faith

Capturing the wonder of Christmas

This year, I bought myself a present.

weihnachtspyramide

I took pretty much all of the money I had left from my blogging account and purchased myself one of my favorite Christmas traditions from my time in Germany: a Kerzenpyramide.

Each eveving when I light the candles, the children sit, waiting in anticipation for the blades to begin to turn. The shadows dance on the ceiling and the figures of the nativity begin to make their trek around and around. Asa’s eyes fill with wonder and I begin to tell him the Christmas story.

He hears it in snippets. One night, it is about the little lambs, under the care of their faithful shepherds while they graze. Another night, it is the angels singing. They are his favorite because he is still young enough to love listening to his mother sing. Each night we add on or repeat small pieces of the story as his eyes fill with wonder and his heart with joy.

I am a story teller at heart. I love how simple objects and favorite stories can capture the imagination of a child and carry them with you on a little adventure. The Christmas season is filled with object lessons and traditions passed down from generation to generation. There are so many opportunities to share the stories of my childhood, tell them about family members they hardly know and to draw in lessons from our faith.

It gives continuity between past and present . . . and each year it challenges me. Because this is more how I want parenting to look all year, not just at Christmas. “Here a little, there a little,” stories shared by the wayside, teaching about life while simply living it.

Because this is where connections are made.

Merry Christmas!

Christianity in Film

Let me just start out by saying that I am excited about this burgeoning market in Christian film. Really excited. Excited enough to lay down good money at the theater — and believe me, taking six kids out to a movie is a bit of good money — to support it.

christian film

I am willing to forgive a bit. I forgive some awkward acting, a bit of poor writing and a bit of a predictable storyline. It is, after all, a fairly young industry. But I am committed to doing what little I can to help them carry their message outside the pulpit and into the public square.

The part that is hard for me is the theology. Most of the “big” movies that have come out have the same basic thesis that if you pray long enough and believe hard enough, your prayers will be answered. (That’s taken almost word for word from Believe, by the way.) And while some character at some point does usually point out that the answer doesn’t always look like what we want it to look like, the movie still ends with the prayer in question being answered as desired.

And I get it. I really do. Most American movies hinge on some impossible series of events leading to an impossible conclusion that wraps it all up in the end and makes you kind of want to go back for the sequel. Secular film makers cover this with a lot of explosions, explicatives and a body count. When a Christian film maker does it, it really ends up making God look more like a magic genie waiting to do your bidding.

We all want a happy ending. But Christianity is different from the world. Our happy ending doesn’t look the same. Our faith gives us such a rich and deep well to draw from in our story telling and gives us so many ideas to explore. Also, Christianity is subtle. God’s hand moves on His people, but such that you might miss it if you aren’t watching for it. I would love to see more movies that challenge what it means to have a happy ending, even in film.

(Also, I’d like to see them kill fewer children. There has to be another way to invest your audience emotionally and tackle the big questions in life without killing a kid.)

I’d like to see more movies like A Midnight Clear (available free on Amazon Prime, even, but don’t watch it with the kids). Browsing through the movie selection, I thought, “Hmm. Christian movie. Free. Made by the people who did Left Behind . . . um . . . ” And I really wanted to go see if there were any British crime dramas I hadn’t already seen. Because Christian movies available free online are a dime a dozen and usually not worth much more than that.

midnight-clear

But I am so glad I didn’t click away. Because this movie is so good. (A spoiler alert is customary here, but spoilers don’t spoil the story so I’m not that worried about it. Unless you are.)

It’s about five characters, which is actually a lot of character development for an American film, all struggling with loneliness and shattered dreams. There’s the lady whose husband was in an accident and brain damaged. The people at church don’t quite know what to say to her so they avoid her and she no longer goes. Then there’s the alcoholic petty thief that can’t see his kids until he gets some sort of stable living arrangement. Lying and avoidance are his first instincts. There’s a gas station owner who had big dreams that landed him in a dead end job with neither wealth nor appreciation. There’s the youth pastor who is somewhat disillusioned with his job. He wants to see faith and passion and people’s hearts changed, and he’s stuck taking kids caroling who don’t want to go. Also, he thinks the gifts they are handing out are a little cheesy and the $20 is a little insulting. And finally, there’s an elderly woman, widowed and estranged from her children contemplating suicide on Christmas eve.

Of course, the movie is about these broken lives and how, because of one act of obedience (it’s hardly even faith seeing how resistant the youth pastor was to going out), they all intersect.

The thing is, nothing really changes. The youth pastor only gets a small glimpse of what actually happened that night. There aren’t even any confessions of faith. Or Christmas miracles. But five lives were touched and it ends with a sense that perhaps this is the moment where they can start moving forward with their lives and hopefully closer to the God who brought them low so they could find a little of what they needed that night instead of just what they thought they wanted.

These are the issues I want to see explored in film because they are the issues I struggle with in life. It’s a theme I return to when I write. God isn’t silent in our struggles. But he rarely shouts.

If you enjoy this unexpected treasure as much as I did, I have a couple more I’ll share after Christmas. Subscribe for email updates (in sidebar) so you don’t miss it!

