Launch-day Jitters: The Many reasons I'm Nervous About My new Book, and Why I Shouldn't be (Plus a Giveaway!)
My fourth novel, New Wine Transportation Company, releases today, and there are so many emotions--excitement, appreciation, relief, joy. But one of the biggest feelings is ANXIETY. Will readers relate to Pastor Daniel Whitefield in New Wine Transportation Company? Will they understand the message I'm trying to convey? Is the overall theme clear? Will readers like it?
I shouldn't be so nervous. But this book is kind of "different." It doesn't follow some common conventions of Christian Fiction. It is a short novel (the same length as my first, Grace & Lavender.) There are no female points of view, and while most of the story is from the perspective of the main character, six of the chapters represent six other characters. The genre is first and foremost "Christian Fiction," and it definitely fits into the "Southern Fiction" (or "Small-Town Fiction") sub-genre. But unlike a lot of Southern Fiction, it does not share characteristics with broader categories like Women's Fiction and Romance. It is more "general," which could make it more challenging to reach an audience.
One of my biggest concerns about the book is the subject matter. Drinking alcohol can be a "hot button" issue within the church, as demonstrated in the story, but that really isn't what the book is about. Please read the preface from the front of the book, below. I really hope people understand this:
"This story is not about drinking or not drinking alcohol. It is not meant to spark a theological debate and is not intended to be a representation of my personal interpretation of Scripture on the subject of alcohol. This story is about “the love of God [that] has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 5:5). It is, like all my writing, about how God works “all things together for good” (Rom. 8:28). And it is about obedience to His leading, even when our direction is challenged."
Another concern I have is that, since the time I finished writing New Wine Transportation Company, I have completed a fifth novel that is more conventional and I believe has the potential to reach a broader audience, and I also feel like it's the best story I've written so far. Anxiety creeps in and tells me that, if people don't like NWTC, they won't give the new story a chance when its published one day, and I REALLY want to reach people with the not-yet-published story.
Now that I've spent several paragraphs telling you what I'm worried about, let me tell you why I'm ashamed of that worry. I believe wholeheartedly that I wrote New Wine Transportation Company for a reason. It has a purpose. And I need to trust God with that purpose, whether the book is widely received or it isn't. So far, the kind people who have agreed to review the book have said some wonderful things about it. One of the most touching and rewarding for me was that a reader had been inspired to "be reaching and loving the broken." That's when I knew I had put limitations on God. He can do with this story whatever He chooses. If one person is inspired to help their community, or if one person is challenged to trust God more (as I have been), or if one person is drawn closer to the Father through the message of this story, then that's enough. Even if it simply provides a few hours of entertainment for someone, that will make me happy. But I won't limit God. He can use it however He wants, and I pray that it will be used for His glory. And I pray the same for the next book, and the next, should He allow me to continue writing. I shouldn't be nervous about my writing if I've asked Him to be in control of it.
This past Sunday, at the end of service, I led the congregation in a song many might think of as a children's song. But it was very fitting for the sermon, and it's fitting for my book release, too, despite my nervousness. This is what I'm going to try to focus on. I hope you feel it, too, today. I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart. Down in my heart, down in my heart. I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart. Down in my heart to stay.
My ten-year-old is a cheeky one. She recently overheard me on the phone, telling my mother that my husband had taken two of our kids to the store while I stayed home with "the other two."
"What--we don't have names anymore?" my daughter quipped.
She shot me a pretend look of indignance, and I chuckled, which was her goal. But her joke immediately reminded me of something I'd recently studied, about three characters from the Bible whom some refer to as "the three Hebrew children.”
Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego are often referred to in this generic way, in story books and songs, as if the young men who refused to bow to King Nebuchadnezzer's golden statue in the book of Daniel didn't each have a name. But the interesting thing is, Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego aren't even their real names. Those are only their slave names.
Daniel 1:6,7 tells us, "Now among these were of the children of Judah, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: Unto whom the prince of the eunuchs gave names: for he gave unto Daniel the name of Belteshazzar; and to Hananiah, of Shadrach; and to Mishael, of Meshach; and to Azariah, of Abednego".
