and dishes and Christmas tree decorating. Pet care, paying bills, shopping, answering texts and phone messages, encouraging a stressed college student facing exams, an overwhelmed high schooler doing the same PLUS trying to figure out her future college choices, an angsty, cranky young teen whose middle school social life is less than satisfying and whose family members’ choices couldn’t possibly seem rational to her, and a spunky, idealistic, energetic elementary schooler who just really wants to soak up all the last moments of her rapidly fleeting childhood.

“How IS my heart?” I stopped to ask myself.

I told him I wasn’t sure. I told him I wanted to answer him, because it’s so rare we get to the real HEART of the matter anyway, and I didn’t miss the significance of having a friend—even one so far away—who truly cared to know.

I don’t think I quite got to plumb the depths but I ventured out to give him snippets, in writing, across a thousand or more miles. Slowly externally processing. Poking around in that strong muscle with all its hidden bruises, scars, wounds, and yet still—functioning sinews and chambers. This hurts. This helps numb it. Evasion. A little anger. Desire for finding some good to embrace in the mundane. Pain of loss. Pain for others whose loss seems too great to bear. But doing the next thing. Thankful for that. And he understands. God, has he been there. Still is there. I ask after him. I tell him, from my far-distant perch, that I observe a movement between grief, playful mischief, and “both usages of ‘hosanna’—praise mingled with crying out for aid.” He calls it a pretty accurate perception.

It’s really not a bad place to be—given the place we live in. The place where any one viewpoint lends glory and joy and wonder and awe and delight. But turn a few degrees and there’s shock and horror and blindsiding injury. Joy and sorrow. Beauty and gore.

But God, isn’t this Advent? Isn’t this IT?

I said to myself and to others as far back as October that I really wanted to FEEL Advent this year. I started thinking about things to do to make that happen. What should I read? Should I make my own Advent card deck? Buy a calendar? A devotional? Force myself to do crafts with the kids?

I asked my Anglican priest friend. He had some Lent suggestions before. He gave a few worthwhile suggestions. I talked to a young woman in the office, who listened and nodded a lot and pondered with me. I wrote it in a journal, a handwritten prayer: Give me Advent, please, Jesus. I need to FEEL your coming.

And where did I feel it?

My youngest and I had just finished decorating the Christmas tree last night—an event she threw herself into with great vigor and determination, and I went into with some reluctance because of the mess it always leaves for me to clean up. But I loved watching her, on her tiptoes on the stepstool stringing up the lights, and surveying the entire work as it evolved under her careful placement of globe and toy and icicle. Making beauty. Banishing the dark spots one by one till nothing but glorious sparkle remained.

The tree gave me some pleasure, indeed. The child gave me more. But was it Advent? For all that brilliantly baubled and bangled spectacle represents, and which I know, in my head, it still didn’t penetrate. Until the question: “How’s your heart?”

My heart HURTS. It hurts because there is too much pain for too long and too many questions unanswered and too many young people lost this year and too much aloneness and distance and failure. I want so badly to gather my chicks under my wings—not just the ones that I gave birth to but ALL of those I love, younger, older, in between—and feel safety, security, comfort, belonging. I want someone to wrap those kinds of wings around me, while I have mine around them, and another layer on top of that one, and another, and another, until we are one indivisibly knit community of inseparable safety, solace, and inclusion. That would give hope. 

I had to begin to peel the layers off my heart to find what it was I needed most, layered back onto it. And that’s where I felt it: Advent.

He comes to do that. To peel hearts and to clothe again. He comes to make HIS blessings known, far as the curse is found. Have we not found the curse all around us by this point in life? This middle is simply mired in the effects of the curse we all know—whether we name it or not. And that is why he wouldn’t—no, couldn’t—stay away. He could not stay away and be who he is: good. In him there is no darkness at all, and so he came into the world, the light of the world, to banish the darkness. And the darkness did not overcome him.

