Sunday, December 30, 2012

Top 10 (or 12 or 16) Posts and Pictures of 2012

I have been just absolutely itching to do one of these posts, but unfortunately things around here havent slowed down since Christmas like I hoped they might. I'm *hoping* (again with the hoping) that's mostly a result of the neighborhood kiddos adopting our home while they are out of school. Although the basketball team(s) we are coaching start up next week so that wont help in the busy areas . . . Oh sigh.

Anyways, here's a list of some of my favorite posts and pictures from the past year. To keep things a little simpler, I'm only choosing 10 (ok fine 16) pictures from my 366 project, because otherwise it might literally take me a month to write this post, and I'm hoping to get it done while it is still 2012. No promises though.

Also, these are some of my favorite posts based on my own criteria, which remains largely undefined and mostly just consist of me liking the way it sounds, or being excited about the subject matter, or being moved by what God was teaching me in and through the writing of the post. No hard and fast rules here people, as per usual.
1. Fighting for Them
As I settle back onto the couch in the quiet and safety of our beautiful home, I feed Caden his bottle and whisper prayers for the kiddos. I wonder who will fight FOR them as fighting breaks out all around them. Who will rescue them from cycles, from habits they can't help but pick up, from using their fists (or baseball bats) to solve problems. And I am reminded of Exodus 14:14. Reminded of the days when Caden lay in the hospital, and I was helpless to rescue him.
And as surely as the Lord was fighting for Caden, I know He is also fighting for our kiddos. Through my tears, I hear Him whisper that He has sent US to fight for them. That we will show them grace. We will forgive them again and again and again until they start to wonder why we aren't picking up baseball bats, but offering hugs instead.

2. Sleep Deprivation and Grace
So for all those moms who are struggling to find their way, who are certain that everyone else has it together and has everything figured out. Let me assure you: we don't. Even right this minute, I can barely keep my eyes open wide enough to remind Jayci not to jump off the couch and to ask her to take the marker away that Caden has somehow got his hands on. I am praying for all of you today (and for myself) that we will get some sleep. And that even if we don't, we will find REST and refreshment in the arms of a loving Father who extends grace in my shortcomings, and reminds me that it is those very shortcomings that will point my children to Him.

3. Made to Fly
A few minutes ago, a little girl from next door came frantically banging on our door. Tears ran down dirt-stained cheeks and she clutched a bundle tightly to her chest. I made a mistake she sobbed. I stroked her hair and tried to decipher what she was so upset about. She finally opened her hands to reveal a dead bird. After trying not to panic unnecessarily (have I mentioned I hate birds? Dead or alive, they freak me out), I asked her what happened. Between hiccuping tears she said she was trying to catch it, and accidentally crushed it. And isn't that exactly what happens to us? We try to hold things so tightly, try to encircle the winged hope in our arms. But it is in the grasping and smothering that we crush and kill. We try to control our future, to hold onto status and looks, to be popular and well-liked, to lose the last few pounds and cover up all the imperfections. And somehow in controlling we end up with death. Because life necessitates surrender. Gently holding things with open hands. Offering our future, our lives, our children, our identities to the One who carries them anyways. The one who knows us intimately, who created us with wings, fully intending for us to fly.

4. Hand-in-Hand
I recognize that transience is a part of this type of ministry (we've been doing it long enough to know that), but that doesn't make it easier for me. It doesn't stop me from letting my heart get attached to kids who I might never see again. And sometimes, I think it would be easier if I wouldn't. If I'd just put up walls to protect myself. Not care so much, just meet their physical needs, give them breakfast and help with their homework, sending them on their way with a snack or two in their pockets. And that would be good, right? That would be loving the poor too, wouldn't it?

