Out of Dark

G K & M Christmas card

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 1 Peter 2:9 (My scripture memory this week.)

The image of light shining out of darkness is my favorite of all that’s Christmas. Ann Voskamp writes about it brilliantly in her book of Advent readings, December 14.

Wait through the long, black night. Wait through the black that gets in your marrow. Wait through the dying, the cries you can’t hear, the lurching gasp of the last death heaves… 

And then…

And then… there it comes to the waiting, to the leaning, to the cold – a dawn! Light! Light! Not mere candles wavering in the face of the black but a dawn – a dawn to crack back the black, to pry up the dark with bright shards, to peel it back and flood the cold room with light. 

She is BRILLIANT. Each of her Advent essays, a masterpiece, and I tell you this woman’s words fill me with such longing to write, yet terrify me, too. How could I ever?

But this is my story, and not Ann’s. Mine to live and tell. This story of light and darkness.

Lately, for some reason, I’ve been thinking about my past, and the past of my family. Thinking about the miracle of God’s redemption and how He interrupts our darkness. Annihilates dark, flooding the night with so much light.

Honestly. This life I’ve lived has been So Much Light. A miracle of light, considering. Considering a family lineage somewhat raw with tragic stories. Hard, sad stories of things my own parents endured just a handful of years before I was born. Nothing chosen. Not one thing anyone could have done. Which is more often than not how the awful darkness attempts to break us.

And yet. My own life has been bathed in light. Let me show you. This text, last week, from my mom:

Tell Grant and Kiana we got their Christmas picture in the mail this morning and it is perfect! I clearly remember the first picture I sent out at Christmas after having our first child and I remember how excited I was when we had a baby to celebrate Christmas with. I can look at the look on their faces and totally feel what they’re feeling in that picture.  

That baby was ME. First-born, and born after a bit of waiting. A bit of suffering. A bit of light in a shadowed story, and all these years – All I’ve known is light.

I’ve had the easiest life. I remember well. Leaving for college, eighteen years old, and I’m not sure if I said it to someone or maybe to God. My life has always been easy. Acknowledging this, and knowing it mattered. Not a free spirit, but carefree at heart. Over thirty years later, and still I can say this. A life full of light.

But another Christmas card arrives in the mail and it tells another family story. My baby brother, and my brother’s baby, and here we are. Same womb, same home. But such different journeys. Choices made, addictions formed, no doubt an attempt to overcome some kind of soul-deep darkness. And don’t you wonder sometimes why it happens this way? Some stories are hard, and some are so easy.

I saw him last, last Christmas at Gina’s. I remember it now. How Joel was there, black-eyed from a near-miss, a car and a bike. His newborn daughter the center of attention. And I remember, too, the gift I’d chosen. A favorite book, one for my dad, and one to exchange. Never even thinking about the wild significance, which now seems absurd. How could I have missed this obvious connection? Kyle’s favorite author, one of mine, too, and we loved this book especially. Long Way Gone, a prodigal story, and there I was putting it right into the hands of my brother’s father, and it does make me wonder. How can a dad turn his back when he knows this story – and who can blame him for never being able to give up on his boy?

And then, right here, under my own roof, there’s this other story. Mine and ours. Two boys of my heart, but not of my womb, and they, too, have known their share of darkness. Hard stories, none of it chosen, things just happen. And this happened, too, unexpected. Their story merging with ours. An earthly Dad and a heavenly Father. A Welcoming Home. And to the waiting, a dawn! Merciful God, He knows each of our stories.

The Light never comes how you expect it. It comes as the unlikely and unexpected – straight into Bethlehem unlikely and the feed trough hopeless, and Christmas whispers there is always hope. It doesn’t matter how dark the dark is; a light can still dawn. It doesn’t matter if the world whispers… tells us that nothing will ever improve, get better, change. God favors the darkest places so you can see His light the brightest.* 

So we light the Advent candles. String the lights of Christmas. Defy the dark of winter, and remember the promise, already delivered. SO. MUCH. LIGHT.

 

Long Way Gone by Charles Martin (You should really read this one.)
*The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp

Two Become Ten

a_l-engagements-10

(Photo credit to Kiana Grant Photography)

Well. The boy is on the road, heading due west. Like a pioneer. Good-bye Iowa, and if all goes as planned, home-sweet-home Colorado by nightfall. Home as in this is where he plans to live for the next leg of the journey, along with his new bride. Actual address still TBD.

We’re all in the final countdown. Twelve days until Christmas, another week until wedding. And I’ve been making my lists and checking them twice all week long. (Mom-of-the-groom dress and accessories – check. Midnight kisses in burgundy bags – check. Rehearsal dinner, reservation and décor – check and check. Boxes of trousers, dress shirts, and burgundy ties for groomsmen and dads – check, check, check. Ski passes for 6, including lunch – good to go. $10 gifts for Christmas exchange – good enough. Christmas presents for five boys, two daughters-in-law, and one grandbaby girl – see below.)

Luke and Ali will tie the knot with a New Year’s Eve wedding, December 31, 2018. Neither knowing what the future holds, but content to know they’ll hold each other, and it’s all that matters. My second-born boy has always been my least decisive, prone to questions, given to doubts. But on this one thing he’s never wavered. Not. Even. Once. Alison Elise Fuller is most surely The One.

