Category: Holidays

Expect Something Different

I have an opinion. And it isn’t very popular, so I need to make sure nobody’s holding any stones before I share it.

Alright, here goes.

I do not like Hallmark movies, Christmas or not. I can’t appreciate them for what they are. I just don’t get it. I end up shouting questions at the screen, wanting answers to plot holes and for someone to tell me who in the world wrote this dialogue.

Maybe there’s something in the predictability, the complete lack of realism. Something about a clean resolution. The guy gets the girl. The girl gets the crown or the promotion or the makeover. The town saves the Christmas pageant. The local diner is spared by the corporate tyrant. The bitter cynic is hopeful again. The problem is solved, and the credits roll.

But here’s what’s lovely about these cheesy flicks: at the end when the screen goes dark, all my expectations have been met. Certainly, I have some questions that have yet to be answered. And certainly, I have a tiny tinge of regret at the time I just lost. But I got what I bargained for. A nice, neat bow on a relatively uncomplicated problem.

Great.

But what happens when those expectations roll over into the flesh and blood reality we live in? What happens when we sit on the edge of our seats this season, eagerly looking for our picture-perfect ending and storybook Christmas?

I wonder if Mary knew anything about unrealistic expectations. Honestly, as many times as we ask her every year, I don’t think Mary knew all the details. From the beginning, we see her fear and we hear her ask, “How will this be?” During the nine months of her pregnancy, surely she had expectations for how the birth story would unfold, and I may be wrong, but I don’t imagine she expected stable animals to be witnesses or grimy shepherds to be her first guests.

And what about those guys? The shepherds. What did they expect? Did they run to the site to which the angels sent them expecting to see a young teenager holding the Messiah they had been waiting for? A simple carpenter standing behind her? The damp smell of the cave in which they lay? Wasn’t Messiah supposed to be royal? What was He doing here? Why did the angels tell them? Shouldn’t there have been a bigger announcement to more prominent men than they? They were Jewish men who knew the prophecies. They knew the words that declared what was to come, but did they yet understand how or when or why? Maybe their expectations had had a little more color. More light. More neat lines and a fine timeline of when exactly their suffering would end. They were only human, after all.

And we can relate, can’t we? Our expectations are often outlined by our circumstances.

So often, we walk into the Christmas season with really high expectations of ourselves, of the people around us, of the celebrations and parties and gifts and food and decorations. We expect things to end neatly like our sweet, pre-packaged Hallmark movies. We expect snow to fall and love stories to have magical beginnings and happy endings. We expect our Christmas cookies to look just like that glossy photo in the magazine, and we sigh with great disappointment when they don’t.

We expect the bank accounts to swell to accommodate the gifts we desire to give. We expect the tension we’ve walked in every other month of the year to loosen its grip and let us live in peace for a few weeks. We expect the grief we’ve suffered to pause for just a minute and let us breathe.

We walk into this season expecting a whole lot. Expecting our lives to really look like the Christmas cards we send.

And maybe they do at times. Don’t get me wrong. There are beautiful moments to be had this season. Watching children and grandchildren light up the room with their belief in Christmas magic. Invitations to Christmas parties with friends and loved ones. New love, and new babies, and first Christmases spent together. And singing – oh, the singing! It is indeed a beautiful, heart-warming, fuzzy, cheesy, gloriously happy time of year in certain moments.

But in the moments when it’s not, how do we survive? And what do we do when the lights go out, the decorations are packed, and we’re left again with the bare and empty walls we started with? How do we move past our expectations when another year passes and they just aren’t entirely met?

May I submit a possibility that we are expecting the wrong things. Maybe we need to expect something else.

You see, the truth is, Jesus Himself told us we would have trouble here. And there wasn’t a caveat in that verse that told us we’d get a break at Christmas. We don’t. Life at this time of year is covered in a little more glitter, a little more light, a little more cheer and charity, but it is still life. There are still parts that hurt. There are parts that cannot be wrapped up in a neat, Hallmark Christmas bow. There are questions still unanswered. Problems still unsolved. Wounds still opened and not quite healed.

But what if we changed our expectations? What if, instead of expecting a perfect Christmas, we expected a perfect Savior? What if we took time to open our hearts and “prepare Him room”? To expect Him to show up in our lives? To expect Him to be enough for us? Because He is enough for us. Our world may not be commercially classified as merry and bright this season, but we can be sure that the Prince of Peace Himself has arrived and brought us freedom from our strife. That is cause enough for celebration. An expectation sure to be fulfilled and in Jesus, already met.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)

One thing we have that the shepherds didn’t that night is a view of the cross from the manger. When you look into the face of the infant Divine this Christmas, you will find a Savior. You will find a King that has conquered death. You will find a Messiah, a Deliverer, who has far exceeded “all we could ever ask or imagine” (Eph. 3:20).

