Storyteller.

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We were made to be storytellers.

 

There’s something woven in each and every one of us that makes humanity purposeful. We’re made for so much more than waking up, clocking in, clocking out, sending a few Tweets, using a few filters, and going to bed just to wake up and do it all again.

 

We’re made to tell a story, and we’re made to live in every line of it.

 

It’s easy to pass over. The cover looks plain, battered. Like it’s been read thousands of times and passed along thousands of people. But on the pages, nestled between the well-worn pages, is a story about love. Hope. Grace. Relent pursuit. Forgiveness. And more love—so much more than we can imagine.

 

So what is the story?

 

It’s about people who were created to live in a relationship centered on love—but not just any love. It was the kind of love that didn’t hurt or abandon. It didn’t run out or embarrass. It was perfect. It was everything we’ve ever desired.

 

But, the people weren’t content. They became insecure and doubted their story. In some ways, I can’t blame them. It must have felt too good to be true. In their unhappiness, they strayed far from the One who loved them most.

 

They hurt the One that gave them protection.

They left the One who gave them the love they needed.

They ran out on the One who wanted to be close.

They willingly handed over everything you and I were made to desire.

 

And then they wandered off into a cold world alone.

 

Along the way, many brave men and women spoke up. Many of them did courageous things because they missed what they had lost. They hungered for protection and love. But, many, many more spoke up in a different way; they did everything to keep their distance. I wonder if they ever thought about that initial decision to run away from Him. Like, if they blamed their parents for creating such a mess. I want to sometimes—but then I remember I’m just like them. I struggle with doubt and wondering what’s better on the other side too. And to be honest, I probably would have ended up doing the same thing. Our story is the same.

 

The problem is, we couldn’t find our way back home. As we wandered and attempted our own plans, none of it could measure up. We wrote a story where every page desperately cried out for love and grace—but it fell silent. As we rummaged for our maps and books and tools, we tried halfheartedly to find that way back home.

 

It was like being on the opposite cliff. You can hear Him. You can see Him, a little speck on the other side of the massive gorge separating you two. He feels close, but still far. As He shouts your name across the expanse, fear sets in because you realize you’re alone– but this isn’t something you can do alone. You need help. You need a miracle. You feel hopeful yet hopeless all at once. You pace back and forth, thinking, “There must be a way, there must be a way.”

 

No bridge could be built to cross. There’s not enough nails, wood, time. You’d splinter and tear your hands for naught.

 

What you didn’t realize is that He, still standing across the canyon shouting your name, is relentless. As we wrote the chapters to a story that led us to stand alone on a cliff, He was editing behind us every step of the way. He was at work in our story. He told us that too—uncountable times. We’re just too stubborn to listen. He showed His power to redeem the bad situations we found ourselves in. He used our bad decisions to pen something more beautiful.

 

“Hm. Let’s change this sentence to this. No period here, semicolon. This one is just bad altogether, let’s fix it. Oh, but this one… this is one we can use,” he muttered. Sometimes we understood what He was up to, but most times, we didn’t. But that’s okay. He was working things out and that’s where we found our hope.

 

The story was leading to the climax—the part that everything centered on. Instead of only hearing His shouting from across the valley, we would feel Him take us into His arms as he whispered, “Welcome home.” That’s what He was working too. That’s what all the editing and rewriting was about.

 

And sure enough, just as He had promised, our help came. On a night that we call silent and holy, when a star shone brighter than any other, He came. Lying in a feeding trough for animals, a newborn baby was nestled in swaddling cloths. His teenage mother and unmarried father gazed upon Him with adoration. Kings looked for Him and people hated him.

 

Something in the world changed that night. And this was the beginning of our “Welcome home.”

 

This baby grew. He grew to become a carpenter and miracle-worker. He was wise and thought-provoking. He unashamedly lived out the purpose He was sent for. And He changed everything about that story.