But even as I ask the questions, I know the answer. We're not really doing the work of Jesus until we offer our own hands to get dirty, our own heart to be broken. Saying YES to loving the poor, the fatherless, and the widow means standing beside them and allowing their fingers to entwine with mine, no matter how messy my own hands get in the process. Because there's something inside of me that changes in the process. When my hands are clasped together with those who are uniquely loved by a Savior that cares intimately about the poor, I am closer to Jesus than ever before. I know Him more fully by staring into their eyes and CARING about them, by grasping the elusive truth that WE BELONG TO EACH OTHER. And in the giving, in the offering of my hand to those who need love, companionship, food, a listening ear, or a big fat hug, it is in the offering that I am transformed and rescued from myself.

5. How to Instill Confidence in Our Daughters
So I will keep seeing beauty even in that which is broken. In the swaggering teenager who barely lets hope flicker in his eyes. In the ever-growing cloud of kiddos who surround us each morning as we walk to school. In the abandoned homes and forgotten children, in the loud kids and the quiet ones alike. Won’t my LIFE always speak louder than my words to Jayci? Wont I be telling her, by example, that we are all worth it? Or rather, than none of us deserve this dazzling grace but that God bestows it freely and calls us worthy anyways?
6. The Long Way Home
And the world, even those of us who say we love Jesus, who declare that we will always love our neighbor as ourselves, seek justice for the orphans, pursue good for the fatherless? We see him standing on the street corner with jeans sagging nearly as low as his heart. We watch him narrow his eyes defiantly, yell to girls as they get off the school bus. And we avoid his gaze, trying to lock our doors inconspicuously, muttering about policing harder and cleaning up the streets.

And again he hears it: you aren’t worth it. You will never be enough. They are better off without you.

But I hear that familiar whisper in my ear, Jesus reminding me: he is worth it. He is enough. And you need to tell him.

I’ve already tried to tell him, I remind my omniscient Father. I’ve already spoke truth softly to him, and harshly, and loudly, and every other way that I can think of.

Tell him again. And again. And again. Until he hears you.

7. How to Measure Success as a Mother.
I’m not saying it doesn’t matter where our children end up, of course I’m not. But I AM saying that I want to be a voice of one who believes that God’s measure of a mother is different. Not based on outcomes, on who produces more pinterest-worthy-crafts, or who raises better-behaved children. But on abundance. On enough. Because in a rat-race motherhood where we breathe a sigh of relief that at least it’s not my kid when see the broken lingering on street corners, or throwing tantrums in the Target dollar spot. That kind of motherhood is based on an economy of scarcity. Where her success as a mom equals my failure.

8. Confession
I'm certain that in the morning I will wake up and things will feel brighter. Everything always feels better in the morning, before the kids have done anything to try my patience (besides waking up too early) and when the sun streams gently through the blinds, leaving lines and shadows dappling our faces as we snuggle for a few more too-short minutes under the covers before emerging to face another day.

But here's the thing: I'm choosing today to believe in something that I've said all along. To believe in community, in y'all, in beauty, in Truth, and in trust. To believe in a God who remains on the throne despite hard days and longer nights. To believe that I'm not alone (please, please say that's true) - that there ARE other moms who struggle. Other wives who just aren't sure their husbands hear them. Church-goers who cant seem to find their niche. Friends and neighbors who smile and nod and long for someone to really know them.

9. Election Day from a Canadian in the City
Today, let's choose to stand laid bare, piles of brilliant leaves around our feet. Sacrificing and letting go and voting, and living in faith that God will sow new seeds. That the outcome of the election isn't nearly as important as the choices we make every minute of every day. That the way we live our lives as believers in the Kingdom of God will have much more far-reaching impact on policy and abortion rates and healthcare costs and foreign policy than any leader ever will.

