Earlier this month I had the pleasure of speaking at the Bible Fellowship Church Women's Christmas Tea. Along with two other precious ladies I was able to share the way the Lord has so graciously weaved "hope" into the story of my life. You can check out my notes/thoughts from that part of my story here:
Hope in the Dark
There is a lot that goes into taking a photograph. There is the natural eye for things, compositional rules, always keeping an eye out for the background the image, the story that is being told, not to mention mastering your tools and growing in your technical skills. But my all time favorite part about capturing an image is finding the light. I have found that as a photographer I enjoy all the light, all the time. Give it ALL to me! Of course many a gorgeous images can be capture on the grayest of cloudy days in that giant lightbox our atmosphere becomes. But I'll give those gorgeous images all away for that blinding sun and the hazy, warmth that is ushered into an image in its presence.
I found that throughout my life this seemed to be the same way I was treating God; begging for all his glory, all his blessings, all His light all the time. Once you have basked in the blinding light of our God you ache in its perceived absence. But the problem is that we don't live in a world of constant sunshine. God created the day and the night, the light and the dark, times of blinding goodness and times without.
But contrary to all my understanding I have found that the times when I have seen God most clearly was in the dark.
For 34 years I woke up on Christmas morning, shuffled to the living room and plopped down in a sea of presents, warmth and the glow of the family christmas tree filled with lots of family love. No matter how far away my current place in life may have had me living I always seemed to make it home… for 34 years.
Each year was unique in its own. Some years my dad read the Christmas story straight from the gospels. Some years my mom had a camcorder on her shoulder (one of those super-duper heavy ones that recorded on a full sized VHS that I have no idea where they might be now-a-days.) For probably 15 years straight I would get a new Precious Moment's figurine (which was not so much fun as a kid but are probably worth a good bit of money now-a-days). Some years we were coaxed out of bed by the smell of cinnamon rolls, others breakfast casseroles (yes, we were the kids that had to be coaxed out of bed). I remember the year my brother convinced me to sneak out of my room and sleepy-eyed peer into the living room and I watched in shock as my mom and dad wrapped our presents! That image is burned into my memory for all of time. And while the details of the scene may have been different year after year there were few things that never changed. In the light of Christmas morning, we were all together… for 34 years.
The darkest of times for me came on that 34th year with an unexpected phone call in the black of night on a Tuesday morning. I drove in the darkness along a road illuminated by my headlights to a hospital where my dad had gone in for routine knee surgery andin recovery suffered a massive heartattack. When I left that hospital just six hours later in the blinding noon day sun I was fatherless. And while I can vividly remember standing in the harshness of the sunlight that day outside the hospital, my world fell dark.
If you've never lost a dear loved one so suddenly like this you may have no idea of what I'm talking about. But if you have... you know exactly what I mean. As the curtains were drawn on my spirit and as my eyes adjusted to the darkness, whether I wanted them to or not, in the most baffling of places I've ever found myself God began to show me this truth...
He is in the darkness with me too.
Of course the bible has a lot to say about darkness that is representative of sin, or evil or being far from God. But there is also the type of darkness that represents the unknown, the incomprehensible qualities of our grand, mysterious Father. God himself is found in this type of darkness more times than I knew in the bible.
In Genesis 1:2, the second verse of the entire bible we see that "the earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters." In Exodus when we read about the structure and the make up of the Tabernacle we read that the Holy of Holies, the symbolical dwelling place of Jehovah, was covered by a veil and kept in the darkness. There is something comforting in knowing that there is absolutely no possible way that our minds could wrap around the grandness of our Father or His plans. Because oftentimes in that grandness there are things that we don't understand and may never this side of heaven. Like the death of your parent, or a spouse of 40 years, or a child. Or a struggling marriage, a lingering illness, a thorn in your side.
Take comfort those of you who find yourself in the darkness even today that God is near. More near than you could ever imagine. That the very breathe you breath is filled with His presence. Rest in that. Then, my friends, look for the light.
2000 years ago the earth was veiled in darkness. God had not spoken to his people in over 400 years. He was silent. And in the darkness of night, in the most humble of ways, light entered this world in the form of a baby, born to a virgin.
Hope in a manger.
Jesus birth brought hope down into our dark world. His teachings shed light into our understanding of what it meant to obey God. His very life was a light filled representation of who our God is. This light that was Jesus Christ grew and grew until it was seemingly extinguished on a hillside on a cross when he was 33 years old. But in that exact moment the veil, that veil we talked about earlier that was concealing the presence of the Lord in darkness, was torn. From top to bottom. From the heavens it was torn.
Light broke through.
His death offered us salvation, redemption and an invitation not only into heaven but also into a daily relationship with our creator. By laying down His life brought us out of darkness into light.
Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” | John 8:12 |
For me having hope of Jesus, my salvation and my one day reunion with my God and my dad in heaven was wonderful. But here was the problem. I wasn't there yet. My feet were still planted firmly on this ground we call earth.
"I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living." | Psalms 27:13 |
I'll have to be honest in the first few days, weeks and going into months after the passing of my dad, I was dumbfounded and exhausted by the weight of the grief. I was still here in the land of the living with the constant threat of despair. Everyone grieves in their own unique way, but for me it was sheer exhaustion. I couldn't even find the energy to pick up my bible, the living word of the Lord, my one source of light. Yet God's word rings true when it says... "The Lord is near to the brokenhearted." Pslams 34:18
In a time where I had lost all energy to move towards God, in the blackness that is this unknown place of rediscovering who God is, He drew near to me through His people.
When I couldn't find the energy to pick up my physical bible and read it. His Word broke through the darkness through texts, through cards and through whispers in my ear in a hug. Or simply through the hug itself. We are called to be lights, to reflect the light of Jesus into our dark world, to give the world a hope and a purpose.
You, my friends, have the opportunity to reflect the light and hope of Jesus to those around you in the midst of darkness.
One of the most hope filled things you can do is remember what God has done for you. To take a picture. Write it down. Record it. And look back on it. Marvel at the work God has done in your life. How many of you all like to sit back and marvel at accomplishments? An organized closet, a tidied bedroom, a finished work project. Did you know that God took pleasure in His work. And took time to rest and reflect on it. When it says that on the seventh day that God rested, did you ever think about the fact that God of the infinite universe didn't need to rest. He wasn't sleepy, you guys.
Matthew Henry says, "He did not rest as one weary, but as one well-pleased with the instances of his own goodness and the manifestations of his own glory."
God created all things perfect. I know we can't do that. But when I was writing these words here, I was sitting in the glow of my Christmas tree. Near perfection. I marveled at it. It is glorious. But not perfect. There is a hole here and there, the ornaments are a hodge podge collected over the years, some of the even predating my self from my mom and dad's first Christmas together 43 years ago. Somehow in our move we misplaced the box with our Christmas lights so I opted for cafe globe lights. You should try it. There was such a mess when we brought it up. There was an entire process of cleaning up afterwards that adds to the now glory of said Christmas tree and makes the final product that much more worth it. This imperfect picture of Christmas tree glory is good. Ahhh.
I began thinking back on the Christmases of the past, those 34 years in the living room with my dad and the past three without. That imperfect, messy, at times dark story of my life with God at work in it, is good too. If anything I need to look back at these pictures to remember His faithfulness and goodness. When He might not feel faithful and my current state may not feel very good we have a tendency to forget. I want to encourage you to take a picture of His goodness, the way He is at work in your life, and remember. Every day remember the hope that is Jesus Christ his birth and death and the hope and light that arrived in the dark of night 2000 years ago.
"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” | Romans 15:13 |