I sat cross legged in the middle of the stately queen bed in the room she’s temporarily calling her own. She sat across from me, back against the headboard, legs in a lazy frog pose. Occasionally, she would stretch one out and touch my feet, though her feet were buried under the covers and mine not. When acknowledged, her leg would spring back as if the stretching out had only been an unintentional reflex. Learning not to look meant her toes would flex against my foot, only the blanket between, and it would linger there a moment longer.
“Beary” was pressed to her chest and covered with her crisscrossed arms the whole time we talked. I tried to lounge a little, to stretch across the middle of the bed, to lighten a conversation composed of anvils and anchors. She remained unmoved. She shared things that embarrassed her to say out loud, things that quite honestly I had never even heard of happening before she told me they had.
I am learning to control my facial expressions down to teeny tiny millimeters of movement. She’s reading my face and I have to be careful what it says.
You cannot tie an anvil conversation up with a bow; some talks don’t have natural endings. So, after David came in to say goodnight, I listened awhile longer and then told her we both needed to rest. She was afraid. I told her the truth. You are safe. No one is going to hurt you. Jesus is your protector. Daddy would die before he let anyone hurt you. She nodded and a smile broke across her face with that last comment. She knows it is true, but she doesn’t really believe me. Her smile vanished and fear, momentarily forgotten, returned. We prayed. I told her a story. I could still see fear choking her brown eyes, causing her face to crumble in on itself. I turned on the closet light and the lamp beside the bed. I left the door open… her door and the bathroom door, with the light on in there too.
Truth be told, a flood light wouldn’t be enough tonight.
We stepped through the doors, with greetings and handshakes, into the foyer. It had that holiday hum. People were moving about, laughing, making small talk. Decorations adorned the doorways and the walls. I got my phone out to text a friend I knew was already present and nearly bumped into her in the process. “Well, hello there!” she said, hugging me warmly. I watched from behind as the red headed, small framed family friend we affectionately call “Sprinkle” hugged my parents and then my husband. We hadn’t planned to attend together, but were all delighted to find we had bought tickets for the same concert. As luck would have it, we ended up with only an aisle and a row of seats between us (Mom, Dad, David and I) and them (Sprinkle and
another one of Mom’s college friends our family friend, Beth). They had all seen the show many times at Christmas’ past; none of us had been before. Sprinkle was spinning like a top, full of excitement and speaking in fluent superlative, as is her custom. I shared some photos of my new niece, Ruby, with Beth and then listened to Sprinkle tearfully recite some of her favorite lines from her favorite songs. Throughout the show, I’d look to catch her eye when I heard again the poignant phrases she primed me to hear.
I don’t even remember the last time I went to concert before that night- it had been that long. I had forgotten the magic that live performance can have..not all of them do, of course, but this one was teeming with that indescribable intangible magic. It was all so beautiful that I would almost swear the colors in the room were changed. The level of musicality was stunning on its own but the tone of the night was warm and close and friendly and not distant and professional, the way sometimes intelligent, artsy performances are. I let my eyes stay about half mast, so the stage was somewhat blurry even a handful of rows back, acting as if the players were just friends in my living room, come over to try out some new pieces and to invite a sing along for the tried and true ones.
The performance of the Behold the Lamb Christmas album was the second half of the night, with the first being a round. The songwriters who would later perform together the breathtaking Christmas story first singularly took turns on the staging, sharing songs of their own. Jill Philips was familiar. In my mind, I immediately pictured the cover her first album… muted colors, a side view of her face, dark hair. My sister, Beth, and I had nearly worn that cd out. It occurred to me as she took the stage next to her husband that I probably had never seen a picture of her face from any other angle. I hadn’t heard of her husband, Andy Gullahorn, before that evening. His name rang no bells and drew up no imagery long filed away in my mind. But he had made us laugh quite hard on his first turn at the mic that night (definitely a moment I looked to catch Sprinkle’s eye as he sang what appeared to be a sad song about leaving his family to go on tour but then unexpectedly broke into a cry of “FREEDOM!” in the chorus. Like all good songs, it came back around to being poignant but that chorus— truly well timed comedy) so I was looking forward to his next selection.
What’s that infamous Larry the Cucumber line? “I laughed, I cried. It moved me, Bob”..? Oh you don’t watch Veggies Tales routinely? Ok, never mind. Pretend you dp. Anyway, Andy had made us laugh and now it was time for the “I cried, it moved me” moment.
I would have totally ugly cried if I hadn’t been sitting in a sanctuary, near the front, with a few hundred strangers. I have ugly cried a few times since, just thinking about the song and I have cried every time I have been brave enough to listen to it again.
At Christmastime, Mary and baby Jesus take front and center, even in circles where Jesus isn’t normally welcome. There are window decals, nativity displays (we have 4 if you include our fisher price little people set up), children color pictures of a round bellied Mary on a donkey and Jesus surrounded by the whole cast of characters (wise men, shepherds, various farm animals, Mary and Joseph, and likely a very renaissance influenced depiction of an angel), and we sing songs about the baby who was also God. Try as we might to get our hands on the wonder of it all, familiarity has a way of settling in and take up residence.
With a few lines inspired by a short story by Walter Wangerin, Andy sang the dusty cover right off of my understanding of the incarnation. I was pierced to the heart. The parallels in the story do not line up neatly, but you cannot miss Jesus in slight side steps along the way.
At the end of this run down tenement hall
Is the room of a girl I know
She cowers behind all the dead bolt locks
Afraid of the outside world
So how should I come to the one I love
I will find a way
Many thieves and collectors have used that door
But they only brought her shame
So she won’t even open it anymore
Still I will find a way
I could call out her name with love through the walls
But condemnation is all she hears
I could break down the door and take her into my arms
But she might die from the fear
I cried because I couldn’t help but hear my little girl in every line…I could help but see her, sitting cross legged on the bed, clinging to her stuffed animal with whitened knuckles, fear constricting her chocolate brown eyes.. I cried because I couldn’t help but see myself. But mostly I cried because I couldn’t stop seeing Jesus.
No hiding place ever kept her safe
So she hides inside herself
Now to reach her heart the only way
Is to hide in there as well
I will hide in there as well
I couldn’t stop seeing Jesus. I bet you won’t stop seeing Him either.
She gave up on love waiting for a change
But a change is coming soon
Cause how could she not love the helpless babe
Who is waking in her womb
I found a way
She’ll know I am coming before I am here
When she hangs her head she’ll see me there
And then when I come she won’t turn away
All the beauty and joy will return to her face
And what of the loneliness? Now it is gone
Lost in the bond of the mother and son
Every sin that she suffered at the hands of men
Every single disgrace will be washed clean again
I will love her completely and when I am grown
I will carry her out of that tenement room
I am doing a new thing and soon you will see
I am coming among you and my name shall be
Emmanuel. God with us. Isaiah told King Ahaz the proof of the unfolding Promise of God would be a child born miraculously to a virgin mother and that child would be “God with us”. We celebrate this happening with all sorts of fan fare and symbolism, which has sadly lulled us into a happy spiritual haze more than it has laid open and wasted our hearts on the reality of that incredible move of God toward us.
I continue to be wasted by this song. I have downloaded several versions of it by both of the writers who shaped and penned it. Every time it cuts me more deeply.
After my conversation last night with my daughter, I tossed and turned in my own bed well past one in the morning. The memories she shared, that I workedd to keep off my face, were images my mind struggled to release. The angry knee jerk responses I had when these memories began to slowly emerge last spring have created in me a deep hole of sadness and longing… and more recently hope. All of it is hard to explain; harder still to shake.
On a few hours of sleep I forced myself out of bed and into my yoga class. I came back through the front door a little after six, sore and sweaty and clearer headed. I sat down with a steep cup of joe and uploaded the story aptly titled “An Advent Monologue” to the iPad.
As I read, I thought about adoption. Not just our having adopted the girls, but God having adopted humanity. These are not new pictures or thoughts for me or you. But then in Wagerin’s words I found a new picture to mull over in my mind.
“I am the Lord, who loves this woman.
And for a while I’ll let her mother me. But then I’ll grow. And I will take my trumpet voice again, which once would kill her. And I’ll take her, too, into my arms. And out of that little room, that filthy tenement, I’ll bear my mother, my child, alive forever.”
God adopts us in part by letting us adopt Him. He has no need of us, of course. He isn’t a helpless infant. He lives in us and yet He cannot being contained. From His essence everything that is made has been made…and yet, He is somehow formed it us. The story doesn’t line up neatly and exactly but then again, the whole idea of God with us and God in us, is the mystery of mysteries isn’t it?
So I quit mulling the thought around intellectually and just let my heart feast on the truth of the words, the kind of truth that defies logical explanation. I am letting it seep down into my being and I’m praying. I’m praying that God with me will help me to find a way into those deep hiding places where my daughter can be found. But mostly I pray that she will let Him be born into those places and grow Himself there and speak in His trumpet voice there and eventually carry her out so that she can experience the valley of trouble transformed into the very doorway of hope. (<– read Hosea 2)
So Happy Tuesday to you all and happy chewing and soaking and weeping to you this morning, my friends, as you see the indescribable Jesus in these lines and words and song.
“I love a child.
Bit she will not fear me for long, now.
Look! Look, it is almost happening. I am doing a new thing- and don’t you perceive it? I am coming among you, a baby.
And my name shall be Emmanuel.”