10. For Caden, on the occasion of your first birthday
And my prayer for you is that you really will keep defying all the odds. Not just that you will defy the odds physically (because trust me, my sweet boy, I pray for that every day), but that you will defy every odd the world throws your way. That in an increasingly "de-churched" world, you will learn to BE the church. That when divorce rates top 60%, you will always remember the value of keeping covenants. That when peer pressure moves in, you will stand strong and hold fast to what you believe in. That you will descend the ladder to be nearer to the Savior, even when those around you are clamoring to the top. That in a world obsessed with more and bigger and filling ourselves up, you will always pour yourselves out. That when your friends take things for granted, you will be thankful. That as more surgeries come your way, you will abide in peace and trust. That you will be the one who goes back with thankfulness to those who help you along the way. That you will never lose sight of how "fearfully and wonderfully made" you are, even when you're in middle school and kids are less-than-kind. That you will choose beautiful over easy, and right over convenient. That you will wake each morning and turn your face and heart towards a loving Father, content to follow Him wherever He leads, because He has been and will always be Faithful and Just and Good.

11. Dear Me (a letter to my 16 year old self)
Besides, if I’m completely honest, I don’t really want to spare you the pain of being rejected and hurt. Which sounds harsh, particularly to your fragile self-esteem, trust me – I know. But in the darkest moments, those times when you feel alone and afraid and things are just flat-hard. It is that very darkness that draws you into the light. This new Jesus you’ve just met? He’s pretty awesome, true, but you’re looking for Him in all the wrong places. Yes, He is light. But you should stop looking for Him at church and in quiet times and checklists and community service. He’s much easier to see in the dark places. Unexpected places. Like small stable mangers, and sitting around campfires with kiddos who have hard questions and harder stories. Or in tiny rooms with teenage moms. Or sitting beside your son’s hospital bed.

12. House Tour - Master Bedroom
So I redid my bedroom. The plan was to do it during the series, as part of the series; however, I just finished it this morning so we didn't quite make that deadline. However, I DID do all of this in less than a month, and I spent less than $250. Also, please note that, as per usual, I use the term "I" to loosely refer to Adam doing most of the actual work.

13. For Sabo on Christmas Eve
Shards that pierce my heart tonight, until it contracts afresh with the knowledge that Christ has come. Hope thrills. And relief floods me, but it is relief fraught with the knowledge that even a baby-Savior-King is not the end of the story. He is coming back to wipe every tear, to mend the broken shards into something whole and complete. And until then, we wait with the same expectant breath that the whole world breathed over 2000 years ago. Our King has come, and He is coming again.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Merry (belated) Christmas!

Merry Belated Christmas from The Stanley Clan :-) Because we are rarely on time with anything, so why start now?

I hope that each and every one of you had a wonderful day full of family and friends and joy and love and peace. And I mean that, like, for realz. Not just in the abstract sort-of-way.
**We would love your prayers for our Sabo, especially for his hearing tomorrow. Sigh.

Our Christmas cards are from the lovely Tiny Prints this year. I usually design them myself to save a little money, but in the interest of saving time instead, I went with this one - which seemed just perfect for us! :-)

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

For Sabo on Christmas Eve

I shield Caden as we run to the van, he giggles and points at the sky. Yup buddy, I tell him through a smile, it's raining. Christmas Eve morning, and the gray rain that alternates misting and pouring feels all-encompassing as we drive through the pale light to get last-minute groceries and hopefully avoid crowds. I turn the radio off, the only sounds Caden's babbling from the backseat, rain pounding on metal roof, balding tires tenaciously gripping wet highway. The windshield wipers work over-time, but cant keep up with the deluge. I squint to see through my flooded window. Low-hanging-clouds shroud skyscrapers and all the world varies shades of gray.

The weather matches my mood, and the rivulets running down my cheeks match those running down the windows. I avoid the impulse to turn and take the long way home, knowing I will only find rain pounding empty pavement where he would normally be standing. Tears have come easily the last few days as I think of him sitting alone in jail this Christmas.