I’ve felt overcome. I think, honestly, that’s part of the result of binding our hearts with busyness and its numbing power. It’s not possible to feel his Advent when you’ve longed for numbness from the other. It goes both ways. Numb me from the pain and you’ll numb me from the ecstasy too. We have to keep peeling. It’s part of staying alive. And I do want to live.

I’m grateful for the friend who helps to peel my heart—though I know, at times, I’ve been its rabid protector. That protectiveness may be necessary for a time, when the wounds are just too deep and raw, but let it be temporary for the greater good of the soul. Stitches dissolve. We knit. We heal—at least enough to feel the pain and see it for what it is: a pointer to the need. The need of his Advent.

So, friend: How is your heart?

Monday, April 30, 2018

Mission to Taulabe, Honduras: July 2018

Dear friends, family, and followers,

A year ago, I was wrapping my mind and heart around the fact that my 15-year-old daughter Jane was preparing to leave the country without me for a week-long mission trip to Honduras. While I had been with her older sister on consecutive domestic mission trips, sending this one on her own to such a faraway place was a new challenge for me in surrendering my loves to the One who loves them even more than I do. Despite parental trepidation, I opened my grip and she went with the youth group she attends, and with which I volunteer, through our church, Grace Mills River.
I’ve not regretted that decision.
Neither has she. She is planning to return this summer to the same girls’ home and the same community to serve there again. And this year, she has persuaded me to trust God, our perfect Father, with my own fears and reservations about going and join her there.
Last year, I wrestled hard with the idea of going, and decided my heart was not in the right place to participate. The girls living at the Hogar de NiƱas in Taulabe, Honduras, are there because their home situations would not allow them safety or basic necessities. Most have known serious neglect or abuse. At the Hogar (home), they are fed, clothed, educated, loved, taught about the God who entered into poverty to live and die for them. They are protected, provided for, and given a chance at an adult life they might not have lived to see otherwise. But they are not adoptable, and I was sure a year ago that investing a week with them and then leaving them behind would be more than I could bear at the time.

Jane with one of the girls she particularly bonded with, and longs to see again this year.

Over the last year, however, I have heard the memories shared by Jane, the other Watershed Youth leaders who went, and the other teens who were on the team with Jane. I have combed their pictures, seen their tears, and have felt the calling on my heart. It is God himself who is the Spirit of Adoption, and though I may not be able to bring these children into my home after this trip, I can certainly share in his love for them, share in his love for me as his adopted daughter, and worship him with this team and these children and the staff of the Hogar who know the same Spirit.
And so, after a year of sanctification and revelation, I have agreed to join the leader team for the return youth mission trip to Taulabe, Honduras. We will be leaving on July 11 and returning on July 18. At present count, there are just short of 20 of us going, youth and adult leaders.

Worship, Honduran style. Jane tells me the joy they have in the Lord surpasses 
all we know, because it is pure, unattached to worldly goals and possessions. 
She wants me to know that freedom in worship too. 

I have shared here with you the deep longing of my heart, which God is gently and lovingly dealing with in me. Would you please pray for me in this regard? Pray that I will be enabled by him to pour out every bit of love and care that he gives me without concern for my own vulnerability—the anticipated broken heart—and trust him to fill me again after he lets me be emptied for the sake of loving the children and the youth on our team (as well as other leaders) for this trip’s duration. Pray he rids me of myself for the week, and in the weeks ahead, so that I can be truly like Jesus in compassion and presence and selflessness while we go.
Additionally, would you pray for the safety of our team in travel, from sickness, and protection from any chaos or political turbulence, which has been a factor in Honduras in recent months?
Finally, both Jane and I are in need of financial assistance to reach our goals by July 1, 2018, to make this trip possible. The cost to go is approximately $1300 for me this year, and about $1050 for Jane. (She already has her passport, immunizations, and travel gear from last year.) The money covers our air fare, food, required vaccinations, passports, a duffle bag for taking needed supplies, and those supplies we are each asked to donate for the home (sheets, towels, basic clothing needs for the girls, etc.).
Would you prayerfully consider making a financial donation as well as a prayer support donation for either or both of us? No amount is too small, and it is the joining of many individual gifts that gives the Church its strength in the kingdom. If you are able to donate, you may do so tax deductibly in one of two ways:

