Saturday, December 24, 2016

O Come, Come - a Christmas letter

Dear My Friends and Family,

I have wanted to write this letter for a few weeks now, but have struggled with the appropriateness, the timing, the desire to have it look just right...and so, it's now Christmas Eve, and I've written no letter.

It's hard, honestly, knowing what to write. Do I recap the year? Do I tell you about all the times that we enjoyed in the first 6 months of 2016? Do I share pictures of our anniversary weekend to Traverse City? Do I create a funny cat Christmas card of a series of pictures Dan took of Acadia? Or, do I write an honest letter about me now - and make you cry in the midst of the joyful family photos? It seems like anyway I'd do wouldn't be entirely accurate. In the past six months, I have realized that there is an element of sadness with the happy now; a bit more bittersweet. ...a bit more...real.

The last few months have been long, and hard. I find that I have only so much focus to give and most of that focus has gone into work. We have experienced a shortage of teaching and advising staff this fall - and I was teaching 3 classes (two were sections of the same class). There were points that I felt like I had gone far past the breaking point. I was glad to just get.through this semester. Christmas was the farthest thing from my mind.

As long and hard as they have been, there is also a light in those days. By the grace of God and intercession of Mary, I have been brought much closer toward the heart of Jesus. I have found a family at St. Mary's (our church) from our small group this spring at Alpha to a group of women who welcomed me with open arms (literally) at 'Wild Goose' to an opportunity to praise God with others through singing.

When I wanted to write a letter to you, my family and friends, this advent season, it was because I don't want you to miss the beautiful invitation that is advent: O Come. 

O Come, Come Emmanuel: My birthday falls in mid-November...and the days leading up to it were hard. I missed Dan. He always missed my birthday due to it falling right when he was traveling to NAILE (the North American International Livestock Exposition aka Louisville). Saturday, November 12, I attended Mass. Father Mark invited us to imagine our heart as a castle and in the center, our throne room where God (should) reside.

As I imagined mine, I felt like I was so far from being ready to enter the throne room. As Mass continued with the Eucharistic rite, I was just overcome with sorrow. I was so sad, so grieved, so heartbroken; as we were praying the Eucharistic prayers, again I saw the castle. This time, I saw the throne room. There were two thrones. But, both were empty. I first thought this must be because Jesus has come out of the throne room to find me - lost in one of the rooms. Because, wouldn't that be just like Jesus? Leaving the throne room to find us? In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul tells us that he (Jesus) considered equality with God not a thing to be grasped - and so he emptied himself of his right to divinity to come to us.

However, the Holy Spirit nudged me to look around - to realize that I was in the throne room. I was not far off; so if I was not far off, where was God? In my sadness, He left the throne to sit beside me. To comfort me in my sorrow, he came to me. He was embracing me. ...and this is the beauty of Christmas - that Emmanuel God has come to us; to be with us; to embrace us in our time of deepest sorrow (or joy).

Rejoice! Rejoice - Emmanuel shall come to you: this time of grieving, it will not be forever. Jesus, the promised Messiah, has come to bind up the brokenhearted. In this time, we will grieve; in this life, we will taste the bitter and the sweet. He has come so that he can be present to us - with us - and to bear the pain and burden we carry.

O Come All Ye Faithful - I wasn't planning on really decorating for Christmas. I'm in Iowa for almost two weeks, and I didn't really see the point. I also really didn't have the energy. ...and then in a burst of time and energy over a December weekend, I had a clean and decorated house. It was my own Christmas miracle! (But really, it was. I have had very little energy after work to do much) Honestly, it was a gift. And I decided to host a "cocktails and caroling party." I invited some friends - and we gathered at a local elder community. Just singing for someone else with others brought so much joy to my heart.

At one point, one of the residents asked how we were all connected. Those present included my brothers-and-sister-in-law, friends of Dan's, our friends from work, and my friend Leslie. We were connected because of Dan...because of me...because of God bringing us all together: The faithful.

[Friends with kids: teach them the hymns! ...and go sing for others - because as Buddy the Elf says: the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear!]

While worshiping to O Holy Night this Advent, these lines struck me in a new way:

Long lay the world in sin and error pining till he appeared, 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 - oh hear the angel voices! 

You guys, for the first time, Dan's soul has finally felt its worth; in the presence of Jesus and God the Father and God the Holy Spirit - Dan knows how much he is (and always has been) loved. For him, a new morning has broken, surrounded by glorious light, everlasting love and peace. ...and for him, he now hears the angel voices singing in exultation:

Sing choirs of angels - sing in exultation; O Sing, all ye citizens of heaven above: Glory to God - all glory in the highest - 
O Come - let us adore him;
O Come let us adore him;
O Come let us adore him Christ the Lord!

In whatever mood this Christmas spirit finds you - the bitter or the sweet - the mourning or the joy: our invitation remains the same: O come. We are all invited to come. Come. You can praise the Lord with loud singing or with tears; both are precious to Him - because you are sharing your heart with Him.


May we know how much our souls are worth to Jesus; how much we are loved and held. May we hear the angels voices as we raise our own in wonder, in worship, and in love.


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Eight Decembers ago, part 1

I'm not sure what triggered this thought this morning, but December is a pretty special month in the Dan & Jessica story. It's our love month. Meaning - this is the month that God did some pretty big miracles in our hearts to bring us together.

We met on April 29, 2008 at the AGR Graduation Party held at Outlaws (the "country" bar in Ames). So, depending on who you ask - we either met at a bar (Dan) or at a graduation party (me). Both are true. Dan asked me out that night - which was the first time I'd ever been asked out the first time someone met me - so I was immediately intrigued at this "decisive" person.

That summer we went on dates, but were...weird. Neither of us would have said that we were boyfriend/girlfriend, but this was the most consistently that I had gone on dates since 2004. (to be fair, I didn't date much) ...and on October 6, we had a very definite break-up talk. I cried while we talked, not because I really liked him - but because I really liked him. Meaning: I was going to miss him - not the idea of him (which is why I think a lot of us stick around with guys who are just "sort of" into us); I genuinely liked who he was as a person - and I would miss his presence in his life.

His response was, "Can't we still be friends?" (which is what he always did; go on a few dates and remain friends) And I said, "No, I don't think so. It doesn't work that way." (with my heart) But, God did a new work in my heart. I went to bed that night asking God to bring Dan back - if it was His will - when he was ready. Because the jist of our talk that night essentially was that Dan, recognizing that I was amazing (my words), but he didn't think his heart was in the same place mine was, and that I should be with someone who cherished that amazingness.

The new work that God did in my heart was - the next day, I was able to thank God for bringing Dan into my life - rather than being mad at God/Dan for not being "the one" - recognizing that God had finally brought someone into my life who recognized my worth, but who also respected my heart enough to not lead me on. And so, within 3 days, I realized that Dan and I could be friends. I let go of all fears and expectations - and just let him be...and decided to be more of me with him.

I had always wanted to be married, to be in a relationship. I often put that desire on a pedestal. When Dan and I first met, I wanted Dan to be "the one" because I wanted that relationship (not him, per se). When we want the relationship more than the person, we often will make little sacrifices of ourself - suppressing part of ourself because we might be too much or not enough - we might be rejected. For me, I didn't know how to be vulnerable with Dan. I didn't know how to trust him with my heart. I didn't know how to broach the subject of our different approaches to our faith life (Catholic vs. evangelical).

So, we broke up. God healed my heart. I started praying for "raspberry pie" (which happened to be Dan's favorite dessert - but I wasn't intentionally praying for Dan): i.e. the gift of God's grace which would be the perfect-for-me, yet surprise of a mate. [The weeekend before we broke up, I had been at a junior high retreat and the speaker gave the analogy that God's grace is like chocolate cake - which I found unappealing - so I replaced cake with raspberry pie. The raspberry pie analogy spoke to me as something I knew would love (because I love raspberries and I love pie), but had never had before.]
We had dinner the night of the election; he didn't come to my awesome 29th birthday celebration - and I didn't care because there were other guys I was also interested in there.

Then came Thanksgiving. I emailed him with an invitation to come with me to our church's Christmas play, Esmerelda (which I had previously been afraid to do when we were "dating"). He wrote me back the Sunday after Thanksgiving with a 3-paragraph response.


I knew that something had changed. [oh yes, I had also been praying since my birthday that God would do a miracle in Dan's life] I didn't know what, exactly...but something - because THREE PARAGRAPHS. [and yes, he agreed to come]

Two days later, I was musing to God wondering if this was all just me-sided (like I invite and he responds, but he wasn't really interested). Ten minutes after I asked God my question, Dan called inviting me to dinner that night., maybe not just me? 

That was December 2nd. We were going to go to Esmerelda on December 11 and agreed to have dinner beforehand. I learned that night that he was going to be in Ames on Christmas and thought, "I should invite him to our house; no one should be alone on Christmas." ...and then thought better of it because...awkward. I made the mistake of telling my mom this - who said, "You should invite him to our house; no one should be alone on Christmas." [I know Mom, but...awkward]