all the light that came after.

Shoes by the front door, a stone fireplace with stockings that looks sturdy enough to brace my shaky frame against.

I stand there half expecting myself to blurt out the words everyone keeps telling me not to say.

Because the words that pour out of the radio this time of year are, “let your heart be light” and as we know from last year, I’m a sucker for trying to figure out exactly what that means.

My eyes scan pages and pages of my textbooks for final exams and I’m trying to cram in all this information about how the first stars came to be. The authors tell me about what happened when they exploded, about all the light that came after.

I keep thinking about God and how His first words of creation were “let there be light” and I know there must be something to that.

I keep wondering if I explode or speak if some kind of light comes after.

Because maybe the magic of this whole season, the reason that we’re all obsessed with Hallmark Christmas movies is that they are scene after scene of people saying a bunch of horribly strung together sentences of things we’ve never had the nerve to say.

I’ve never felt I lacked nerve, but I’ve hoarded silence in the moments that seemed to matter. I’ve felt like a lover of lost causes in moments when it felt improper to say the thing that sits heavily on my shoulders.

Timing. Timing has never been my strong suit and it always seems that Christmas comes at precisely the time in which I have an armload of things I need to say and a crowd full of people and thoughts saying, it’s probably not the best time.

Because Christmas is cozy, quiet, a soft piano in the background of a department store. It’s chunky scarves, rosy cheeks, passing babies, wondering why everyone doesn’t get together more often. It’s silent nights, holy nights, it is good words written and stuffed inside gold foiled envelopes.

But I am the last minute shopper, donkey locked out of the stable, little off-beat drummer girl. I once demanded to be the angel in the Christmas play holding a stuffed beagle. I am the Barbara Robinson novel come to life. I am the girl who once nearly cut off her circulation and had a purple arm trying to buy Christmas presents in a Christian bookstore.

All is calm, all is bright. I am not good at calm. Sometimes I get the bright, but I rarely get the calm.

I find that I’m so occupied these days with sewing up my mouth, putting on my Christmas best, and hoping that no one notices me leaning against this fireplace holding back all the things that Ralph and Hugh (the writers of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas) missed when penning that song. Like sometimes gathering faithful friends and dear ones do not make my troubles feel miles away or out of sight. Sometimes, it makes me have to bite my lower lip because I do not know how to let “the fates allow”. Who are these fates? I do not know if I want them to allow. I think maybe I want to step in and decide some things and say some things before these fates get tangled up in this whole thing.

How am I going to have myself a merry little Christmas when this whole thing is left up to these vague fates and I’m just supposed to be hanging some star and figuring out what it means to “let my heart be light”?

Let your heart be light? I keep going back to that. Is that up to me or those fates? If it’s up to me, I want to say all these things that people tell me not to say. But then again, what if that makes us all heavier?

So then I’m supposed to hang some shining star. Well, that seems possible. I read about God and how light was His first priority. My textbooks then tell me those first stars exploded into all these other stars (according to science).

Well, then I think maybe if I just start with one thing, just one bit of light, more will come.

So maybe this blog is just about hanging that one star. Maybe it’s about saying that one thing, throwing out that one light and hoping that it explodes into a thousand more little lights.

We all have heavy things weighing on us and we all want this moment, this time, this season to be magical. We want it to be healing, something that brings us hope and helps us believe in goodness again.

Maybe you’re like me and you’re a little shaky, holding some things that you wish you could say, fix, change, or make happen. Maybe you’re a little lonely, tired, terrified, broken, confused. Maybe you just wish you had more time or capacity to enjoy it and feel it all.

Whatever it is you’re holding, I’m not going to tell you that all your troubles are going to be miles away. Your troubles are where they are. I’m not going to tell you it’s “a bright time or the right time to rock the night away” (mostly because I don’t even know what that means). I’m just going to tell you that I don’t know if any light will come after we say things we wish we could say. But there was the best Light that came, that stayed, that’s still here. It was here before the first words of “let there be light” were ever even spoken. And I don’t know what fates Ralph and Hugh were talking about, but I can assure you of this, the Faithful one who gives us all this light, well He’s tangled up in all of it.

A couple thousand years ago, He hung another star and regardless of what our shoulders might hold, we have to remember all the light that came after. It allows us to all have ourselves a merry little Christmas, even in this, even now.

 

 

 

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When The Holidays Are Hard

Some days I am still in the kitchen looking for napkins at that Christmas party. I can hear the laughter coming from the back of the house, my heart swells with the hope as the background music fades to the next track.

