it's a beautiful, messy story.

beautiful messy storyi do not like shopping. i do not like crowds. i do not like commercials and all of the nutty emphasis on buying stuff. and i definitely do not like cold december weather.

but i do love christmas.

i love christmas because i love the christmas story.  i love the wild & crazy way God reveals himself to the world, in a way that most everyone would never expect. i love that angels announced Jesus’ birth first to the the shepherds & the pagans and they were strangely drawn toward this light from the very beginning. i love that the earthly parents God chose were basic people with basic jobs and a basic faith.  i love the reminder that from the beginning of Jesus’ life, power was trying to destroy him but never fully prevails.  i love that the story of Jesus is a beautiful, messy one not a clean & sterile one (even though that’s usually how the storybooks make it sound).

the christmas story wasn’t neat and tidy.

it was messy.  and beautiful.

like ours.

for this season of advent at the refuge we have been focusing on our stories–God’s story, our stories, and how they all intersect. on the first week of advent my friend karl shared how “every Bible story is a christmas story.” i’ll add “every one of our stories is a christmas story, too”.

here are the elements i think are present in the christmas story and in our stories, if we look carefully:

1. pain and struggle

2. something that doesn’t make sense in our own or others’ eyes

3. some kind of redemption, hope, or healing

4. a reminder that somehow, someway, God is emmanuel, always with us.

when i look at almost every Bible story i can think of, these 4 things apply.  when i consider the weird twists and turns in my own story & many others along the way, these 4 things are somehow always present.

i want to focus for a minute on #2 because i think it’s the one that might give us the most trouble–“something that doesn’t make sense in our own or others’ eyes.”

we humans have a desperate need to make sense of everything.  we want it to “work” the way we want it to work.  we want to understand things we’re not supposed to understand.  we want to cram God’s weird & wild ways into our own boxes so we can feel more comfortable.  we want neater, tidier, easier.

i know i do.

but the christmas story reminds us that some things just don’t make sense in our eyes or other’s eyes.  the Jesus story sure didn’t.

two contradicting things can be present at the same time.

the christmas story is beautiful & ugly.  filled with faith & doubt, peace & confusion, fear & courage.  these things living together don’t make sense in our linear-little-brains. but part of redeeming our story and participating in God’s story more fully requires us to open our hearts to letting both exist at the same time.  and like all things of faith, this is a heart-journey, not a head-one. our brains can try to rationalize “sure, both dark and light exist in me” but still do everything in our power to clean it up and make all be good, “right” or okay or go the other direction of leaning completely into only the dark side where everything is hard & ugly & painful.

we can easily become focused on the dark & blinded to the light.

or we can do an excellent job of pretending like everything’s light and dismiss the reality of our darkness.

a lot of our church experiences haven’t helped us to live more comfortably with paradox in our own lives, either.  black & white thinking has often morphed into black & white feelings, too.

we did a little exercise a few weeks ago at our weekend gathering, to open ourselves up to remember that light & dark exist at the same time in our stories–and in all of God’s stories, too.  part of cultivating hope this advent season is living in the tension of both existing but straining to see the light, the good, the beautiful because these are often more difficult for us to see in ourselves.

here’s the exercise we did:

choose one word from the left hand column that describes this season for you.  then choose one word from the middle column.  if the words that come to mind aren’t on this list, use them instead.

right now, my story is ________ & __________.

my two words are “strong & fragile” and those usually don’t make sense together. in my humanness, i only want to be strong or i only see my fragility & weakness.  the beauty of the christmas story in me is seeing that both can exist at the same time, and they don’t have to make sense.  and like most all of them, my story is one of pain & struggle and redemption & healing & God-with-me-in-the-thick-of-it.

yeah, all our stories are christmas stories.

i’d love to hear what words describe your story right now.

 

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

25 Comments

  • Right now my story is Mundane and Sacred…..Ordinary and Spiritual……Some days between chasing kids at home and then work being feeding babies and changing diapers it’s hard to see the sacred and the spiritual, but so often I”m reminded of how much everyday life really is spiritual.

