Here are some of my favorite things:
Christmas tree lights
They all calm me. They all comfort me. They all are typically enjoyed by me when it's quiet and cozy. But do you know what I like most about these four things? Darkness must be present to fully experience them.
"It's high noon, let's all jump in the car and go look at christmas lights!" said no one ever.
At 10 a.m., I don't light all the candles in my house for the ambiance they create.
You can't see the stars twinkling at 3 p.m.
Teeny tiny bulbs provide comfort and safety but do not disturb your sleep.
I knew there would come a day that I would have to write this post and share this story. I am not sure I thought it would be at Christmas. But as we have been reading through Luke this month, I can't stop bumping into the word light. The star of Bethlehem, two parables by Jesus about a lamp on a stand and not hiding the light under a bushel and the light being within us.
The reason I write and am passionate about encouraging those going through hard things is because I have been to the darkest of dark places. I chose a life devoid of light. I didn't choose it willingly or intentionally or knowingly. It was a slow fade into the darkness and once I was fully submerged, there was no light to shine the way out.
While I was married, I was unfaithful. The pain I caused others was personally devastating. The pain I caused myself, is the reason I write and speak.
After my marriage ended because of my choice to stray, I was reeling with the emotional and psychological burden of what I had done. Perhaps some would use that as a catalyst to repent and change their ways, but because my then husband said he didn't care and showed no emotion about my unfaithfulness, I thought I had to punish myself. That led to eight years of sexual promiscuity, online chat rooms, porn, strip clubs and prostituting myself for monetary gifts and favors. I destroyed myself over and over and over. But it was dark, so I didn't think anyone would notice.
When I wrote about bringing our nothing before God I was writing while remembering a time I had less than nothing to bring. When I say to live bravely and that you can do hard things, it's not because I have overcome a moment or a one time circumstance - it's because daily I have to allow Jesus to die for my shame, remorse and regret and hourly I have to accept his mercy, forgiveness and grace. When I encourage you through anxiety and depression and suicidal thoughts and hopelessness of a way out of the dark, it's because I too, lived where those emotions and thoughts dwelt. It was dark. It was lonely. It was painful. It was hopeless. And it was excruciatingly hard. Until, it wasn't.
In April 2011, I very reluctantly prayed a prayer I was afraid was going to be an earth shattering, mind-blowing, angels descending from on high experience in asking Jesus to live in my heart, forgive my sins and rule my life. Not so much. No earthquake. No mind blown. No hallelujah angels. Not even the sensation you get when eating pop-rocks. In my seemingly impenetrable cynicism, in the basement room of my heart, the teeniest tiniest puncture wound occurred and allowed light to stream in. The dot of light through that miniscule pinhole, created ambiance in my heart, twinkled ever so slightly and provided a comfort and safety I didn't think I deserved. Jesus was born that day in my life. And like the magi watching the star of Bethlehem, I followed him and allowed him to illuminate my new reality.
The light hurt my eyes at first. I couldn't see around it, it was like a bad photo flash I couldn't blink enough to get rid of. Someone had burst into my pitch black world and switched on a flood light. It was uncomfortable and rudely awakening. Eventually however, it became like the sun, you can't look at it, but you can feel the effects of it's warmth and you know it surrounds you no matter which way you're facing.
Here is the hard stuff - the James 1 "consider it pure joy when faced with hardships of many kinds" real hard to grasp stuff. I am so grateful for the darkness. Is that shocking? To those who deny the dark, perhaps. I am not grateful I chose it, nor that I created it and participated in it. I am grateful to have had the experience of it, because without the dark, I wouldn't have recognized ambiance. Twinkling. Comfort and safety.
Jesus was born in the dark of night. He penetrated to dark sin of the world to light our path back to God. On day one in Luke 1:79 we read that Zechariah proclaimed that the "One to come, would give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death". Friends, let's pursue and perceive the light together this Christmas. On our darkest days, in our deepest hurts, in our dismal circumstances - all the forces of darkness can't stop God's purpose for our lives. If you are standing in a shadow - know that for a shadow to exist, there needs to be light around you. He was born into darkness to overcome the darkness. Jesus is near and he is the light.
All is calm, all is bright.
What are you wanting Jesus, the Light of the World, to illuminate for you this Christmas?