1) Donate online. Visit https://www.hondurasfountainoflife.org/. Select the yellow “DONATE” tab at the top right of the browser. Make a donation with PayPal or credit card. IMPORTANT: make sure to enter “Rebecca Cochrane—July 2018 team” in the small space just below your monetary amount before completing your donation. Click the line that says “Project or Mission Team Name here” to enter that information. Without this designation, the funds will go to a general account and not to my expenses.

2) Donate by mail: Send a check made out to Honduras Fountain of Life to
Honduras Fountain of Life
Po Box 223
Fletcher, NC 28732
IMPORTANT: write “Rebecca Cochrane—July 2018 team” in the memo line. Without this designation, the funds will go to a general account and not to my expenses.

Thank you so much for considering how you can prayerfully and financially support me, our team, God’s work in Honduras and in the hearts and lives of our group as we prepare. We are already well underway with informational and team building meetings as well as a few group fundraisers. God is already at work, preparing us now for what he has prepared for us in Honduras. Will you join us along the way?

If we may likewise pray for you while you support us similarly, please send me a note to that effect at my email: rhemagift@gmail.com.

Blessed be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love!


Rebecca Cochrane

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The View from Here: A Winter's View

The girls and I have been 10 days in our new home now. This is the view from my big kitchen window. This window, this view, was one of the selling points for this house. I stood at the counter looking out over the Cane Creek valley and thought, "I could be happy here."

We hang so much on that idea, happiness. But take any long-range view of a life and you'll find a much more textured emotional palate than the bland monotony of any single state--even happiness. But we chase it, and we wait for it, sometimes with such desperation that we miss the simple, steady, constant opportunities for joy in the less-than-perfect present.

I find myself lately wanting more than anything to be present. To be NOW. Not then. Not later. But NOW.

Just two days before this radiant blue sky, everything was covered in snow. Even Winter is beautiful when it snows.

Today as I look at these mountains, I still think the view is beautiful. The way the shadows fall on the ripples of the mountain giving them a full three-dimensional effect. Is that what light and darkness do to our lives--flesh them out in fullness where otherwise they might be flat, monochromatic? Even the dark valleys reveal the high lighted areas, don't they?

But right now, in Winter, the leafless branches of the trees seem like bones to me. There is a reason we think to equate Winter with Death. And as I stand here looking, I remember how just two days before, it was so beautiful it took my breath away. Bones covered in still, even, gentle, unmarred whiteness.

Today, I am still thankful for the view, because it reminds me that this season as well will change. Winter isn't forever. As C.S. Lewis told us in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, "We shall have Spring again." The leaves will bud. They won't be held back. The bones of the trees will be covered again, covered with new life. As will you and I. As we already are, even if a Winter in our lives suggests to that emotional blanket we use as our counterfeit covering that we are threadbare. Those are feelings talking their persuasion to my divided mind. Speaking of cold doubt.

No, the trees know. They are rooted in facts that I can't experience--only trust in. Things unseen. They will once again drop seed and reproduce. They will bring forth new life without anxiety about the process. They will embrace other life again--neighbors in the form of animal life in their branches and in their shade. And I will see it from this wondow.

I will see the seasons change. I will see the new Spring burst forth. I will see it mature into a robust Summer, and I will see it gently age into that most golden and lovely and longingly beautiful of seasons, Autumn.

I am in the Summer of my life. There have been many times in my own Spring and Summer that have felt like Winters. But chronologically, this is Summer. The bold, flourishing years. A season of produce and powerful growth. That's the reality. Today is my Summer. Not on the calendar, of course, but I think you know what I mean.

