We’ve endured a love-hate relationship for as long as I can remember. I have fond memories of waiting for dad to get home from the fire department at 8am on Christmas morning before we could open presents. Mom would barricade us in the back of the house until his arrival while she made breakfast. We would sit in the hallway impatiently testing our boundaries until the front door opened. I distinctly remember running into the living room to find all the Barbie accessories set up and ready for play one year. And on another Christmas morning the purple velvet dress, hat, and shiny Mary Janes on my favorite doll. These are probably my two favorite memories from childhood Christmases.
Often encircling these fond memories are the shroud of deciding which day to schedule our celebrations, as dad worked a 24-48 schedule, whether or not one brother or another was happy enough with their gifts, and which day our extended family would finally corral themselves together. As I have learned of late, corralling any sort of people following vastly different schedules is nigh impossible.
And even yet, this season has been marked distinctly by questions in my own heart. For years I begged friends and family not to buy presents for me: a boycott of sorts. I’ve struggled with the finite details – that Jesus actually graced us in human form during some warmer month, perhaps spring or summer, rather than this wintery day we mark each year in red and green.
We didn’t trek through rows and rows of evergreens in boots with red-handled saws to find our perfect Christmas tree until my high school years, or perhaps thereafter. Bringing a tree in as a sign of Christmas celebration was “too pagan” or “too baptist” according to the group I learned many of these traditions from as a child. And even as an adult, the roots in paganism and fertility goddesses made me question the additions. Santa barely showed up on a gift bag here or there or in a movie we watched, let alone as the bearer of gifts.
And why should I receive gifts upon gifts during this one day in late December that marks not our Savior’s birth. Rather, they stand as symbols of our own gluttony and gold-lined credit cards (because rarely do we spend within our means here in America) while we turn blindly from those whose hearts hurt from loss or fingers from cold during this time of year. I could easily stand on a soapbox and shout the distortions of our society, drawing credibility from suicide statistics and the increase of homelessness in our great nation. I could draw upon the very nature of our hearts to trim everything in gold and white so as to hide the flaws, instability, and staggering decay within. And yet..
Christmas, you offer more than just these blaring issues and faults. Somewhere beneath the mountains of ripped paper and decently overpriced gifts there lies a quiet hope and a twinkling joy. When glittering ribbons settle and we’re all in our corners wearing new socks caught in the aftermath of short-lived excitement, something else stands quietly still in the corner.
Those evergreens, pagan though they may have been at their roots and fake though they may have come in boxes from Walmart or Target, they stand forever green. What better example of our faith? What better example of our Savior, even? No matter the scientific season of His birth, He came during a time of winter, a time when life lie dormant beneath years of silence and separation. This one God with us stood starkly green contrasting the gray fog and cold white snow that covered the earth, a quiet reminder that Life, that Love and Covenant, like breath still reigned.
There again, joy, like heat, shines red in this season – in ribbons and tags, wreaths and ornaments, sweaters and twinkling lights. This still small hope of life and love ignites the cold that often settles deep within us, from rejection, pain, or distrust, and burns away all the pieces taking up spaces without purpose. Joy light shines through our brokenness, our pain, our callousness, and gives us tender hope.
So, Christmas, I don’t hate you. Sometimes I think you cause us to act preposterously, but only exposing issues already existing within our nature. I appreciate the whimsy and the silliness you bring as we don hats and ribbons and sing loudly for all to hear. But most of all, I appreciate the quiet hush in this season that can just be heard beneath the silver bells and crooning of Bing Crosby. It’s quite a different hush than the one between crucifixion and resurrection. We wait still with bated breath, but with a much different tone of anticipation: one highlighted by shining stars rather than dense grey skies. This silence listens through the stillness for the sounds of a baby’s cries. Our hope still rests entirely on one man showing up, but less weighted by the sins we bear. It is still. It is small. It is hidden. Even in the placidity I hear trees stretching and bending, waking themselves for the coming hope as joy breathes new life into cold bones.
Joy, oh joy, for Christ is born
the babe, the son of Mary.
Sweet friends, I’ve got some news. This is probably one of several half-month posts you’ll see in the next little while.
After Georgia’s win over Auburn this weekend it seemed an appropriate time to bring your attention to my upcoming trip to Africa.
That’s right, Africa.
In November of 2012 I met this sweet friend one night after a long travel day. My team climbed off the bus in the middle of nowhere Swaziland (which is already in the middle of nowhere South Africa) and walked into the team house to find dinner waiting for us. One of my teammates and I were shocked to see a bright orange Auburn sweatshirt sitting on a bench as we walked in, potato salad, and southern accents. It was this random night in November that I met Morgan Jones. We spent a month pulling carrots out of the ground, eating donuts, and drinking Coke by the glass bottle. We even managed to squeeze a sleepover in one night before we left.
Since then, we’ve both been around the world and back. I finished my eleven months on the Race and landed in Atlanta to find my family and friends there, including Morgan and her brother! We went to Olive Garden and it became this funny little tradition. Eight months later she left to live in Swaziland forever. She has been serving as a full-time missionary for three years.
In all this time, we’ve continued to talk online and see each other when we’re in the same country (which is rare, obviously), and she’s found this great guy she’s going to marry.
So, in March of 2017, I get to stand beside her as she weds this man in the mountains of Swaziland and, y’all, I am beside myself excited. For one, I get to stand by this sweet friend on one of the most incredible days of her life, but also because I get to go back to one of my favorite countries in the world. I get to see faces I haven’t seen since in over four years. I get to walk dirt roads lined with sugar cane fields and wake up to sunrises in the biggest sky I’ve ever seen. I get to play games and laugh with children in a country I love so dearly and minister alongside some of the greatest folks I know.
Did I mention how excited I am?
Several of us are going over early so we can spend a week working with Morgan’s ministry there in Swaziland. This will include several days at carepoints where GoGos, grandmothers, cook and teach the children in the area who don’t have the option to go to school and often don’t have money for meals. (They are the best cooks. I’m not even kidding. We get to shred carrots and cut potatoes, and I hope they will make fried chicken again because it is so good, y’all.) These women are incredible to me because they spend their “retirement” serving their community rather than taking a break from life. They hold so much wisdom and gumption. I love learning from them, laughing with them, and serving alongside them.
Morgan has some great friends who have managed to get us discount flight tickets, which is such a crazy blessing from the Lord. The trip will cost around $1800 dollars, which is SO CHEAP for a flight and lodging/transportation in Africa- hopping the Atlantic is expensive and this trip would typically be about twice this cost.
I am readily taking donations if you are interested in partnering with me. I am also selling sugar scrubs made with doTerra essential oils. They are incredible for your skin and make awesome gifts for Christmas and birthdays for teachers, relatives, and friends! I’ve pictured some a friend of mine made in the past below.
I will be making lavender, grapefruit (amazing for your skin), Candy Cane (peppermint), and Cinnamon Vanilla (the scent of this one is incredible).
The scrubs will be $10 each plus shipping. Please let me know by December 1 if you’d like one before Christmas!
If you’re interested in partnering with me, but don’t care for a sugar scrub, you can send online donations via paypal to firstname.lastname@example.org, via the Cash App (powered by Square, super secure, and probably the best way to send money digitally), or send checks (and letters!) to PO Box 941 Rome, GA 30162.
Please join with me in praying for Morgan and Bongani as they prepare to join their lives and continue ministry together in the coming months and years. If you’re married, feel free to leave wisdom in the comments for them as they prepare for this amazing journey. Also pray for their ministry in the coming years as they grow together and continue to work alongside so many others in Swaziland for the Kingdom! God is working so many wonderful things through these people and they are dear to my heart.
Hey favorite month of mine. Thank you for being the bright, breezy, yellow part of 2016. I love you most because you always start with days on the Mountain and gigantic hugs from some of my favorite people. We sing Far Up in the Hills of Georgia and frown at all the folks who don’t yet know the words by heart. This year we finally braved the traffic to watch the Old Mill turning over water and making cornmeal. It was worth a dirty car and a few more minutes in the heat that is synonymous with Martha’s birthday.
A few days later we said goodbye to Turner Field and I said hello to a new job. And just after that the world was made aware of this little life we are so darn excited about: Sunshine Gang second generation. Life in this season has a way of turning like a leaf, the way they float and flutter end-over-end through fall breezes finally here. Legacy has been the word on my heart.
What’s the impression you leave behind? What are the memories stirred upon thought of you? And what, in this tumultuous world, will be the breath you pass on to the sweet new lives entering here?
A few weeks after Susan told us the news about this sweet new baby on the way I had a dream about it all. Well, it was more of a snapshot – a Polaroid. We were all standing there, perhaps in the hospital or a home, holding this little one in front of us and the one word whispered in the quiet of night was legacy. (I had, in this moment, the undeniable feeling that she’s having a girl, but…we’ll find out in the spring. #teamgirl) The next day I heard this song by Nicole Nordeman and obviously had the emotions about it all. Walking Wedding seasons alongside my sisters has been the most wonderful honor and joy of my life. Entering this new one fills my heart with more love and appreciation for them than I could imagine.
One of my biggest struggles in this season you bring, October, is learning to balance living loved and desiring community. I love my people with a fierce love and that can be overwhelming. In some seasons, like you, I get all nostalgic and so desperate for the memories made under brightly colored leaves that I’m easily swayed toward fulfilling life in the wrong places. Love and acceptance are things we were made to need in a desperate way, but where we get those things should only be from the One who created all of this in the first place. If coffee were Love & Acceptance, God would be Luke Danes: giving endlessly to those He loves. (Poorly placed Gilmore Girls reference, but I’m mid-season 3 of a binge before The Fated Day so bear with me.) I care a lot and I know my heart was made in such a special way to love this big love, but I feel like a superhero who hasn’t quite mastered their superpowers yet.
“Your greatest strength undisciplined is your greatest weakness.” – Tara Leigh Cobble
October, you gave great gifts this year like Christmas Music Mondays in the basement with a side of yoga and cleaning. I love yoga because it challenges me to slow down, take deep breaths, and simply exist for a little while. It’s hard for me to get there on my own some days, but seeing the way practice increases strength reminds me how crucial time in the Word and in prayer are to becoming.
You also gave things like 24-hours home with brother bears & parents, complete with a week’s worth of taco soup and a new hammock to replace my “see-through-thin” one that carried me around the world and back in the last four years. You gave us a Cubs win which led to a fierce battle for the Pennant and a great reminder to the entire country that it’s possible for us to unite for the sake of something grand. I’m a baseball fan simply because it brings the most diverse crowds together for the sake of a diamond, a glove, a bat, and a ball.
And, October, I’d say you tied up nicely with a bow. Bethday2016 was a restful day full of Gilmore Girls reruns, breakfast in bed, and sitting around couches in costumes with some of my favorite folks enjoying a donut or four and a glass-bottled Coke. My favorite gifts this year were earrings. I’ve only had my ears pierced for eight months and it was the most fun opening boxes and bags to find cute jewels for my ears.
Though there’s been a war around us like a tornado and all we’ve done is prayed for rain and nice words, you’ve been such a bright warm light in this dismal “have it your way” year, October, and I’m thankful to live in a place where you exist. Thanks for having sweet gems tucked into your Tuesdays and twelve-hour workdays. You have been so filled with joy.