I used to gather my strength at the year’s end for a running start into the new one.
I’d limp through Christmas, the demands and social gatherings jabbing tender places. I’m no stranger to the ache and weariness the holiday season can bring. The twinge in your gut, that hollow space when everyone else seemed to be Christmas-ing better. Houses decked out with twinkling white lights arranged and tidy, fresh garland draping a stocking adorned fireplace, and each smiling child with flour frosted fingers cutting out gingerbread and sugar cookies. Everyone gathered for a nightly advent reading with the children sitting solemnly in clean jammies enthralled instead of rolling around on the floor and asking how much longer in that nasally whine that stretches syllables into angst.
I wanted simplicity and holiness, a stripped down way to anticipate Jesus drawing near to me, a Savior come to ransom me, but each year felt more like a struggle to get there than an arrival of a Christ to break into my broken.
But New Years held promise. A fresh start and a chance to make the upcoming year better.
It was foolish to think a new year would resolve the old me with some life goals and willpower because we’re all an aggregate of moments and days gathering into life. We can change, but to be transformed is holy work our hands mangle.
I’d gather resolutions and stack them tall enough to bolster my will for a few weeks. I’d determine this to be the year we made more memories, where I wouldn’t yell or lose my temper. This would be the year when I would master depression and anxiety, take my vitamins, exercise daily. This would be the year I would finish my book, take that trip, learn to speak another language. I’d read the books on my list and wake up early to have a quiet time complete with prayer and highlighting of important and meaningful passages of Scripture. I’d drink less coffee and go to sleep on time.
This would be the year when things changed, when I changed into a new and improved me. If I’m honest, Jesus didn’t factor into New Years at all. New Years was a chance for me to better myself with positive thinking and resolve. This was my chance to show God how I could better serve Him, how I was being sanctified and redeemed and made whole by willpower, determination, and organic vegetables.
I started 2015 with anticipation and goals stretched long into my sore muscles. I did squats and lunges and ate my vegetables. I’d daydream about skinnier jeans while before-and-after pictures danced in my head. I drank lots of water. I remembered that the scale wasn’t my friend and that the reward was in how I felt. And I felt good.
This was the year my broken bits wouldn’t master me. The weight I’ve carried both literally and figuratively would be conquered.
I believed to be godly I had to do so much more, and I was sick of the nagging feeling that I was never enough and a bit too much. I started a new Bible study and pinned meals on Pinterest that had kale and quinoa in them.
But February had different plans, and I was toppled a month in by unexpected health problems that gobbled up most of my year. I spent time in hospitals and waiting rooms, recovering from surgeries, standing in line at the pharmacy to pick up orange bottles filled with tiny pills only to return home and crawl back into bed.
All those months I resided in pain.
I longed for Jesus in the wreckage. My need for a Savior was as tangible as breath in my lungs but I had no energy to go looking. I needed Jesus to come for me.
There was now space to be interrupted by grace. The days slowed and became monotonous, a managing of pain and symptoms. I asked God to show me wonder again, on the days when my body ached and burned and crushed me, I asked Him to show Himself faithful and present. I found Him in beauty. The beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord but often that is found in wonder. An imagining and hoping in glory.
I lay in bed one night, the curtains drawn wide open like a theatre stage hosting an ensemble of stars. The inky black midnight was thick with them, like tiny seeds of hope embedded into dark soil, and I imagined the way that light navigated wisemen across foreign lands seeking a King. The hope for us all.
When lost and adrift, abandoning dreams like a sailor bailing water from a leaky vessel, I found myself open to the possibility that I am a whole version of me even when I am broken or weak or sick. When I am weak, He is strong. This year I know this down to my marrow.
What if weakness is my spiritual gift? What if in the brokenness and dependence on God, I am worshipping fully? What if I’m never enough and only God in me brings glory? This year solidified how grace makes all things new even while the old perishes. That to be changed is ephemeral but to be transformed is eternal.
I am a whole version of me because no resolution will ever complete what grace has already done for me. And this is the Christmas good news I so often missed during those years when holy and wondrous seemed a notch above me and continually out of reach.
The space illness has made in my life is painful but cherished. It slowed my soul enough to see beauty in peonies blooming by my bedside even though it was also covered with prescription bottles.
It woke me to wonder at the skyline’s swirl of clouds and the sunlight breaking through while stuck in traffic.
I unwrapped my arms and gathered my children and on days when I couldn’t get out of bed; they came to me and offered their tiny hugs, and homemade art, and clumsy prayers. And it was glorious too.
Pain breathed into me God’s presence both as Savior and as one who is incarnate, taking on the anguish of this world to bring healing and redemption.
A God who breaks into the brokenness is the only One who could ever understand how desperately I need Him.
In the here and not yet I somehow missed the call to be still and know that He is God.
This year everything looks different. Christmas was filled with beauty in the mundane and miraculous. I saw God, not only as incarnate and knowable, but also majestic and unfathomable.
There’s a great mystery to grace and that should leave us all in a state of wonder, breathless as kids gathered around the tree on Christmas morning. Living with wonder.
New Years ushers in a new me, one born in grace, one who is broken yet whole, lost and yet found, free and yet ransomed, lacking and yet redeemed. One who Jesus came for, just as I am.