This is pretty much how my last December looked. Well, or this:
Sweatpants over jeans over fleece-lined leggings and most of the shirts I owned.
I don’t like cold. Severe cold, that is. I don’t mind sweaters and boots and legwarmers, but too much is too much. China was too much. BUT – we did lots of cool things and ate lots of food that was good (and some not so good). We obsessed over the cabbage we found and bought a few cakes with dragons on them for birthdays.
I got to visit the Great Wall, but don’t let this photo fool you – I was sick as a dog. This was pre-hike-up. I don’t think there’s a single photo of me actually ON the Great Wall because I got up there with lungs afire and stayed long enough to decide that it might be cooler to see from space before counting the stairs back down to the Subway at the bottom for lunch. (The following photo isn’t mine. It’s from Ceena, because she actually took photos up there. Ceena is in the above photo.)
The train ride from our ministry city to Beijing was a long one. I was so stuffed that I couldn’t sleep – if I tried curling up in the seat, my nose would close up or run while I was sleeping. My throat was sore and the train was a bit smokey. So Becky & I had a few theologically insane conversations in the middle of the night, full of what we felt God speaking in whispers over us and Jeremiah. It was so good – one of the conversations from the Race that I will always cherish.
While in Beijing, I spent most of my time inside because I was sick and it was cold out. The above photo was my first official outing while there, which was on December 30, if I’m not mistaken. I had to get my shop on for a New Year’s outfit, of course. Ceena took me and we slid on the snow covered sidewalks before perusing H&M for a good bit of time and finding something perfect. We may have stopped at McD’s for dinner/coffee as well – these are the memories I cherish!
BUT, while sitting in this hostel for hours on end, I did a lot of reading. As a team we’d read Ecclesiastes during our stay in our hotel home. What a choice, right? Especially with the weather beating down on us, the language barrier, and only ramen to eat most nights if we couldn’t find the potato lady, but God prevailed. We learned a little, I think. After that, I watched all the Lord of the Rings movies in extended version, then started Jeremiah. And I had no idea what I’d find.
I’ve always been a bit obsessed with the Old Testament. God has taught me so much through the dramatic beginnings of our world in Genesis to David’s back-and-forth pleas in the Psalms. I found a forever love in Isaiah during college and decided to venture deeper in the OT in the few days before Christmas.
By the time we got to Beijing, I was dumbfounded and in a stupor (from medicine, but also the pain in Jeremiah) so I slept for a day and spent the remainder of the week devouring this book. Everyone quotes 29:11
but no one really gets it.
God was so angry. He was so hurt and so upset and made Jeremiah do some pretty ridiculous things (like dig through a wall) to show them how messed up they were. I didn’t get it. I mean, I knew the Israelites had done some pretty dumb stuff and somehow God called them Judah and Israel instead of just one, but I wasn’t sure what happened and I wasn’t sure WHY God was SO PISSED OFF in Jeremiah. I mean, livid. He was fuming. It hurt my heart. I think this is when I realized it was rock bottom:
What right does My Beloved have to be in My house,
having carried out so many evil schemes?
Can holy meat prevent your disaster so you can rejoice?
The Lord named you a flourishing olive tree,
Beautiful with well-formed fruit.
He has set fire to it, and its branches are broken
with a great roaring sound.
There’s no cute chalk print of that anywhere online because it’s not pretty. God broke the branches of the tree and set fire to it. God, the one who says He is the vine and we’re the branches and if the roots are holy, so’s the fruit, He did it. He set fire to it. Call Adele in here and let’s start singing.
So then I started looking. Keep in mind, we weren’t allowed on the internet in China. No Facebook, no Blue Letter Bible, no Hebrew for Christians – just me and my non-study Bible with the duct tape holding it together already.
This is what I found amidst the overpriced hostel food and the in-and-out conversations over coffee with friends in that one window seat:
I mapped the whole lineage of Israel & Judah from sweet Hannah’s precious son, Samuel, to King Nebby burning down the temple and eventually pardoning Jehoiachin. I found which prophets were screaming when and figured out what happened next: Babylon, Persia, Ezra, Nehemiah, Ester. I found that generational curses are real – God stands on His word.
More than anything, I found grace. I found redemption. The pages of Jeremiah 31 are muddy with tear-stained ink smears and a mind and heart completely helpless in the grace.
After mourning and fasting and knowing all she’d done out in the open for thirty chapters:
When Israel went to find rest, the LORD appeared to him from far away.
I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore,
I have continued to extend
faithful love to you.
Again I will rebuild you so that you will be rebuilt,
He knew, and yet redemption came. Joyful dancing and fruit, singing with joy and proclaiming praise. The Lord saved the remnant. The One who scattered began to gather, reunite, unify. The Lord called by the first name and redeemed. He did it because of His goodness. He again proved himself El-Shaddai, all sufficient. He again proved Himself faithful covenant keeper.
I’m not sure where you’re at right now. Your Christmas might have been incredible time with your family or maybe it felt empty or maybe it’s just all falling apart. Maybe you’re even in freezing cold China. Regardless, I know you’ll make it because Redemption came. Everlasting Faithful Love still binds all things together. Take heart, dear one, because promises have been confirmed to you and there are plans for your welfare. Seek Him with your whole heart and find Him.