Eclipsed

My dear reader,

Here we are, January twentysomething, and I just want to know one thing…

Can we fast-forward?

Right through this insufferable/interminable/abominable time of year when winter is no longer a wonderland, and the snow has been downgraded from dazzling to dingy. When Merry and Bright have skipped town… and Dreary and Dull have quite presumptuously taken their place. They’ve put down stakes in this frozen tundra, and I don’t think they’re going anywhere anytime soon.

The next few months mark a mostly-miserable season I’ve previously dubbed “the greys and the grind.” And every year, it seems to stick around longer than ever. Rude.

Can we just spring ahead? (Pretty please?)

I’m convinced winter was created simply to remind us how good we have it the rest of the year. It’s a seasonal gut-check, intended to test our mettle, try our resilience and gauge our susceptibility to flu/frostbite/hypothermia/pneumonia.

It’s cold and grey and deathly and dark. Which sounds eerily like hell to me. (Except for the frigid temps. But the Cubs did win the World Series season before last… so perhaps the place froze over after all.)

Baby, it’s c-c-c-cold outside. Biting. Bitter. Brrrrr. The high temperatures have fluctuated between too-damp-cold and nasty-low. And the wind chills are worse. Who needs Botox injections when you can just walk outside and freeze your own face?

Adding insult to injury, winter is also relentlessly grey… like Eeyore. (And equally gloomy and glum.) Pretty tough to be energized and motivated, chipper and cheery, bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy, full of fun-fun-fun when the sky itself looks downcast.

That’s the thing about winter. It feels terminal. The leaves are gone. The grass is dead. Every blooming thing has drooped, dropped or dried up. How are we supposed to survive-and-thrive day after day, week after week, when there’s so few signs of life?

Death stares us back in the face nearly everywhere we look.

And winter is just so… dark. The days are dreary and depressing. Nights achingly long and shrouded in thick black. The kind that hangs heavy and low. Slithering in and wrapping itself around us like a boa constrictor. Not long and we find ourselves struggling to move. Or breathe.

We struggle and whimper… and pray the darkness doesn’t swallow us whole.

And (eventually, always) God answers.

Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace. (Luke 1:79)

That’s the thing about darkness. It threatens, and it lies.

But it doesn’t last forever.

And much to my surprise, I’ve learned that darkness isn’t devoid of its own dividends. Whispers of comfort from the Father’s heart. Tokens of His affection. Gentle graces just when hope seems to be bleeding out. Heretofore unnoticed beauty (things I can only see when I take my eyes off the shiny things). Simple and sacred gifts I might have missed if the world was all sunshine and daisies and cashmere and truffles every day. It’s in the dark that I notice the real treasures, strewn about like stars in the blackest sky.

And eventually… always… the morning light from heaven breaks through.

So I count winter’s blessings. Especially the ones scattered under the dark cover of night. And I count the days ’til spring. (55 to be exact.)

Thankfully, we’ve got a handful of diversions between now and March 20th. Let’s save the dates… and savor them, shall we? Let’s mine the gems and relish the joys and celebrate the heck out of anything – and everything – silly or sweet, gracious or good.

The Grammys (1.28) and National Blueberry Pancake Day fall on the same day this year. (So Miley, Bruno, Kendrick and Kesha have every excuse to do some serious carbo-loading prior to their performances. We should join them, no?) Since these two spectacular events also coincide with my Dad’s birthday, naturally we sent him some noise-canceling ear plugs and an IHOP gift card to celebrate. (Enjoy the sweet sound of silence and a tall stack of birthday ‘cakes, Daddy-O! Extra syrup!)

Groundhog Day (2.2) Dear God, please don’t part the heavens or shine on that rodent in Punxsutawney. Amen.

Super Bowl Sunday (2.4) Commercial wars and a Justin Timberlake concert. Oh, and a fair chance of football. Or unfair. (Depending on the officiating.)

National Pizza Day (2.9) Chicago-style… of course.

Fat Tuesday (2.13) For those of you gearing up to start Whole 30, this month is probably not ideal. Pancakes, pizza, and Paczkis. #triplethreat

Valentine’s Day (2.14) Which is also Ash Wednesday. (So if you’re planning to give up chocolate, for Lent… Godspeed.)

Dr. Seuss Day (3.2) “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” 

The Oscars (3.4) Tinseltown’s biggest night. Where film, fashion, politics and plastic surgery collide. It’s a hot mess. (And that’s just the red carpet.)

National Day to Unplug (3.9) Just. do. it.

Daylight Savings (Spring Ahead) Day (3.11) Cue the “Hallelujah” chorus.

Pi Day (3.14. Duh.) Mathematicians and pie lovers, rejoice!

St. Patrick’s Day (3.17) Shamrocks and shenanigans ’til the wee hours. Easy does it, lads.

The Vernal Equinox (3.20) (< Sounds like an unpleasant dental procedure, doesn’t it? But thankfully, no Novocaine or dental drill bits required.) At long last… spring!

In addition to all the celebration-worthy events listed above, we’re in for a special treat next week. It’s literally a once-in-a-blue-moon occurrence. In fact, it is a blue moon. An especially rare one at that. The heavens are rolling out a lunar trifecta on January 31st: a Super Moon (basically an extra bright, full moon closeup), Blue Moon (the second full moon in a month) and Blood Moon (a total lunar eclipse) all spinning into one celestial extravaganza. Sounds like a heck of a sky show to me. And it’s been a long time coming. Believe it or not, the last Blue Blood Moon occurred in 1866. And since my great-great grandparents didn’t follow NASA on Twitter, I’m guessing they slept right through it.

One week from today, astronomical history is going to be made, people! And possibly gastronomical history too if you’re planning to consume the aforementioned pancakes, pizzas, Paczkis, and pies. (Zantac, anyone?)

The Super Blue Blood Moon will pass through the earth’s shadow (most visible around 5 am PST in North America) and that shadow will effectively extinguish the sun’s reflection on the moon’s surface, creating a lunar blackout. My West Coast friends will get the best view of this star-spangled spectacle, but even those on the East Coast should get a peek (around 6:45 am EST).

I suggest you set your alarm and put together a little lunar eclipse playlist. Mine will include Moondance (Van Morrison), Fly Me to the Moon (Frank Sinatra), Bad Moon Rising (Credence Clearwater Revival), Dancing in the Moonlight (King Harvest), Shame on the Moon (Bob Seger), That’s Amore (Dean Martin), Moon Shadow (Cat Stevens), and Full Moon (Off Broadway). That last one brings back a flood of high school memories for me… bad boys and mean girls and mathletes. Oh my! (And a little whiff of the PE locker room too. Eww.)

Janis Joplin, REM, David Bowie, Chuck Berry, Beethoven, Fleetwood Mac, Jonny Greenwood, Radiohead, The Doors, Neil Young, Duran Duran, Louis Armstrong, Chopin, Echo and the Bunnymen, Ella Fitzgerald, Rachmaninoff, The Rolling Stones, Prince, and Marvin Gaye have all been moonstruck as well, so there’s something for nearly every musical taste. You’ve got seven days to compile your playlist and grab your binoculars.

Eyes to the skies… Enjoy the show!

Wendy

P.S. Winter, spring, summer or fall, I pray your hope is never eclipsed.

 

 

 

 

 

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Luminaries

My dear reader,

There’s no easy way to tell you this, so I’m just going to come right out and type it (in 14-point Serif for all the world to see):

I flunked Christmas.

Christmas-past passed. But sadly, I did not.

Christmas is meant for silent, holy nights. For wonder and worship. For ruminating and reflecting, singing and stargazing. For basking in the brilliant light and boundless love of the One whose birth we celebrate. For marveling at God’s mercy and grace and peace.

I know this about Christmas, deep inside. In years past I’ve lived it… and loved it.

But somehow, I let it bypass my heart and slip through my fingers this year.

I did more running than ruminating. More hurrying and scurrying than pondering and praying. More stressing than stargazing. More wrapping than worshipping.

Sure, I went to church and did my Advent readings. But in all honesty, even those sublime invitations to come close to Jesus, I approached like tasks on my to-do list.

Deck the halls.

Mail the cards.

Bake the cookies.

Buy the gifts.

Check. Check. Check. Check.

And now that the parties are past, the cookies have crumbled, and the wrapping paper has been torn and tossed, I’m left with a hollow ache. And wistful sorrow.

Because I find myself right back where I began…

Wayward. Wandering. Weary of my own faint heart and feeble faith. I am still woefully shaky and shallow. And so often I buckle beneath fear… or foolish pride.

Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.

But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?

The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different. (Romans 7:15-25, The Message)

This Christmas, I unintentionally averted my gaze… left my guide… missed the mark.

I abandoned sacred for scattered. Holy for harried. Divine for distressed. And I had a meltdown in the health and beauty section of the Meijer superstore. (Which was neither healthy nor beautiful, as I’m sure you can imagine.) I came thisclose to having a full-blown panic attack when I discovered the Dove Men’s Sculpting Paste was sold out. No joke.

I ugly-cried over stocking stuffers. Which pretty much sums up my entire Advent season.

I shortchanged my Savior and myself.

Jesus, forgive me.

Again.

I find myself right back where I began. Where I belong. Begging forgiveness.

I have no excuses… I’m just a jar of clay.

My rough edges and brokenness draw blood.

(His.)

And along with my own regularly self-inflicted damage, there’s the constant battering from life. And my fellow earthlings.

Some of my gashes and nicks are nearly indetectable to the naked eye. But I’ve got some pretty big cracks in this fragile exterior. And glaring imperfections on the inside too.

You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. 

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. 

We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. ~ 2 Corinthians 4:5-10

That’s the thing about our nicks and cracks and the missing pieces jarred loose by life’s barrage. Those are the places the light shines through. We’re all broken vessels. Cracked pots. Damaged goods. Discarded, dumped, doomed. Desperately waiting for a rescuer, a re-purposer, a real-life miracle worker to clean us up and fill us full.

When Jesus came down to this dusty earth, that’s what He did. He poured it all out for us… and then poured it all in to us. And now, here we live, awash in His love and mercy. Illuminated by the light of His Spirit. Filled and fueled by holy fire.

Like luminaries.

Light pouring forth. Love seeping through. Hope spilling all around.

And if that isn’t reason for elation and celebration, I don’t know what is.

Happy New Year, revelers!!!

Wendy

P.S. In keeping with my luminaries reference, I was going to suggest that everyone GET LIT… but after my 19-year-old (and the Urban Dictionary) more thoroughly explained the meaning of the phrase, I concluded that would be highly inappropriate and terribly ill-advised. So, instead, I’ll just say…

SHINE ON!