From a transcribed sermon from the late Rev. Chuck Smith, I learned that Hananiah means "Beloved of the Lord", but his Babylonian captors changed his name to Shadrack, meaning "Illumined by the sun god." Mishael means "Who is as God?", but it was changed to Meshack, meaning "Who is like Shak?" Shak was a false Babylonian deity. Azariah means "the Lord is my help." They changed it to Abednedgo, which means "the servant of Nego", another false god of the region. (Along the same lines, Daniel means "God is judge" while Belteshazzar means "Baal's prince.")
Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah had beautiful names that spoke of the goodness of God, but they were given names that meant much the opposite. Their new names paid tribute to idols. What a heavy weight that must have been for "the three Hebrew children" who served the true God! But, even though history remembers them mostly by these slave names, their stories prove that they never forgot who they really where.
When these three young men were threatened with death but still refused to bow, it was because they knew that no one else can take the place of God (Mishael), and that they could be brave in the face of danger because God was their help (Azariah). They trusted that God loved them (Hananiah). Their slave names did not define them. They remembered who they were in God.
Like the Babylonian captors, our enemy assigns labels in an attempt to break us. The world calls us things far removed from the truth, and people spin words to cause discord and tear us down. If you claim to be a patriot, they'll say you're a nationalist. If you stand up as pro-life, they'll call you anti-choice. If you love someone but don't agree with all their choices, they'll declare that you're a bigot. If you're a traditionalist, they'll call you old-fashioned. If you're a Creationist, they'll call you anti-science. If you're in love with Jesus, they'll call you an extremist. But the world's labels don't define us; we don't have to accept them. If you're a child of God, that's the only title that matters.
Some of the names people should reject might be related to their circumstances, rather than their beliefs. Minority doesn't mean victim. Adopted doesn't translate to damaged. Broken doesn't mean worthless. Hurting doesn't mean hopeless. Don't buy what the devil is selling. He may try to give you a name, but it doesn't mean that's who you are.
Since the days of the early church, followers of Jesus have born the name. Acts 11:26 says, "And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch." That's who we are. We're Christians, followers of Christ. When the world calls you something you're not, don't let it get you down. Keep following. Keep trusting. Remember who you are.
The night before the adoption ceremony, I felt nervous. We had waited so long for the day—to make this beautiful, affectionate three-year-old our son—yet, I had this jittery feeling, and that led to guilt. Was I second-guessing our decision? Wasn’t I absolutely sure that I wanted to parent this boy for the rest of my life? Then I realized, my nervousness wasn’t because of doubt. It was the same kind of feeling I had the day I got married. It was very similar to the case of nerves I experienced the morning of my scheduled c-section with my second child. It was the same as any other time someone stands on the edge of forever and is about to take the next step.
I’m not sure when God planted the seed of adoption in my heart. Maybe it was when He adopted me into his family when I was a child. But I had the dream, the desire, the life goal to adopt, for a very long time. My heart cried out at the words of James 1:27. Every time I saw a website or a television spot about children in need of a family, I wept. For years, I read profiles on the Children’s Home Society of NC page and ached for the children. But when was the “right” time to do something about this longing?
Thankfully, my husband, Alex, had the same desire to welcome a child through adoption. After we had two precious girls—Elizabeth in 2007 and Sarah in 2010—we thought, “Okay, we’ll adopt the third child, one day.” Then in 2013, Daniel was born, and we had to say, “I guess we were supposed to have three and adopt the fourth.” That’s when the vision for the future really started taking shape. I had the idea that we would wait until our kids were old enough to be involved in the process—the youngest would be around seven—and, as if I could actually manufacture the scenario, we would adopt a three-year-old. The child would be a boy, because the two girls were already sharing a room, and when I envisioned him, this fourth child of mine had darker skin than me.
In November of 2017, when the tug at my heart was so strong I couldn’t ignore it anymore, I suggested to Alex that we go to a local children’s home—a Christian agency that also does foster care licensing—for an information session. He agreed, though he’d always felt like God would put us in a situation to adopt, outside of the foster care system. After speaking to the licensing specialist for forty-five minutes, we left with an application and paperwork for foster care training in-hand. In the parking lot, Alex said, “So, are you going to fill those out today?”
