Tuesday, November 6, 2012

An Unexpected Gift

"Ooh, that's good! I better jot that down." It's a thought many of us had throughout the weekend. I was in Nashville attending that blessed convergence of wisdom and kindness, beauty and truth, ideas and service called Hutchmoot.

I reached for my notebook, opened it, and started with surprise. For there staring back at me was a ferociously whimsical face. It had disproportionate eyes, an open mouth, jagged teeth, and a single strand of hair atop an otherwise-bald head. Who sketched this creature and left it for me to uncover? Was it boredom that bore this beast? Was it mischief? Did the monster bubble up from the deep well of delight? Did he spring from some chasm of unnamed fear? However it came to be, it came to me as a gift.

Faces flashed to mind, faces of children I know and love, faces of those who know me and love me still. My story is not one of new characters, plots, and places, but of recognizable ones. I continually bump into people from my past: former coaches, teachers, and friends. I trod familiar ground: my home church, my alma mater, childhood playgrounds. Just last month, I stood in my high school gym and coached volleyball alongside my Freshman coach. I bought a house next door to the place I played as a kid. At Hutchmoot, I sat in on a session led by Andrew Peterson, singing Rich Mullins songs alongside the man who introduced me to the music of both. Memories rise and mingle with the present.

And yet, I only see a pinch of the history in these places, only a fraction of the narrative written in the lines of these faces. There’s enough gold in them hills to mine for a lifetime. There’s enough mystery to keep a girl searching, enough wonder to keep her seeing anew. There’s enough sadness to bring her to her knees, and enough joy to fill her days with laughter.

I remember sitting in attendance at the first Hutchmoot, observing the friendships around me. I longed so desperately to have what I saw. I even prayed for such a community. And God answered my prayer. No, a new group of people hasn't moved in, and no, I haven't moved, but something has moved in me. Instead of giving me what I saw, God allowed me to see what I had. I have a community. We all do. And I'm beginning to see the people I come in contact with each day, not as I wish they were, but as they actually are.

As a child, I remember marveling at the fact that I have control of when my fingers move. I once asked my mom, “What if I wasn’t me? What if I were someone else?” It’s a thought that baffles me still. Why this place? Why this time? Why this plot of earth and this passel of people? I can’t reason out an answer to those questions, but I can live out one. Here I sit at the crossroads of the past and the future. And it is here, right now in this present moment, that God’s kingdom can come to, in, and through me.

The sketch in my notebook stands as a reminder. It's a reminder of you, my friends and neighbors. It's a reminder of all who daily share their thoughts, food, home, time, and yes, even their art with me. I look upon this drawing and thank God for you. More than marks upon a paper, you leave an imprint upon my heart. You are to me, a living letter of Christ, "written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts" (2 Cor. 3:3).

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Christmas Invitation

Jacob runs. He runs until the sun sets and darkness descends. Taking one of the stones, he puts it under his head and sleeps.

Jacob dreams. He dreams of a ladder, resting upon the earth and stretching to heaven. He dreams of the Lord atop the ladder, His angels walking up and down.

Jacob stirs. He awakens aware of another presence. "Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it."

And Jacob trembles. "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven." Could Jacob have stumbled upon a portal between heaven and earth? Jacob seems to think so. He sets up the rock and names the place, Bethel, meaning "the house of God."

1800 years later, in a stable in the town of Bethlehem, the ladder fell once again. The gateway between heaven and earth opened and God, Himself, passed through. From the womb of an innocent girl, a baby came.

Christmas is about coming. Christ came and bids us come. You see, the portal between heaven and earth opens both ways. This morning, I read through the lyrics of Jason Gray's [newly released] Christmas album. The album feels to me like an invitation.

Christmas excites different feeling in different people. Some look back on Christmas past with warm nostalgia; others with regret. To some, the season is a happy reminder there are better times and brighter days ahead. To others, every peal of laughter is a mockery of the silence felt, every family gathering a painful reminder of those absent. Some get lost in lists; others feel unprepared. Some thrive on hope and expectancy; others temper giddiness and lower expectations. Perhaps you've felt one or all of these emotions yourself. I know I have. This album is for you. You are welcome, come.

Come, step back in time and see the events unfold through the eyes of the characters present. Christmas Stories: Repeat the Sounding Joy intersperses classic Christmas hymns like "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and "O Holy Night" with original songs telling the stories of the Christmas characters. While we can easily dismiss cold facts, stories don't allow that luxury. They spark imagination and draw us in. Story disarms us. Before we know it, we turn from a passive observer to an inhabitant within the tale. We are the Innkeeper looking for Sabbath rest. We are Mary, carrying hope and bearing shame through the darkness. We are Joseph, faced with a choice between resentment and forgiveness. We are the Shepherd, bursting with good news. We are the Wiseman, hiding behind gifts.

Come, be filled with joy. Though the songs lead us through the darkness of betrayal, fatigue, disgrace, and fear, this album, ultimately, is an invitation to joy. How fitting that "Joy to the World" puts the punctuation mark on this collection of songs.

Come, let the season awaken your inner child. Christmas Stories celebrates little things: a baby, a town, the humble. What better way to illustrate that God's Kingdom "belongs to such as these," than to turn the lead vocals over to a child? "Christmas for Jesus," sung by Jason's son, Gus, wonders what kind of present God would put on his list. Bracketing the album are "Christmas is Coming," a song about how the season beckons the child in us all, and "Children Again," a song for the wizened grown up. Christ came as a baby. Could it be that, in order to come to him, we must become children, as well? "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of God" (Matthew 18:3).

So, come. Oh Jacob, what you once knew in part, may you now know fully. The portal was never a place. It is a person. Christ descended the ladder. He came that we, too, could come. "Love found a way in and left open the door." Will you crawl through?