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mediums and messages


“The medium is the message.” — Marshall McLuhan

Marshall McLuhan is supposed to have predicted the World Wide Web decades before it ever came into being. He was, in his day, the leading thinker regarding communication theory, and his quote above is the very first thing I remember learning at Berry College, in the fall of 1993, when I entered there as a freshman majoring in broadcast communication. Essentially, he argued that any medium of communication has an affect on the message itself–it’s a symbiotic relationship of sorts–and so attention must be paid to the medium we choose for any given message, because of how it will shape (or perhaps even distort) that message.

I can still hear my professor’s voice teaching us the words, can still see them scribbled across the top of a page of a wide-ruled notebook, my preference for classroom note-taking, and I can still remember the first paper I wrote that fall–for Dr. Dan Panici’s introductory broadcast journalism course–that helped me explore McLuhan’s theory. The paper compared/contrasted media coverage of the Vietnam War versus the (then much more recent, and, as it turned out, first) Iraq War, and how that coverage’s technological advancement affected our understanding of war, its impact on our day-to-day lives, and, even if indirectly, our capacity for understanding what was real and what was not in news coverage.

I’m super fuzzy on all that theory now, I’ll be honest. But I’ve had McLuhan’s phrase at the forefront of my brain these last few days. Mostly because social media is proving him right. And yes, I’m looking at you specifically, Twitter and Facebook.

I’ve been talking about it some with a dear friend. A woman of deep, deep faith who is an incredible leader and one of my greatest supports both personally and professionally. I’ve told her how heartsick I am for our nation. How brutal I see us being to one another, to those we hardly know, or know not at all, as we click and comment and share, generally on a whim, and almost always as a reaction to something we’ve seen that has evoked an emotional response of some sort. I do not see us stopping to ask, “Is this true?” I do not see us taking a breath and then taking some time to collect more information. I do not see us treating one another in the space that is social media in ways we’d be willing to ‘fess up to publicly, with our grandmothers listening and our children watching.

It’s easier in the darkness that falls behind a computer screen, you know, to call names…and issue edicts…and make fun and jab…and assume for Gospel-truth something that has been photo-shopped, edited for agenda, and/or outright manufactured to support a certain viewpoint.

I see us making the political quagmire our nation is in much worse. I see us fostering the very hate we speak against. I see us judging at the click of a mouse. I see us using snark as our finely exacted weapon against that which we disagree with. And I see us adopting hot-take-ready outrage as our new national pastime as opposed to actually getting in there, and doing the fiercely hard work of real relationship, real listening, real reconciliation.

In my heartbreak, these are the words my friend said to me, loosely paraphrased, “We’ve been here before. We’ve seen this hatred and division before. We’ve seen this being so unkind to each other before. We have been here before. What’s changed are the tools we have to express it all. We used to write letters or make phone calls or visits…and now we just “click” without even thinking or stopping to assess what is real and what isn’t.”

What’s changed are the tools we have to express it all….

“The medium is the message.”

It is clear to me that social media is shaping our public discourse in ways that are setting us back instead of moving us forward.

It is clear to me that the anonymity of Twitter breeds a kind of toxicity that is hard to combat.

It is clear to me that Facebook is awash–awash, people!–with fake news of all sorts and from all sides and from all agendas.

It is clear to me that we have sought refuge in our profile pages during a terribly frightening and fraught-with-conflict time in our communities and our country, as opposed to actually sitting down with someone we vehemently disagree with and simply saying, “Help me understand.”

This is all especially clear to me when it comes to those of us who profess Christianity. Or really any of the major world religions that speak first of love and kindness and last (if at all) of violence and hatred. Because the answer to the question, “What would Jesus do?” is 1) much more difficult than we like to admit, 2) never exactly what we think, and 3) not something you or I get to dictate.

I cannot claim to know what Jesus would do. But what I have read over and over, and experienced again and again, tells me that whatever Jesus would do, incredible grace and all-encompassing love would be the driving forces.

It is also clear to me that social media can be a happy and helpful place, where valiant causes are supported and real, important news is sometimes posted that helps us understand the world, and families and friends can connect, and good news can be shared, and feel-good stories are cast far and wide so that we can remember our humanity…but y’all…these things are not what we’re letting shape us. We are not heeding our better angels when it comes to our social media engagement.

And it will be our undoing.

My favorite poet, Mary Oliver, died last week. One of her most-loved poems includes these words, “What is it you want to do with your one, wild precious life?”

One. One wild and precious life. Do you want it defined by Facebook? Do you want it to be shaped by Twitter? Do you want your fleeting second in this world, your message, to be documented in the comments section of a story you just loved or just hated?

No matter my love for the connections I have made and maintain on the old book-face, and no matter how much more this blog might get read because of the very medium I am angry at…my answer to that question is a resounding “No.”

I want my message defined by words strung together in the sentences I love to create…by my daughter’s laugh and her lovely voice…by my love for the outdoors and for homeless dogs…even by the awful mistakes I have made, and the hurt and pain I have known, maybe even unknowingly caused at times, because these are the things that have taught me the refining power of mercy and the redemptive goodness of grace…and, perhaps most of all, I want my message defined by my relationships and a willingness to enter into them with all of me, broken parts and all.

I believe we can do better. I believe that all is not lost. But we gotta find some better tools, y’all. Some better ways of communicating. Some more authentic messages. Some desire to set aside everything we think we know and begin again the work of being fellow Americans, no matter our skin color, our gender, our socioeconomic status. No matter who we choose to love, no matter where we worship, and no matter our political party.

It’s hard, hard work. But the truth is that we don’t really have a viable choice except to do it.

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Morning’s promise.

Icy streets have local public schools on a two-hour delay this morning.

No one in my house was upset about that as we went to bed. Six months in we’re still not happy about how early middle school starts, and so a weekday morning to sleep in, even just an hour, is a gift.

Unfortunately, Skye-dog did not get the memo. And so, at 6am, was nosing at my bedroom door as per usual on a weekday (somehow she acknowledges the weekends, thank goodness!) begging for breakfast. I may have muttered a curse word or two her direction under my breath as I crawled out of warm blankets, stumbled to the kitchen, filled her doggie bowl and pushed “brew” on the coffee maker.

Long story short, I found myself at my desk, checking calendar, making notes for the week, and clicking “send” on emails before the sun rose. And that meant, an hour or so later, I leaned back in my chair, post email-composing and, lucky, lucky me, caught sunrise outside my window.

With barely a conscious thought, I sang in my head, “Morning has broken, like the first morning…” and almost unbidden came ancient words from my faith, “This is the day that the Lord has made….” I smiled, and breath felt easier, as if my heart had temporarily found a more peaceful and steady rhythm.

Peaceful and steady rhythms are not, I think, easy for any of us to come by these days. Our collective anxiety–in our families, our communities, and certainly our nation, is sky high. The demands on our calendars, our check books and our performance levels–whether domestic or professional–is often more than is sustainable, the rat race we’ve created for ourselves unlike anything before, and entirely self-defeating. And I don’t know that there is one identifiable culprit in all this, rather, a host of things–though I’m going to go ahead and put social media and the ways we let it define personal and communal conversation in the top five (another blog for another day).

The facts are that we have brought ourselves to this land of high anxiety, and resisting its affects on our lives both personal and corporate takes conscious effort.

Most of all, it takes, I think, a firm commitment to the truth that what we DO is not the best way to measure ourselves…rather, who we are ARE. You can complete all the lists you want my friends, excel at the highest level, line your bank account and your office walls with the results of your efforts. And you know–well done if you do. But I am much more interested in how we live our lives; how we love those nearest us; how we pay attention to the things that matter most.

Look, I get it. Deadlines do often matter. And so does producing results in the workplace. And we have responsibilities that have to be met and people we are accountable to–all that.

But damn if any of it matters if you lose the ability to catch your breath at a particularly promising sunrise…if you forget to say “I love you,” on the way out the door…if you put measuring up above simply being…YOU.

For me, this all boils down to the practice of presence–to simply showing up. For our lives. For our loved ones. For every day, no matter what. Showing up. Being present. Making it know that you are here, and that your people matter to you, and that life is too short to not be thankful and present for every single second of it.

This is on my mind this morning because I temporarily forgot it all last night. I got caught up in “organizing for the week ahead,” after a long weekend. And I mean, sure, I guess that has to be done to an extent–but in my case it meant failing to listen to the ones closest to me because I was so caught up in “doing,”… “managing.”

This never makes me my best self.

Sunrise this morning jiggled a little balance into my busy soul. Reminded me that in the end, all will be well, and that I am not the sum total of what I can produce–and neither is anyone around me. Watching morning come into being reminded me of the very thing I promise my sweet Curly Girl every day–that we are not alone. And that the best thing we can do for one another is offer presence for the journey. Not advice. Not to-do lists. Not a new app that will do it all just right or a new planner that will make all our hopes and dreams come true….

No to all that.

And then just offering the presence of your heart to someone else’s. This is everything.

And so today, that sunrise having brought me to my senses, I’ll try again. Because morning’s promise is that a new day really does bring a new possibility. New hope. New space for showing up. For dwelling in the promise that we were made in love, created to love, and that choosing to live as such will always lead us home.

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Vocabulary lessons.

The 6th grader in this house has a new vocabulary list this first week back after Christmas break. She studied it last evening, and so this morning, on our pre-dawn drive across town to her school, I asked her about the new words, knowing she’ll have a vocabulary quiz at week’s end.

“Versatile,” she said. “Jostled.”

I smiled as she told me in her own words what these new-to-her words meant. And then she said, “Perspective.”

I stopped her cold, with “Oh Mads! That’s a great word! And a really important one!”

I could tell that 1) she thought I was little cray having gotten so excited about a word before the sun was even considering rising, and 2) she was not interested in my excitement in her still-adjusting-to-back-at-school fog.

So I (likely wisely) let it go. But I’ll come back to it with her one day.

Because perspective is a mighty, mighty thing.

Perspective is often so deeply personal. Whatever baggage you’ve got (and dear ones, we all have baggage–the trick is to keep it contained, preferably in a carry-on size rolling bag that can be discreetly put aside now and then and not a steamer trunk headed to Hogwarts…), whatever life experience it is you bring to the table, cannot help but shape how you see the world. I am convinced that so much of what we struggle with in our families, in our communities, in our churches, in our nation, hell, certainly in our world boils down to our inability (or flat-out refusal) to see a challenge or opportunity from the perspective of another.

Anyone who knows me well at all knows that my favorite movie of all time is The Breakfast Club. It was on network TV last night–which was the very best surprise at the end of a long day, even if it was severely edited for language. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve watched it, and I caught it about 20 minutes before my favorite scene–the one where the barriers finally start being torn down between the movie’s five main characters and they begin to discover how very alike they are–all of them bizarre and anxious and afraid and jacked-up by various forms of peer pressure. Predictable, I suppose, for a John Hughes teen-angst movie–but no less profound in its exploration of what it means to be caught between your inside and your outside, unable to see anyone else’s truth because you are trying so desperately to hold on to some image of normal to present to the world. Five vastly different perspectives just trying to hold on…when their hope really lies in discovering what makes them all not so different after all.

Perspective can get lost so easily. This happens to me when I am tired. Or hangry. Or (sweet Jesus!) a combination of the two.

When I am tired I lose two things that it generally serves me well to keep close and active–my sense of humor and my capacity for seeing the big picture. Suddenly everything is awful and hopeless and I can see no way forward and I completely shut down and lose any additional bandwidth for any sort of problem-solving or conflict resolution or compassionate response to whatever I’m losing it over.

I believe with everything I am that our lives are just varying degrees of small roles–even if juicy and plot-affecting–on a much grander stage of human history and being. That said, my first drama teacher taught me that no matter how small your part might be, you play it well. As well as you are able. Because you never know when you might get to steal a scene and change the course of things.

Big picture. Tiny but crucial roles to play.

I also believe with everything I am that laughter is an even better medicine that we know, and that it should be used liberally, as often as possible, even if it sometimes born from a dark place inside you. Those who know me best will tell you that my humor can be pretty damn dark at times…but what I know is that it has in many ways saved me.

Comedy and tragedy are so very closely linked. Another lesson I learned from drama class.

And…perspective is more easily shifted than we often realize. There are things I would have risen up in all sorts of righteous indignation about when I was 20-something and thought I knew everything. Now that I am 40-something and think I probably know nothing at all, I am finally and blessedly learning that there is so much that just does not matter. So much we get bunged about that really is not worth our energy. So much we nitpick and argue and whine about that isn’t the real issue at all. So much meddling and judging and assuming…when we’d be far better off to simply accept that not everyone rolls like we do and acknowledge that every day, every single other person you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.

Perspective. It’s a good word.

And as I’ve said, a mighty thing. I’m glad my girl is learning it early–far earlier than her mama did, that’s for sure. I pray she keeps it…sees the perspective of others…allows her own to be malleable as she grows and learns and experiences this awful/beautiful/terrifying/gracious life.

Some days, holding on to some sense of what perspective brings may in fact save her.

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the possibility of beautiful and new…

(9am, NYE)

My whole life, I have felt as if the days before the new year, especially New Year’s Eve itself, were this long stretch of time-out-of-time. And this day the longest one, because at its close, something new happens. In a split second, one day it’s the last of what has been, and with the stroke of midnight, a whole new year is born.

Maybe that’s weird, but even this morning I feel it. As if tomorrow is forever away, and as if anything can happen in the next 15 hours.

In 15 hours I could drive to New York City. Or fly to Galway. Or repaint a room in my house. Or get to my college roommate’s house north of Atlanta in time for a glass of wine before dinner. Or binge the whole Defenders limited series on Netflix.

15 hours.

The truth is that it will be filled with normalcy. Laundry and household stuff this morning. Some shopping this afternoon. Dinner and a movie later. And eventually I’ll sleep and when I wake tomorrow morning…something new.

At least, the possibility of it.

And this is really true of any day–any moment. If you have not already learned that life can change–in ways both crushing and exhilarating–in the actual blink of an eye, well…one day you will. It’s in these moments that we learn what we’re really made of, of course, and where we learn the reality that nothing is guaranteed in this life and that, trite as Hallmark movies make the sentiment seem, every second really is precious and most sacred.

Just yesterday I said something I wish I had said differently–or not at all–to someone I love. I woke up at 5am thinking about it…and already determined to make it right today. Because this is what it is to be human. We mess up. We make mistakes tiny and huge. And then, if we’re lucky, we get to try again. We get to strive for something new.

This is what I know: that beautiful possibility exists. That there is always a way forward. That nothing is written in stone, except the Love that sustains us and holds us close always. That every day brings with it the opportunity to fall in love or get your heart broken. That our lives are over in a matter of seconds when compared to the age of the universe and yet…yet…we are capable of so much world-changing goodness in those seconds.

It isn’t that you have to be a hero, or rise to the name recognition of Ghandi or Pele or Oprah. It’s just about knowing that in us is more strength and resilience and ability than most of us ever realize, and sometimes the best use all that can be put to is simply living. Through the normalcy of laundry and dinner prep and paying bills to the golden moments of family laughter and hands held and the perfect glimpses of grace we sometimes get when we’re with the ones who know and love us best.

I started writing because I believe stories matter. Mine. Yours. Everyone’s. And I believe our stories help us understand the world and our place in it. Claim yours as the old year fades away and a new year is ushered in. As Brene Brown says (paraphrased), it is the bravest thing we do–owning our story.

Look, I have no idea what’s on the horizon for you this new year, what this next chapter of your story holds. But I trust in the goodness of this world God has made, and so even if there is also heartache and pain and anger, I trust something new and surprising and good–really, really good–will come your way.

But even more, I hope you know how loved you are. How much you are capable of. How much you matter. How much less a world we would be without you.

Happy New Year, y’all. It’s a really, really jacked up time to be alive most days. But also beautiful and new things happen. And I, for one, don’t want to miss those.

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December’s moon.

Even the word “December” rolls off my tongue with a hint of peace and blessing. For as long as I have memory, I have loved the dark and quiet days of this month, even as malls rage with shoppers and traffic is loud and angry and calendars are too full and expectations about family gatherings and gifts to buy crowd our hearts and make our brains hurt.

December 22, Louisville, KY

In the evenings, it seems, the madness fades, and the blanket of winter’s first days wrap themselves around the earth with more comfort than threat. More mercy than chaos. More invitation to rest and renew than keep up the frantic pace of a consumer-driven holiday season.

I write with a scratchy throat and congestion and a headache. With blood pressure a bit higher than normal as I transition from one professional setting to the next.With the grief I will always carry for my Curly Girl and her life’s losses an especial load during the holidays. With my heart aching for loved ones who are hurting, and for whom the next several days will make that hurt worse–the death of parents, the awfulness of “sharing” your children post-divorce, the fear of job loss, the threat of illness, the burden of difficult finances. None of this heaviness of life disappears just because it is the Christmas season (and has been since October if you let Hallmark or any department store define it for you).

And yet it is exactly this heaviness of life that Jesus came to share with us.

It is exactly our broken hearts that Jesus came to heal.

It exactly our jacked-up, messy, never-quite-what-we-planned lives that Jesus came to be part of.

Emmanuel. God-with-us.

There is very little in this life we can do that is more powerful than offering our presence to someone in need. No “fixing.” No “helping.” No “right words.” No “If you’d just do this…maybe this…” No “Just think positive.”

Just presence.

The mighty and restorative mercy of simply showing up, and saying, “I’m with you. You are not alone. And I will be here, next to you, in the quiet space of shared breathing, hands held, and the silent companionship that only those who know and love each other well can find comfort in. For as long as I am needed.”

December speaks this promise to me–in beautiful moons and soft gray skies and evenings that fall steadily and softly across the mantle of our busy days and beg us to rest. December asks us to remember how loved we are. To see past the hustle and bustle and into the very good news that God has not forgotten us after all and into our midst has come the truth about what it means to love and be loved.

If your heart is feeling the bruises of its broken places throbbing tender and with remembered ache these days, know that you are not alone. And know that I am praying for you. I am. Even as I pray for those I love best in these beautiful and brutal days.

And I will hold you in my heart as I sing (sometimes to myself and sometimes right out loud in the car) a song my beloved Indigo Girls wrote and performed that speaks more deeply to my soul than I could ever explain:

One tiny child can change the world
One shining light can show the way
Beyond these tears for what I’ve lost
There’s still my joy
There’s still my joy for Christmas day
There’s still my joy for Christmas day

Joy, my friends. And peace. And if you happen to be not quite sure that you are loved, that you are not alone, step outside as I did tonite, and take in the glory of that gorgeous December moon…bank on its constancy. Trust its presence. Let its warm light bathe you in the promise that all around is the goodness of the Love that created us. Pulsing. Present. Full of grace.

And remember that it is precisely for all that feels so broken and worn and hopeless that Jesus came to be among us.

Again and again and again.

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Bare.

In the bleak midwinter, frost wind made moan, 
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone; 
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow, 
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

–In The Bleak Midwinter

I have a Japanese maple tree in my front yard. I adore it. It’s classy. Well-sculpted. And it turns the most gorgeous shade of burnt red come late fall.

Right now it is rather bare, the beautiful red having turned ordinary winter brown, the leaves thinning out, and the gnarled trunk and twisted branches made plain as a result. I somehow love it in this stage, too. Perhaps because I know it tells me winter is coming. It hasn’t quite, to Kentucky–we’ve had some cold days. Even a short ice storm. But the true still, dead quiet of winter has yet to arrive. And despite how crazy everyone I know thinks I am for this, I crave it.

Mostly because I think it has something to teach us–the desolate landscape, the stark branches etched against a grey dusk, the air so cold it seems to silence the earth itself. 

I think it has something to teach us about pain. About what it means to be at our most vulnerable. About stripping down to the very basics of what makes us who we are so that we might remember what matters most. I think it has something to teach us about waiting. About living in the current state of dark stillness until something new and wondrous has space to make itself known, until the days lengthen once again into firefly twilights and we remember what the sun feels like beating down warm on our shoulders. 

Nothing forces the frenzy of our lives to slow down like a good, deep snow. I know, I know–I say this from a point of luxury–a warm home, plenty of resources–but perhaps that’s part of my point. I recognize my immense fortune more readily in winter. I’m free to revel in a snow day. Free to see the poetry in the bareness around me. Free to wonder what it is this season of dry, crunchy, iron-cold greyness might have to teach me about setting aside that which has been so that that which will be has room to spread its wings and usher in the promise that spring brings of all things new. 

I am, for the first time in a very long time, not responsible for anything Advent-related on a Sunday morning this year. It is a waiting time for me, too–time between jobs, time between the calendar years, time between what has been and what will be. And last night I heard the words to my most favorite Christmas song, being sung by a group of teenagers, and I felt a familiar lump rise in my throat and tears dimming the corners of my eyes. 

In the bleak midwinter…

It’s so easy to see the bleak. Around our world. In our own communities. In our own lives. It’s so easy to feel the stress of this time of year, the expectations to be merry, dammit, and find the perfect present and throw the most Pinterest-ready party closing in on us in ways we sometimes don’t even realize. 

But what I know is this. The road to Christmas…to Emmanuel, God-with-us, is long. And winding. And it never goes quite as we expected it to or prepared for it to. And I remembered this today when Facebook, that most blessing-and-curse of all social media, reminded me that two years ago today, my Curly Girl and I were making a gingerbread house. An expensive, delicious, edible one. Purchased at Whole Foods after three other stores failed to have what we were after. Real gingerbread. Real icing. Decadent candy. 

Her father had died just a few months prior, and I had spent most days wondering how in the world I would help her face Christmas. And I would have driven all over Kentucky that night, and blown my entire month’s grocery budget, to find the gingerbread house she was imagining, so determined I was to help her know even the tiniest bit of Christmas joy. 

Fast forward two years and here we are. Hearts still aching some days, but joy intact. By the blessed grace of a God I do not even begin to understand, but that I believe has been with us every single step of the way. Loving us, holding us safe, and helping her see, in myriad ways, that she will never, no matter what, be alone. 

Life will be, some days, some seasons, some years, so very bare, my friends. So dark. And hopeless. So twisted and unsure. 

But the certainty of Christmas is that God cares enough to come and be among us. To come and dwell in our hearts in the most unlikely of ways. To show up. To be present. Even when our hearts are breaking and we cannot find the strength to believe that one day it will be okay again. 

Even then. 

And always. 

Emmanuel. God-with-us. 

Until the barren landscape has once again sprung into life so beautifully new. 

Wait, my friends. Wait. It is coming. 

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Risking Life

This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war & hate
And a comet slashing the sky to warn
That time runs out & the sun burns late.

That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honour & truth were trampled by scorn-
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.

When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by a comet the sky is torn-
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.

–The Risk of Birth, Christmas 1973, Madeleine L’ Engle

****

Madeleine L’ Engle’s work is so important to me, has been such a formative voice in my life, has filled my imagination and inspired my thought for so long (since at least age 9), that, as you may know if you have been following along here for a while, I named my daughter for her.

For me, the name Madeleine carries strength, creativity, grit, compassion and hope, the things I want most for my precious girl.

This poem of hers has been a go-to for me every Christmas season since my early twenties, a refuge and prayer both when the world feels too much, and when I’m so weary of caring about the heartache all around that I simply, “want to stop feeling,” as I said to one dear to me this last Sunday night.

Being alive can hurt so dreadfully.

I think this is exactly why God came to us as a baby. Vulnerable, capable of feeling pain and sorrow and heartbreak. I think God wanted us to know, “I get it. I know…I’ve created you and given you life and called you to live in relationship with each other and with the world around you and I’m so sorry–but some days, it’s all going to feel awful and you’re going to think I’ve made either a huge mistake or have a very sick sense of humor. Some days, you are all going to screw it up royally and I can’t stop it…but I promise you, I promise you I’ll be with you, even on those days, and the best thing I can offer you as a sign of that promise is by coming to you just as you are–a human being.”

I wonder sometimes if it was really God’s plan for Jesus’ life to end up as it did. Or if maybe God held out some hope, even until the very end, that we humans would behave better and straighten up and understand who Jesus really was and live our lives accordingly.

Of course Jesus was no ordinary human. I heard a wise woman I know say recently that we like to talk about Jesus’ humanness, but really, he wasn’t quite like us. She used the word “magical,” and while that isn’t necessarily a theological word, I knew what she was getting at–he was different. Extra. Like us but also not.

Anyway, my point is that there’s a risk involved, always, when you’re talking about human life. So much beauty and so much pain, both, possible.

I find myself craving the respite of beauty lately–whether its curled to watch Harry Potter for the millionth time, or laughing with my Curly Girl, or being held safe against the world for even just a moment, or hearing a piece of music so lovely it makes my soul ache, or exchanging air kisses with my almost-6-year-old niece over FaceTime, or seeing the moon rise full and glorious over my backyard…these things, they are small, but they are also everything and they keep me going.

In other places, for other men, women, and children, there is very little, if any, respite to be found. Every day it seems pain and anger erupt somewhere new, or the situations that have been on a slow burn finally boil over into chaos.

Along the southern border of our nation…. In the aisle-between-bitterly-divided-parties of what passes for “our” government these days…. In our families, struggling to survive job loss and divorce and a completely out-of-whack healthcare system…. Despite our fears of gun violence, human trafficking in our own backyards, and opioid addiction…. In our own hearts, as we struggle with how to celebrate Christmas in the midst of it all–wanting to fill our children’s stockings with their hearts’ desire, but also wanting to instill in them something of the mystery and power of Immanuel, God-come-to-be-with-us….

The great risk of having been born is the pain of living. Loss and betrayal and hate and death.

And, the great gift of being born is the joy of loving. Intimacy and connection and support and community. 

The paradox of blessing and curse made plain, the reality that joy and pain rarely exist except side by side proven true. 

And so my great prayer as the Christmas season begins is that grace will be made plain, even amid the dumpster fires of our lives and world.

That love will come pouring down, filling up the broken places of our lives and washing away enough wreckage that room will be made for God’s mercy to do its redemptive and healing work.

That we will take our cue from a Love willing to risk everything to help us see truth, and that we’ll risk loving, too, even when it seems the most lost of causes.

That we will find a way past the anger and hate and into life. No matter the risk. So that we might hear anew the promises that we are not alone. That we are loved.

And that God is with us. Among us. In us.