It’s the first Monday of Advent. The beginning of the season where we remember the Nativity, where we meditate on the First Coming, where we make space for Emmanuel to come sit with us, to dwell with us in our fragile, finite frame.
To welcome Emmanuel, the wise men brought three gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Gold because it’s valuable.
Myrrh — embalming ointment — to honor Jesus’ humanity.
Frankincense — incense — to honor Jesus’ divinity.
This Advent, reflect on the gift God gave to the world in the form of Jesus.
And reflect on the gift God gave to the world in the form of you.
There is a secret medicine given only to those who hurt so hard they can’t hope.
The hopers would feel slighted if they knew.
You were born with potential.
You were born with goodness and trust. You were born with ideals and dreams. You were born with greatness.
You were born with wings.
You are not meant for crawling, so don’t.
You have wings.
Learn to use them and fly.
My friend Kristin died of breast cancer on Wednesday night. Here’s a piece I wrote about her a few years ago.
Kristin, may you rest in the Arms of Love that are truer than life and stronger than death.
I met Kristin during my first shift in an urban E.R. in Portland 3 years ago. I was working in Fast Track as a physician assistant, and she was the assigned nurse for the day. She was strong and outspoken and said within minutes of meeting me, “I’m probably going to offend you today. I apologize in advance, okay?”
“Okay,” she said, and we got to work.
We worked well together, but other than work, we had little else in common. She was tough, outspoken, tattooed and pierced—and I was none of those things. Earlier in her life she had battled an addiction, and lived in a car while she put herself through nursing school. Then she raised two kids as a single mom while working full time in the E.R.
Of all the stories I’ve told about the Invisible Girls, this is far and away one of my favorites! Especially this year, let’s think about what it means to be, and to care for, our country’s refugees.
Two months after I met the Somali family, the older girls came home from school and told me they’d started learning about the American holiday Thanksgiving at school, and asked me to tell them more about it.
The first explanation I thought of – that every year Americans kill 45 million turkeys to celebrate that half of the Pilgrims who came to America didn’t die during the first winter– sounded ridiculous. So instead of trying to explain it further, I said, “How would you like to celebrate Thanksgiving with me this year?” They were ecstatic.
Every time I went over to their apartment in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, they’d race to get their coats and shoes, yelling, “We go to your house TODAY?”
Every time I’d shake my head and say, “Nope, not today.”
On the morning of Thanksgiving, my housemate Betsy and I drove over to their apartment to pick them up – we needed two cars to transport the six of them. When we knocked on the door, the girls all came running. Hadhi opened the door and motioned for us to come inside. I held my arms out and called, “Who wants to go to my house today?” They screamed and clamored to get their shoes on.
This week I’m lucky to have the flexibility (and frequent flyer miles) to fly to Pennsylvania to spend Thanksgiving with my parents, my sister and my brother. I have two other brothers who won’t be able to make it — but still, I’m very thankful I get to spend the holiday with the fam.
I haven’t always been able to be with family on holidays, though. And I haven’t always had a place to go.
I grew up in Pennsylvania, but went to college in Los Angeles, and I couldn’t afford to fly home for Thanksgiving. Another girl in my dorm was in the same situation, so we house-sat for a family in Los Angeles, who lived close to our college. We spent Thanksgiving in our pajamas, doing homework. We took a quick break to eat TV dinners, and then did more homework. Then we decided we were bored, so we went to a drug store (still in our pajamas) and bought hair dye, and dyed each others’ hair.
Another Thanksgiving, I was living in Portland, attending a church of thousands of people, but no one invited me over for Thanksgiving. The idea of spending the day alone in my apartment was depressing, so I called a friend in New York who was also single and didn’t have anywhere to go. We met in Puerto Rico and had Italian food at our hotel’s restaurant for our Thanksgiving dinner.
Hair dye and spaghetti are not exactly, well…..festive.
I don’t have many words to describe the grief in my heart after what transpired around the world this weekend….with attacks in Beirut, Baghdad and Paris. I’ll try to write more later, but for now, I pray for Love to win in me, in you, and in the world.
Will you pray with me?
As I read the headlines, my heart ached for the suffering that the victims and their friends and family endured this weekend. And for the grief that all of us in our global community feel each time another headline breaks. It’s discouraging. Disheartening. Maddening.
Today, on this Monday morning, we wake up to the aftermath and wonder, What are we going to do?
I woke up asking myself that question early this morning, before my alarm went off. God, what are we going to do?
I thought of Romans 8, “All creation groans as in the pangs of childbirth….” Yes. Not only all of creation, but on this Monday morning, we ourselves groan in pain and frustration and grief.
What are we to do?
I spent the past week blogging about my experience of going through, and emerging from, spiritual darkness. (If you missed it, click here and read the ‘saint sarah’ series.)
I got so many comments, e-mails, texts and messages from people who are going through similar seasons. So I thought I’d take a minute to (hopefully) encourage you with some simple take-aways and suggestions.
Here’s what I’ve learned.
1) Go through it, not around/over/under it.
Winston Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” The same thing is true with seasons of emotional and spiritual darkness. It’s painful. It’s scary. It’s hard. It’s lonely. And no one wants to go through it. But if you look for shortcuts or ways to avoid it, it will only make things worse. If you try to numb out or distract yourself or look for people to blame, you’ll only add to your burden.
2) Remember that silence is not absence.
Just because you’re not hearing from God like you once were, just because you’re not experiencing positive emotions or hearing words of encouragement from God, doesn’t mean he’s left you. Just like a parent stops talking to their child so the child can rest at night, sometimes God stops talking to his children for a season — for their benefit. But God never has and never will abandon you. Just because he’s silent, doesn’t mean he’s absent.
I knew that Togo would be hard, but I didn’t know it would be that hard.
I didn’t know that even in rainy season, it only rained once or twice a week, and it was still very hot and very dry. I didn’t know that my shifts would be 28 hours long, or that I would get malaria (in spite of taking anti-malaria pills faithfully every night), or that the town would run out of water for three days or that the Internet would go out and I would be unable to contact family and friends for days at a time. I didn’t know that I’d lose more patients in one week in Togo than I’d lost in a decade of practicing medicine in the U.S.
I kept going. Because I was part of a team that was working hard, and I wanted to do my part. Because dozens of people had helped fund my trip to Togo, and I didn’t want to let them down. Because I had committed to being in Togo for three months and I wanted to keep my word. Because I cared about the Togolese people and wanted to do as much as I possibly could to alleviate their suffering.
And then I took care of a 2-year-old girl with cerebral malaria whose father was one of the most devoted parents I’d ever seen. She had seizure after seizure. Every time she seized, she stopped breathing, but we didn’t have a ventilator to put her on. So I stood there breathing for her with an Ambu bag for hours and hours that night.
She died around 6 a.m. the following morning. I’d done everything I could do and gotten no sleep for almost 30 hours, and yet I still couldn’t hold onto her.
“Let There Be Night,” I had said to God.
And for several more months, there was Night.
In July, in the middle of that Night, I took the train from Germany to Paris. I spent a long weekend in Paris before flying to Togo to spend three months working at the Hospital of Hope, a hospital that had just opened a few months before in a rural, remote town in the north of the country.
I stayed at the same hotel I always stay at when I’m in Paris. It’s a building from the 1700’s that has a small lobby with stone floors and a red velvet couch. There’s no elevator, just a narrow, winding wooden staircase. The rooms are simple, with only a narrow bed, a wooden desk and a chest of drawers.
It’s nothing fancy, but it was my 5th time staying there, so it felt a little like coming home.
I got a lot of rest. I ate some delicious food. I walked around my favorite spots….Luxembourg Gardens, L’Ouvre, Notre Dame.
On the day I was flying to Togo, I took a shuttle to the airport. As I watched Paris landmarks grow smaller and smaller and finally fade into the distance, I cried. I was like a little kid getting on the school bus for the first time, crying because she’s not ready to leave home.