We were at camp when we hear that his detention hearing will be the next morning. Adam rises early and rushes back to Atlanta, driving four hours round-trip and getting snagged in traffic, arriving ten minutes after the day in court is scheduled to begin. Ten minutes too late and he is the first one called, so Adam never sees him. No one else is there either, his family deciding afresh that it's better to wash their hands of him. So he shuffles in orange jumpsuit and shackles before a sea of empty benches, a mixture of disappointment and triumphant vindication filling his just-turned-fifteen-year-old heart. I can almost hear him bragging to the guards: you see, I told you no one would be there. I have to take care of myself.

They have scheduled a DFCS hearing for two days after Christmas, and my heart wrenches to think of him spending Christmas alone in a cell, pondering his alone-ness, remembering how no one fought for him or wanted him. I feel crushed, disheartened, like it is too late, hopeless.

Somehow I’ve forgotten, even on the eve of His birthday celebration, that Jesus loves showing up in the most unexpected places. That He could even show up in the cell of an angry teenage boy. He reminds me though, gently and patiently teaching me this lesson again and again. He reminds me when I meet Him in the quiet night by Caden’s bedside while I watch his tiny heart beat through open chest. When I find Him in a tiny room that nine people call home, filled with candlelight and stacks upon stacks of dirty clothes. When He enrobes Himself in flesh and enters the world with groaning and pain and blood amidst manure and flies, wrapped like a tiny perfect burrito in a messy manger meant only for feeding animals, not for housing a King.

Tonight, we added an extra leaf to the table and family from both sides, plus our neighborhood family of kiddos, gathered around and ate ham and sweet potatoes and macaroni and cheese. We opened presents, and laughed and ate until it hurt. Now, everyone has helped clean up (a Christmas miracle!) while I put the babies to bed. Adam drives the kiddos home, and here I sit: cross-legged in front of the Christmas tree, candles casting flickering light and smelling of vanilla and balsam fir. I’m wrapped in rare quiet. A peaceful night. But still my heart weeps an ache that leaks out in salty drops sitting pregnant on wrinkles that daily deepen around my eyes.

I breathe a deep shuddering breath, the kind I would imagine Mary breathed after a contraction. A fragile relief that the wave is over, fraught with the knowledge that it will not be long before the next tightening of birthing pain begins. Because that is exactly how I feel. Relief at the knowledge that Jesus has come. This hesitant, yet somehow sure-footed, knowledge that the broken pieces are the very ones that will bring us face-to-face with Christ. The broken pieces like the babies who I glimpsed while delivering baskets to the cicu, the ones that reminded me of Caden and the days surrounding his surgery with such aching clarity I could scarcely breathe. Or the teenaged boy barely brushing past adolescence, the one who believes he faces jail, and a future stretched-out in front of him, utterly alone. The neighborhood kids who pop in for Christmas-eve dinner around our table, because their own don’t have much to offer. Children gunned down in their classrooms. Drug dealers and prostitutes trolling our corner. Teenage girls arrested for prostitution. Broken shards of a desperate world.

Shards that pierce my heart tonight, until it contracts afresh with the knowledge that Christ has come. Hope thrills. And relief floods me, but it is relief fraught with the knowledge that even a baby-Savior-King is not the end of the story. He is coming back to wipe every tear, to mend the broken shards into something whole and complete. And until then, we wait with the same expectant breath that the whole world breathed over 2000 years ago. Our King has come, and He is coming again.
Rejoice. Emmanuel has come. Jesus lives with us, enrobed in flesh, and now enthroned on high. And He has not just come to live with me while I sit on my cozy couch in front of the Christmas tree. He has come, maybe even more so, to live with Sabo, who will spend Christmas eve in a jail cell. With the babies who lay helpless with hearts bared in the cicu. With my neighbors, with the kiddos. With the broken-hearted, and those who stare at empty seats around their Christmas dinner tonight. So the God who chose a stable as the holy birthplace of the Prince of Peace, this God can choose a jail cell to enter the life of a boy I love as desperately as if I had birthed him myself.

Emmanuel. God with us. With all of us. Rejoice.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas is Coming!

I'm guessing that at this point, no one but my mom and siblings will believe me when I tell you that I used to be super-duper on top of things when it came to Christmas preparations. Around mid-November, I would put a sign on my door that said "Santa's workshop," and forbid entry to any and everyone while I diligently crafted thoughtful and beautiful gifts. This year, however, I seem to have misplaced my list of who I have bought for, or should be buying for; and I cannot seem to keep the house under control for even a single day, let alone go Christmas shopping in any sort of organized fashion. In other words, dont expect much this year family. My bad.

I don't even know what the problem is, besides way-too-busy-syndrome. I have increased my hours at work a little bit, and I think this single act might be the death of my blog. I simply cant seem to find the time anywhere. All that to say, I'm popping in tonight simply to throw up some pictures so that I will remember next year tomorrow that we have, in fact, been celebrating and even cherishing the season. At least a little bit.
Also, we still have a few days left to frantically put together the baskets we are going to be delivering to the CICU this weekend . . . If you're still interested in contributing, we'd love to fill the baskets to the brim with goodies for the families who are spending their holidays with a baby or child in the cardiac intensive care unit at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. Email me (Becca1612 at hotmail dot com) for more details on how to help!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Thrill of Hope

Our tree has been standing bravely bare in our living room for days, the top and bottom chopped off to make space for our overzealousness in selecting tree size. Lights wrap the top half of the tree, twinkling festively, while the bottom lies conspicuously bare-branched. We needed more lights (because, you know, our tree is ginormous), and we haven't yet had time to stop and get some. Or to unpack ornaments and hang them on branches with joy and holiday delight while drinking hot chocolate and watching Elf, as per my unrealistic expectations. Instead, boxes sit cluttering the living room, pulled down from the attic but unopened. I glimpse a shattered ornament through the plastic lid, and I know unpacking will require plucking shards of impossibly-thin ornament glass from lodged in every bauble and cranny. Our stockings are stacked on the floor, next to Jayci's baby doll and the deflated football Caden has been toting around all morning. We have stocking holders, but I have visions of Caden immediately yanking them onto his sweet-but-also-crazy head, so we need to make a run to Home Depot to buy some hooks, in order to hang our stockings from the chimney with care.
We hurry back from decorating Adam's parents' tree in Marietta, trying to make it in time for Bible study. We've already made pancake breakfast this morning, brought three car-loads of kids to church, and then spent the afternoon Christmas decorating and eating white chili with our sweet family. I am exhausted, and rummage through the trash and empty diet coke cans around my feet in the still-squeaky van, hoping to find a pacifier to stop all-the-crying coming from the back seat. I turn to Adam with a huffy-sigh, feeling a little car sick from constantly turning around to hand Zack my phone, or return things to Jayci, or appease Caden with new toys.
I dont remember Christmas being this exhausting when I was a kid, I tell Adam, feeling old and grinchy and wishing that I had chosen to drive rather than deal with the small children who constantly need things from the back seat. Perhaps my parents weren't as involved, they probably had less friends than us, I remind him. Or maybe it was just a different time, a different pace of life. Whatever the reason, I'm realizing it can be really hard to actually enjoy the holidays when we are so busy running from one activity to the next, all in the name of celebrating the Christmas season.

And if we cant even enjoy the holidays, how can we ever remember (let alone teach our children) the real reason we are celebrating in the first place? How can we anticipate Christ and celebrate Advent, when it taxes my mental capacities just remembering to give Jayci her antibiotics twice a day?

Questions without any answers, I think to myself, as I slip on my sparkly ballet flats with my pajama pants and rush out the door for an impromptu drive to clear my head and calm my heart late last night.

