Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Quiet Peace: In the Middle of the Mess

About the author:  The author is a mother of three who continues to be surprised by God's grace.  This Advent she is counting down the days till she can move to be near her fiance.

Some years it feels like my life is falling apart. Last year was one of those. The holidays were coming, Advent was upon me, and I couldn't focus, couldn't celebrate. It was all I could do to breathe. 

My ex was in jail, awaiting trial for molesting one of our children. At the pretrial hearing he pled not guilty. The county attorney wanted to put two of the children up on the stand to testify against him, children who were already hurting from his abuse, children who couldn't even talk to me about what he had done. If they got up on the stand and refused to testify, chances were good that he would walk. A year and a half of effort would be gone, just like that. There was the possibility that he would try to take the kids and run when he got out of jail. My head was full of worry and my heart was full of fear. I felt as if I were in a thousand tiny pieces, each one in danger of spinning off separately and becoming lost forever. 

But Advent came anyway. 

I observed Advent by turning off electronics. Movies, TV, music, nonessential computer time, all of these were silenced. I had time to think, time to feel, time to spend with my kids...time to experience the anguish that existed inside me. I was supposed to be getting ready for Christmas. But there was no joy in my heart, no eager anticipation. All I could think was that my life was a mess, and I wasn't ready for the holidays to happen. I wasn't ready for Jesus to come. I didn't have anything for Him, only bleak, dark chaos. 

Midway through Advent, more news came. It was mixed, both good and bad. My ex took a plea bargain, which meant that the kids didn't have to get up on the stand, but due to the terms of the agreement, there was a good chance he would be walking out of prison in six years or less, and I had three kids under twelve. There was a real possibility that either he or his family would attempt abducting the children. I was still terrified. The sentencing hearing was set for sometime in January. 

Christmas was coming, the passing of Advent marking the countdown. I didn't want Christmas to come. Not yet, not while I was such a mess. I wanted to have my head clear and my life together. I wanted to be able to celebrate the joy of Christmas. I wanted to observe Advent. But it was all I could do to face another day, to put on a brave face for my kids and not sit down and fall apart. 

One night I sat in the dark, staring at the tree. It was late enough that my mind was running more slowly than normal. The quiet began to seep into my soul, the very same quiet that I had been attempting to avoid all Advent. And then, in the darkness and the quiet, realization slowly dawned. I didn't have to have my life together for Christmas to happen. God came down in the middle of the mess. Jesus was born into a stable, a dirty, smelly place. It was a messy, bloody birth. He came down into my world, my mess, my chaos, and into that disaster He brought Himself. He would be the one to make things right, not me. I didn't have to have everything perfect first. What I needed to do was to open my arms and my heart and welcome him into the mess. I didn't have everything together, but Christmas and Advent were about God coming down to me, not me having a perfect life. 

It turned out to be a beautiful Christmas after all, an island of peace in the middle of all the turmoil. The holiday didn't go perfectly, but God was there. 

If you're wondering, the judge's ruling the next month took us all by surprise. My ex is in prison for a long enough time for my kids to grow up before he gets out. Life is still messy, but it's peaceful knowing that God is here with me. He's not waiting for me to clean up my mess first. He's here in the middle of it. After all, His name is Immanuel, God-with-Us, not God-waiting-for-me-to-clean-up-my-messes.