Epiphany

I wrote this to share at Coffeehouse Carols Sunday a week ago–these thoughts that stayed close to my heart after a phone conversation with a dear friend.  May this day of Light and Love give you hope during this darkest season.  

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“The visit of the wise-men” by Heinrich Hofmann – Postcards thebiblerevival.com. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_visit_of_the_wise-men.jpg#/media

 

“We ask for the light.  But then we can’t handle what it shows us.”

When I heard the words of my friend echoing across the phone line, my breath caught and I was silent.

“I’m going to have to sit with this for a moment,” I told her when I found my voice.

And then I sat with it for many days, for the whole ten days before Christmas.

During this time of Light and Love and candles and twinkle lights on the trees and houses and storefronts and all the lights in all the places, during this time of celebrating the Light that broke through the darkness—how could I begin to contemplate the hard things that the Light brings?

We all seek the Light.  Like the shepherds and Magi and all who followed the shining light to find the Messiah, we look for it; our souls crave the Light in the darkness.  Hope in the brokenness. We see it as Good and Holy and Perfect and Emmanuel.  God With Us.

And yet, we’ve all had those moments, haven’t we?  The pain of the light piercing the darkness?  Sleeping in a dark room and the curtains are open to the full sunlight of the day?  We’re outside or riding in the car and the sun comes out from behind the clouds and our sunglasses are nowhere to be found?  Sitting in a dark theater and the lights come up at the end of the show?

It can be abrupt.  Jarring.  Startling.

When the light shines suddenly in a place of darkness, in those first moments we can see things that are quite unpleasant.  Things scurry and run quicker than our eyes can discern, seeking the cover of darkness once again.  When the Light first came into the world as one of us over 2000 years ago, then too, the Light shone brightly and showed us things that were not okay.  Things that had been under the cover of darkness for so long—injustice, poverty, condemnation, evil thoughts and deeds, wickedness, deceit.

The Light did not bring beauty to the world in the most conventional of ways.  The One Who Came brought beauty by shining a spotlight on all of the things hiding in the dark and showing us how to live in such a way as to end those things that were scurrying for cover.  To follow in the dust of the rabbi and do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.  To LOVE and never let the darkness cover up all that is hurting our world ever again.

It’s not easy.  In fact, it’s exhausting.  As exhausting as trying to pick out the perfect gift on Christmas Eve or as frustrating as trying to return the shirt that didn’t fit on the day after Christmas.  Even more so.  To carry all of the things that are hurting and painful and broken in one’s heart and mind, and to seek to find ways to end them, to heal them, to relieve them—it’s just hard.

So Christmas.

The Coming of the Light.  Hope in New Life.  Joy in the sound of a cry joining the soft lowing and stirring of the animals surrounding the newborn child.

The dawn will come and the days will pass, and it will become apparent that the coming of the Light did not suddenly change the way things are done.  In fact, His coming only emphasized just how wrong things had been for far too long.

And yet—imagine being in the darkest place imaginable.  Maybe this doesn’t take much thought for some of us—for those for whom this is a very real reality.  So the darkness is so dark and thick and heavy, not only can you not see but you can feel the darkness in every fiber of your being.  It is oppressive.  You feel alone, disoriented, lost.  And hope is fading fast.  The silence is deafening.  Or the worries in your heart and mind clamor for attention, and it is dizzying.

And then one night, in one moment, the Light shines through.  And while that can be quite disorienting and scary at first, once you get your bearings, you look around.  And what the Light shows us, blesses us with, is that there are OTHERS.  We are not alone.  He gives us the gift of drawing others close to His grace, and we gather together and share the journey, all of the journey.

My Mama used to say, “Joys multiplied, sorrows divided.”

For me that is the beauty of the Light. Of the gift we are given at Christmas.

We gather together around the baby each and every year and we sing our praises and we look for some sign that our Hope is not in vain. If we take a moment and look around at all who are in the glow of the Light, we can see that we are not alone.