We began our classes in January 2018, and, long-story-short-- after a tedious process, rife with frustration—we were finally licensed in October of that year. Little did I know, the waiting had only just begun. (Note: we met some remarkable people during the process that we are so glad to have in our lives now.)
I don’t remember when the first call came, but sometime between October and March, we said yes to NINE placements. Do you know how many of those children we helped? Zero. (I wrote about the waiting in this post.) For whatever reason, those children all went other places. When we finally got our first placement in March (I say finally with hesitation, because, while we were eager to help, foster care always means a child has had to experience trauma) it was a seven-year-old boy that we knew would be with us for a short time. I didn’t know it would only be six days. Even though he wasn’t with us long, we cried when he left, and I think of him often.
In May of 2019, I shared with new friends at a writers’ conference that I was anxious to do what I felt God had called us to do. I didn’t want a child to need our family, but I knew there was a child somewhere that did, and the waiting was gut-wrenching. Multiple people prayed for me at that conference, and for God’s will to be done for our family. The next weekend was Memorial Day, spent having a great time at the beach. On the drive home, Sarah made the statement that she felt like someone was missing (which I talked about in this post.) And someone was. The next day, we got the call. The social worker from our agency said that a two-and-half year old, African American male needed a home. She spelled his name but wasn’t sure how it was pronounced. She told me he had asthma (he doesn’t) and that he was non-verbal (he definitely wasn’t.) She was able to give me a few other details about his medical history, and she said that he was coming from another foster home. Around 7:30 pm, he arrived.
I’ll never forget the site of him--this angelic-looking little boy in a dinosaur t-shirt, pulling his tricycle from the county social worker’s car to our front door. She told us that he was very independent. To our surprise, as both social workers (county and licensing agency) sat in our living room going over information, while he played with a toy truck on the couch, we learned that a court hearing to terminate his biological parents’ rights was already scheduled. He had been in foster care, basically, his entire life.
From the beginning, this was not a “typical” foster care scenario. There was a very strong possibility that we would be able to adopt this child. Even though we had trained our minds and hearts to believe in and champion the unofficial foster care motto—"Reunification is always the goal”—that wasn’t the direction his case was headed. And it finally made sense—all the waiting and rejection. The entire time, we were expecting our son. There was no one else that was supposed to be part of our family, either temporarily or permanently. It was always him. From the moment he was born, God knew he would be my son. My husband and I were foster parents, but not really. We were just his parents. God spared us the heartbreak of wondering if we would have to say goodbye, though we still had to go through a long birthing process of waiting.
The first court date was just two weeks after our son came to us. It was a standard “update” hearing. We went, though it wasn’t required or expected. Without going into a lot of detail, we heard things in court that made us cry. Alex and I both fought to maintain our composure, but we couldn’t keep from sniffling as we choked back tears. We were later reprimanded by one of our social workers for our “behavior” in court, as though we could have helped it. We apparently showed too much emotion. That was the first of many times we felt unfairly scrutinized by the system.
The TPR (Termination of Parental Rights) hearing (I think in late July) took several hours and was continued to August. Based on what we knew, we were genuinely surprised when the judge ordered the termination at the August court session. However, our son would not become eligible for adoption for some time. It took five months for the judge to actually sign the termination order. After that, we had to wait thirty days to see if either of our son’s biological parents would appeal the termination. They did not.
In late February 2020, we were able to formally start the adoption process. (Which meant a switch to a different agency social worker who was very kind and helpful.) More paperwork, more waiting. When the pandemic hit in March, our monthly home visits, and the monthly required meetings with our agency, began to all be done by video. This was actually a huge weight lifted. But I also wondered if the adoption process would be hindered by the pandemic. As it turned out, Covid did slow it down, and it definitely made it “different” in a lot of ways (like signing final paperwork in the heat outside DSS office while wearing masks,) but I’m finally able to see that it has all been on God’s calendar anyway.