 

The beautiful thing is He came in grace. Love. Forgiveness. Hope. Relentless pursuit. And more love. This wasn’t a contract we’d sign, promising to never mess up again. This wasn’t a guilt-trip over the silly, embarrassing places we’d landed in. This wasn’t a pay-to-receive type of thing. He didn’t want anything from us. Because the reality is His love for us was deeper and wider and fuller than the valley that had separated us.

 

He simply wanted to welcome us home.

 

And this was what every line in the story led to: the receiving of a gift. Not broken bridges or splintered hands. We were finished with proving ourselves. In its place landed a gift, without conditions or guilt, handed to us from the hand of the One who loves us most.

 

He poured everything He had into this gift. He had been so excited to give us this gift. Actually, He had told us about this uncountable time before this. Like a kid keeping a secret, He was giddy to tell us. And He had hinted at it for centuries. But we were busy and didn’t hear it.

 

Finally, the moment came when He handed this long-awaited gift to us in plain, brown paper and told us, “It might not look like much, but I’ve waited years to give this to you. It’s the most precious thing I have, and I want you to have it because I love you. I love you so much, that it is worth giving up my entire treasure.”

 

And all he wants is for us to accept it. No payment. No rehashing of all our embarrassing stories. No explanation of why we ran. Only yes.

 

::

 

My brothers and my sisters, this is the what the songs are about. When we sing this week, and when we pass gifts, and when we exchange a smile with a stranger—this is why. We are celebrating that the plans of Love were accomplished. We are celebrating our “Welcome home!” We are praising the Author who crafts stories that change the world.

 

And to those who carry this plain, brown paper gift daily: our songs are being sung. Our stars and angels are being placed on the tops of trees. Generous, kind gifts are being given, but none can compare to the endless love of the baby in the manger that would grow into the man who would walk to His death in order to restore humanity back to the One who loved us most.

 

This is our week.

 

This is the week of our Savior, church.

 

This is the week, more than any other week in the year, when a lost nation utters the name of Jesus while singing about joy and peace.

 

I’m not sure that I can rightfully say that this week centers on us. But, I can say it centers on Christ. And if He is all that we claim Him to be, then it is an honor to tell His story of relentless, unstopping love this week. After all, we were made to be storytellers.

::

 

“Light of Life dispel my darkness

let Your frailty strengthen me

let Your meekness give me boldness

let Your burden set me free

oh, Immanuel, my Savior

let Your death be life for me”

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When Noel is oddly, eerily quiet.

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I look for a station wagon at every Christmas tree farm I pass.

You know, that station wagon with a tree tied to its roof. The one that’s pinned on Pinterest, embroidered on coffee mug sleeves, sewn on shirts, and colored with paint. Sometimes there’s plaid added to it. Sometimes the car is red.

But, I’ve never seen it. In all my driving around Nashville, I’ve never seen it.

Honestly, I don’t think it’s idea of paying for a tree that will die in weeks or being the proud owner of a station wagon that has given that little image so much popularity. I think it’s what comes after that leaves us dreaming.

It’s the picture of a couple bundled in goats and scarves, standing and gazing at the tall, green spruce trees stand waiting to be claimed as bright bulbs sway above the mini-forest. They clear space from their living room window and leave enough room to stand their tree in the place of the things that were there. They choose their best strand of lights to weave through the green, green branches and hang their ornaments dated in shades of silver and gold. They dance with tinsel as the crackling record plays. And when it’s all decorated and picture-perfect, they turn off the overhead lights, flip on the tree’s lights, and sip their coffee as they smile to themselves, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

It’s a feeling of being home. Of giving. Of keeping traditions your granny taught you before you could even afford your own gifts. Of making something lovely. Of turning the ordinary into something elaborate. Of setting everything aside to make this one season different than all the rest—

It’s beautiful. And I think this is why that image of a station wagon heading somewhere with that tree on top is so popular. It’s not that tree that’s precious, or that plaid that warms our hearts. It’s that anticipation that truly, truly the most wonderful time of year is here.

