Month: November 2018

Borrowed Light

I specifically purchased it. Went out of my way to make sure I had it the night before I left. Packed it securely in the bottom of my suitcase. It was ready, batteries and all.

And there it stayed for the whole trip. Never actually being used. It sat quietly beneath a layer of clothes while I walked off without it. And at the moment when I needed it most, I discovered I had left it behind.


A few months ago, my dad asked me to write a short introduction for an advent booklet he was compiling for my home church. Something simple. 400 words. Just a quick welcome to the advent season.

As I thought about how to intro into a season like advent in 400 words, one in particular kept rising to the surface of my mind.

Light.

We string strands of it around trees and over fireplaces, place candles in window sills, and sit in their glow at silent Lord’s Supper services. Many of our most treasured traditions during this season revolve around light.

As much as we tout the merriness and brightness of Christmas, as much as we try to drown out the darkness of the previous year with our colored lights and flickering candles, and attempt to cover up the emptiness with piles of gifts and sweets, it often isn’t enough. There are those standing next to you in line while you skim these words, sitting beside you in waiting rooms, that do not look on this season with light. Or maybe it isn’t them at all; maybe it’s you. Maybe the pair of eyes reading these words are having trouble seeing the light all around them.

Maybe this holiday comes as a rude interruption to grief – the rosy cheeks and inflated decorations appearing garish next to the loss you’ve suffered. Maybe it is a reminder of someone who never came back or someone who never showed up in the first place. Maybe it is a matter of expectation versus reality. The bright colors and happy endings you see inside your TV screen make your current surroundings look dull or bleak. Maybe the string of plastic bulbs wrapped around your Christmas tree is all the light you can find this season.

But let me tell you with certainty, there is more light to be seen.


The atmosphere was cool and damp – a welcome reprieve after a long day in the hot and dusty Israeli desert. I stepped carefully down each step, paying careful attention to where and how my foot landed on the twisty iron stairs. We marched forward and continued our travels south. Stairs and stairs and stairs and then, just when I thought I’d never see the sun again, another set of stairs to top it all off. We multi-tasked the best we could, listening to our guide spout facts about these historic depths while trying to maintain our balance beneath the centuries-old stone.

By the time we arrived at the main attraction, there were 130 feet of stone and earth separating me from the sun, and I was watching my friends one by one step through a small opening in the stone wall.

Hezekiah’s tunnel. We had come all this way to experience this. Down into the depths of the earth we had walked and walked and walked for this moment. And the thing I needed most for this adventure had been left in my hotel room, miles and miles away.

My light.

Up to this point, we had still been in a place that supplied electricity, but now we were entering a space so ancient and deep, artificial light had not found a permanent place there. That silly headlamp I had taken such care to pack for this express purpose sat in my suitcase turned off and unused.

I had two options. Number one, sit this next adventure out and climb back up to the light of the sun. Or number two, borrow some light.

As we approached the tunnel, I confessed my situation to a few friends as they pulled out their own headlamps and strapped them around their ponytails.

“I forgot mine. It’s back at the hotel. Can I walk between you two so that I can see?”

They kindly agreed to this solution, and we stood in the stalled queue awaiting our turn to step into the darkness.

I will tell you candidly that while I am grateful I got the unique opportunity to walk, crouched and uncomfortable, for half an hour under the earth with ice-cold water streaming steadily over my feet, I don’t necessarily feel a distinct urge to repeat the scenario anytime soon. We were behind a group of college students that kept stopping at inopportune moments for what felt like an interminable amount of time, and while I am not traditionally claustrophobic, I did make my discomfort in the situation known to the crowd ahead of me.

But as I watched my shadow follow me through the cavern, stopping and starting as we moved along, I was distinctly and profoundly aware that the light creating it was not mine.

I was careful with each step, making sure my feet landed securely. My hands dragged along the walls beside me. My five-foot, ten-inch frame bent and stretched beneath the ever-changing ceiling. Eden walked in front of me, her curly hair squashed beneath the band of her headlight. Adrianne walked behind me, careful not to bump into my protruding backpack. Both girls had their chins tilted to the floor of the cave, and battery-operated beams from their headlamps created circles of illumination around our feet.

Our feet. Theirs and mine.

Even without my own, I could see because of theirs. I borrowed the light. I walked between them – one before me, one behind – and made it through every moment of darkness because they shared their light.


Maybe you are the one without this season. Maybe things look a little too dark for any celebration. Maybe you can’t fathom how the words peace and joy factor into this season.

Maybe you’ve found yourself staring down the barrel of a dark tunnel, and you’ve forgotten your light.

Lift your eyes, and find a light-bearer. They are there all around you willing to stand before you, behind you, beside you and let you step in the circle of their light. Ask for help, and don’t walk alone in the dark. See this truth in the borrowed light: “There is no night that can steal the promises His coming brings to us.” No night, not even the one you’re in. Jesus, the baby born in a manger, the Savior sent to rescue us, is Light enough for even this.

And listen to me, light-bearers. You who know the Light of all the world. You who know that we celebrate because He came to dispel every darkness. Be easy to find. Look at the those around you this season and declare to them “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: “God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 Jn. 1:5). Point the watching world to the manger, to the cross, to the empty grave and invite them to “come and see what God has done.” 

May the ones who find themselves facing darkness this season also find themselves between Light-bearers who promise to walk with them. And may we who bear the Light remember what we carry and freely offer to share.

 

The Sam’s Club with Charman Leigh and Big John

Hey there. Yes, you. I’m talking to you sitting on your couch scrolling absentmindedly through the Facebook. I know what you’re doing. You’re procrastinating that grocery trip you have to make before All The People show up to your house for The Very Big Feast that is also sometimes called Thanksgiving. I know. It’s daunting and exhausting to even think about it. The masses will be out and about doing the very same thing, and just your luck, you WILL get the buggy with the squeaky wheel and the sticky handle. Them’s the breaks, kid. So, I get your desire to postpone the horrifying task of grocery shopping until the very last possible minute. But I think I have something that will make you up to the task.

I thought you might like to come with me today and accompany Big John and Charm to the Sam’s Club. It is just entertaining enough that it might do the trick, and inspire you to tackle your own grocery list.

Yes? You would? Great!

Now, step one: Walk through the door.


If you’re with Charm, you’ll notice that she already has the card out and ready. She flashes it quickly at the friendly attendant without slowing down a tiny bit. I doubt they ever actually see her identification, but no one has ever questioned her. My mother marches into Sam’s Club with all the authority and confidence of a general riding in to retrieve the prisoners of war. The battle’s already over. She has a list and a route. She’s here to collect her spoils.

As am I, frankly. There are two reasons I go to Sam’s Club. Neither have anything to do with grocery shopping. Years ago, I learned that if I volunteered to accompany Charm on her regular Sam’s run, I could coax her into paying me in a ginormous Coke and a soft, cinnamon pretzel. There’s little I won’t do for a cinnamon pretzel.

If you’re tagging along with Charm, you’ll need to step lively, please and thank you. Her legs are short, but they are quick and determined. Don’t stop to smell the roses, and don’t you even THINK about looking at the electronic section. There is invariably a sweet-smiling salesman there waiting for the teeniest flash of eye contact to greenlight him into a sales pitch. Charm does not have time for this, so please keep your head down until you pass the section with books and outdoor furniture.

Note: If you’re with Big John, this previous information is irrelevant.

Now, the second thing I go to the Sam’s Club for is the conversation. I walk beside my mama and tell her all the things I’ve been thinking on recently. So if you have anything that you’d like to get off your chest, now is the time. This L-shaped walk between the eager sales guy and the produce section is the land of grab and go. This is the part of our stroll that requires the least amount of critical thinking on Charm’s part. This is where her attention is evenly split, and now is your chance. After this, the conversation will narrow to jokes and bits that are purely for your own benefit and entertainment. Once you catch your first glimpse of fresh fruit and veggies, she loses a significant amount of her attention span. Don’t even think about discussing anything serious until you round the corner into the aisle with the canned beans. She just won’t hear you.

I have said this before, but it bears repeating: there are people who work their entire lives to have the kind of concentration my mother has in the Sam’s produce section. Experts write books about it and sell gobs of them with how-to instructions printed neatly inside. And she just has it. When she is examining heads of cauliflower, the rest of the world simply doesn’t exist. It’s like a scene in a movie when the main character is so lost in thought and their surroundings just fade away behind some kind of dream. She goes somewhere entirely different when she’s concentrating on getting the best looking box of spring mix. Sometimes I wonder what that other world must look like, how it must feel to escape the confines of this concrete warehouse of household necessities into a calm and quiet place to really examine the price difference between different types of cheese. I usually stand with my feet firmly planted on the ground, while she floats inside her own head, coming back to reality only when she sees something so attention worthy that she’ll have to point it out to me. “Now, look at that, Elizabeth,” she’ll say. “That’s one of those pre-made salads. It’s got all the little things that go with it. The dressing and all that. That might be something you might want to try.” Or “Oh! Look how cute the packaging is on these cherry tomatoes! Ugh! I am a sucker for some cute packaging!”

One of my favorite parts about the Sam’s Club are the little sample carts scattered throughout the store. There are usually about three or four in this section alone. I wander to and from my mother’s cart to the folks wrapped in hair-nets offering me tiny cups of flavored popcorn or carrots and a new veggie dip. Not Charm, though. When she is in her shopping zone, not even the tantalizing smell of a tiny cup of cider turns her head. It is otherworldly.

Now, once we move passed the bread and into the non-perishables, you can pick up your conversation here with a real hope that she’ll join back in. However, at this point in my journey

I’m usually too lost in a few bits or jokes I started when I was my only audience. Charm’s fog lifts, and it doesn’t take her long to be 100% over it. She just spent an exorbitant amount of energy back there – mental and emotional – and she’s losing steam quickly. We’re back to the land of grab and go, and we are moving fast so please keep up.

We’re nearing the end of our Sam’s Club route with Charm. In days past, this is the part when I’d actually have an opportunity to be helpful. We’d wheel the loaded down cart to the nearest (and least crowded) conveyor belt and unload every piece from inside the treasure chest only to watch it be scanned and dropped back into another buggy. Now, though, we’re in a new era of apps and technology. And let me tell you something – this thrills Charm to NO END. You’re saying that she can go into Sam’s, scan her own items, and walk right out without talking to another soul? That is music to her introverted ears.

Because Charm is typically the valiant grocery leader in our family, I should’ve known that things would end poorly when Big John and I ventured in on our own a few weeks ago. When we started at the pretzel counter and actually sat down to enjoy our snack, I was lulled into a false sense of security. “Great!” I thought. “This will be way less stressful than grocery shopping with Charm. Look how laid back we are.”

FALSE.

Even as we got started on the actual task at hand (in the PRODUCE SECTION NO LESS. What are we? SAVAGES?), I still held to the belief that this would be a perfectly lovely afternoon. But I was wrong. I was so very wrong.

We had been standing at the butcher’s counter for nearly fifteen minutes, my dad staring with a look of consternation into the freezer box below, when I realized we were in deep, deep trouble without Charman Leigh. Knowing how much time we had already lost in this section alone, I left Dad to his thoughts and started on other parts of the list. Where Charm needed not an ounce of help, Dad would need all the help I could give.

Eventually, we made it out. We lived to tell the tale, although Big John always like to include the defense, “If you hadn’t have been buggin’ me and putting it all on Instagram, I would’ve been fine.” He’s still in denial about the trauma and my heroic contribution in getting us out in one piece.


There now. Don’t you feel better? Don’t you feel inclined to brave the cold for some canned pumpkin and jellied cranberry sauce?

I knew you would.

Best of luck! Call Charm if you need help finding anything while you’re out. Call Big John if you need help with…well, literally anything else.