There's a lot that's new in my life right now. More than just the house, but that too, definitely. There's much that sounds and looks like the things of Spring. I have been hanging for a long time it seems on the promise that years with far too much Winter in them will be restored--years that the locusts have eaten. When does the locust eat? They devour shoots and leaves--the life-filled greens of Summer. It is often the Summers of our lives that come under attack when we should be in full-production mode. If our enemy is real, then this only follows logic. A life in Summer may be too dangerous to be allowed to progress organically. Send on the pestilence, the fearfilled destroyer commands.

But God has promised restoration. I don't know what that looks like but I am living for it, and I am looking for it. I am waiting for it. I am hoping for it. I am expecting it.

Seasons will change. The view from my window will change. There's more to come. The story isn't over, and even though
          "youths (in the Spring of their lives) shall faint and be weary,
           and young men shall fall exhausted;
           but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
           they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
           they shall run and not be weary;
           they shall walk and not faint."

He promises renewal. Where does my help come from?

Oh, that view reminds me.
          "I lift up my eyes to the hills.
           My help comes from the Lord,
           Maker of heaven and earth."

And Maker of me, and of seasons, Summers and Winters. Seedtimes and Harvests.

That's the view from here.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Unbinding Happens Fully Only in Community

Almost four years ago exactly (in just a few weeks), I began a journey of healing. Part of that healing process for me involved some earth-shattering changes and the regular input of pastoral staff and a professional counselor. I was finally facing the need to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder.

After about a year and a half, my counselor shared with me some thoughts on my process. He told me that I was experiencing marvelous progress, and I knew that to be true. But it wasn’t finished. It was still very much underway, and he said something I have found to be absolutely true. He said, “Making changes for yourself, taking control of the aspects of your life that you do have an impact on, and participating in counseling are all effective means for your healing. But there is only so far that those can take you. You will reach a plateau in healing outside of relationship in community. The fullness of healing will only come in community with others.”

At the time, those words were only partially encouraging to me. I was terrified of having to depend on others to participate in my growth and healing. I wanted to be well, to live boldly again—but who was going to step in to fill that void I needed to get there? Didn’t I need to be “fixed” before I could be relationally close to anyone? Wasn’t it my job to fix me before putting myself as a burden on others?

Whose responsibility was I, anyway?

In my experience—which of course shaped my expectations—very few people were consistently willing and available to really enter into relationships outside their own immediate families—at least not deeply, meaningfully, regularly, practically, and with their own vulnerability exposed enough to become emotionally engaged beyond the superficial. Very few.

We’re a culture of emotional anorexics, aren’t we? Valuing privacy and personal protection over relational investment. Playing it cool, but keeping our lives cold as a result. (Hat tip to John Lennon for “Hey, Jude.”)

But my God knew what I needed, and over the last two and a half years, he has crafted it expertly. I am so thankful.

Remember the account in John 11 of Lazarus, the friend of Jesus, brother of Mary and Martha, who grew ill and died?

Most of the time, we think of that story as one about the power Jesus has to resurrect from the dead—and it is, indeed, about that. I feel as if I have been resurrected myself, and I know it wasn’t I or my counselor or any human who can claim responsibility for changing the course, bringing me out of despair and back into the light. It was Jesus, his Holy Spirit, the Father’s sovereignty—it was the Lord who said, “Rebecca, come out!” in his timing.

But there’s a detail there in that story that I think we often overlook, and when we see it—really see it—it makes it harder for us to keep our distance from others in need—at least not in good conscience. Maybe not if we believe we are called to be involved in God’s merciful will. He essentially calls us to draw closer than we are comfortable doing—and it certainly can apply to how we engage others near us in our communities.

Look at verses 43 and 44. Jesus has just prayed to the Father, clearly giving the Father credit for what is about to happen—the supernatural part. And then it goes like this:

43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Do you see that? Jesus uses divine power to bring life back to the dead man, but then he hands off the remaining task to the friends gathered there, moments ago mourning his loss.