As I drive past those plots of green spruces, I still look for that person who handpicks their tree, ties it up, and drives it home to that empty space in front of the window. The difference between me and those station-wagon drivers is they stopped to walk the tree-lined path under the swaying lights, and I never have. Instead, I’ve kept my foot steady on the gas and keep passing, watching them in my mirror as they move farther way.

:: :: ::

It’s been a quiet season.

I’m used to buying too many Christmas cards, spending more than I can really afford, and staying up later than is good all in the name of attempting some Pinterest recipe spreading Christmas spirit. I’m the girl who has multiple Christmas sweaters, and specifically chose matching prints of red and brown wrapping paper last year that coordinated and made for great pictures. I’ve seen the lights at Opryland every year of my life, and yet, I still stand amazed by the thousands of lights strung each year.

But this year is not the same– and it took me until December 18th to admit that. I haven’t written one Christmas card, written more than a few names down on my gift-list, or even looked at my “Merry” board on Pinterest. I’ve only worn a Christmas sweater once, and the only wrapping paper I’ve touched has been borrowed. There’s been no trip or plans for Opryland. Honestly, the lights’ shining don’t have the same dazzle to them that they used to—

things are quiet. Oddly, eerily quiet.

I love Christmas and all the superfluous (that’s a Cindy Lou-Who word, y’all) traditions that come with it. And I don’t want you to hear “Bah-humbug!” as your eyes skim these words. I love Christmas. Even in all its Americanized, excessive quirks, I love it.

But I have to be honest with you: this year has been sobering. I’ve lived in excess. I’ve seen excess. I’ve wanted even more excess. And I’ve loved it— even to the point that these days have become all about the things I’m doing with my own hands, time, and money. This pursuit is exhausting right now, because all of these things satisfy me only for a second, and then just allow me to dry just minutes later.

It’s restless work, chasing things that I either find and drain me completely, or that I don’t find and worry endlessly about. And I think that’s been the conflict in my heart: in all its excess, these days can still miss something.

:: :: ::

My first Christmas as a Christian was precious. It came at the onset of a tough season for my family, that would eventually be followed by healing and renewal. Although I met Jesus the first days of June, the love He gave me intrigued me to continue  to know Him for the months and months— and now years— to come. Especially during that first year, everything was filled with a new, curious desire to know what every part of life would feel like as a daughter of a King—

What is it like to be at church now? What about school? Will I sing the same songs I used to? Will I hear His voice as I drive late at night? What are all of these beautiful, beautiful words filling my mind and being put to paper? Why do all I all of a sudden want to put my last dollar in a heavy, golden-colored plate? How come no one ever told me that the Bible said this? Do tacos taste better now too?

It was new. Every little piece. In every song I heard, every word I read, every person I met, it was met with a new way of thinking, a new purpose, a new way to see the hand of God crafting away. Even reading my Bible for the first time was different, and I honestly don’t think my words could speak those moments justice; it was nothing short of amazing.

Abounding possibility I had never known before broke through and it shed light in every corner of my life. And when those days neared that first December, I was telling it on the mountain as loud as my little voice could carry.

I was absolutely ecstatic to finally feel Christmas for what it truly was– without lies, without obligation, without faking it as beautiful lights twinkled around me. After 17 years, I finally knew what all the songs were about and why everyone rallied together during those days. The emptiness in my wondering, “What’s the point?” was filled and ran over with some of my first tastes of hope, joy, love, and peace came. In late 2012 as I gifted and shared meals with loved ones, I learned how Christmas felt know that I knew Jesus.

That was the year I used all my McDonald’s paycheck one week to fill shoeboxes with candy for acquaintances, just because the Christmas aisles were pretty and I wanted those people to feel loved and given for.  I’d finish the days by coming back to my room to thank that once-baby Jesus who had met me with fullness of Life that year.