There are others there to help us up when we fall, to help us find hope in the situations that break our hearts.  There are those who will point out the good in the midst of even the hardest of things, and those will carry on when we just can’t.  They show up with casseroles and love letters and kind words and hand-drawn pictures and cups of hot chocolate with candy canes for stirring.  And they show up, again and again, because, for all of the hard things the Light shows us, the most important things that He shows us is that we are a part of something really, really good.  We are a part of a community.  A group of folks who choose love.  Who care.  Who seek to find the things that scurry for cover and bring them out into the open so Love and Light can bring the beautiful and powerful transformation, through our passion and love and efforts to follow in the dust of the child who was born so long ago and stays at our sides still today.  Our steps might be clumsy at times, but we are on the right path and we are together.

My folks used to remind my siblings and me, whenever we would go anywhere, to stick together.

I think that’s the most beautiful part of the Christmas message.

Stick together.

Look out for each other.

Hold hands when crossing the street or walking through the hard things.

And no matter our differences in any given moment, love each other.

God With Us, and we are With each other.  Standing in the Light.

Merry Christmas!  And may Epiphany and Light be ours today and everyday.

Love to all.

the wild and starry sky

they talk about how lovely it is, the sky,

and how this phenomenon or that

is about to happen

and how we all should go out and

Observe

 

I get a little crazy at this,

the idea of something like Halley’s comet

happening only once in my lifetime

is too much weight to bear

if I miss it, there are no second chances, are there?

 

it all feels so finite

 

and I don’t need reminding of how short

life is,

this journey,

the paths that just stop

way too suddenly

leaving those of us who loved them

in shock, arms empty, weeping

 

longing to run out into the dark night

and shout at the stars

with anger until our voices are raw and

almost gone and we have nothing left

and we collapse to the earth–

“didn’t you have enough? why did

you need another one to shine through the

darkness when you already have so many?”

 

our world is so much darker now that there

are more stars

 

and still we follow the crowds out the door

to look up in wonder and ooh and ahh

over the once in a lifetime sight to behold

 

knowing that we had a once in a lifetime treasure

walking beside us for a while

we stifle our pain and smile to disguise our

tear-stained cheeks

 

and gaze up in amazement

that has nothing to do with the wild and starry sky

we look up and keep our screams and fears and

heartbreak to ourselves

we lift our eyes, unseeing, as the memories

play across the screen of our hearts

like those planetarium shows did when we were young

 

but we save all of that for a night

when there is no eclipse or comet or colorful lights

to mark the passing of our lives by,

for a night when the crowds have all gone

and we stand out there alone

beneath the darkened dome

and tell the heavens of

the heaviness in our hearts

and the darkness that still is,

despite all the light from above

and in the quiet of the night, the wind blows

and the tears fall to the ground, the echo

of their sadness

the only sound for miles around

 

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your next breath

when the battle is over

and all that is left

is the dust from the artillery

now quiet

and burying those who have been lost

 

when the battle is over

and they say a prayer

over the grave of the one you loved

 

when the battle is over

and you’ve lost the fight

to keep the one accused

alive

 

when it’s all over

and you find yourself numb

and surprised that you are still here

what will you do with your next breath

 

the one you were sure would never come

when the worst happened

 

and still it comes

and asks you,

what now?

 

the extinguished light

I stand cloaked in the words

that threaten to envelop me

if I do not give them breath and life

 

and still I stand

hesitant

unsure of the tempest

that will come

if they are given voice

 

for though I love the rain,

the storm both frightens and thrills me,

I seek shelter but do not cover my eyes

 

fascinated

intrigued

terrified

 

and then the darkness comes

as it always does

and the light is blown out,

it must be saved for others

for another

dark and cold

night

 

but not for this life

it doesn’t matter

she won’t need it anymore, they say

 

they don’t realize

the candle won’t be as bright

the next time they seek its glow

 

one less person to reflect

the radiance

 

and the tears fall

on the unhallowed ground

and no one grieves anymore

 

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Parting the Fog

A cold, gray, foggy day in Georgia.

