Christmas is never really that far from my head. We talk about it all year long. My daughters were looking up pictures of elves just a few days ago. I love Christmas for a whole lot of reasons. Mainly because it’s the time of year I celebrate the birth of my Savior, a king who humbly came to walk on the same ground flawed beings like myself trod. That’s the main reason I love Christmas–but I also love it because of the sheer amount of delight and joy that envelopes the entire Winter season. Celebration makes my heart swell, my face smile and my eyes beam because true celebration hints at the kind of wonder only children have. When my daughter gets really excited or happy, she bounces around the house like Tigger; my other daughter screams with a look of pure… delight… on her face. Happiness, true happiness, absolutely fascinates and enchants me. When I see it, I stop and stare. True celebration is when we give free reign to our joy, when we hold nothing back, when the excitement in our hearts bubbles over onto our lips, into our eyes and out every other orifice of our bodies. We dance, we clap, we turn cartwheels, we shout to the world through word and deed, “Isn’t this GREAT?!” True celebration occurs when, just for a moment, the entire world is bathed in golden sunlight and, no matter what, nothing can spoil the delight we feel. It’s a high, only one so much more authentic and free than any high obtained through any kind of drug. Celebration is when we throw ourselves into appreciating and acknowledging and standing in awe of whatever circumstance we find ourselves in. True celebration isn’t about a date on a calendar—-my girls experience delight over the smallest things a couple times a day, whether that be a new gift or an achievement on a game or a personal best—true celebration is praise.
Tomorrow is Easter.
When I was younger, I enjoyed the egg hunts and watching as my world got bathed in pastel colors and ruffly dresses. I did not, however, eagerly anticipate and humbly prepare for this holiday. I knew what it was—what we were celebrating—but I didn’t understand the concept of the word free or redeemed. As a result, I failed to hold this day in as much reverence as it deserves. Easter welcomed Spring and everyone seemed joyful… but it lacked the spirit of true celebration for me for years. I’m not exactly sure when that changed, either. All I know is that, eventually, I found myself savoring the feeling of anticipation and expectancy that crept into my heart whenever April dawned. All I know is that, as I sit here typing this tonight, my heart is already dancing. My oldest daughter was 3 days old when The Passion of the Christ hit theaters. I took my newborn to the theaters to watch it and, as I sat there, a brand new, first-time mother still filled to overflowing with raging hormones and zero sleep, I cried along with the entire rest of the theater. And when the whips lashed out without stopping, without mercy, ripping into a man who had spent the last three years healing others, I remember whispering, “I’m so sorry” to Him. My heart hurt to think I’d caused that—and I did. Here was this beautiful man and perfect God whose humanness allowed Him to feel fear and isolation. And what about God in Heaven? What was that moment like for Him? People talk about Mary because she was a woman who watching someone she’d given birth to face death. But what about His Father? What was God doing in Heaven as He heard His Son, whom He loved, call out to Him? I don’t know, exactly, but I know that even though He knew Jesus wasn’t going to stay in the ground, He was grieving for the pain, physically and emotionally, His Son was going through. Torture. It was torture for Him, for the One being who has never left my side; torture for the One who held my hand, who filled my head with characters and stories that saved my life. Darkness fell over the entire land; it was tangible manifestation of His mourning, of His heart breaking, of a grief so great it could not be contained in Heaven.
And days passed.
I wonder what Lazarus thought. I wonder what the blind who could now see thought. I wonder what His disciples thought. I wonder if the sadness was still palpable in the air; I know what’s like, to have a curtain hanging in front of the Sun so that you cannot smile or laugh or even eat. Days where I operate on auto-pilot, where I go through the motions of life, hiding behind polite conversation and a pretense of normalcy. Sadness that seeps through every orifice in my body until it dims the light in my eyes; it’s like walking through life wearing sunglasses all the time.
The love that kept Him on the cross breathed life into His body again. The pain didn’t magically disappear; holes were in His hands, physical scars that carried the memory of all He’d endured. But He was alive—and He never died again; He still sits beside His Father, beside the One whose love knows no bounds. Every year, we have a day set aside to remember the moment He rose. Powerful plays, powerful movies, powerful songs that all work to give powerful joy that He lives. And that, because He lives, I live. My daughters live. My mother and sister live. Hope lives. Praise lives. Joy lives. Freedom lives. What else could God take from us for our sins that His Son hasn’t already freely given? Nothing. I don’t have to pay for the mistakes I’ve made. I don’t have to pay; all I have to do is accept the gift and celebrate. When my daughter was born, every time she reached a milestone (real or imagined), I’d dance around like a looney, singing, “Victory dance! Victory dance!” She’d laugh and feel oh-so-proud of herself. Our eyes would brighten and we’d spend a few minutes lost in the joy of an accomplishment, of a moment for the scrapbooks, a moment to pause life and rejoice. That is what Easter is: it’s a “victory dance,” one we’re invited to share in.
Someone asked me recently if I really believe life is good. The question made me pause. In the space of a few minutes, I thought of the Mark Lowry concert I attended recently in which the Christian comedian expressed sympathy for “poor Lazarus” who “had to be raised from the dead” and went on to lament the fact that the man’s feet “had already touched gold” and “why in the world” would he have ever wanted to come back to this place? While I laughed appreciatively because it was funny, it stuck in my head like a broken record. I’ve never consciously wanted to die—but there have been times where, subconsciously, I was done. Done with… where do I start? I come from a chaotic, often violent home in which I was not only abused but mentally put through the wringer for most of my childhood. By the time I was safe, I had no idea how to be free from the abuse’s cage. I only ate 2 days out of every week. I took brushes and repeatedly hit myself in the arms until bruises appeared. To this day, I’ve only been in one long term, physical relationship; I’ve only been in 2 relationships total. This is important because it highlights my fears regarding intimacy and trust. There are books filled with the self-scripts I fed to myself every day for 23 or more years. And then the physical maladies I’ve been plagued with this year alone have me ready to throw my hands in the air and say, “Just be done with it.” We fight so hard for breath, for the ability to feel our heart beating inside our chest and, every once in awhile, a sneaky little thought pops itself into my head: Why? If I handed you the keys and deed to a multi-billion dollar mansion in Copperfield Bay (which is WAY better than Hawaii) with no strings attached, would you be hanging around in Nashville? Kansas? Texas? Japan? Wherever you are? I wouldn’t. I would be living in my multi-billion dollar mansion in Copperfield Bay by now. As a saved believer in the living Son of God, I have the deed and keys to a mansion on a street paved with gold. Why even bother comparing that to Bell Road anymore?
When my daughter, Baby Breathe, laughs, her eyes closing in pure bliss, I know why.
When my youngest, Snuggleluffagus, burrows her into my neck, I know why.
When I sit under the shade tree on top of the hill at Cheekwood and stare in awe at the beauty surrounding me on either side, I know why.
And when I hold my palm out and it is held by God, through the darkest tunnel imaginable, the resulting comfort and sense of peace that flows through my pores reassures me that there is something special about this land and about this life. Jesus conquered death to live. I don’t know the joy of the angels, yet, or of those who walk the streets paved with gold. But there are a multitude of gifts to unwrap every day here, where God put me. Making the most of this life is, for me, a testimony to the fullness and richness I know He gives. I celebrate life, and cling to it with all my might, not because I’m not eager to walk those streets of gold but because time here gives me an opportunity that not even the angels have: the chance to learn to really rely on Him, to trust Him and to hold tight to His garment. Easter is a reminder that life is abundant; it’s full of piercing sadness and overwhelming grief and yet it’s also full of unparalleled wonder and awe. Sitting on my table right now is a beautiful Springtime bouquet of flowers a remarkably special friend sent to brighten my day; when I see them, I see the rewards meaningful and real friendship offers. There are a million stuffed animals in every room of my house; seeing them reminds me of the imagination games my daughters and I have played for ten years. Those toys remind me of the unrivaled, powerful love that exists between a mother and her children. Handprint drawings and hearing, “Watch this!” as my daughter catapults herself off the couch for the umpteenth time reminds me that these moments are but dandelion fluff, soon to be carried away by the winds of change. As much sorrow as the world can bring, it offers equal amounts of grace, comfort and love. For He came to bring us life, that we may it abundantly, that we may revel in its highs and fall in its lows. As scraped as my knees are from falling, every time He helps me up emboldens me and deepens my personal relationship with the One who would hang on a cross again tomorrow if I needed Him to.
And so, tomorrow, we will celebrate.
Bring in the palm branches, bring in the hopeful, pastel colors of Spring, bring in the drums and the tambourines. Wake to delighted squeals of “It’s EASTER!!” Rejoice in the sounds of laughter and birds singing and life. Let the joy overshadow the pain and the doubt and the fears and the insecurities long enough to see the shade, long enough to remember how to make a mudpie before dancing in the rain. My heart intimately knows pain—it’s been a constant companion for 33 years. Life isn’t a box of chocolates; it’s more like a tornado: wild, but with a calm eye. I know pain. But I also know joy. I know what it means to really, true love; I know the power and courage and strength provided by real love. I know what it is to toss a penny into a wishing well, to make a wish on a shooting star, shapes out of clouds; I can tell you the way to Sesame Street. I know what it is to feel humbled because there’s nothing you can offer that’s adequate. Most of all… I know what it is to be loved and I know that that is a massive gift, one that changes lives, all by itself. And its for that love that tomorrow we won’t talk of pain; we won’t talk of fear. We’ll rejoice, sing, play, laugh and enjoy a day of rest, a day of remembrance, a day… of celebration.