Preparing the way?

This weekend we began the observance of Advent. The Coming. I heard a lot of teaching and songs about getting ready, preparing ourselves. My mind wanders back to a cold December night in Oswego, NY. I scrape frost from the window and watch snow falling in the street light. A white Christmas must make it better, at least that what the songs says–dreaming of it. And sleighs can’t be jingling their bells that make everyone happy unless there is snow to slide on. But when I drop the curtain and return to wrapping gifts, I wonder what I can do. How do I prepare enough to make Christmas right? To keep us all safe?

We are one-less this Christmas, though his name is never spoken. Mac’s stocking is missing when we unpack the ornaments and decorations. My three-year-old brother, who drowned last summer, loved everyone. He always sang “Jesus Loves Me” while he played. He begged us to sit in the front pew in church so he could greet Jesus (and sing with gusto, though his hymnal was upside down and he was one syllable behind the choir). What did Mac do wrong?

In my ten-year-old mind, if we please God, then good things happen to us. So if bad things happen, we must be doing something wrong.

What did I do wrong?

And what can I do this Christmas to get the baby back in the manger?

It has taken many decades to purge my thoughts of the lies about being able to do it all right, and make it all right.

But it is easy to slide back into polish-yourself-up-and-get-presentable thinking.

When you hear, “Prepare the way,” do you go there, too, either by decorating beautifully, or baking up a storm, trying to create the magic that we wish is Christmas? Or buying the best gifts ever? Singing fantastic Christmas music, or decorating the church, or taking food to the poor? By being nice when you want to curse or helping someone you might usually ignore? Maybe you even read the Bible more or go to church when you don’t feel like it?

We have a million different ways to try to pave our way to the manger.

Or perhaps you shy from the light, feeling you don’t deserve to go in there, where candles flicker, and “Come, oh come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel…” drifts out the open door?

Maybe you are the one closest to the truth.

We don’t deserve to creep up the manger.

We don’t deserve a Redeemer.

We don’t deserve Abundant Life.

It’s all a gift.

Once again, I go to my favorite prophet, Isaiah, who calls to us from the very distant past.

Who believes what we’ve heard and seen? Who would have thought GOD’s saving power would look like this? Isaiah 53: 1 MSG

“Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you. I’ve called your name. You’re mine. When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you. When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down. When you’re between a rock and a hard place, it won’t be a dead end—Because I am GOD, your personal God, The Holy of Israel, your Savior. I paid a huge price for you…That’s how much you mean to me! That’s how much I love you! I’d sell off the whole world to get you back, trade the creation just for you. “So don’t be afraid: I’m with you.
Isaiah 43 2-5 MSG

Reassured, I flip forward, spanning centuries, and land on the book written by the youngest follower of Jesus, John. He called himself the one Jesus loved.

How loved he must have felt to write that!

Everything was created through him; nothing—not one thing!—came into being without him. What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by. The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out. The Life-Light was the real thing: Every person entering Life he brings into Light…whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said, He made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves.
John 1:3-4,9,12 MSG

Tonight, I’ll our Advent candle in peace, knowing I can’t, and don’t have to make myself, my home, my family, my writing — anything perfect for Christmas. I can give up trying to make everything right (again).

I don’t need to try to be the savior.

He came as an infant over 2,000 years ago, and made the way for us that we could never reach on our own.

That’s why those angels were singing!

I think I’ll hum along.

Transcendent Love

I write this from my mother’s beside in hospice. After Mom was transported to the ER on Wednesday morning, a CAT scan revealed a hemorrhage inside her brain. She suffered hours of extreme pain, but regained movement and seemed to be improving. However, by Thursday morning, it was clear she wouldn’t recover. In the afternoon, she was carried to hospice, where our extended family has taken up vigil.

Janie and Mom at Hospice House
Janie and Mom at Hospice House

When we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, our own, or the shared journey of a loved one, the tyranny of the urgent goes to a corner.

Even breathing takes on a different rhythm.

Like the brilliance of the sun on the snow after a blizzard, true values rise up in our clear vision.

What I see astounds me.

If you’ve read my Glimpses for long, you have journeyed with me through some of the long healing process from the scars of my childhood.

Each person in our family has good reason to nurse their scars and protect the wound.

Instead, this week, love has transcended every decision, conversation, gathering. As voice messages pour in from Switzerland and NJ, emails and text messages from Maryland, Ohio and Texas, and anyone in driving distance joins the vigil, it is clear that our “Mommom” is a magnet for us all.

In spite of failings and her own hidden pain, she has loved us. Given us a sense of our true selves. Helped us to be real. (Read The Velveteen Rabbit.)

Mom has four living children, 10 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren who love her, but her greater legacy is the ability to transcend hardships, difficulties, differences, and yet love. To put aside preferences and pride. To seek the good of the other. To laugh in spite of grief, to hug and not retreat. To share the gift of tears.

So we sit by her side, at the moment simply listening to her breaths and watching her chest rise and fall, and savor her presence, her life.

Earlier today, as I wrote out my reflections on her life, I realized that transcendent love sprang from my little brother’s death, sixty years ago, which shook Mom’s world and cleared her vision. She ran to the Savior she’d been ignoring for many years. She’s been running that race ever since.

LOVE in her has become love through her. Reckless, transcendent love.

Where do I go?

Sometimes life, not the big picture, the whole world kind of life (that’s abstract enough — we can deal with it), but our personal, here-and-now life can become more than we can handle. Or least, more than we want to handle.

An adoptive mother pours herself dry, endlessly loving a child who, because of abuse or neglect before she entered his life, cannot bond, cannot receive or trust. Will her love ever be enough?

A dear one, preparing to fly to her mother’s bedside, receives a call. “Your Mom died this morning.” The words she’d hoped to say swell in her throat. And the ones she’d hoped to hear seep from an old wound. How will it heal, now?

An illness haunts, even as it evades tests and medical probing. In the dark of the night, it looms, large and threatening. What is taking over my body? What am I doing wrong?

Or the pain is diagnosed, the dread “C” word, and all the questions and decisions put life on hold. Will I be able to stand? Will I come out the other side?

Abuse, alcoholism, unplanned pregnancies or unfinished ones, unwanted babies or babies forever grieved, sterility, disability, life threatening illness, life-taking illness, unfaithfulness, hatred, dementia, mental illness or anguish, prejudice, betrayal . . .

The list is too dark to continue.

Whether wishing for escape from this life, or wishing for more days to live, we often follow a script, learned long ago. 


Shut down. If I don’t feel so deeply, I won’t hurt so much. Better to live in the gray zones. One foot follows another.

Give in. I’ll do what I’m told. Keep my head down. If I don’t expect anything I won’t be disappointed.

Fight. I flail at the injustice. Rail at the darkness. My fingers may grow raw, but at least I’m not a helpless victim.

Flight. I’ll run to alcohol, drugs, people (sex, or people-pleasing, or codependent relationships, or controlling), work, online or TV (mindless hours, escape, games, vicarious living, porn). Anything but stay in the pain.

Or perhaps I simply won’t look. If I can’t see the enemy, he can’t hurt me, right?


When it all comes tumbling down, and at some point, it will, what do we have then? When our backs are up against the wall, where do we turn?

Over and over, I run to the only one who hasn’t hurt me or failed me or forgotten me. One who calls me, carries me when I need it, heals me and sets my feet on firm ground.

Maui waves  Isaiah 43:1_5
Maui waves Isaiah 43:1_5

If you have more on your plate than you can handle right now, feel free to contact me below, or use the private contact button, and I will pray for you.

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew ll:28-30 The Message