Ahh. Young love. Today arriving home from work my husband greets me with a hug and a kiss. Happy almost anniversary, and I’m thinking the same. Jimmy tells us we’re silly, says we’re too old, until I take that sassy face in my own two hands and – you were pretty excited about your six months with Sidney.  A “dating anniversary” and we’re twenty-nine years of real-life marriage, and Son – we’ve earned the right to be a little bit sappy. Can I get an Amen?

Come Friday midday my hubby and I will pack our bags for our two-night stay. AWAY. It’s been our anniversary tradition for several years, this escape before Christmas. Part celebration, part power-shopping. And when I told the young moms at church this morning they thought I was crazy. You mean you haven’t even started?! That’s right. Forty-eight hours is more than enough time to buy all those presents, and for a gal who hates shopping, doing it this way is actually FUN. And don’t worry, Jimmy. We’ll also find time for something romantic (;

And some much-needed rest. We’d best catch a few good Z’s while we have the chance, because the next couple of weeks are going to be CRAZY. Not that you’re all that interested in our family itinerary, and you’re more than welcome to skip this part. But in case you’re curious. Felipe’s birthday. Christmas at Grammy’s. Load Jeep and trailer. Two days in Des Moines (Christmas Eve/Christmas Day). Drive to Colorado. A day with the Fullers. FOGO in Denver for Adoption Day. Late Christmas at Micah’s. Rehearsal and dinner. A NEW YEAR’S EVE WEDDING. New Year’s Day on the slopes. And a drive back home. (That’s thirteen days straight, in case you’re counting.)

Because that’s just how it is in this Boy Mom family. Never a dull moment, and always growing. Midnight kisses at a mountain-view wedding, two becoming one, and from two we’ll be ten.

Three Sizes

Christmas Past

(Luke & Nils, Christmas Past)

If I were the Grinch my heart would have grown three sizes this week. I’m not, of course; not one bit Grinch-like or Scrooge-ish either. Just a bit sun deprived and vitamin D depleted weary, and I DO love Christmas, but this is not my favorite time of year. Not if we’re talking about weather. I have long said it’s a good thing we string lights and light candles during the darkest days of early winter. For sanity’s sake, if nothing else.

But then there’s this. Advent. My boys knowing how much I love it, and this past Sunday will most surely go down as a Boy Mom highlight forevermore. My heart about bursting, hilarious laughter, and I’m still LOL. These boys. Luke and Nils sending me a video from Cedar Falls, and Mom, we just wanted you to know we didn’t forget. There in Luke’s Christmas Presentshabby rental, lighting the candle of Hope at their kitchen table. It’s the first Sunday, you know, childhood memories of an Advent wreath, and they’ve rigged up a ring of knitted scarf, an assortment of candles. Scented jars, nearly burned to nothing, making due with what we have. And the Christ Candle of Christmas is Luke’s backpacking stove. And this is for real. Two brothers talk about hopes for the future (a moment of cheering for the football game airing in the other room) and Nils burns his finger, like every year. All of it shared in a text with Mom. (Three sizes, I tell you.)

A whole week of my heart expanding, and it wasn’t long ago I prayed for this. It happened first through the words of a friend. My last post about Truth & Grace, and here I am ever since putting it into practice, unexpected. And it’s Angie who probably knows me better than anyone outside my family, knows my fears and what takes courage. So much more than mere words in a text, and I’ll tell you what. Love puts fire in the belly. And I’m forever grateful, my friend. The Bible passage I’m memorizing lately, 1 Peter, first chapter. Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. And it’s true, this Truth makes love sincere, and my small heart’s growing, just like that.

Saturday evening we gathered with some of our oldest friends at Eric’s and Brenda’s for White Elephant Gifts. (I should pause here to say by old I mean our kids, mostly boys, grew up together. But it might also be true there were a whole lot more comments about needing glasses for reading fine print than ever we heard when the kids were young.) It was an evening of LAUGHTER. From the belly, swiping at tears, and if this is medicine it may as well count as flu shots all around. Ann Voskamp calls laughter “oxygenated grace”* – and it was all that. Deep. From the heart.

And then Monday evening at my own kitchen table, and dining room, too, circled by more friends, some old, some new. Neighborhood gals for a Christmas gathering, and we’re catching up and telling our stories. Laurie stays a bit longer than the rest for more conversation. She remembers to ask how I’m sleeping, recalls our conversation a couple of months ago at Costco. I was feeling overwhelmed, and she remembers, too, dark shadows under eyes, and she tells me she’s been praying ever since. Heart expanding. Three sizes. Maybe more.

And then more. Yesterday with Sidney at the General Store. A perfect halfway between here and there. (Here being Andover. There being Crown, and if all things work out it’s where Jimmy will go to college next year.) So it’s girlfriend and mom and right away I confess this might be for old ladies – this Whoville of Gift Shops and maze of boutique. Let’s start with lunch. And who could have planned this? Food on trays, heading for drinks, and right there is my SISTER (Sidney knows her well, too.) More laughter. More grace. Food and friendship and hearts growing fond. A day to treasure. A season to LOVE.

And in Whoville they say – that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day. And then – the true meaning of Christmas came through, and the Grinch found the strength of ten Grinches, plus two!

 

*The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas