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Saturday, December 23, 2017

Where is the Hope in Christmas?

There's a scene I've played over and over in my mind for the last 12 years. My life is done, I enter Heaven and after I meet Jesus, He says, "There's someone who has been waiting to see you." 

And He steps aside. And there she is. And she comes running to me.

I have no idea how this will actually play out one day, but I do know this: my heart longs for it. Physically longs for it. I have no intention of rushing this life, but some days just the thought of holding her again is more than I can bear. And this beautiful, joyous life can be so hard sometimes because part of me died the day she did. And while I live in the fullness of joy as best I can, my life on this earth will never be complete without her.

That's just the cost of death. It's a thief and it takes the people we love and then leaves us here, and when the balance shifts like that, it can never be fully restored here on earth.

And you believe the verses that the pain is only temporary and "joy comes in the morning" but the morning hasn't come and the nights are just so dark. And you believe that one day he'll "wipe away every tear" but that day hasn't come, and some days you cry so many tears that your buckets could cause a flood.

Some of you are there today, staring down a Christmas Eve that should symbolize HOPE but as hard as you search, you just can't find it. And you know all the verses, and you really do believe, but you just miss that person so much that you can't will yourself to do it.

I won't give you Christian cliches. They aren't worth the paper they are written on to someone who is grieving. I won't tell you it gets easier. I won't tell you that if you just believe, it will all make sense one day.

But I will tell you this: if you will just continue to put one foot in front of the other - however painful it may be - He will meet you there. In your pain, in your grief, in your darkness. And at first, you may not feel Him there. I didn't either. But as you continue to move forward, you begin to see it. You believe to feel it. 

And while it doesn't "fix" everything, you begin to breathe again. And slowly, that tiny sliver of HOPE manifests itself in your heart. And while it doesn't make sense, and it may never make earthly sense, you grab hold of it because it's all you have.

And it's the greatest gift you will ever receive.

If you are hurting this Christmas, my heart grieves with you. It may be hard for you you to reconcile in your heart how you are supposed to live this day with joy and happiness, when all you feel is pain and sadness. There is no magical fix. And as hard as you desperately try to find that joy, grief and pain keep creeping their way back in. 

If that's you, my prayer for you over this holiday is simple: that this HOPE will take root in your heart even in the tiniest of measures. Just a speck, just a faint glimmer. It doesn't have to be much. That's the miracle of Christmas. He can take the tiniest bit of HOPE and turn it into something we could never have imagined. He does the work as we open our heart to the notion that this life - however broken it may seem - IS worth saving. It IS worth living. It IS worth savoring because that joy doesn't come from us. It comes from something so much bigger. A God who is so much bigger, who can take that pain and redeem it, if we can just hold on and believe. If we can just conjure up that tiniest bit of HOPE.

I bought this a few months ago at a local store in town. It's "my word" and it has been since we lost our daughter. It sits on my bedside table; a constant reminder that there is still joy to be found, love to be found, and most importantly, HOPE to be found in this life. I can't do it on my own. It's Christ power at work in my life and my heart that allows me to live in joy, despite my grief. It didn't happen overnight. And on the days where the greatest thief of all wants to steal that HOPE, I am reminded of my favorite verse and I "hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful." (Hebrews 10:23, NIV). 

Or as The Message translates it, "Let's keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word." 

He always keeps His word. 

I don't have to do the work. It's already been done. I just have to grab hold of that HOPE - even on the days I waver and doubt - because He IS faithful. He can bring life and love and joy out of pain and loss and darkness. He promises to bring something good out of your pain. 

And when you lose someone you love, that sounds like the most absurd statement of all. Where in the world is the good in losing someone I desperately loved? How does that even make sense?? I argued with God over that one more times that I can count. 

And then, one day, Hope steps in. And while you still grapple with why He had to use something so deeply painful to you, you begin to see glimpses of Him at work. 

So as we await that HOPE during this Advent season, grab on to it for dear life. Even if your grip is barely holding on, His grip is tighter. Even if you don't believe, He believes in you. Even if you are angry at Him and questioning why in the world He is leading you down this path of grief and hurt, He hears you. 

I've experienced all of those emotions. They are natural and they are normal to people who are hurting. 

Even so, this is what I believe. Grief doesn't have to steal your joy. It doesn't have to steal your happiness. It doesn't have to steal your life. And it doesn't have to steal your HOPE. 

Grieve, this Christmas season, for that person you love. That person you would give anything to just have five more minutes with. Grieve because it is natural and it is healing and it is cleansing. 

And as you grieve, grab on to HOPE as best you can. And let the One who promised to one day "wipe away every tear" begin that work now. 

For He who promised is faithful.

During this Advent season, I am most grateful for that. I hold on to it with everything I have. 

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift.