Angry at Christmas

A few weeks ago, in a town very far from my home, twenty children were murdered in their classrooms.  I was on my way to a Christmas party when I found out.

Somewhere, at that very moment, mothers and fathers were running from place to place.  Desperately searching.  Hoping against hope.  Waiting for their hearts to start beating again.

I turned off the television and went to the party.

That afternoon, I picked my kids up from school.  I looked full into their big blue eyes.   I could feel my heart beating.  “Thank you for coming home.”  That’s all I could say to the innocent.

I started the car and played the Christmas music too loud.  If only we could drive away from the real.  Evil had climbed from the shadows into the morning light of our middle class, American dream.  And the lambs lay riddled with bullets.  And the offender lay dead beside them.

This was the truth.  Not a movie.  Not a novel.  But life.

Where was God?  My God.  He is mighty.  And a deep lover of the innocent.  Where was he this morning?

In control.  He had not slipped.  Or blinked.  Or been caught unaware.  This was also truth.  God is sovereign.

On this hand, we have twenty children ripped from the world by one evil act.  On the other hand, God was, and is, and always will be, the author of life.  These two truths are highly combustible when stored in the same cognitive space.

So I nailed all the doors of my brain shut.

That evening, we drove to church.  The kids were performing in a Christmas play.  They sang and danced and promoted a holiday that celebrates God’s light come into the world.  The words were simple.  Inviting.  “God with us.  Abide in us.”

The message of Christmas.  God’s light is for everyone.  If only we would open this gift.

I wanted to settle into the moment.  To celebrate the truth of these songs.   But  I felt a chill.  I felt guilty.  Looking at a stage brimming with beautiful, unmarred faces.  What had I ever done to deserve such  a lavish blessing?

And my heart whispered.  “What is she doing?  The mother who knows her daughter is lying dead, but looks for her anyway?”

My tall, beautiful boy was singing and dancing in the middle of the pack.  Shining eyes.  He believed the words coming from his mouth.

And I did too.  But I’m not innocent.  And I’m not very deep or strong or smart.  And doing the math it takes to believe in a loving, all powerful God on the same evening that Evil strikes such a powerful blow is physically gut wrenching.

So I nailed the doors of my heart shut.

I was grateful for the Christmas bustle.  No time to think.  If I think, I will weep.  December 14th had illuminated the abject shallowness of my “high priority” to-do items.  But I pressed on.  Unfortunately, I’m a champion at completing “brainless” activities with absolutely no heart.

Before Sandy Hook, my defenses were already weak.  One of my dearest, oldest friends was praying with me in November.  Her husband had a “side ache”.  We laughed.  He’s probably just out of shape.  It was nothing to be sure.  But just in case, better see the doctor.  Just in case, we better include it on our prayer list.  In less than two weeks, there was no traction in my prayers.  Like kicking a benign stick out of the path to find a cobra sprung to life.  Stage four cancer.

And then, a few days before Thanksgiving, a friend’s daughter walked into a gymnastics practice.  Random, freak accident.  And now, the world is askew.  She is paralyzed from the chest down.  At fifteen.   How many hundreds of times have I dropped my kids off at practice?  I take for granted they will walk back to my car.

I take so much for granted.  So much.  I just trust that things will work out.  Don’t we all?

Honestly, most of the time, I just trust that life will be good.  Rather blind faith.

I bustled and jostled through the waning December days like the log ride at the fair.  Moving, eating, sleeping.  The mall.  The Santa line.  The parties.  The platitudes.  People often ask me to lead in prayer.  Because I’m not shy about how much I love my God.  I wanted to gather all these “fellow believers” close.  Like the way we used to hug in college.  And ask, “Why do we believe these things?  Do we really, really believe them?”

But we’re not encouraged to say these things out loud.  It’s not what “good Christians” do.

However, at night, alone with myself, I’d sneak up to the sealed up doors in my brain and heart and feel the heat.  A fire raged just on the edge of conscious thought.  Successful as I was during the day, wrapping presents and buying cookies, I couldn’t chase these questions away at night.

If my husband, so much the source of my strength, was stricken on Monday, would I be thanking God on Tuesday? 

If my child, my heart and soul, was altered in a “freak accident”, would I continue to not only acknowledge but follow a God who claims to be “always at the helm”? 

And, here’s the kicker.  If my peeps were struck down in a hailstorm of bullets in the very place I sent them for nurturing, could I continue to believe my God to be loving and just?

And the weakness of my faith was more terrifying than the evil lurking in the shadows.

I pushed my Bible away.  I pushed it all away.  I let the Christmas lights and 30 second Advent readings buoy me along.  And I made it all the way to Christmas night.