Unbind him, friends. Community—pick up the task of healing this man who was dead, of freeing him, of letting him go, returning him to life. Circle ’round, community. You’re a part of this too. Uncover his face so he may see and be seen. Look into his eyes again. Free him to walk the path God has for him. Loose his hands to do God’s work. Touch him to make him whole again.

Do you think they rushed to do it? Do you think they stood at a distance, hesitant? The sisters have just told us that he had begun to decay in the tomb. It’s likely they expected a gruesome discovery beneath the grave clothes. We don’t know exactly what they found. Was his resurrection so complete that no sign of death remained in his physical form? Or was there a time-lapse for the fulfilment of his earthly resurrection—which might be different from the glorious transformation all believers expect to undergo at the last day? We don’t know.

All we know is that by Christ’s own choice and determination, Lazarus’ full release would come through the involvement—close up and personal—of his friends, joining together to set him free finally, in the end.

I know what this means.

I am a new person today. Different than I was two years ago. Even very different than I was a year ago. Yes, my God is working in me. Yes, I am working on myself. But that is not all—and if I can claim a parallel to Lazarus’ story, I think there’s evidence to say that it was never God’s intention to heal me all on his own, but to provide for my healing through his people. Through you.

You are participating in resurrection power, friends! You who let me into your home when I was without my children at a time when I needed to be embraced into family. You who invite me to go with you to movies and live music and game nights and plays. You who come when I am the one doing the asking. You who work your tails off negotiating complicated deals for my family’s good that at the onset I never could have imagined would work to the end they did. You who surprised me with a birthday gathering—and all who came. You who lifted heavy things, gave up time to carry and organize and pack and spread mulch. You who come when I say, “Be with me.” You who just text to say “thinking of you,” or to ask into my day. You who have picked up my kids when I couldn’t be there right then. You who pray for me and my children—in health and in sickness and in times of anxiety. You who give boxes, who haul away trash. You who text me “a verse for the day,” and you who bring way too much ice cream. You who walk in my front door like you live here too—because that tells me that you accept my desire to love you like family and declare my desire legitimate and good. You who will look at the same moon at the same time and say so to me. You who encouraged me to keep on doing the next right thing, just one more day. You who listen to my story, and offer to tell your own—wounds and warts and all. You who share music with me because it touches your soul and you’re willing to reach out and touch mine too. You who let me in close enough to you to know how to pray for you, to offer assistance. You who hug long and fearlessly, even in public, unashamed.

“Unbind her, and let her go.”

Listen. Did you hear him?

I’m blessed right now to be a part of a study of the book of Jonah. The study is dubbed “Man on the Run.” Every one of you who can relate to something listed in that paragraph three hard returns up: May God bless you, sons and daughters of faithfulness. He has given you opportunity to take part in a work he’s doing that will have eternal impact. And you did not run from him and his presence, but accepted your participation joyfully. We all have “Jonah times” in our lives, but you chose not to be Jonahs in these areas.

“The rest of your healing will come in community,” my counselor said. My response at the time was much like that of Ezekiel to the Lord when looking over the valley of the dry bones. “Can I make these dry bones live?” asked the Lord. Ezekiel, I expect not wanting to seem hopeless, and yet completely helpless to know how it might happen, surrenders, “O Lord God, you know.”

That’s all I had. An open palm turned toward heaven. Would these dry bones live? “O Lord God, you know.”

And while I stood waiting, he breathed on me, called me out, and then turned to you. Maybe he whispered it softly into your heart. I don’t know how you heard him. All I know is that you did.

“Unbind her,” he said, and whether you knew it or not, you replied, “Yes, we will!”

To God be the glory. Great things he has done. To God be the glory that he chooses to work through his people. Thank you for being my kindred. Thank you for reaching out and laying hold of the grave clothes and helping me be set free.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Same Changes

The dress in the window at 2 on Crescent is gone now.
After months of walking past that window display on work breaks, the iconic dress I always admired is gone.
I never made it mine.
Never satisfied with myself, I never achieved worthiness to possess that dress, much less actually put it on and unite myself to it. Not yet. Maybe in a month. Maybe the month after that.
And the days keep passing and then the seasons change and all of a sudden it’s been years and here you are. In the same place, but the dress is gone. Things do change. Just not the things you expect.
I’m 48 years old now. I never thought I would be 48 years old.
28, yes. 38, most definitely yes—wasn’t that what I was reaching for all along? But 48? It’s hard to grasp.
My mother was 48, but I still wear cool shoes. Doesn’t that count for anything?
Strange changes.
I didn’t expect to be here in this same place and so not the same as what I envisioned either, and I find myself so puzzled by the changes that crept up around me—the ones I didn’t see coming. Mindsets.
“I have no notion of loving people by halves,” says Isabella Thorpe in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. “It’s not my nature.”
The quote resonated with me years ago. Decades ago. I thought it was a universal truth.
It isn’t.
But this one might be: “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”
I’ve wrestled so long with this idea of contentment and fulfillment and my own nature to want something that is not clearly defined and somehow out of reach but just barely and if I wait just a little longer or work just a little harder or gaze just a little more determinedly on the face of Jesus and die to self just a little more enthusiastically then any minute now it will be attained. But that change doesn’t seem to come. The Holy Contentment isn’t realized, not that I haven’t tried.
I can’t deny there have been needed changes. Absolutely needed for survival. But one thing I have had to swallow, finally, is the reality that survival isn’t always solution.
Necessary, yes. Absolutely. There is no cause to look back in that case. But looking ahead comes with troubles and questions and choices and disappointments all its own. It's not as if we ever say, "That's resolved and now it's time to soar."
Would I live by formula if I could? To see the end and attain it by a series of calculated steps? To lay a map and follow it? A program. A manual.
Is certainty worth a soulless burden like that? Sometimes I’m not sure. Two roads diverged, that is for sure, and I took one and left the other, not knowing what lay ahead but yes, expecting.
There is a reality over all of this that I want to lay hands on, but the stuff of faith isn’t about grasping with the hands, but taking the next step toward the end, not knowing how way leads on to way, but knowing it does. And somehow, this changing path that’s always still the same is going somewhere, toward Someone.
Maybe that’s why contentment is always just out of reach. If I were truly satisfied in the moment, would the future hold any draw for me at all? Is there a gene for hope somewhere in the human DNA code, and perhaps it pours out its signals at some mitochondrial level that tells me really, we have one foot in another world, and this dissatisfaction is Holy? A Holy Discontentment? A place to rest within dissatisfaction?
We are not yet what we are to become. Loving by halves. Seeking survival in the moment out of necessity. Falling short of reaching yesterday’s goal, yet again today. But on a winding path of loops and detours and dead ends that require some steps backwards at times, always on our way to a destination, a holy one, defined by completion and fulfillment and . . . love. A love that never changes, and in that, changes those that enter it. A love that comforts. Fills. Includes. Desires. Sings. Sees. Leaves nothing wanting.

Isn’t that what Love’s supposed to do?

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Already. Almost

Today began with death.

Actually, it began like any other normal weekday. I got up at the same time as any other normal weekday. I let the dog out, like any other normal weekday, at the same time. I wonder sometimes if any of my neighbors know my routine.

But unlike any other normal weekday, this morning there was a guest in the backyard. A small, gray, harmless guest, likely nibbling the clover that grows in patches back there where once there was a lovely, manicured sod--for a little while.

I can't help but imagine her so peacefully nipping and chewing in the quiet, placid setting of early morning, before the houses wake up, one electrical light at a time; before the dawn. With its fences around it, our backyard must feel safe to the little things. That's probably why she came.

But at precisely 6:15am, like every other normal weekday morning, I opened the kitchen door and let the dog out back. She was gone in a flash, like every other normal weekday morning.

I heard the rabbit scream even through the closed doors and windows. Scream and scream. She had not been quick enough to make it through the wire fence at the back before she was caught.