Tucked away in the warmth of home.

This evening we ventured out in it and as we were about to get in the car to head home after dark, the littles exclaimed their surprise that it was still foggy.

“Look!  It’s even foggier than it was earlier!” Cooter was amazed.

“Mama, look, I’m walking through it.  Does the fog go right through us as we walk?” our Princess asked.

Oh bless her.

I love that she’s still so young and naive and has no clue yet just how many ripples are caused by every step she takes.  In the fog, in her life, in this world.  Every single step. she. takes.

But as she’s only ten, and it was a cold dark evening, I tucked that conversation away for a day more filled with light.  Our own power to affect the lives of those around us and those not around us–the potential for so many questions and the potential for the fear and worry that will likely come with it–yes, it begs for a day more filled with sunshine and light breezes.  And butterflies.

Definitely butterflies.

So tonight I gathered my thoughts and shook them off, and I wrapped my arm around my baby girl as we walked to the car.

“No, baby, you go through the fog–it moves aside as you walk.”

“Oh cool,” she said as she skipped ahead.

Bless the young’uns.  And their awe and wonder at the world.  Bless them as they celebrate things like Christmas lights still up and  misty, foggy night drives home.  Bless them as they grow and learn just how small they are and just how huge their footprints can be.

May your ripples today be far-reaching and bring good to all they touch.

Love and Light to all.

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Comfort in the Darkness

Sunday night we were reminded that the longest night of the year is coming.  In less than two weeks now.  Of all the 365/366 nights of the year, it is the longest.  Shortest day.  Longest night.  Winter Solstice.  However you put it, that’s a lot of darkness.

Just thinking about the other side of that night causes me anxiety.  The days will, slowly at first, begin to be longer and longer.  Until we are right back where we started from.  Light all the way up to bedtime.  And nowhere to hide.

Even though it took some adjusting, and I have struggled with all this darkness, I confess it suits me this year.  I appreciate the cloak of protection and privacy it offers.  The darkness allows me to hide–from the reality that will be all too plain to see in the glaring brightness of spring and summer.

The flat-out truth?  It’s okay to be sad in the dark.  But in the light we must put on a happy face.  Light just seems to call for it, doesn’t it?

And I just can’t.  I have tried and I have my good moments, but the truth is I like the darkness and the cold that allows me to stay in my home, that doesn’t demand activity and plan-making.  I like having fewer hours in the day to stare out at the already bare trees and changing leaves and remember where we were a year ago.  So full of hope that Mama was going to get better.  She called me just about a year ago, celebrating that the blood thinner shots were being taken off her regimen.  If only they hadn’t been…..

So the dark lets me think about the what if’s and the what was’es all by myself.  The dark draws all but me to their beds a little earlier, and Miss Sophie the pup and I sit and let the thoughts and memories and laughter and tears flow.  She is a polite young lady.  She might think I’m crazy–sometimes the way she cocks her head would indicate so–but she would never, ever put it into words.  Or tell my secrets.  I’m thankful for that.

I used to be afraid of the dark.  Growing up at Blackberry Flats, I begged not to be the one to feed the cats in the winter.  That trek from the back door out to Daddy’s building was never longer than it was on those pitch black nights.  Certain there was something out there that would get me, I would walk quickly and stealthily, hoping not to alert the evil ones to my presence.  And then I’d turn tail and run as fast as I could after emptying the dish.  Sharing a room with Sister all those years was a challenge as well.  She couldn’t sleep with a light on and again, I was afraid of the dark.  I don’t know what I was afraid of indoors, but I liked to fall asleep while Mama and Daddy were still up and the light from the hall made an interesting shape on our bedroom floor as it peeked through our cracked open door.