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    • beautiful words, jenn. yeah, i am with you. it’s so easy to try to separate them out but really there’s no separation between them! keep taking good care of those babies, they grow up so fast…

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    • i love those two words together. it would be fun to have you, trust me, it sounds cooler than it is 🙂 but i think it’s really beautiful.

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  • right now, two different words that describe my current story are loud and unsettled. i do not like the current season of life.

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    • i know those seasons. thank you for sharing. really looking forward to next june! lots of love and peace from colorado.

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      • Speaking of the trip, I sent you an email last Wednesday. I have a few additions, so I will send you another email and include the old one as well. We are looking forward to the journey as well.

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  • Beautiful and Broken. That’s my life at the moment. So much joy and so many tears. Surrounded by wonderful friends, but struggling with a painful and debilitating disease. Thank you for your post today. It encouraged me.

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    • two of my favorite words 🙂 thank you for sharing. peace to you from afar.

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  • My two words are angry and grateful. I’ve just been kicked out of another church for refusing to be silent, and while I can’t deny that makes me angry, I am grateful that God does not allow me to continue to participate in communities that will not accept me for being the woman He created me to be.

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    • thank you for sharing, robin, and so sorry to hear of your recent experience. anger is the right emotion for that one. $*@#^$^!*!!( may you find a place that values and honors your voice, it’s worth fighting for. peace.

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  • Right now, two different words that describe my current story are: courageous and vulnerable. I am presently going through a journey of life that can best described as a form of rebirth. You mention the 4 items in the Christmas story that consistently come up in our stories as well, especially stories of discovery and drama. In my personal story when I was standing at the door of change, #2 was screaming at me in many ways, some literal. I didn’t want to believe what I was facing, nor did anyone else close to me. But going through the door was the only sane option I had, to remain put was no longer sustainable. #1 was too intense anymore. As scary as it was to walk through the door and down this new path, I am finding that #3 is a wonderful reality. And I was warmly reminded along the way that #4 is always true. We never travel alone.

    Caio and Merry Christmas!

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  • Ok, so this took me awhile, primarily because I couldn’t find any profanity on the “dark side” ;). I would say that the most accurate words are.. restored and messy. I am growing, too, in my heart for the paradox. It is hard. 🙂

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    • hey you can always make up your own words and profanity sometimes is the thing that says it best 🙂

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  • Ha! Right now, today, it would have to be ‘grateful’ and ‘apprehensive’….

    This has been a wild week. Monday, applied (with hopeful prayers) for another round of extended UI benefits. Got call on job and set interview for Tuesday. Monday night was ‘awake’ and ‘apprehensive’. LOL. Tuesday Did interview for job. Thought it went really well. Expected to be in pool of finalists. Was approved for extended UI benefits (fast!). Wednesday, notified that I did not get job. Received unexpected $300. Got confirmation from pastor on direction God has me pointed – prayed for a man and watched God heal him. Thursday….I am applying for my 1st passport (yikes!)….sooo…’excited’ and ‘unsettled’ would also work. 🙂

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    • wow, that’s a wild week for sure. all 4 of those words really describe it. keep me posted!

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  • Cloud… foxtail.
    (You didn’t say they had to be adjectives.)
    Okay; a cloud is ephemeral, unsure of itself, always changing. But always beautiful.
    Sometimes a cloud hides the sun and sometimes it magnifies it.
    A foxtail knows what it wants and goes after it. It’s tenacious. It doesn’t care what others think. It doesn’t care if it hurts anyone, either. Look closely at a foxtail. It’s beautiful too.

    I’m working toward having the best attributes of each and dropping the rest.

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    • no editing needed, if those are the words that came to mind in the moment, they are the right ones. feliz navidad, my friend.

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  • Strong and weary.

    It’s been a season of activity for me – trying, on my doctor’s orders to fight back against a rather strong family history of heart disease and a body that despite good health seems reluctant to look after itself well. So, I’m running and getting in shape and feeling GOOD about it. But work is hard and church is by turns hard and great and family life is great but tiring and so I am weary – physically and mentally – but strong and hopeful for the year ahead.

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    • thanks for sharing, i can really relate to those words. glad you are taking good care of yourself, too. really hoping to make it out there in 2012 to play and visit and learn. peace to you & your familia!

      Reply

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