With bare feet and wet head, I went into that darkness to help but I couldn't get the dog off. I had to get a shovel and use it as a barrier between the dog's chest and the fence to pull her back enough to get her to let go.

I'd like to say the day got better. It didn't get worse, but as People of the Redemption, don't we get impatient to see evidence of that redemption right away? I wanted something in this day to fix the horrific way it started.

By mid-day, I was just too restless to keep plugging at the parent and teacher resources I was writing, my mind a flood of memory and sound and ineffable sadness. If I could grab it, name it, I could conquer it, right? And move beyond it? But no. It's there. The reality that things die, and sometimes for no good reason.

So I took a walk.

I do so most days, past the Cathedral of All Souls. Past the shops and empty benches. Over the warpy, hazardous brick sidewalks that I love, even if they are treacherous and will one day likely take me down.

It was breezy and cool and nothing in the familiar setting made me feel enveloped or safe this time. It just felt cold. Empty. Quiet. The church bells didn't ring on this walk. There wasn't even traffic to wait for at the crosswalks. My own reflection in the shop window at the yoga gear store was the only pedestrian I met. In the distance, there was a siren. Punctuation, it seemed to be, on the sentence written this morning: There's always an emergency somewhere in this world of dire need.

I passed the Christmas shop, like I always do, but this time I stopped before reaching the Corner Kitchen. That was it, wasn't it? That was what I needed.

I needed Christmas.

I do hope the women who work in that shop don't get jaded by selling there year 'round. They didn't seem to be today, which is good, because I needed to be greeted with exactly the welcoming cheer they offered. Do they realize they aren't simply offering trinkets, but the artifacts that will be the vehicles of generations of memories, handed down even unconsciously through families that may be strangers to them always, binding hope and love and relationships to the most important hinge in the history of the world?

I wandered among all the baby Jesuses, letting it sink in. Everything there exists because of one absolute truth: God came down. Light shone in the darkness. Death is ended. Love wins.

The words PEACE and JOY are repeated on the shelves and the walls, in frames and painted onto baubles, hanging from the ceiling and knit into clothing and stockings and blanket throws. PEACE, Rebecca. JOY, Rebecca. He came. It is finished.

There's no way to accept that he had to come without seeing the darkness that he came into. And some days are like this--characterized by the experience of the darkness. That I am not feeling the redemption does not negate it though.

He came down.

It is written.

There's a nativity in that store that looks just like the one my grandmother always set out at Christmas time, on the hearth she never used otherwise. I stopped and stood there, remembering her. Remembering happy childhood memories. Remembering promises made long ago. She's gone ahead of me. So has my mother. The childhood I wished for my own children has had far much more pain in it than I ever imagined. I can't give them the good that I would have, if I had the power. The days don't have to start with a literal death of some small, innocent, gentle thing to bring with them the burden of how absolutely tainted everything is...

But God... in his mercy...

Who willingly goes into dark places, into death?

Only the one who cares about the perishing more even than his own comfort. And oh, you and I... we are so much more to him than that tiny bunny was to me. I ran, on horizontal ground, but he came, headlong, downward into the very midst of all the suffering and sin and division and war of the ages, with his face set like stone toward the one and only solution and gave himself into it, so that one day, all we will know is redemption.

PEACE, and courage, and joy today... Already. Almost.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

What I'm learning in the snow

I'm a flatlander.

I grew up in the hot, dry, flat, sandy midlands of South Carolina. I really don't like to be cold. I've never acclimated to temperatures that regularly drop to the teens, and sometimes even to the single digits. When it hits 3--which it does rarely, I grant, but I've seen it happen--I automatically think: Something's broken. This can't be right.

Snow for us more-Southern Carolinians meant a few flakes swirling in the air, which sent us racing in pajamas and bare feet to the window begging for it to stick. If it was enough to cover a car windshield, you could bet school would be canceled.

