I had every intention of writing more this year. My notes app is full of ideas and topics I wanted to share with you. Sure life is busy and there are many demands that derail my writing time. But if I’m honest, this was a year of settling in, of percolating, of refining my heart and spirit. It was a year of finding a brave space where I feel comfortable and confident and more sure of who I am and what I believe. When we are in these spaces, it’s often quiet time, as our hearts, minds and spirits are churned and clarified. I often resist this churning, I want to have arrived. But these are necessary times. They are the doorways to new and open spaces. In the midst of them we often feel nothing is happening, yet upon reflection we see how we’ve grown and become. We have clarity for a path forward.
Since Ethan died Christmas has been a hard time of year. Ethan loved Christmas and we’ve learned to honor him and keep him part of the celebration. Yet, nothing will ever suffice or replace his physical presence. This year feels different though, it feels more peaceful, more okay. Maybe because of all the inner work I’ve done this year, maybe because time passes and the sharp edges smooth a bit. Maybe because I’m more certain what this celebration is all about.
After Ethan died I saw everything differently. I was struck by how we walk through life going through the motions. We do things just because they are the next thing to do. We believe things because we’ve been raised to or expected to. No, I did not want to live like that any longer. I wanted deep intentional living. To do things because I chose them, to believe things because I felt them deep in my heart.
It was a week before our second Christmas without Ethan. I sat in a dimly lit church to watch Chase’s Christmas Program. Surrounded by other parents with their cameras ready to capture the moment, I felt uncomfortable being in a church and even somewhat bitter about the celebration of Christmas. I was uncertain about this Jesus, this story. I wasn’t sure what I believed about it anymore. But I was also in the midst of seeing life in a new way. I had been altered by my son’s death and I was grasping to rebuild my heart. On that December afternoon, I listened to the age-old Christmas story, and this time I heard it in a new way.
I had opened myself up to the idea of supernatural signs with messages from God and Ethan. It’s undeniable that Christmas is full of these signs. Of Angels sending messages, and the sky flashing light. I saw nature expressing joy and people saying yes to a calling they did not ask for and a hope that they could not see. As I listened, I thought maybe this story, maybe this Jesus was different than the one I had rotely encountered for all these years.
I’ve spent the last five years finding a space where I can sit and be comfortable, not frozen, not figity, not feeling cold sweats, but feeling warmth and wholeness. Not complete wholeness, which I don’t think is possible this side of heaven. I’m still learning, yet I’m closer to accepting myself as I am at this moment, in the space I am in. Still, I remain a work in progress.
Richard Rohr has influenced my thinking and my heart this year. Funny enough, his books and cassette tapes graced our home through my childhood. My dad too connects with his work. Richard’s words and ideas resonate with my soul at a deep level. He teaches so beautifully about mystery and our calling to surrender to the Flow of God. He teaches about the importance of a non-dual mind and of suffering being a birthplace to clarity and purpose. He teaches about Jesus in a way I want to be part of; that feels right in my heart.
Here’s what I’ve come to-
Christmas is a miraculous event of the intersection of spirit and matter,
of heaven and earth,
of the seen and unseen,
of the now and not yet,
of the certain and uncertain.
And this is the place I sit. It’s the only place I can be. It gives me comfort and calls me to more, I find love and the challenge to love bigger. I find a call to the present and a pull for the future.
Jesus’ birth was the absolute personification of matter and spirit coming together. Of our ability to witness God in clothes, the Divine in the flesh, the One had arrived to teach us about God's love, about how to love ourselves and others, about how to reach into the darkness to find light. This Jesus came to remind us that this unity of matter and spirit are, in fact, what we are too. He came to remind us that we are not alone, we are not forgotten, that our story does not end in the dark spaces.
In this space I can be fully present in the here and now, but with the knowledge I’m part of something much larger than myself. This space allows for heaven and earth both to be present in my daily life. I find Ethan here and feel him with me. In this space I can accept Bodey’s unknown future and his constant needs. In this space I know I’m walking a bigger story, a bigger something that is revealed one step at a time.
Jesus was born in the deepest dark, in the last place any mother would want to give birth, surrounded by supernatural signs and a pull of hope those part of the story could not deny.
His arrival brought a new way of seeing the world, he would suggest a new way to love others, a new way to see our enemies and the least of those beside us. For me, I see a beacon, I see light in spaces that have sat black. I feel Heaven around me, I feel Ethan beside me, I hear that I am loved, exactly as I am today.
In the deepest darkness, in crowded spaces, in the doubts and fears, in the anger, in the disbelief, amidst oppression, for you who feel let down, abandoned, hopeless and forgotten, Christmas is especially for you. For you. There is light for you. There is hope for you.
This Christmas I invite you to seek peace in your profound dark space. I invite you to search for it, to see what this Christmas story might mean for you. Wherever you are, whatever you believe, there are nuggets for each of us. I invite you to scroll through the longings of your heart and see where they might lead. I give you permission to wrestle and ask and spend time finding out what brings calmness to your soul.
Whether your heart is settled or not, hardened or soft, or somewhere in between. Wherever you are this day, it is okay. Keep searching, keep asking, keep seeking.
Grace and Peace to each of you.
PS. I’m all about Rob Bell’s podcasts right now. This one featuring Alexander Shaia, an anthropologist, talks about Christmas and radiance in the deepest dark. It’s a great listen.