I immediately smile as I hear the younger version of myself laugh. Nothing was untouched by the lights that year, anything and everything was possible. All our troubles seemed miles away.

What I didn’t know was that by the next Christmas all of that hope would feel long forgotten and it would take years to get any of it back.

Fast forward to last week when I got a handwritten letter in the mail.

It was from a dear friend across the country and her words were full of that same kind of hope, risk, excitement, uncertainty. I found myself thinking about that Christmas party and about the year that followed.

I replayed what it felt like to let my heart grab on to things that were never meant to be. I let myself be taken back to those twinkle lights and the cold winter air. I let my heart stir in that hope that built me and broke me. While I can’t say I regret that time in my life, the memory of it sometimes still feels heavy whenever the holidays roll around.

One of my favorite Christmas songs is Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. I get all warm and sappy whenever I hear it playing over the speakers in the mall, or when it greets me in the car on a dark winter morning.

I wish I could go back to the 40’s and sip coffee with the writers, Hugh and Ralph. I would ask them to tell me about the day they pulled that crumpled melody out of the trashcan. I would ask about the stories that caused them to write those words and that tune.

Let your heart be light…

Around this time of year, I have to remind myself not to get weighed down. It seems so much easier to get heavy when the days get shorter and the nights get longer. And there always seems to be so much pressure to get happier when the red ornaments come out and the big mugs of hot cider start getting passed around. The thick obsession with holiday cheer can weigh me down faster than anything else. I don’t want to miss it. According to every one and every thing, these are supposed to be my happiest months. I often feel rushed to get myself together before December slips away.

I’m figuring out that we need to learn to let our hearts be light, but that we don’t need to hurry it or force it.

Some days it is okay to remember the Christmas party that broke your heart and to grieve the chairs those people no longer fill. But then you have to let go of that weight, sweep the floors and make new invitations. Keep throwing parties and keep filling up those chairs.

Let your heart be light. Allow it to let go, allow it to hope for better years. Go and see the lights, sniff the fresh pine, watch all the best and worst Hallmark movies, help your grandmother decorate her tree, make plans to find the perfect wrapping paper. Let your heart be hopeful and expectant, even if there are hard memories and prior years that still bring pain.

Sometimes I feel like Dickens really got his stories mixed up. He really should have started off the Christmas one with that whole bit about how it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Because some days I’m still in that kitchen and I am heavy with the weight of what Christmas used to be, might have been, appears to be for everyone else. One minute, I am one pine-scented candle away from weeping in Target and the next, I’m singing Holly Jolly Christmas and flailing around in snowman pajamas.

Most days this really is the most wonderful time of the year. Still, Ralph and Hugh knew that there would be those holiday days we would need a melancholic song that would help us mourn, while simultaneously giving us a swift-kick-in-the-rear with a challenge like let your heart be light. 

I’m not sure if those guys knew it, but a different kind of Christmas light is the only thing that can help us with the heavy weight. That Light came in the middle of the night to a bunch of people on the run, who were probably crying over old Christmas parties, and whose lives looked nothing like Hallmark movies. He saw all the sadness, darkness, pain, loss, loneliness they were in and He came.

And when He took his first human breath, I think that was really the first time the world heard what are quickly becoming my favorite words of the season: let your heart be light.

 

 

Learning from Loneliness

I used to live in a house with some fierce women and we spent our evenings eating dinner in the kitchen floor while laughing, crying, yelling, or praying.

Now, I come home to a quiet apartment, to the hum of my refrigerator and the buzz of the light above my stove.

It’s cozy this time of year. I turn on my Christmas lights and wrap up in my chunky gray blanket. It’s quiet and peaceful; there is a lot of time to think pray. I do a lot of that these days, a lot of eating take-out food and talking out loud to the only one who can hear me.

There’s a lot of sitting with my own thoughts. I’ve learned more about myself in these months than maybe in my entire life. I’ve learned a lot about staying with myself, being patient, laughing at my quirky tendencies, forgiving my breakdowns, talking through my frustrations, trusting my gut.

It’s an interesting thing to see how you’ll react the first time you have to call someone from maintenance to repair something, or how you’ll respond if/when you accidentally forget to pay a bill. How hard you fight when everything starts pushing against you. You will surprise yourself and suddenly find out the kind of adult that the childhood version of you grew up to be.