As I turned off the tree the doubt flooded in.  Is this what Christmas really is?  An exercise?  A convention?  A socially driven community thread?  Is it over now?  All things end.  We will put the decorations back in the box.  The CNN coverage of the funerals will give way to other news.  Do we just go back to living?  Back to blindly trusting it will all work out?

The house was dark.  And my heart was darker still.

Blindly believing is for idiots.

I am no more guaranteed that things “will just work out” than were any of those parents in Connecticut.  So if I’m going to believe, my faith must not be blind.   I must pull these thoughts from the deep recesses of night into the light of day.

I’m angry with God.

There.  I said it.

And so I stand before all I know to be true and ask.  Why, God? 

Six and seven year-olds, Lord.

Where were you?  How could you let this happen?  If evil must exist, why not allow the gun to take the mother and father as well.  Why must they live in a world and cry out for children who will not answer?  This is so hard to understand, God.  How can this be?

I will never have the innocence, strength or wisdom of Job.  I’m rather lousy at being a “good soldier”.  I don’t take direction well.  I need to know why I believe what I believe.  I want to know in whom or what I am trusting.   I am only myself.

Alone in the dark, I rant at God.

Like a foolish child, I wish for December 14th to be erased.

Why?  For the parents, of course.  But also, deeper still.  So that I can go back.

Back to what?  To innocence.  But also, to blindness.  To blind trust.

For someone with so many questions, I am surprised by this revelation.   There is much I don’t question.  Don’t even think of questioning.   This is sobering in the dark.  My faith is quite blind.

Each day, I take so much for granted.   I get out of bed and walk across the floor on two legs that work.  Blindly accepting.  I go to a job and earn money for food and electricity and a lot of stuff I don’t need all that much.  Blindly accepting.  I quibble with my kids about lost shoes and excess laundry, blindly accepting they will be there tomorrow for more quibbling.  My husband, kind and patient, the straightest arrow I know.  Each night, he comes home to me.  Blindly, I accept this as a given right.

Blind.  Blind.  In my blindness, I accept all these things.  I accept all of this comfort and love as my baseline.  This is life as it should be.

And what drives me to blindly live?

I’m busy.  I’ve got stuff to do.  Places to be.  Television to watch.  The shallowness of this thought surprises even me.  So I take a deeper look.

Why live blindly?

A broken, selfish heart and a wayward, shortsighted intellect.

In summary, my lazy soul.

I pace around in the blackness of the living room.  A lazy soul.  I know a good God.  I belong to him.  I’m through the pearly gates, right?  What else is required of me?  So I live, consuming His goodness like an unfeeling vacuum.  Until, I choke and sputter on December 14th.  This slaughter of lambs incenses my spirit.  Riles up a long dormant sense of justice.   And I wake from my blindness to question.

Who are you, Lord?

I feel exposed and raw before God.  I’ve shaken my fists and stomped my feet.  And I’m waiting for answers that make sense.

And I wonder.  To wake up.  To consider each day as part of the equation.  To consciously know that my husband’s footsteps outside my door are not a given.  To see the daily toil, strain and stress as a crazy beautiful dance with twenty four hours to perform it.  To breathe in and out and know that the air in my lungs is a gift from God.

Why am I not doing this?

It takes effort.  And work.  A bending of one’s inner nature to the greater One.   A working out of the faith.  To open my eyes to the realness of God, this takes a conscious surrender.  My blindness robs me of the ability to keep a proper account.  Laziness clouds my vision from seeing God at work.

The greater evil here is that I’ve labeled things incorrectly.  Sandy Hook is the baseline.  Cancer, illness, corruption is life as it is.  The planet is wounded and broken.   Mothers will cry out for children who lie dead.  Sickness and disease and meaningless accidents will rob and kill and destroy.  This is real.

I am weeping now.   The doors I’ve nailed shut are burst open and I can feel.  And mourn.

And hope.

I remember the words to the song my son sang on December 14th.

“God with us.  Abide in us.”

Abide in me.  The only cure for my anger, my questions with God, is to devote myself more fully to living a conscious faith.  To not give in to being lazy and blindly flowing along until the raft starts taking on water.  To wake each morning keeping a full account of God’s movement in my heart, my life, this world.  To collect a better representation of the data.  And in doing so, to build a house upon the rock that will not be shaken.

I’ve seen this rock.  In a father as he spoke on Sports Radio of hope that sustains and lifts his family and his gymnast daughter even as she lay facing a new world from her hospital bed.  I’ve felt this rock, in my friend’s prayers as she described being in a giant room filled with God’s grace as the storm of cancer raged somewhere outside.  And I’ve been overwhelmed by this rock, as a devastated father stood before a speechless nation and forgave the man that murdered his daughter.

I want my life to be here.  On the rock.

In the dark, I plug in the Christmas tree once more and the room is filled with light.  The shadows exist in the corners, but only for a time.

Matthew 4:16

The people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.

Love,   Hollylu  7  <  8

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