Around the time it started to seem certain that adoption would happen, we began transitioning our son to his new name. We decided to change his name for several reasons and felt he was still young enough that it wouldn’t be traumatic for him. We often called him by “pet names” anyway. He didn’t know his middle (or last) name, so there was no attachment. And I wanted him to have a name that meant something. We named our son Benjamin because it means “son of my right hand,” and we kept his given first name as his middle name. The boy who was known mostly as “CarCar” became Benjamin Acara, and, on his own, came up with the nickname Benji.
On June 18, 2020, we received word that we had been approved to adopt Benjamin. Then we had to wait for the “when.” This was the hardest period of waiting for me. Somehow, it was even more difficult than waiting to see if his bio parents would appeal the termination, which would do nothing except prolong the process. He was ours, but not legally, and waiting for the adoption ceremony to be scheduled was excruciating. At church, I requested prayer for either patience, or for someone to hurry up and push that paperwork through.
Early on Monday, July 27, I checked my email for the tenth time that morning and there it was—an email saying the adoption ceremony would take place that Friday, during our scheduled beach vacation. We were overjoyed.
After fourteen months of life and memories, we would be able to officially make him part of our family. To my other three children, he was brother from day one. To me and Alex, he was our son from day one. In the last fourteen months, he had been with us to museums, the zoo, aquariums, parks, Vacation Bible School, football games, plays, and family get-togethers. We took him to the beach for the first time last September, and he loved it! We had a party for his third birthday in November, and we wondered if it was his first. He had been with us through good times, like new jobs and three of my book launches, and also bad times, such as the deaths of church members and a painful rift within our church family. He was also there in the wild season of pandemic parenting, as we both worked full-time with four kids at home. Benjamin was already an integral part of our family, and now we would be able to shout it to the world.
On Friday morning, July 31, 2020, at 10:00 am, we gathered around my laptop, at my husband’s parents’ beach house, for a “virtual” adoption ceremony. There were grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins (and some great and helpful social workers) on the video conference, all eager to witness the moment Benjamin officially became ours. It was so wonderful to have all these people cheering us on, cheering for him. He is loved by many, and he will grow up knowing that they were as overjoyed as we were to make him family.
I haven’t said a lot about who my son is as a person, but this story is more about our journey to becoming his parents. Maybe soon I can write about how affectionate, smart, athletic, musical, and funny he is. I’d love to tell you about his likes and dislikes, and cute stories about him and his brother and sisters. Now, we have a lifetime to live and write those stories.
I could also tell you how he came to need our family, but instead, I’ll summarize by sharing something I’ve learned, in general: It takes extreme circumstances for a child to be placed in foster care, and parents are given opportunity after opportunity to reunify. I am confident that, in Benjamin’s case, foster care, then adoption, was the only right path.
Of course, as much as we love him, parenting Benjamin can be challenging, too. It’s sometimes difficult to tell if behavior issues are related to trauma or just being a three-year-old. I think it's normally the latter, having parented three three-year-olds before. There are many studies related to the long-term affects of childhood trauma on the brain, and some say that no matter how a child arrives at adoption, they will always have psychological issues as a result. While I understand the science behind those viewpoints, I also know that God is bigger than science. I believe that He can and will heal Benjamin of any and all physical and emotional impacts of trauma and of his medical history.
Looking back at my original dream for adoption--the one I formulated when Daniel was just a baby—I’m amazed at how God delivered. Daniel is now seven and Benjamin is three—just like the vision. I can't think of any other time in my life that God allowed me to have such a clear glimpse into the future. I thank God for my family and for dreams that come true, and I feel immensely blessed that Benjamin is part of both.
'Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.' Galatians 4:4-8
How do you feel about where you live? Are you anxious to move, or do you plan to stay put for a long time?
I enjoy looking at real estate. We talk about moving "some day." I browse the listings often for houses, or land where we might build a home. Our house is great, but it feels a little crowded for a family of six sometimes, especially as the kids get older and want their own space. I daydream about a house with a covered front porch and a little creek running through a wooded backyard, and with plenty of land to take nature walks and have a garden. The dream house has a big, open kitchen and a basement, suitable for having company over. It would have a screened back porch where I could sit and enjoy writing.
But for as much as I think about moving, there’s the idea that I may be too attached to our home of the last twelve years to ever leave it. This is where I’ve raised my children. We’ve made so many precious memories here. We have a nice neighborhood, convenient to schools, shops, and restaurants. It’s familiar. It’s the only home I’ve ever owned. Another thing is that my nine-year-old tells me we can never buy another house, unless we’re able to keep this one, too. She’s adamant that she doesn’t want to move, no matter what kind of place we find.
I understand how she feels. I feel a similar pull between my earthly and heavenly homes. The Lord has given me such joy here that I sometimes conflate my earthly blessings with their Source. But the Bible says, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21) It’s good to think about the moths and rust. If everything were perfect here, I might never want to leave, but earth is not my permanent home. 1 Corinthians 2:9 says, “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” We can’t fathom it all, but Jesus has prepared a place for us where there are no viruses, politics, or social media squabbles. There is no fear or sorrow. There is no worry about the future. Best of all, it’s where He is. That makes my relocation something I look forward to..."some day."
I walked through the kitchen singing a worship chorus I wrote some time back. The song began sincerely. Sometimes, the Spirit takes over and pours out what I’ve kept bottled up for too long—the praises that are owed to the Lord. But somewhere in the middle of my song, a sneaky spirit of pride crept in, and a fleeting thought hit my mind. I wish more people could hear this song. It’s pretty good.
On one hand, the thought wasn’t terrible. We’re called to use our gifts for Him, and that, in part, means sharing them with others. During the time of coronavirus and stay-at-home orders, I didn’t have the opportunity to sing in church. And my well of words dried up, too. I didn’t write for months. I went through a season of unfruitfulness, creativity-wise, and I felt incomplete not using those particular gifts. The longing for an audience wasn’t necessarily bad. It was normal for someone who feels called to share about God through writing and music. But in another sense, the thought was wrong, strictly prideful, and I was convicted as the Lord spoke to my spirit. “Am I not enough?” I heard Him say. “Do you need a bigger audience than me?”
Tears pooled in my eyes. I searched my heart and found an important lesson: When I use my talents, they are not wasted, even if they’re directed to God alone. Every note I sing to Him is of value if it’s done with a sincere heart. If every word I ever wrote served no other purpose but to prove that I would be obedient to Him, they would all be worth writing. Our Audience of One is our most important audience. (There’s a great song called “Audience of One” written by Michael Weaver of the band Big Daddy Weave.)
It’s certainly good to have goals, but I don’t have to stress over book sales and social media followers. I don't count compliments about my singing. I have one number to keep up with—one holy God who is my most important audience. The Bible says, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33) The “all these things” in this verse specifically refers to what we eat, drink, and wear, but I think it can be applied to everything He has planned for us, including our audience. The Bible also says, “Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” (Psalm 37:4) That's a conditional statement; we have to focus on Him first.
In a class at a writers conference last year, author/instructor Michelle Cox made this powerful statement: “God didn’t call you to be successful. He called you to be faithful.” That has stuck with me all this time. No matter the size of the audience, I'll continue to write and sing for Him for as long as He puts it in my heart to do so. And though I work to hone my creative crafts, and I pray to be used for the Kingdom, I'll leave the results up to Him--my Audience of One.
The longer I live, the more awestruck I become at this truth: I have a personal relationship with God. It boggles the mind. The all-powerful Creator of the Universe not only knows my name, He cares specifically for me. Not just mankind. Me. And you, too. The Bible says, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7, NKJV) It’s baffling that human creatures, with all our sin, are able to have anything to do with God, but to think that He cares about us—our hopes, dreams, struggles, fears—is remarkable. Like the psalmist, we have to ask ourselves, “What is man that You are mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:4)
I read an article recently that compared Western and Eastern Christians. The premise of the article was that Christians in the West have a diminished view of God’s holiness because we approach Him casually, as a friend, while Eastern believers express more reverence in worshipping Him as their King. Obviously, God should be revered and respected. He is worthy of our highest praise, and we should honor Him as the King that He is. But I don’t think that precludes Him from being seen as our friend as well. Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” Who can come boldly before the King’s throne except those closest to Him?
Jesus told his disciples, ‘No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.’ John 15:1
I’m thankful that He’s my King, and my friend. Is He yours?