Light and dark.  Neither holds any real powers of protection or lacks them either.  They just are what they are.  And I’ve learned all too well that what can break you and tear your world apart is just as present in the light as it was in the dark.

And in the moment I fully realized that, the darkness became my friend.

The Light in the Darkness, beautiful and healing and warms my heart.  Off the beaten path, but always there if you look for it.

The Light in the Darkness, beautiful and healing and warms the heart. Off the beaten path, but always there if you look for it.

Tonight as I drove our Princess home after her activities, I felt embraced by the darkness.  Enveloped.  Comforted.  I could cry my eyes out and no one would know.  It would be okay.  Or I could smile and remember and that would be okay too.  I felt safe in the dark.  Oh how ten-year-old Tara would open her eyes in wonder at that and put her hands on her hip and shake her head, saying, “Unh uh, that’s not me.  No way!”  And yet it is.  Our journeys and where they take us on the road of life tend to change us in ways we never expected.  We embrace what we once rejected, we love whom we once couldn’t see, and we walk a little slower as the path already traveled gets longer and longer.

As safe as I felt on the trip home tonight, I was still glad to see the lights shining gently through the dark.  I do love it when folks decorate with lights outside for all to enjoy.  There is one particular house that always fills my heart with joy at their gift of whimsy year-round.  But at Christmas they really do go all out.  I stopped tonight to appreciate the warmth from their lights that had nothing to do with changing the numbers from the 44 degrees that was registered on my dash.  The warmth they gave off registered in my heart.  The little twinkling lights were beacons of hope, just as the Light that guided the shepherds and the Wise Men and Goodness only knows who else must have been for them over 2000 years ago.  A Beacon of Hope.  I love that it is on a little back road, way off the main drag.  A little harder to find, but there for those who do cross its path.  And open their eyes.  Much like Hope itself.

Hope is good, especially in the darkness.  And maybe, just maybe, that is another reason I love the darkness right now.  It makes the Light, the Hope, a lot easier to discern. When it is dark and broken and cold, the Light and the Hope are more easily seen with our eyes and our hearts because of the beautiful contrast.   And with the journey of the past two years, the past year, the past month, I need to see Hope and feel the comfort and peace that comes with seeing it, now more than ever before.

Embracing the darkness and finding comfort, love to all.  A good night.  And Goodnight.

disorienting days of darkness

We had the great fun and adventure of making a road trip from middle Georgia to Alabama today to be with folks we love, friends and family, to celebrate new life and a birthday.  Cooter was very excited because he has never been out of state.  At least that I can recall.  I haven’t slept nearly enough in his almost seven years to be able to keep up with it all, but yes, pretty sure–he’s never been out of Georgia.

Road trip adventure.  Cooter's first time out of state.

Road trip adventure. Cooter’s first time out of state.

He found a friend at the party right off the bat.  He and Ryan ran around and played with all the girls that were there.  But mostly they played just the two of them.  As they took time out from playing to sit at the little table and visit and have a bite to eat, I heard Cooter talking with Ryan.  “We’re in Alabama right now, but we live in America.”

Oh good gravy.

(Note to self: Add US geography to the curriculum.  ASAP!)

As I thought about what he shared with his new friend, it occurred to me how disorienting a change of position, of place can be.  Even if it’s just for a day.  Life is always throwing us curveballs that require us to change.  Doctor retires, we have to find a new one.  Grocery store totally reorganizes, and it takes us a lot longer to get everything on the list.  A family member moves and we no longer have them to lean on in the same way.  The change can be disorienting, and much like Cooter, we’re not even sure where we are anymore.  Or where we came from.

On the way home this afternoon, I was all discombulated.  Alabama is on Central time, so they are an hour behind us.  This served us well on the way over, but on the way home I had to keep thinking it’s an hour later than my phone says it is.  My phone automatically knew which time zone it was in, but the car clock stayed on Eastern time.  And I’m not even sure what time the GPS was on.  It wasn’t much help anyway because this morning it led us to a cow pasture in the middle of nowhere and clapped and waved the checkered flag and said, “Congratulations, you made it!”  Do what?!

