Wednesday, December 25, 2013

And He Walked

It's been a month of consistently walking with them, sharing their smiles, singing songs, and meeting together. For four years I have known faces. For a few, I have known names. Now, I am learning their stories.

There is my best friend, the little one who has been close to me for about a year. We share hugs and smiles, a few phrases in Tagalog, and then we squeeze hands and stay close.

There is the sibling group with the sweetest smiles. They keep adding siblings to the mix, and I wonder how many there really are. Even as they stood in the hot sun, they still wore their smiles.

And this little one… the three year old with the small face and dark eyes. She came one day to our little group crying, so I picked her up and held her close. And she melted. She continues to snuggle close each time I hold her. If I could, I would take she and her brother in a heartbeat. I wonder how often she is snuggled.

I look at the mothers, lining up with the little ones to grab extra food and presents. While the little ones look with fresh faces and bright eyes, I see the tiredness and years of wear on the faces of their mothers.

I have learned in my time here not to judge… when the mom gets angry and snatches the child too hard, for the little one who needs to be held, for the crying that won’t be soothed.

The reality is that life is hard. Life has been hard. And when you live in a slum with few options for how to earn the next meal and safety is a luxury, it tends to stress.

I look around at the dirty feet and faces smudged in charcoal, the sores and runny noses that indicate deeper problems.

And I can’t help but remember… the Word that became Flesh, and lived among us.

The God who bent low… the God who wrapped himself in skin… our skin… this skin so prone to scratches, sores and bruising, this tired flesh that bears the weight of years and hardships.

The very Word himself decided to take our flesh and make it his own.

And he was humbled.

He humbled and bent low. And I can’t help but imagine that if I could have seen his flesh in this slum, then I would have seen him bending even lower.

Never mind, I am sure I saw his flesh. I saw reflections of him in their eyes.

And as the Word became flesh, he lived, breathed, walked among us.

And the company he kept? The little ones like my sweet friends, covered in garbage, they would have been his treasures. He would have stooped low to scoop into his arms and hold them tightly. He would have sat amongst their circles, laughing and sharing stories.

The tired mothers? His devoted ones who wrapped his body and welcomed his re-entry.

The fathers in the corner observing at a safe distance? His best friends.

He chose to walk among us, to experience the aches and the pains of this life so we could draw closer.

Maybe that’s what I needed this Christmas… to be reminded that real love became flesh and took on my skin. To be shown that ultimate sacrifice and perfect peace comes from the body of a newborn who would grow into a man, stretching his arms to welcome my sin.

Stretching his arms to welcome me.

Not only did he walk among us, but he considered the joy before him and endured the cross. The story never ends with a baby in a stable, but with a God who conquers death.

And I look at the little faces of the ones I have come to love so much, and I can’t help but be in awe of a God who made himself like us so we could be close to him.

Who else is there like him? What other deity would stoop so low to welcome the lowly?

My precious Jesus.

The one who leads the celebration in heaven when his little ones say yes to him. The arms once made small and weak, then broken, now stretched to welcome all who say yes.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

                                                                                    John 1:14

Saturday, December 7, 2013

For the Ache, The Wait, and The Joy to Come


I think that's the only way I can really describe this feeling. I think it's the only way I can accurately assess the feeling of urgency in my heart that presses me to search and search.

This will be my second Christmas away from home. My second Christmas away from what is familiar, what is comfortable. Once again, the presents were ordered online instead of handpicked, to be opened via Skype with smiles instead of hugs in exchange for what is given and received.

I have described this separation as akin to having a hole in my heart. Some days the hole is small. I am busy with the daily activities of life, and the hole doesn't really hurt. But other times, the hole feels larger... birthdays, weddings, holidays, and one more picture that no matter how much I search, I simply cannot find myself.

There are times I have been accused of being flippant... of not showing emotion when I say good bye or brushing off the desires of family members and friends to visit, to return.

It's self-preservation really. I say good bye a lot, and with that comes the need to shut down because if every loss was mourned, then I would never recover. Is it healthy? Maybe, maybe not, but it works.

Yet sometimes I simply cannot ignore the ache... especially when life gets harder than usual, and I find myself longing for what is familiar.

And it is this desire that has left me with a hunger... a hunger for something more this season, this Christmas. Maybe it's because Christmas is the representation of all that is familiar and routine... the traditions, the family, the decorations, the stories.

I find myself listening to, craving Christmas music, wishing for the bitter cold and an occasion for hot chocolate, watching every Christmas movie I can get my hands on.

I am not sure why I feel like I need this so much.

It could be homesickness. It could be the body and the mind hitting a cultural wall.

Maybe it is a combination of the two.

Or maybe, just maybe, my heart longs for something deeper. Because I know that there should be something deeper... Christmas is a time meant for something deeper. It is a time to remember magic. It is a time to remember there is a deeper beauty in this world than I could ever imagine... a deeper beauty that my soul is desperate to grasp.

It reminds me of the longing, the ache of the world before the first Christmas. Four hundred years of silence before He spoke again. A people living in oppression. A world in darkness.

And then, the longing fulfilled with the entrance of a child to peasants, welcomed by the lowly and wrapped in rags.

In one entrance, the darkness was lifted and "a people walking in darkness have seen a great light".

In the past, there are different aspects of the Christmas story I focus on... the light of the Savior in a world of night, the story of a young girl who said yes even if she may not have understood.

Maybe this year, He is reminding me of the longing... what was the world like before the arrival?

This ache, because yes, this life is meant for so much more than what I am settling for... this life finds itself in the story of a God who became a child, grew into a man, and through death from redemption for one such as me.

This heart was meant to bend at the edge of the lowly stable, to rejoice in the glory of what began that night.

And I realize that so often I choose to live like a manger never happened and the silence is still ongoing.

Because yes, there is pain and despair in this world, but there is hope. And Christmas was meant to remind me that no matter how great the darkness, there is always hope because there is a God who whose to wrap my injured flesh around himself, breathe this air, and walk this ground.

I feel it as my heart learns to take the unfamiliar and draw it close... to find my new normal... to rejoice in my adopted family, realizing that I have been blessed with a heart attached to more than one place.

There will always be an ache as long as the heart must wait... because this wait is just a shadow of the ache all creation still awaits for the ultimate grand entrance that is still to come.

So I wait. I live, knowing the joy that has come, the joy of the present, the joy still to come.

But the longing will be fulfilled because the fulfillment has come.

And for this, even an aching heart can rejoice.