A couple months ago, my son took the seeds from an apple he’d just finished, and, without my knowing, he stuck them in the dirt in a flowerpot in our kitchen. Soon, to my surprise, three little trees sprouted up amongst the flowers, and after a few weeks, I transferred them to a large container outside. The internet tell me that the seedlings have the potential to mature into fruit-bearing trees in about eight years, but interestingly, their product may not be the same variety as the apple from which the seeds were taken, because apple trees do not produce “true-to-seed.” That information led me to research grafting.
In order to grow a specific variety of apple, horticulturists graft a branch (called the scion) from a tree of that variety, onto a cut branch of another planted apple tree (called the rootstock.) The previously separate trees merge together, and growth continues. How amazing! And it’s a beautiful picture of how God made us part of His family, allowing us, as Gentiles, to be joined to the rootstock of Abraham. (Read in Romans, chapter 11 about how we have been “grafted.”) But as I studied the grafting process, another spiritual application struck me. You see, before grafting can be accomplished, a tree must be violently injured. The sharp teeth of the saw grind back and forth through the wood until the branch is cut in two and the dismembered portion of the host tree falls to the ground. The woody flesh at the cut point is suddenly exposed. The tree appears irreparably damaged. Then the tree is further damaged as the gardener takes the grafting knife and cuts deep into the broken part. Maybe you feel like that tree. You’ve been hurt, cut off. A painful, dramatic change has occurred in your life, and you are a fraction of your former self. Things seem hopeless. But please remember that, like for the tree, growth is still possible. It’s not the end. Those places that are wounded can be restored with a new calling, a new relationship, a new perspective; and you will be fruitful, maybe even in a way that is superior to what the original “branch” could have produced.
Just as many individuals are going through a kind of painful grafting process, I believe the church, and even our nation, are going through it as well. And while we may have to wait to see the results, we can trust God to bring healing to the broken parts. He will create something beautiful in time.
“Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.”
I get into my car on a ninety-degree day. The air is stifling. Beads of perspiration form on my forehead in seconds. The steering wheel scorches my hands. As I back down the driveway, it feels as if I’m being roasted alive. There’s no way I can survive those conditions for long. The heat is unbearable. Yet, I don't stop the car and jump out. I don't even roll down the window. Why? Because the first thing I did after I started the car, was turn on the air conditioner. I know it will cool me down soon enough. It only takes a moment to kick in. The discomfort is temporary, fleeting. It can't hurt me. Relief is coming.
We’re living in troubled times. Many people are distressed and scared, and my heart breaks for those who are struggling to find peace right now. But if we stop to think about it, there’s nothing truly exceptional about this moment in history. There has always been trouble, since man’s fall. War, plagues, famine—it’s all part of the human experience. Yet God, in his mercy, grants healing and restoration over and over, in a beautiful cycle of compassionate sovereignty. We hurt, then there’s a reprieve. The fighting ends. The plagues leave. The food returns. History proves that our present trials, however big or small, are temporary. And even more so, our faith proves it. Faith tells me that God IS working things out for GOOD, even now. Whether I see the result or not, God’s plans for His children are good, and He has not abandoned us. And faith tells me, too, that we’ll have perfect peace in heaven with Him one day. Pain doesn't last forever. Whether in this life or the next, relief is coming. That’s how we endure trials--with faith that they are temporary. The Bible says, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5b)
Hang on. Relief is coming.
A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world.
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
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My eyes open at the sound of someone’s feet on the kitchen floor. Mamas awaken at the softest of noises.
I hear the close of the refrigerator then cabinet doors. The coffee maker rumbles to life, and I know my son is up early, working on something special.
It’s time for me to get out of bed, but I dare not. It would be unkind to ruin his surprise.
Clinking of silverware on glass tells me breakfast will include jelly. Then my son comes in the room to ask a hypothetical question. “If” he wanted to make coffee, which he definitely isn’t doing right now, what button would he push. I provide the instructions, pretending I have no clue what he’s doing.
He leaves the room and I wait, and I keep listening, even though I’d rather be out of bed, and even though I don’t actually want breakfast. Choking down toast that I don’t want to eat Is a small price to pay for building his self-esteem.
While I wait, I wonder if he washed his hands. Probably not, but I won’t ask him. I’d rather risk E. Coli than damage his desire to serve others.