When we left our people in Alabama, it was still sunny and bright.  Within an hour the sun began its rather rapid descent.  It was as though gravity started pulling it a little faster down towards the horizon, leaving behind its memories of the day in pink and orange and purple hues.  I looked at the time on my phone, and it occurred to me that in Alabama, at least in the eastern part of the state, the sun sets around five at this time of year.

Oh my, that’s early.

The darkness of winter, on an old state highway.....looking for the hope in midnight and the turning to face a new day.

The darkness of winter, on an old state highway…..looking for the hope in midnight and the turning to face a new day.

The sky was almost completely dark by the time we crossed over the Georgia line.  There is no dark quite like the dark of being the only car in sight on a back road or state highway.  Pitch black except for the lights beaming from the front of my vehicle.  Our Princess had been very quiet in the very back, as “Leave it to Beaver” had us laughing across the state line.  She piped up right after it got dark.

“What time is it?”  She paused only a moment before asking, “Is it midnight?”

This reminded me of Cooter’s thinking it was much later than it was a couple of weeks ago, when I picked him up from Mess Cat’s because he wasn’t up for a sleepover.  The time change and the early darkness and the especially dark darkness that seems reserved for this time of year–it can also be disorienting.  Have us feeling lost and uncertain and have our senses all confused.  We were quite nearly home, and a sleepy voice came from the back, once again asking, “Is it midnight now?”

When we are disoriented, all we can do is go with what we feel.  When we feel tired and very small and overwhelmed by all the darkness that seems to go on forever, feeling like it is the end of the day is really quite logical, I think.

My friend Dena, who writes at Centering Down, talks a lot about darkness and fear holding hands.  She writes, “Yes, our times can be dark in many ways.  The close of fall and beginning of winter reflect difficulties that so many of us face in our lives.”**  She also writes about fear of darkness and how it can come from us not being able to see in the dark and how the dark can make us feel so vulnerable.  Oh yes, my dear friend, it certainly can.  I’ve heard it in the wee, small voices of each of my littles.  Bless them, the dark makes them FEEL wee and small.  Vulnerability is not anywhere anyone of us wants to live.  So we seek answers and we ask what time it is, for in the turning of this day’s page to the next one, there is hope.  And hope–some days that’s all that gets me up in the morning.

Tonight I am thankful for the joy of watching all of my children having fun and enjoying themselves.  I give thanks for hospitality so sweet–I asked what I could do and I was told, “Make yourself at home”–it nearly moved me to tears.  And made me want to find an extra bed and take a nap in that comfortable and comforting home.  All of the stories shared and laughter that came from the sharing warmed my heart and tanned my soul.  For a safe journey and a road trip on which the loudest sounds that were heard were not voices rising in anger or disappointment but the laughter of my Fella as he listened to the “Leave it to Beaver” episodes being watched from the back seats.  For deer that turned around and ran back into the woods and not in front of my vehicle, I am very grateful.  For Mess Cat and crew coming to play with Miss Sophie in our absence so we could relax and enjoy our day, I send out a huge “thank you ma’am.”  Most of all I’m so glad for a day filled with love and grace and community.  There is nothing like being with folks who love to hear children in church and who love to let children be children.  In the disorienting days of darkness, it is healing and helps get me back rightside up to surround myself with good folks and good times.

**My friend Dena Douglas Hobbs has written an Advent devotional, called “Lighten the Darkness: An Advent Journey Through Hope.”  You can find a link to it here on Amazon.  It is a gift for all during this special time of the year, Advent.  It is especially moving for those who know the darkness of which she writes. And she knows of the hope that can be found as well.  I have found comfort in her words.  Tonight I am thankful for her and her gift of writing which she shares with all of us.  ❤