I drive slowly through our neighborhood, careful to follow road signs and avoid the many trolling police officers. Christmas music plays on the radio, festively jingling while crooning of fires and chestnuts and Santa Claus coming to town. Clouds cover the moon, and dark-lined streets are dotted only occasionally by twinkling Christmas lights wrapped around broken porch spindles. I think of Nazareth, and then of Bethlehem. A tiny town filled to overflowing, children playing in the streets, inns with no space, a humble town teeming with life and people. And I wonder what it would look like today? Would it look like this, I wonder? Littered sidewalks, broken glass and boarded-over windows, porches full of people, music bumping, police cars circling. Humble, and broken, yet teeming with life.
A new song begins to play softly on the radio, and I spin the dial to turn it louder.

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.

Stopping at a blinking stoplight, I feel the weariness in my bones. And my heart surges with the thought of what Christmas means for a weary world.

For the man next door, weary with the weight of this neighborhood he has called home for so many years, his door kicked-in and computer stolen. For the pregnant mother, weary from working the night shift, while five of her six children have science fair projects due this week. For a weary grandmother lifted into her wheelchair this morning, so she can go to court with the teenage son of her daughter, lost to the streets years ago. For the harried single-mom, weary from working two jobs to buy Christmas gifts for her grasping children. For the teenager, weary of always trying so hard to fit in, weary of slinging and banging and chasing after everything that slips so easily through his fingers. For the wife, weary of reminding her husband to pick up his laundry, to hang up the towel, weary of telling him she is done with it all. For the busy suburbanites, weary from making car payments and house payments and filling the empty space under their tree with packages that will never quite be enough to satisfy.

A weary world.

I wait for the gate to open and the homeless man with the matted hair to limp by, then pull the car into our yard and slip back into the house under the dark cover of the tired sky.

Maverick barks and Caden cries. Sighing, I rush in and pick him up, I lay my hand against his chest in a rare quiet moment, as he buries his weary head in my shoulder. And then I feel it. A thrill. His little heart beating a unique rhythm, evidence of his defect that flutters against my fingertips. Terrifying and beautiful.
A thrill of hope.

Christ's birth. A Savior who entered in as a baby. Caden's heart flutters, and I imagine him helpless, chest bared and heart beating before my eyes. I remember my baby, and I imagine my Savior. And my own heart thrills, surges with a terrifying beautiful hope.

The kind of hope that thrills a weary world. That promises all things made right, even when everything seems terribly wrong. A heart rewoven, healed and made whole. But never the same.
Tears slip quietly down my cheeks as I lay Caden gently back down and make my way back to my own bed, stepping gingerly over weary hearts and limbs snoring from every available soft surface of our little home.

Exhausted beyond measure, I pull the covers over my eyes to block the street lamp's glare. Still, sleep is elusive, and I am summoned back to pray over a sweet friend, weary of having nowhere to go, no place to call home after her college dorm closes it doors for the holidays. Weary of a broken world and the memories of what could have been. Weary of the shards that cut skin, desperately seeking blood and life and the hope that slips through fingers, as elusive as sleep this night. Tiptoeing back to bed again, the sounds of sleep from the next bedroom remind me of the weary teenager, who has flitted through our family's story for years. Tonight, her weariness compelled her flight from a broken and dark home, and we followed her slowly amidst stubborn refusals to return, with our taillights blinking warning, shouting at the men who tried to stop for a fourteen year old girl. 

A weary world.

And yet. Hope should always thrill. Because the infant-Savior born cuts through flesh and bone until our hearts are bared, re-knitting and healing until everything is turned upside-down, or rather right-side up. And in a messy, dirty, loud, weary world; I am struck anew this evening by a King who enters into a smelly stable and offers the kind of hope that thrills, and never ever disappoints.
O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
'Til He appear'd and the soul felt its worth.

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born;
O night divine, O night, O night Divine.
Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here come the wise men from Orient land.
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.
He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King, Before Him lowly bend!
Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim.
His power and glory evermore proclaim.

Monday, December 10, 2012

When Everything Changed

*Life is a little nutso around here, so this is a repost from last Christmas. Love y'all!  
Despite relatively warm temperatures here in Atlanta, we are determined to at least pretend it's winter since Christmas is just around the corner.  So we are huddled around our fancy new fire pit. And I am happy. Content. Enjoying holding Caden snuggled close while Jayci roasts marshmallows and eats way too many smores. I wink at Adam, and squeeze the hand of the sweet little kiddo sitting next to me, and then I look up and see a smattering of stars strewn across the sky. Suddenly I am transported to a dark night so long ago. When the stars weren't dimmed by the lights of a city, but their sparkling glow shone over a quiet countryside and kept watch over a holy stable.

It was that night, under twinkling stars, tiny pinpricks of light, that the Savior was born. Groaning and laboring culminated in a moment of exquisite joy as a King left His throne. And since that moment, nothing has been the same.

Because we serve a God who enters in, who joins us where we are. Who leaves glorious heavens to be born in a straw and manure-strewn stable. Emmanuel. God with us.

And now when we sit at our son's bedside surrounded by blinking light and beeping machines, I feel Him sitting beside us. I know, He whispers. I know what it is to surrender a son. I know how it hurts, how hard it is to unclench your fist and let go of that which you love most. And I understand, in that moment, that He will redeem even this. That just as His own son was sacrificed to save the world, our son's suffering will not go unnoticed. It will make a difference. It will change us, transform hearts everywhere. And it has.
And for those who dread waking up yet another day to a thankless job they just don't love. When we're certain we were made for more than sitting at a desk or cleaning up dirty diapers. Again He whispers, I know. For 32 years, I whittled and carved and made tables from wood. The King of the universe who created every thing worked as a humble carpenter, patiently biding His time until His Father whispered it's time, and He turned water into wine.

When we weep for brokenness and death. When our baby doesn't come home from the hospital, or our husband hears "it's cancer." He knows. He too has wept for the loss of a friend. He wipes His own tears, wraps us in His strong arms, and carries our pain on His beautiful shoulders.

And when our heart aches because of betrayal. When friends weren't what or who we expected. They say one thing and mean another. When middle school "friends" reminded again and again how ugly I am. . . He watches with tears in His eyes, and grasps my hand tightly, gently reassuring me that He knows. That one of His closest friends sold Him for a few pieces of silver. That His best friend denied knowing Him. That He died alone, the voices ringing "crucify Him" in His ears.
For each person who stares unhappily in the mirror, uncomfortable in their own skin. He gently reminds us of how He left His throne, and lay swaddled in a manger. A bed not fit for a baby, let alone a King. How he had to be burped, fed, and clothed by those He created. How He intimately and fully understands our pain. But He also knows that His Father doesn't make mistakes. That He had a plan for His newborn son, just as He has a plan for each of us. That God knit together His son perfectly, and He does the same for each of His children. Carefully and painstakingly creating fingers and toes and eyelashes. And hearts, even those that have to be "mended" again. Because He knows how grace is given and strength provided in small doses, doled out as needed.

By the light of the bonfire, I smile as I picture that night. With cattle, and sheep, and manure, and body heat warding off the late-night chill. With shepherds barging in to admire the baby-king. With Mary and Joseph exclaiming over their beautiful son, even while their hearts squeezed with the pain of knowing they would have to give Him up. With the stars glittering overhead and the bustle of the nearby town bursting at the seams.

And I think to myself, it must have been a lot like our house. An unlikely place. An unusual location for holiness. The last place anyone would look to find a King. Where drug deals happen as the street lamp just barely pushes through the night's black. Where kids run around wearing the same clothes for days, and children have babies, and gangs claim young lives.


Yet, we serve a God who loves to use the unlikely. Prostitutes, liars, murderers, gang-members, and even newborn babies.
This God who knows us so intimately, who has walked where we are, who enters in. This God will use the unlikely to save many. To rescue the world with a baby, by sacrificing His son. To show up where He is needed most, and expected least. To spread love and warmth and life to the darkest corners of the earth. Even to street corners in Atlanta. And stables in Bethlehem.

"For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace." -Isaiah 9:6


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