we hope.

IMG_1031It doesn’t feel like Christmas Eve. Maybe because we’re away on vacation, or because it’s warm here, or because I’m not going to be up all night wrapping gifts and cleaning my house. But part of me feels like it’s not Christmas Eve because I can’t stop worrying about all the mothers. It’s a storm inside me tonight, the thunderous heartbeats of all the hurting moms in the whole wide world. There are mothers laying beside babies tonight, comforting them to sleep because all they have to offer is comfort- even though their kids are cold and hungry. There are moms dying a million small deaths as they ache for the children they’ve already lost, even though no mom should ever, ever have to say goodbye to a child. There are mothers and children being abused, punished for the crime of being vulnerable, crushed beneath the weight of a world gone wrong.

So, yeah. Christmas Eve. The pain doesn’t really care about holidays or holy days, does it? The pain seems like king, a reign of suffering, holding court over a broken and weary kingdom.

I felt silly doing it, as useless as a candle in a storm, but I prayed for all the mothers tonight. The ones I know and the ones on the news, the ones I want to shake and the ones I want to hold. I prayed and I cried, imagining all the hurts of the planet piled up on my tired limbs. How can I carry this? I asked while I prayed. How can I hold the suffering without dying under it? And Why, WHY won’t You fix all of this? Don’t you care for the mothers? Don’t you care for the abandoned?  Where are You in this?

I wrote this poem from the perspective of Mary, mother of Jesus,  and performed it a few weeks ago as a part of our Advent service at church. The message that week was Hope, and I cling to news proclaimed here. It’s all broken; but we have a Rescuer. All will be redeemed. All will be redeemed. We are waiting and waiting, hoping and hoping, and we will not be left to solve it ourselves, or die beneath it.

May I learn to bear the burden beside Him, aware of the pain but not buried in it. May I weep with those who weep, while always facing the light.

I am praying Hope and Light over all of you, dear ones. And such thanks to my friend Brenda, who helped me find my way through this piece. Love you Boots.

And Merry Christmas, friends.

We Hope. by Jessie Horney

I carry two heartbeats.
A son I’ve smuggled beneath my dress,
he is my best-kept secret.
The closest anyone will get to my heartbeat,
the closest anyone will come to holiness.

Bethlehem clatters tonight,
bustles with Jews,
uncles, cousins, chattering grandmothers,
we gather to be counted.

From the far fields of our fathers,
broad skies of our mothers,
They will count us all
beside our Roman neighbors.

 These counters,
census-takers,
money-makers, government men,
they come to count
but they don’t know as they haw and hem.
They do not know
the king cloaked beneath my skin.

For so long we’ve been captive,
haven’t we.

Stuck in wordless prayer,
for so long you’ve been silent,
God.
The silence,
God,
lays the oceans aside.
Shadows the mountains.
Lays heavy on the hearts of your people
as we watch our world
crumble.

But now: this.
Ten fingerprints of the Almighty
forming inside me
Belly ripe with hope
I am sowing your son
one day at a time.

 

Blood will be spilt where
this babe is born,
ancient stain of new life
as he passes from my womb
into a crumbling world
he is meant to save.

Blood will follow him.
My son.
Him, whose hands flutter inside me,
His hands will heal nations.
Him, whose feet press against my ribs,
His ribs will be pierced.
Him, whose tiny body arches and twists as I lay awake each night,
Soon,
crumbling people,
his body will arch in agony
splayed out for all to see.

My baby.

And yet,
King of Kings.
Hope-bringer.
God with us.
I hold his heart
like He will hold ours
and I whisper,
“Be at rest once more,
oh my soul,
for the Lord has been good to you.”

Our Lord. Who counts us all,
one by one,
and declares us
Beloved.
Declares us
redeemed.

 

Oh, I have hoped.
I have prayed.
Generations of breath-holders,
I too, have anticipated.

With Abraham,
with David,
with Isaiah,
and still now I hope
along with Zechariah,
for the “tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us
from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet
into
the path
of peace.”

My body is heavy with anticipation.

I keep my hope.

He keeps His promises.

 

 

 

 

Uncomfortable Love: Merry Christmas

Christmas is coming, and we need to talk about love.

It seems easy, at this time of year, when my house is slung with cheerful decorations and twinkling lights, when I’m wrapping up gifts and singing soft Christmas lullabies to my babies as they fall asleep each night;

it seems easy to know what love looks like.

Isn’t that love there, flickering in the pooling wax of advent candles? Listen, it’s there, in the reverent strains of O, Holy Night, The Stars So Brightly Shining.
Isn’t love so pretty at Christmas?

But real Love? The kind that builds us up, brick by sturdy brick, the kind that doesn’t  make sense, the kind that never gives up?
Real love isn’t always pretty. It’s not always easy or comfortable or found in the warm glow of holiday nights.

Sometimes, love is uncomfortable.

Sometimes, love is inconvenient.

Sometimes, love can even look downright unholy. The Bible is full of stories that are full of the kind of uncomfortable love that makes us cringe and look away, because it’s just too complicated and inconvenient to try and understand.
The Israelites spent 40 years wandering in a desert… that’s love?
Hosea marries a prostitute and welcoming her back again and again and again… that’s love?

Even in the opening lilt of “Away in a Manger, No Crib for a bed,” we are handed the uncomfortable picture of a baby born in the barest of circumstances, welcomed to the world on the dirty floor of a dirty stable.

Why does this holy love look so,

unpolished? humble? even foolish?  

In this Advent season, as we pause and reflect on the coming of our Savior, let us revel in the strange and surprising love illuminated by His birth.

Love is a scared young mother in Bethlehem, arched in pain as she labors with the bloody birth of the Christ Child, giving herself over to the Task at hand.

Love is a nervous father, called to carry the Holy Burden of marrying this pregnant teen before him and calling the son she bears, his own.

Love, Emmanuel, God with Us, left Heaven and came to earth,
on a journey from an all-mighty kingship, to helpless body of a baby.

Love came down because Love didn’t mind
our dirty hands and our broken hearts.
Love came down because HE WANTED YOU.

He knows you, He sees you, He heard you, and yes yes a million times yes-
He. Wants. You.

Born without a bed. A man without a home.
Infant in a crude and simple manger,
teacher hung on a crude and simple cross to die-

His life? Was uncomfortable.

His love? Is transformative.

It’s  a moment of crisis. A tilting, hinging fulcrum in time, a grip on your heart so great that you can take or leave it
but His Love cannot be ignored.

We know what real love is because Jesus gave his life for us. And there is no greater love than this, than he who lays down his life for his friends…
and, dare we say it?
This inconvenient, unholy thought on the holiest days of our winter season…
love laid down his life-

for his enemies.

This messy, Perfect Love goes slogging through the worst of times.
When the mud is deep. When the edges are frayed. When the frame on which you’ve built your very life  has snapped beneath you:
This Strange Love presses on.

Love came down into our darkness and shone a great light.
Love came down into our darkness.
Love came down.

For you.

 

Merry Christmas.

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a bad video montage and other holiday musings

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Christmas home videos are a genre unto themselves. When we go visit the Horney house in Washington, one of my favorite ways to pass a few hours of our Christmas vacation is to watch any of the home movies of the 5 Horney kids, meticulously recorded and organized by their diligent and loving father. There is something hilarious and slightly warming about the youth in their voices, the five of them squealing over gifts and stockings and even rejoicing at the presents that the others receive. Seeing Sam as a little boy is like falling in love all over again. It’s like I’m watching my past and my future all wrapped up in one sweet and freckled 8 year old. He was shy, very kind, constantly helping his three little brothers and his big sister, his dark hair always perfectly combed, his voice raspy and quiet. He was so different than me as a child (bursting with noise and talkative energy, of course) and I like to imagine what I was doing at the same time as whatever video we’re watching. Like Christmas in 1989, when 9 year old Sam is in Washington opening up Washington Huskies sweatpants and I am 3 years old in Idaho, opening a baby doll at my Grandma’s house. There we were, and here we are, the same age as our parents in the videos (but weren’t they so much OLDER than us, I thought??) with our own kids on our laps staring at our own tree.

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I never used to understand why people hate home videos. There’s a particular romance to such an intimate record of the past, the nuances of a person’s voice and movements and laugh, encapsulated and somehow magnified in their static state. I never used to understand hating all of that-  until last night.

Time-lapse videos are so fun to watch, and I’ve been wanting to make one on my own. So I decided to set up my video camera and record our tree-decorations this year. Sam and I have a long standing argument concerning Christmas trees. He wants fake, I want real, so we normally meet in the middle and don’t get one. We’re the worst. But last year we broke our tree-less truce and bought a real tree from the sad pickings of the mid-December Home Depot parking lot, because, you know, who can stand keeping holiday magic from their happy 15 month old? This year Sam bent his will and again our living room filled up with pine and cheer. And, this year there were TWO happy babies to impress with lights and ornaments!
There is no Scrooge strong enough to fight the joy of a toddler exclaiming in wonder over the same exact tree every single morning.

So, I recorded our whole process, from the tree nursery visit (which required a fast explanation concerning the man wandering around in a red suit, who we don’t “do” but is sort of hard to avoid) to the frustrated unspooling of lights to the angel placed on top.

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But in a surprising twist, I almost couldn’t stand watching the 45 minutes of family time when I uploaded the movie. Though it had happened mere hours before, I already felt sad while it played across my laptop screen. It was like I could hear my kids in the future, laughing at Sammy eating pine needles, laughing at Clara’s squeaky voice, the two of them teasing their (future) younger siblings with statements like, “This was back when the family was still perfect.”

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The bizarre instant nostalgia choked me, a warm scarf of future longings around my neck.

My babies were asleep in their beds, the tree had been decorated for barely an hour, and I already missed this time together: Christmas with a two year old Clara and an almost 1-year old Sammy, in our little house on Sanetta street where we’ve lived since we married seven years ago. I’ve watched too many other old home videos to think that I won’t watch these videos of my kids someday and miss this simple season in our family history.

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Is this why people hate home videos? Because they make you sad?
Or is it because they are usually boring, too… Yeah, probably both.
So I took precautions to avoid sad OR boring, by turning our Christmas tree decorating into a time-lapse movie that, as it turned out, plays exactly like a classic and terrible 1980’s montage. Using Earth, Wind and Fire as the soundtrack probably didn’t help, but I swear you wouldn’t be surprised by a Tom Selleck cameo in this thing.

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Enjoy watching our baby eat everything he finds, Clara get in a wrestling match with her cozy chair, Sam and I cooing over a baby picture of Smooch, and the general sense of chaos that is holiday decor. Enjoy NOT watching the part where Sam walked by with his bare butt towards the camera while I wasn’t looking. That didn’t make the cut, surprise surprise.

Here’s to premature nostalgia and bad montage footage! Cheers!