Some nights you will get texts from other friends or see pictures online of everyone eating meals together and you will feel the sting of not being there. There are responsibilities you carry now: work, school, freelance, bills, groceries, laundry.

It will hurt. You will learn to sit with yourself in the pain of working through loneliness and it will hurt. You will reflect on all the times in your life when you weren’t alone. You will regret all the times you chose to be alone when you could have called on others. Because now you don’t always have the choice.

You will think about the movie you went to see by yourself years ago, how you bragged that you were so independent. You will think about the person who told you, I would have gone with you” and you will hate your youthful pride. The pain of wishing they could say that to you now will settle deep into your bones.

You will put up your first very own Christmas tree and it will make you squeal with joy. You will be proud of it. But no one will will stand next to you to share that joy. You will sit alone and you will learn something beautiful about yourself in that moment. 

You love Christmas. You love trees. You love making things beautiful. Beauty can and should still be enjoyed alone, you’ll learn that a lot. You will instantly remember all the times in your youth when you acted like Christmas and decorating was an inconvenience. When you had other things you needed or wanted to do and you will realize that you never want to be that person again. You never want to be the person who thinks celebrating comes too early and who hurries to get it over with.

Loneliness can be one of the best things and worst things to ever happen to you. I’ve found out that I am one of the funniest people I know. I am the worst grocery shopper on the planet. I hate laundry with a fierce passion. Washing dishes calms me. I am the kind of person who has a junk drawer. It is necessary to have 7 shampoos in the shower at once. Bonefish has really good Sunday brunch. I feel weirdly guilty when I use paper towels. I use a lot of paper towels. I like wearing tennis shoes. Every night get really sentimental and teary when I’m turning off all the lights and getting ready for bed. I enjoy myself. I’m learning to stay with myself and to fight for the person that I’ve become and am hoping I’ll turn out to be.

I’m sorry I didn’t ask you to come to that movie.
I really love Christmas.
I might be looking to hire someone to do my laundry.
You should all invest in stock in Bounty.
Sit with yourself, stay with yourself, fight to become the kind of person that sometimes only loneliness can teach you to be.

 

 

When My Neck Is Sore and My Feet Are Tired

The whole thing started on a blue piece of construction paper. I was sitting in the lobby of one of my favorite places and furiously scribbling for my next blog post.

I kept getting distracted. Something that has been grabbing at my heart lately kept pulling on me. I would write a sentence, pause and let my mind wander. The next thing I knew I was playing a long and tiring round of “what if?”

Suddenly, I would remember that I was supposed to be focusing.

I leaned my head back against the wall, “Did they look down, God?”

I was thinking about The Wise Men. The ones who had direction, but no details. They knew what they were headed toward, but they didn’t know what it would take to get there. Follow the star and you’ll find the one who will save your life, that’s all they’d really been given.

Did they look down? I wondered if they ever got tired of holding their heads up and looking at that star.

“Did you use it, God?” That was my next question to Him.

“When their heads got tired of looking up and they felt the need to make a plan, to figure out places to rest, to find food. When they stopped trusting and tried to figure it out, did you use it?” 

When trying to figure out the timing of their journey and when they would arrive, did God factor in all the stops along the way? Did he plan for all the moments they’d get in an argument about whose turn it was to feed the camels?

My mind was all over the place and and I was feeling really guilty because I knew that if I had been on that journey, I would have tried to make maps and schedules. 

I would have tried to make sure all our needs were met, the camels were rested and fed, the path was safe, the other guys did their share of helping out.

I wouldn’t have always believed the star was enough. I would have looked away to draw my maps and make my plans. I get so easily distracted because I so desperately want details.

“Do you use it, God?”

Do you use the moments that I think your guidance seems vague and distant? The moments where I’m just stumbling around out in the desert and trying to figure out if I’m actually any closer than I was yesterday?

“I knew the men I had chosen.”

Suddenly, I felt really free. I didn’t feel Him scold me to rip up all my plans and maps. I just felt Him smile and let me in on an ancient little secret. Yes, He uses it. He uses even my distractions, my moments of distrust, the days that I get tired of looking up at the star and complain that my neck is sore and my feet are tired.

Though wise, those men were not perfect and God had always known that. He didn’t choose the The Perfect Men. He chose the worshippers, the ones who were willing to seek Him out, those willing to offer Him something they valued.

And when they left, God made sure He told them which way to go. He gave them a dream, He made sure they heard Him.

He knew the men He had chosen.

The Wise Men weren’t just wise because of their title, or even because they perfectly followed the star. They were ultimately wise because when God needed them to change the path, they were flexible to change their plans, they were ready and listening. They didn’t just trust the star, they trusted the One who put it up there in the first place.

He chose you and He knows you.

Just come, exactly as you are.

With your arms full of maps, schedules, poorly wrapped gifts. Just come. With your holiday frustration, your to-do list, the feelings that the star isn’t enough and that you’d like a few more details. Come, just as you are and bringing whatever you have.

Just come looking for Him. Keep coming, even if you yelled at Balthazar this morning for not brushing the camels.

Keep walking even without all the answers, and know that the proof of your trust is not in your perfection, but in the way you keep coming.

Where You’re Supposed to Be

Every weekend you could find us there.

We would be sitting in one of those wooden booths sharing pizza, we’d be laughing, crying, screaming, wondering if the days would ever change.

We were always asking those questions about where we would be in a year. When the glow of Christmas lights started to wrap around our worlds again, where would we be sitting?

As they go up this year, we sit on opposite sides of the country.

The girl with dark curls taught me how to laugh and I taught her how to cry. We were perfect partners for the see-saw of that season. When one went crashing toward the ground, the other could pick her feet up and fly toward the sky. It was a beautiful balance and worth late nights and the coffee addictions we developed to stay awake at work and school. Those nights were ours, to live and to learn about growing up.

I did it. I did the thing I used to wonder if I’d ever be able to do again. I used to ask her when we would curl up on her couch and watch the hours pass by: Will I ever feel again? Will I ever be able to open my heart? Will I let go of this and be happy?

It happened…slowly and all at once. The process of letting go of pain was long and grueling, but the realization of its absence was a sudden kick to my entire frame. I woke up and found that I was finally free.

Miles separated us on the day that God made my shoulders light again, and I knew she was proud. I knew she was cheering and saying this is it, this is what we waited for and prayed about while we emptied countless mugs of coffee and cried on the front porch.

When I drove around my little Georgia town with the phone pressed to my ear retracing conversations and painting out all the details, I knew that she loved hearing my laughter as much as she loves having her own.

That’s what friends do. Your victories are theirs, no matter where they find themselves on a map when the breakthrough finally comes.

I know because I feel that when she tells me that she’s learning to live fully again. I feel my own heart settle with peace when she says, “I’m glad to be in this new place…we couldn’t have stayed where we were.”

The sadness that comes with distance is thick in our voices, but we’re happy and we’re growing.

I went home for Thanksgiving.

Went home. It’s an odd thing to say because I didn’t ever really believe I’d leave home. This year, for the holidays, I get to go home.

Days into December, that curly haired girl and I will both go back home. We will giggle ’til late hours that fade into early morning, we will walk along the sidewalk in the cold winter air to wait for a table at that pizza restaurant. We’ll drink in every second it takes to catch up, to make new memories, to soak in how we’ve changed through these months.

Then after the holidays are over, she’ll board a plane and I’ll pack up my car. We’ll wipe some tears as we go back to the rooms that have our beds, the closets that hold our clothes, the towns we’ve claimed for the current season of our lives.

I already know that we’ll question everything.

Should we have stayed? Should we have ever left at all? Will we ever feel home anywhere other than those little neighboring North Carolina towns? Is it worth leaving behind these people who have such a special place in us?

There’s a pain in choosing to do something different, in leaving what you know for a life that will never be what you had.

But it’s worth it. Because we’re living and we’re changing. I’m learning to laugh again, to let people in, to love people who haven’t known me my entire life.

I’m learning to believe that it’s not a mistake, wherever it is that you end up. You were always meant to end up there. In some form or fashion, the world was always ready for you to stumble into the place you’re now standing. God knew, he always knew and he’s been planning things out and none of it was a mistake.

This is really just a blog about my friend, about how life changes, about how things work out… they really do work out.

So, wherever you’re sitting right now, stop questioning if you’re where you need to be. You’re exactly where you’re supposed to be. The second that stops being true, you’ll find yourself somewhere else, I can promise you that. Stop worrying about how you’re going to get there or what decisions you’ll have to make, you’ll get there.

We got here. We made it to different days under different skies and I can’t even really tell you how it happened. So, for now, I’ll look forward to those Christmastime nights and stop worrying about the weeks that follow. We’re exactly where we’re supposed to be and sometimes we don’t need to know anything beyond that.

[photo cred.]