We had no sleds. Who could possibly afford such an extravagance that would almost never have that proverbial snowball's chance in you-know-where to ever be used? We also had no hills, so there's that. But there's a picture of my older brother, about age 8, pushing me, about age 4, in a cardboard box on what might have been an inch-and-a-half accumulation, around our flat yard. I wore a red knit hat and mittens, and you would have thought it was an Olympic event and we'd just won gold, given the delight on my face.

Even that dusting of snow meant joy.

So snow has a mystic quality to it that even now, almost exactly 23 years after moving to the highlands, where we do get some snow a couple of times a year, and where we do have hills, the effect hasn't worn off. It still has a majestic, magical quality for me.

It still feels like a gift.

Even today.

I have the day alone. Just me and my dog. My girls are away, and there was a tinge of sadness about that this morning. I didn't bound out of bed like I would have on a snow day with them here. I took a very slow start to the day. It was the dog's begging to go out that pushed me to bundle up, find the boots I don't think I've worn since last March, the closest thing to water-proof gloves that I own that are NOT fine leather, and that cute hat I wear only for times such as these, and head out to play fetch with her in the snow.

But there are things I'm learning on this day, alone in the snow. Things I probably wouldn't have learned if I didn't have the time to do it myself, all the while reflecting in the quiet. Here are a few of them:

--When playing fetch in a deep, dry snow with your faithful, furry companion, a wiffle ball is a much better option than a tennis ball. Though it doesn't go as far, it is much more likely to remain visible near the surface of the snow than a tennis ball, which has some power to disappear completely and simply NOT be unearthable (unsnowable?) until the spring thaw.

--While it is a very good idea to act in advance of the snow to stack some dry firewood in a covered spot near the house so that it's usable and easily accessible in case the power goes out, it is ALSO a very good idea to go ahead and bring the snow shovel up out of storage too. I recommend putting it just inside or just outside the door you'll need to use first. I will remember this next time.

--Had my super-economical and labor-efficient grandfather lived where it snowed, I am sure he would have taught me the wisdom of clearing off the TOP step first, instead of starting at the bottom (which was closest, since I did not think to put the snow shovel near the door last night, and had to go out into the backyard shed to retrieve it). Start at the top and you won't shovel the snow TWICE. (Quite a realization for this Southern girl.)

--68 degrees really can feel too hot sometimes. (Does this mean it is possible that I actually COULD acclimate to enjoy the cold? I still hate to think of the conditions I would have to immerse myself into and the extent of time to so suffer before I would come to call 19 degrees balmy or even refreshing, though.)

--Dogs are good company in the snow. They really are. But they are not as good as kids. So this morning, when the beautiful child who lives across the street rang my doorbell to ask if my children could come out to play, the twang of pain in both our hearts when I told him, "No," was real. And I stood and watched with love deeper than those inches of snow, as his little booted feet made the first marks on the pristine landscape. His footprints are still there, and when I took the dog out, I chose to go out the back only, so that my dear little friend's tracks stay undisturbed as long as possible. Merciful God, pour out your blessings on that boy, all the days of his life. 

--Finally, even the shabbiest and most broken of things become beautiful when the snow arrives. My backyard is nothing special. At least two out of five spindles are loose. Deck flooring planks have dried and curled upward toward the sun that, today, I can't believe does actually beat 90 or more degrees down on us many consecutive days in the summertime. The storage building roof is bumpy with lichens and the lattice around the bottom has long ago fallen into shards in places. The lawn... well, once there was a lawn. A summer of drought and dog and children has left it pocked, sparse, weedy. But today, it's truly gloriously beautiful. The Leyland cyprus at the back border claims Christmas is still with us. The cyprus is right. The blemishes in the lawn are covered completely. And so, I'm reminded, are my own.

"Though your sins are like scarlet," my Redeemer promises me, "they will be white as snow." (Isaiah 1:18)

You forgave the iniquity of your people; you covered all their sin. (Psalm 85:2)

Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. (Romans 4:7)

Amen and amen.