Rather than hanging all our hopes on how this Christmas will meet our needs and expectations, may we instead look at Jesus, who is the final Word on all we could ever hope for. He is the healing of our heartbreak. The new song of redemption we sing. The reason we celebrate. The restoration of our broken narrative. The joy declared to all the world.

May we turn our faces to the manger and expect with certainty to see our Savior, Jesus.

“One thing I want my soul to remember and I want your soul to know is that life isn’t always good; humans aren’t always good; but God is good. Always.”

-Amena Brown, Broken Records

 

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.

 

Weary Souls Rejoice

I’ve been thinking a lot about the 400 year gap between Malachi and Matthew. The absolute silence of God. The quiet. The waiting. The dryness that settled over the people of Israel. “Long lay the world in sin and error pining,” you know.

And I’ve thought about the promise remembered and recalled at every festival, with every prayer, in every household for 400 years. “Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”

I’ve wondered at the questions that must have sprung like weeds in the most barren parts of their hearts.

How will you save us?

When will Messiah come?

Will there be justice?

Will we be free?

How much more can we bear?

How long must we wait?

Are you still there?



I’ve thought of the Jewish children perched atop gnarled knees, listening intently to an elderly voice telling about a promised ransom, a payment coming for all the captives.  

I’ve thought of those same children growing up in the moments just before the star arrived. The palpable feeling of change in the winds. The stirring of hearts. The whispers. The prophecies remembered.

And I’ve thought of the moment when God’s silence was split by the cries of a newborn. Son of God, Son of Man. Divinity zipped up in mere inches of human flesh. An audacious rescue looked for, but still shocking and unexpected in His arrival.

I’ve imagined the crowd of shepherds—Jewish men who knew the promise—creeping slowly to the door of the stable cave.

“Is it true?”

“Can it be?”

“Is this the one we’ve been waiting for?”

And Mary nods. It’s Him.

After 400 years of waiting, He is finally here.

It wasn’t all healed in a moment. When the sun rose the next day, Romans were still in control. Herod was still a psychotic tyrant. There was still heartache to be faced. Rachel had much mourning left before her (Mt. 2:18).

But the fulfillment of a promise made at the dawn of time had been set into motion. Beneath a star was born the One who would set it all right. The One who would call to the exiled and bring them home. The One who would pay the ransom for sin and set free every captive.

I’ve wondered about the moments following the stable scene. When the shepherds walked away from the grand nativity stage that night, did they wonder how it would all unfold? Did they realize that it would be a long time before the infant King was ready to rule? And did they know that when He did, it would be vastly different from what the world expected? Thirty-three years later, did any of them squint against the sun and watch as a cross, splintered and bloody, was raised before them? Did they bow their heads in disappointment? Did they question what all their hoping had been for?

When Mary woke the next morning, did she feel as if a boulder was sitting on her chest, the weight of what she had been asked to do nearly unbearable? Did Joseph break out in anxious hives every time he remembered he had been tasked with the incredible job of raising the Son of God? Teaching him to walk and count and build?

And what about the questions that ran through the minds of the wise men on their long journey home? Did they look one to the other and ask, “did we really just meet a king? In that tiny house? And when His kingdom comes, will there be a place for us?”

I wonder about those questions, I guess, because I’ve had some of my own.

I know what it is to wonder if God chose the wrong person for a task to which I was called. I know what it is to wonder how long I’ll have to wait for an answer to a burning question. How long I’ll have to wait for freedom, for relief, for a moment of reprieve. I know what it is to wonder if there’s a place for me at the table. I know what it feels like to bear the burden of the unknown. I know what it is to wonder how the story will end and what it will cost in the in between.

As I enter this Christmas season, I stand peering through the gaps of the shoulders of a dozen reeking shepherds, catching glimpses of the Promise. I shove my way through to the trough that holds the King who came to rescue me. I lay down every question and look instead at His face. “Born that man no more may die/Born to raise the sons of earth/Born to give them second birth.”

And as I turn to leave to go back into the night to my post in the fields, I have to confess that there are things I still don’t understand. There are still heartaches and difficulties to be faced in the days ahead. But I looked on the face of my Savior, and that is enough. He is enough.

“I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life” (Jn. 8:12).

Four hundred years of silence, and then He steps in.

Four hundred years of darkness, and then there was a star.

Four hundred years of waiting, hoping, doubting, looking, and then He was there.

Humanity’s Creator King come to rescue.

When the stage was set, the curtains rolled back, every piece in place, God rent the heavens with a spotlight, shining with unwavering brightness on the face of His promise.

And with the privilege and gift of perspective, looking back from the top of Golgotha’s hill, we see that even in the silence, He was never idle or absent. “…for He who promised is faithful” (Heb. 10:23).



How will you save us?

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son…” (Isa. 7:14)

When will Messiah come?

“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.” (Gal. 4:4-5)

Will there be justice?

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.” (Luke 4:18a)

Will we be free?

“He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free…” (Luke 4:18b)

How much more can we bear?

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Mt. 11:29)

How long must we wait?

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…” (Isa. 9:6)

Are you still there?

“They will call him Immanuel, God with us.” (Mt. 1:23)

What Do These Stones Mean?

In Joshua chapter four, a new generation of Israelites stood on the far side of the Jordan watching as the raging river waters returned to their normal flow. The people stood in awe as their fingertips grazed the fabric of their clothes. Dry as the desert from which they just emerged. They walked through the river and there wasn’t a wet fiber on them. A reminder that their lives had been preserved by the hand of an Almighty God.

He had been faithful.

The leaders of the twelve tribes each took a stone from the bottom of the river and placed them in a pile beside the bank to memorialize the great deliverance.

“Then Joshua said to the Israelites, ‘In the future your children will ask, “What do these stones mean?” Then you can tell them, “This is where the Israelites crossed the Jordan on dry ground.” For the Lord your God dried up the river right before your eyes, and he kept it dry until you were all across, just as he did at the Red Sea when he dried it up until we had all crossed over.”
Joshua 4:21-23

My parents and grandparents have done this my whole life. They have picked up the stones made smooth by the tumultuous rivers of their lives and placed them in a visible spot, so that the generations behind them will ask, “What do these stones mean?” Much of who I am as a person is comprised of their stone stories. The
memories of grace told to me, shown to me, by those whose feet have walked farther than my own—they are the stones that built my foundation. And throughout my history, I have been adding memorial stones of my own next to the rivers I’ve crossed. My pile is small and still growing, but it is clear evidence of God’s faithfulness in my legacy.

Maybe while you read this, you remember the stones you’ve collected. Feel them heavy in your pocket. And maybe someone needs to hear the story. Needs to know, “What do these stones mean?” I can’t think of a better time to tell them than around a Thanksgiving table.

Bring out the rocks you picked up as you crossed through the waters of this year, of your life, and pile them right there next to the turkey and sweet potatoes. Show your family what the Lord has done. Tell them of the moment when you put your foot in a raging river with faith you weren’t sure was yours and watched the waters peel back like old wallpaper. Tell them how you watched the faithfulness of God come through an impossible situation. A painful crossing soothed by the balm of His presence. Tell them. Stack the stones high and remember the rivers from whence they came.

“….so all the nations of the earth might know that the Lord’s hand is powerful, and so you might fear the Lord your God forever.”
Joshua 4:24

Then He Smiled At Me

My third grade year was interrupted by a move to a new state and a new school. My family unpacked in Alabama at the very beginning of December 2001, and Johnathan and I were put in a local public elementary school. I had stepped out of a one-hallway private school into a web of hallways lined with classrooms and filled with throngs of other children. I spent most of my time there trying to be invisible.

It was Christmastime. Our classroom was decorated with small trees and handmade ornaments, and there was often a soundtrack of faint holiday tunes in the background.

I don’t remember her name, but my first teacher was a tall woman. Plump, with dark gray hair and a grandmotherly demeanor. She filled the room with herself, and though I remember her as a kind and jovial woman, I also remember having a vague sense of fear associated with her presence.

One afternoon, The Little Drummer Boy came through the stereo system. She perked up and announced with enthusiasm that this was her favorite Christmas song. She turned up the volume and chimed in with a loud contribution to the rum pum pum pum lyric.

Because that was the first time I remember hearing that song, and because it was tied so closely with a negative experience, I have shuddered nearly every year since when I hear the familiar chorus rumble through any speaker. It has always been one of my mother’s favorite Christmas songs as well, but for years I have made her turn it off whenever it cycles through the car radio. I hated it too much to listen all the way through.

But this year, it has been a favorite.

I don’t remember when it happened, where I was, or whose version I was listening to, but I remember hearing the last verse as if for the very first time:

(For the sake of clarity and my sanity, I’m going to remove the “pa rum pum pum pums.”)

“Shall I play for you
On my drum?
Mary nodded,

The ox and lamb kept time,
I played my drum for Him,
I played my best for Him,
Then He smiled at me,
Me and my drum.”

I heard it and thrilled at the idea of the child Jesus smiling with delight at this little boy and his drum.

The character isn’t biblical. There is no historical reference to document this little drummer boy’s existence. No likeness of him was ever taken.

But I can see him.

His face is dirty and his feet are bare on the cool desert earth. His little hands are plump with newness and wrapped around two splintered sticks. His tangled hair falls just above the bridge of his nose. And he carries a drum. Something makeshift crafted out of found and forgotten things.

I see him in the doorway of Joseph and Mary’s home. As the magi move further into the room, his faint shadow is pushed across the threshold by the light behind him. And he follows its course until it lands on the face of the baby they walked all this way to see.

And looking at this small face, he hears the words of the prophet Isaiah rattling through his brain:

“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

This is Him, he thinks. This is the One we have been waiting for.

He looks to his left then to his right, noticing the shine reflecting off of the costly gifts brought by the magi. He looks down and sees the sticks in his hands. It isn’t the same, not as valuable, he thinks, but he has nothing else. He must give something. He is face to face with the promised Messiah, the One who came to rescue. The One who came to bind up broken hearts and make all things new.

He must give something.

“Excuse me, Mrs. Mary,” he whispers timidly. “Would it be okay if I played for Him?”

The young mother nods with a kind smile upon her lips, and he takes a deep breath, raises his sticks, and brings them down upon the drum.

The sound reverberates off of the walls. His rhythm is crooked, and it is more noise than song, but he doesn’t hear. He isn’t performing; he is praising.

When he is through, the boy bends forward for a better view of the child before him. Eyes lock and the baby Jesus, delighted by the sound, smiles at his new friend.

And in that moment, everything changed.

I think I see the little drummer boy so clearly because his heart looks so similar to mine. I know what it is to stand in the presence of the Savior and scramble for something to give in gratitude. I know what it is to remember God’s promises and be overwhelmed with a desire to praise.

And I know what it is to feel your heart nearly explode with joy when the Light of all the world looks at you and smiles.

This Christmas, my bare and dirty feet land on the cool hay covering the stable floor, my grimy hands grasp the edges of a rough manger and my chin hooks over the side to catch a glimpse of my Savior. His face is turned toward me; He sees me and the heart He came to save.

And then He smiles at me.

Me and Mom and Amy Sherman Palladino

Like most of the other Gilmore Girls fans in the world, I am impatiently awaiting the promised revival debuting soon. In preparation for the four new 90-minute “episodes,” I have recently decided to revisit Stars Hollow a little early by going back to the beginning of the iconic series.

I didn’t grow up watching the mother-daughter series. I was seven when the show debuted for the first time and much more interested in cartoons and Disney plotlines. The show was cancelled by the time I had entered my early teens and had already started circulating in reruns on ABC Family. Friends of mine picked it up in the hours right after school and became dedicated fans through that two-hour block of episodes. However, throughout high school, I spent most of my afternoons at the gym with a basketball or volleyball in my hand. By the time I slumped to the couch after practice, the episodes were nearly over, and I couldn’t seem to care much about a plot I didn’t understand.

But by my sophomore year in college, I had been able to sit through a handful of entire episodes without losing interest. I was at the apartment of a friend of mine drinking coffee and gabbing when I noticed that there, on her shelf, sat all seven seasons of the show. I asked to borrow them, explaining that I had never watched the series all the way through. After a few gasps of disbelief and exclamations of “How have you survived this long without seeing this?” and “What kind of life have you been living?” the first season was readily shoved in my arms to take home with me.

(That’s the thing about Gilmore Girls fans–we want everyone to love this show as much as we do.)

By the time I had devoured the first season, that same friend was moving into our house along with the other six seasons she owned.

One day, while watching a second season episode, my mother plopped down on the couch opposite me and watched with growing interest. After watching a few episodes together, Charm [pronounced sh-arm] declared that she was going to have to start the series from the beginning. The witty dialogue and excellent casting had caught us both–hook, line, and sinker.

I suggested we start over together. I wasn’t very far along, and I thought it would be fun to watch it for the first time with her.

It quickly became a habit. Night after night, we’d come home from work or school, grab a snack, pick a seat, and watch an episode or two of our favorite show. When we weren’t watching, we were quoting our favorite lines and reflecting on our personal views of Rory’s best romantic interest. (The correct answer is Jess, although Charm makes a decent argument for Logan.) (Dean is irrelevant in our world.)

When we finally finished the series, we spent a few days mourning our loss then started it over again. And for the last three years, that’s the show we’ve watched. On and off, we’ve revisited our favorite moments with our favorite girls in our favorite Connecticut town.

Moving away from home has been hard. I miss the safety of my home, the lack of bills, my family and friends, my sweet little city, and my mama. I miss my mama a whole lot.

The main reason I picked the habit of Gilmore Girls up once again was because it made me feel close to her. I know the things she laughs at on her couch back home, so I laugh harder during those scenes. I know the characters that frustrate her most, so I roll my eyes at the screen when they enter the frame. I know the parts that, as we say so eloquently in the South, just “clutch” her, so I get misty-eyed every time Lorelai sings the last note of “I Will Always Love You.” Gilmore Girls has established its place in the thread of our relationship as a forever tie that binds.

Whether mom and I are 130 miles or 1,000 miles apart, we can always meet in Stars Hollow in a moment.

Happy Mother’s Day, Charm. I’ll meet you at Luke’s in five.