Because love doesn’t die

Grief is such a strange companion. At first, it seems all consuming. Everything is colored by grief. In time, it mellows. As it weaves itself into the fabric of your days, it seems to fade into the background. Always there. Always ready. And sometimes, it is the little things that catch you off guard. Little, often unimportant always unexpected.

child loss

I recently moved my blog. Some files got lost in the move; a lot of links to files were broken. I’ve slowly been going through them, a post at a time, to clean house. Most of them were not particularly important. For the most part, I’ve just been deleting the evidence. Delete the link, delete the broken image link icon, delete the reference to what used to be there.

Then I come across an old recipe to watermelon rind jelly. This isn’t a recipe blog so I don’t count recipes among my most important posts. But some of them are unique and I get a steady stream of traffic to all of them.

Steady being one or two a day. Because let’s be real. I’m not the Pioneer Woman.

It’s a broken image link. I actually remember this picture. It’s a little boy eating watermelon. The picture is still in my media files. I saw it while I was looking for something else. But is it important, stuck here at the end? Does it add anything to the post? Not really. I delete it. Then I read the rambling paragraph after it. It doesn’t make sense at first.

It takes a moment, but I realize it is referencing the image that used to be there. It also adds nothing. I start to delete it.

It’s funny how much more ruthless I am editing posts that are several years old. Maybe if I left all my posts in draft for five or six years, I could get them down to the 500 words or so all the Big Blogs say you need to be successful.

Image gone. Pointless rambling gone . . . except . . . 18 month old. 18 month old? How old is this post? I scroll back to the top to look at the date and realize the 18 month old I just deleted from an old post about watermelon rind jelly had to be Mattias.

I couldn’t breathe.

A small, unimportant bit of rambling at the end of a post. But it was my little Mattias covered in watermelon seeds. A small little memory I had forgotten. Until I deleted it.

I opened the post up in a new tab. The original text and broken link were still there. It wasn’t gone forever, but I was seized by some inexplicable panic that I was somehow going to now delete it forever anyway. Because I almost did. So I copied the text, saved it to my computer, saved it to the post, closed the post and reopened the post in the editor and on the blog to make sure it was still there.

I held it together just long enough to make sure it wasn’t really gone.

And then I fell apart. Because it is the little, unexpected things that can take me back to that day. To holding him. To pacing outside the emergency room. To watching the doctors walk down the hall and knowing before they said anything at all. To losing him all over again.

Because in time, grief loosens its grip and allows itself to fade into the background. But it never completely goes away. I’m not even sure it loses its strength . . . because love never leaves nor weakens. It just waits. For heaven, if necessary.

When life gives you lemons . . .

We all know the end of the saying. When life gives you lemons . . .

Make lemonade.

But is that really the message Christians should be delivering?

When life gives you lemons

It has such a nice “pull yourself up by your boot straps” kind of ring to it. We are, after all, masters of our own destiny. And life is what we make of it.

But it also has an air of your problems aren’t my problems and your grief is worn best silently. Hidden away somewhere where I don’t have to deal with it.

Having lost a child, I have a somewhat different perspective on grief and suffering and what denotes strength and dignity. Having lost a child, I know that sometimes you cannot just put on a smile for the world and I don’t think you should try.

The Bible, after all, calls us to “bear one another’s burdens,” but the verse doesn’t end there. Galatians 6:2 goes on to say this is how we fulfill the law of Christ. We act out our faith by bearing burdens. Not by asking people to keep them to themselves, to silence them, to stick them somewhere deep where we do not have to be confronted by their heaviness.

We walk along side them and lift as much as we can.

It is only natural to want to make someone feel better when they are hurting. But it isn’t always in our power. And it isn’t always in theirs. It isn’t even always in their best interest. All we can really do is sit awhile and remember the One who turns mourning into dancing (Psalm 30:11), praying for that day and sharing tears along the way.

Because the world may not be able to offer enough sugar to do anything with these lemons, but they are not all that I have. I have Christ and therefore I have hope.

Shared with Grace and Truth Christian link up at Arabah Joy.

By the goodness of God . . .

Edward Winslow wrote in A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth (1621):

    . . . And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.

By the goodness of God, we are far from want. In fact, we have never known want like that of the Pilgrims. Giving up their homeland, leaving for an unknown shore across an unfriendly sea, suffering disease and starvation. For what?

Mayflower survivors

We often think of all the Pilgrims had to be thankful for this season as we partake in the season’s feasting. But how often do we think of all they had to mourn?

More than half of them died in the first “general sickness” as William Bradford called it. And yet when the harvest came in and alliances were made with the local natives and strength returned to the survivors, they were able to turn their grief into thanksgiving, their despair into praise.

The holidays are a difficult time for me. Not just because little Mattias isn’t here, but because the anniversary of his death is right between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The anxiety increases until it almost seems as if his death were something that is about to happen rather than something that happened already.

And how do you give thanks in the midst of losing a child? And what for?

The pilgrims sought a wealth few of us think on today. As the closing two verses of The Landing of the Pilgrims so eloquently say,

    What sought they thus afar?
      Bright jewels of the mine?
      The wealth of seas, the spoils of war?–
    They sought a faith’s pure shrine!
      Ay, call it holy ground,
      The soil where first they trod.
      They have left unstained what there they found–
    Freedom to worship God.

Freedom to worship a God who gives and takes away.

Freedom to worship a God who sacrificed His own son, that we might live.

Freedom to worship a God who said death is not the end.

Freedom to worship a God who gives me hope, even in the face of such a terrible loss.

And that truly is a thing to be thankful for.

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 If you post what you are thankful for this week, feel free to drop a link in the comments. I’d love to check out what you are thankful for this season!