It was magnificent. Even the way I gave and gazed at the twinkle lights was new. It was my first authentic Christmas, and I’ll never forget waking up on that early morning and thanking Him for it.

:: :: ::

This is my 5th real Christmas and this one is different.

As the question “what do you want?” has undoubtedly come, I haven’t found an honest answer– to the point I keep forgetting what I’ve said I “want.” A printer? A new flat iron? A new Mac case? Something like that, I think. Things that could be useful, but I don’t have a deep, lingering desire to have. They’re all just plastic and pieces. They’ll be new tomorrow and old next week. Come and gone before we’ve even dug the receipt out of the bottom of the wallet.

As I folded stacks of toddler sized pants and shirts while meandering shoppers walked slowly around me, it hit me: the things I want for Christmas can’t be found under a tree. They don’t fit in boxes and bags. They aren’t covered in beautiful foil paper with ribbons tied. Honestly, they probably didn’t even make it to Santa’s desk this year—

I want all that hope, love, peace, and joy promised me just over 5 years ago. Whatever it looks like, I want it.

I want it to make me a better writer. Lover. Friend. Daughter. Servant. Teacher. Artist. Dreamer. Encourager. Church member. Courageous fighter pursuing the next battle to win in His name. Anything and everything that I’ve been called to— I want it all.

Honestly though, “want” is probably too small a word for it. My soul longs for these things to be so tangled in my life that I cannot be known without them.

It has nothing to do with cookies. No lights. No cards. No foil wrapping paper, no matter how well it folds. Call me cheesy— I honestly don’t care— but more than anything, I want to see the precious, perfect, baby face of my Savior in the manger–

as the star dances above us, I want to feel the hay and dirt beneath my knees as I fall to hear the angel voices. As we make room among the livestock, I want to feel the tears in my eyes blur my vision as my heart resounds, “My King has come, my King has come.”

:: :: ::

It’s somber to think about the raw reality of the Christmas story. You know, that a King stepped from His throne to meet us in our darkness, and His only welcoming was a feeding trough fit for animals. And as the wisemen came to bring gifts fit for a King and God during the coming months, they also carried with them embalming that was only useful for dead-men. They laid it at the bedside of the baby as His parents watched, quietly and mournfully. And as this innocent, precious baby grew, grew, grew, He was followed with hate.

But yet, even as He was mocked and used, He loved. Fiercely, unceasingly, and fervently, He loved us. As we lay in darkness, straining our eyes to see the end and scratching at the chains tied to us, He came to call it no more. He called taught us what it means to live in love and peace, and made us free and completely safe from harm’s way. It sends chills up my spine to even think about the grace that embedded His fingerprints, as He came to do exactly what He promised, unconditionally—

to love us without fear. To break the chains of our slavery. To invite create unwavering joy and peace. To bring us back into safety. To know us. To completely, totally, and absolutely heal us.

He came to change everything. And my heart is completely broken, because it all began in a bed of hay, dirt, and leftover food for animals.

:: :: ::

Just because this year is different and I’m driving past the Christmas tree farms doesn’t mean it isn’t real. This year is no less authentic than those first days. But this year, my joy sounds different. 

It’s peaceful. It’s in a minor key. It’s oddly, eerily quiet. It’s like a song I’ve always hummed, but never remembered the words to. But this year, my joy is resounding with peace and quiet I’ve waited five years for.

I don’t know when Christmas became superfluous. At some point though, the mall hired carolers and ensembles of guitars, clarinets, and saxophones to come play music. Someone turned the water off in the fountain and filled it with vibrant red poinsettias. Others picked up second jobs just to afford their holiday shopping. We stayed up late baking cookies and tying ribbons.

It’s fine. Honestly and truly. This time of year is filled with a sweet busyness, and I love watching as red and green light up our world. But sometimes, it’s okay to take a step back and feel joy in the quiet. It’s okay to take a break and rest.

Wherever your Christmas finds you today, I hope you enjoy it. In all the busy and bustle of Santa’s big scene, I hope you find time time to rest in the simplicity and wonder of it all. I hope you can find a tune to resound in your heart that praises this sweet, sweet noel in quiet.

As for me, I’ll continue on my road just past those Christmas tree farms for just this year. As the days get colder, I’ll watch from afar at the lights and life happening all around. Quietly and solemnly, I’ll be among the livestock and clinging to the love, hope, peace, and joy lying in the dirt. I’ll be far from the things that vie for my attention, and resting in the center of that old story.

And if you’re searching for it, I hope you’ll keep on your walk toward that dusty, dirty inn. I’ll be there too, kneeling cradle side and gazing in wonder at the wonder of such a sweet, holy night, whispering with tears in my eyes—

my King has come, my King has come.

::  :: ::

Photo credits to my future sister-in-law, the ever-so-lovely, paintbrush ballin’, and Instagrammin’ @ash_not_ketchum. 🙂

The story that took years of listening and fidgeting and interrupting and being still for me to understand.

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Christmas hasn’t always felt this way.

Christmas hasn’t always felt like more than pretty bows and ornaments on a tree. And somehow, a story of a baby and a stable and a really big star seemed to hold it all together like tape on shimmery paper. With all the truth I can muster, I didn’t get it. For years, I wondered how a story of a stable-birth could cause such a ruckus.

But then somewhere, someone with a big voice and a big heart pulled you in close to tell you the real thing. It reminded you of that summer day when your best friend told you, “I’m having a baby,” and your heart split, stopping and soaring at the same time. Not because it was bad, but because you already missed the days of sleepovers and playing Barbies with her. Still, you listened. Though moving fast on the inside, you stood still, oh so still, to hear this story.

:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

It sounded a lot like a sticky situation. A snowball effect of one bad decision and the innumerable other bad decisions to follow. Ridden with hopeless wondering and nearly-ceaseless waiting, it was the kind of story that left you wide-eyed in a pile of rubbled grace and asking, “well– what now?”

The story made a lot of promises. And I don’t mean small, magnifying glass promises. These were promises proclaimed as we watched burning bushes, and stood under lightning and thunder flashes. The magnitude of these words left us to run to the cleft of the rock and cower down in all the fear and fascination our baby hearts could muster and ask again, “well– what now?”

Above all, we were filled with longing to know this Promise-Maker more. Every time He spoke those words of newness, and blessings, and descendants, and other big things we didn’t quite understand, we knew, “hey, this guy means business,” and our souls yearned to be one of His promises.

But then there was silence. We were left with promises of rising with healing on our wings and leaping as joyfully as little calves, and for 400 years, that sustained us. We wallowed and wrestled and waited, waited, waited.

And then it came. In the most specific, perfectly plotted adventure, it came. He came.  Even as we had drifted and wandered and doubted, He clung to those moments He had shared with us so many years ago, and showed up. Seriously, I couldn’t have dreamed up the details because every word this Promise Maker had spoken so many years ago came to life in the most bold, and scandalous of ways. There’s never been a better Promise-Keeper in the history of the world– that I am certain of.

As we thought of the possibility of a God limiting himself to the messiness of a manger, and the helplessness of a baby in order to continue weaving together His promises, we still didn’t get it. Even so, we fell to our knees and repeated, “Oh, glory in the highest– our God has come to save us,” because that pile of rubbled grace we once stood in began to transform directly in front of us.

We realized this was never about what we had done, but we He chose to do for us because at the end of the day, we are trying so hard to get it right and He is longing to get it right for us. He wrapped His golden self into golden paper and handed Himself over. And this time the prize is giving that plastic medal we got for winning the third-grade spelling bee a run for its money.

:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

One of my favorite worship outfits in Nashville is a gathering known as Kairos. As I drove down a dark highway late one night, I listened to one of the recent podcasts, and I heard the pastor say:

“It’s a hard thing when your arms go limp by your side and you realize you can’t win— that’s why the good news of Christmas is this word right here: a Savior is born for you. A Savior is born for you. God understood we were in bad need of being saved. And we can’t save ourselves. We can’t fix it ourselves. We can’t make it better ourselves. And God in His ultimate mercy knew we couldn’t get to Him–

So in His grace and love, He came to us in the most vulnerable form He could: a baby. He didn’t come as a mighty warrior. He did not come on a big stallion with a sword in his hand, because that would make us step back. He did not come as a king, because that would make us bow down. No, He came as a baby so you and me would draw us close.

Babies do that, don’t they? Someone walks in with a baby, and everybody gets up. Oh, let me see, oh this baby is beautiful, oh you wanna talk, you wanna know. So He comes as a baby so you will draw close. And this Savior was born for you.”

I heard that, and the corners of my lips turned up as I thought of the reality of such perfect promises being held together by such a messy, out-of-the-box plan. Choruses of new days, and fulfilled promises, and big, big words filled my head. And at the center stood a God who wanted so badly to love me and know me, He made the story happen by showing up. We dream about someone standing outside our window with a boom box overhead, or seeing him standing in the middle of the crowded airport with a bouquet of flowers, and it’s lovely because in this story, this God came to us with all the blessed treasures we could every pray for.

In the following Kairos’ podcast, the pastor talked a lot about staying where we are. About understanding that when you’re lost, you literally have no clue where you are—no descriptions, no clues, no anything. And in this story, instead of navigating us over a telephone call, “Oh, turn left at that stop light and fork a right there,” He showed up. He came to find us, and somehow, He did. He made a promise to be here, and He came— exactly as He had said, and not a minute later or sooner.

:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

So I guess what I should have started this post with is, “The end of December hasn’t always felt this way.”

There was a time when I would look at the bareness of the tree and the torn wrapping paper that covered the floor, and the empty plates scattered around the kitchen, and the boxes that held those small ornaments until next year, and I would just slump down. I would feel so incomplete, so bummed out, like it wasn’t okay to celebrate again for another 11 months or so. But these days, I consider it pure joy to share in such sweet moments with the fam and pals, and when it’s time to pack up the leftovers, it’s all right. I don’t know, I guess that somewhere in me has come to see these days as the icing on the cake of a continuous celebration.

Somewhere while chords of O Holy Night resounded and things worth pondering stored themselves in our hearts, something did change. And instead of selling this thing so short, we lived it– with heavy words and big hugs and quiet, quiet peace, we lived it.

And I know it’s cheesy. The churches plaster “Jesus is the reason for the season” and I write things like this, but this season hasn’t always felt like this. Every year it moves a little closer and I get a little closer, and it changes. For me, those changes have meant the world.

It’s like not worrying about gifts, but counting it an awesome privilege to buy a toaster for your aunt or that scarf you’ve seen in your roommate’s pictures in Japan.

It’s getting cozy with a friend and hot cocoa, reminiscing on the past year’s work, and for just a moment, forgetting the work that needs to be done today.

It’s reading the story of the candy cane on the back of a candy box, and thinking, “huh, so that’s what it means. Relevant.”

It’s driving past that 4 story, fully lit tree on Bowling Avenue and nearly stopping as you crane your neck to just catch a glimpse of it.

I believe in this story– this story that took years of listening and fidgeting and interrupting and being still for me to understand. And I believe in these traditions– giving as freely as I have received, listening because He has heard me, being led as a helpless sheep in this bigger than life circle of lovely things, living at the center of constant fascination— I get it. But I think the striking thing is I will spend the rest of my life trying to understand it more, but never will. Seriously. I will spend the rest of my life living in the middle of this story led by a star, some big promises and big words, and a lot of hay, and I will never fully grasp it.

I can hardly wait.

:: bm