I wonder if he’s making a mess in the kitchen, but I fight the urge to intervene. A mess to clean is a small sacrifice for nourishing his servant’s heart.
I wonder if he might burn himself carrying the coffee, but I don’t go help him. The slight risk of a minor burn is preferable to bruising his fragile ego.
And when he comes back bringing coffee in one of my favorite mugs and toast with grape jelly (which was actually very good,) I act surprised and praise him for being so kind. I smile as if I’ve won the lottery. And the truth is, I have something even better. I have a child that loves me and wants to show it through acts of service. I have a child that, despite his many behavioral challenges, finds joy in making others happy.
So I’ll keep on pretending to be surprised by breakfast in bed, and that jelly toast is better than the best meal ever made, because the fact is, it’s about much more than breakfast. It’s an opportunity for my child to feel good about himself, and for me to tell him that I’m blessed to be his mother. And maybe, as he grows, his sense of self-worth will grow too, and maybe he’ll be able to approach every future task with the same sense of pride as his seven-year-old-self serving his mama breakfast in bed.
There are two versions of Christmas; you probably know. There’s the holy celebration of the birth of the Christ child—the One who came to rescue mankind from eternal separation from God and thereby demonstrated God’s deep love for humanity—where we sing His praises and extol His goodness. Then there’s the Christmas where a decorated evergreen tree becomes the centerpiece of our homes, and we sing songs about reindeer, bake cookies shaped like little men, and stress about finding suitable gifts for everyone on our list. It’s the same date on the calendar, the same holiday in name, but two very different celebrations.
Throughout the years, I’ve struggled to reconcile the two Christmases, to keep them balanced. I tend to focus primarily on the birth of Jesus up until the Sunday before December 25th, depending on when Christmas falls. Our church play and the imagery of the nativity are always the spiritual highlight of the season. Then my mind and heart give way to the excitement of family gatherings, classic holiday movies on television, and seeing joy on my childrens’ faces on Christmas morning. But should there be a balance? Should we even entertain the things that would distract us from the manger?
As I got ready for church yesterday morning, I contemplated the tug of war between the Christmases and was struck by an unusual comparison: Christmas time is like a wedding and a wedding reception. The vows and exchanging of rings at a wedding is holy, the sacred part which is often followed by a let-loose party. The reception, big or small, is the celebration of what has taken place, though it rarely resembles the ceremony. At a wedding reception, the guests focus on the emotion of the day, if not specifically the reason for the emotion. In that way, Christmas is like a wedding and reception—a blending of the sacred and the secular, where the latter depends on the former. All the warm and fuzzy feelings, the less-than-holy feelings of Christmas, find their roots in a singular emotion, created by and embodied in God Himself: Love. We have love because He came. And the joy of the season, even feelings that don’t directly relate to the Christ child—magic, wonder, coziness, generosity, anticipation—are because of Him. Every good gift comes from God. So maybe there is room for the fun of Frosty and Rudolph after all.
Sticking to our analogy, let’s talk about the wedding crashers—unbelievers who celebrate the day set aside to honor Christ’s birth. Our Lord’s name is in the day, yet many who don’t claim Him still celebrate. It’s like not knowing the bride and groom but showing up for the party anyway. They’ll sing carols and bake cookies, string lights and give gifts, yet want nothing to do with the Christ of Christmas. But He came for them, too, whether they believe it or not. And while true joy can’t be found outside of a relationship with Him, a semblance of it exists in their singular version of Christmas, though they haven’t met the Source. Who knows? Maybe they’ll meet Him at the party. When Jingle Bells fades into O Holy Night on the radio, maybe they’ll be drawn to Bethlehem and closer to the truth.
As I think on it more, a collision of the sacred and the secular at Christmas seems fitting, really, because that’s what happened when He was born. The Holy One took on human flesh. A perfect God broke the plane between Heaven and Earth. The Most High took up residence in a fallen world. That’s the reality of Christmas. So as you sing Jingle Bells, think of Him. As you think on the manger, thank Him for the presents under the tree. Our celebrations don’t have to be at odds when we are secure in His lordship in our lives
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