“Oh Holy Night, the weary soul rejoices…”

I’ve spent the morning curled up on the Yarrow House sofa here in Denver. Six different versions of “Oh Holy Night” have looped on my Spotify as I’ve sat, staring vacantly at our Christmas tree and the Bible in my lap. No matter how long I look at either, I’m unable to reconcile myself to the joy that either thing should bring me in this season of Advent.

It was on this day two years ago that one of my Street School students was killed in gang warfare. And even though it seems like two years have passed, it was just last night that we received what I still can’t bring myself to believe is the final word that four of my loved ones in Alaska likely won’t return home after their plane went missing on a flight from our village to Anchorage Wednesday.

On December 10th, a day that has already been agonizing these last two years, I admittedly have been struggling with feeling more helpless and hopeless than ever. I long to be able to fix something. Anything. I long to be 3,500 miles away from this sofa, embracing my dear friends in Port Alsworth whose lives have been forever changed by a routine commute that turned into all of our worst nightmare.

My heart breaks more and more for those I love with every text, phone call, and update I receive because I know there is not a single one of us from that beautiful little bush village unscathed by this tragedy. Within that heartbreak I have heard the screams and cries of my friends who have lost members of their family and there simply aren’t words for, or to say in response to, that kind of suffering or pain.

Even though I am in the city where Johnny died, physically close to those affected by that tragedy two years ago, I am incapable of doing anything to change the situation here either. We will never be able to bring him back, answer the still-outstanding questions, or heal the residual pain his family, my students, and our Street School staff still feel.

As my mind has swung between these tragedies, desperately trying to make sense of something, the only conclusion I’ve reached is this: Never in my life have I felt such a deep ache for Someone to save me or the people I love from the pain and brokenness of this world. Never in my life have I longed so deeply for a Savior. 

While my heart can’t seem to consider celebrating anything right about now, I know the truth: we will soon celebrate the fact that our Savior has already come.

The Bible in my lap, my brothers and sisters (near and far) who have prayed and cried with me this week, the song that keeps repeating itself over my computer speakers, and even the silly cultural tradition of sticking a dying tree in our living room and wrapping it in lights point me back to that truth–

Our Savior has come. Christ came, incarnate as a helpless baby, and died as the Most Powerful King to save us from both our sin and our sorrow. Past, present, and future.

Two thousand years ago He became Emmanuel and Emmanuel He is still.
God with us.
God with all who mourn.
God with all who weep.
God wrapping His arms around every person who knows and loves Port Alsworth, the Longerbeams, the Bloms, and Johnny’s family.
God indwelling in those of us who call Him Abba, Father.
God who came to rescue.
God who will make all things new.

And thus I proclaim over my own trembling heart and that of those around me, that even as the news we receive today and this week will likely worsen by earthly standards, the good news that Christ has come for us and can wrap us in His arms now and for eternity is. indeed. Good. News.

Even if everything else falls apart, His sovereign plan, loving promise, Good News, and ultimate sacrifice remains the same– it is the only Good News we could ever truly need.

“Oh holy night
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth
A thrill of hope the weary soul rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn

Fall on your knees, Oh heart the angel voices
Oh night divine, Oh night when Christ was born
Oh night divine, Oh night, Oh night divine

Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name!

Christ is the Lord, Oh praise His name forever!
His power and glory evermore proclaim

Fall on your knees, hear the angel voices,
Oh night, Oh night, Oh night divine.”

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Oh, Jesus. Make our hearts believe. Make our hearts believe while we are here on our knees…

~~~

If you, like me, wish you could do something but don’t know what to do, you can donate to any of the Go Fund Me accounts below. The first two are to help cover memorial service/funeral costs for the Blom and Longerbeam families. The last is to help some of the Bloms’ dear friends make it to Alaska for Scott, Zach, and Kaitlyn’s celebration of life.

Blom family memorial service / out of state family travel expenses

Kyle’s memorial service / family travel expenses

Help send the Brent/ Boe families to Alaska

But, God

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience– among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ– by grace you have been saved– and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show us the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” 

(Ephesians 2:1-8)

I don’t have the eloquent words I wish I had right about now; all I have is a sleep deprived brain and the choked up feeling in the back of my throat that so often accompanies grief. Well, that and so many wishes desperately longing to be fulfilled in my heart.

Part of me wishes God’s plan for the last week was different, and yet because He has taught me to deeply rest in the beauty of His sovereignty, I don’t.

But that doesn’t stop me from wishing I wouldn’t have had to stand next to my best friend yesterday as we buried her little brother. But we did. Side by side, struggling to form the words of the hymns being sung around us and with shovels in our hands, we did. And I doubt either of us have ever done anything more difficult in our lives.

I wish Kevin wouldn’t have gone to be with Jesus just weeks before his sister’s wedding, but in God’s perfect timing, he did.

I wish I could take the pain from my second family’s heart, but all we can do is cry and laugh and question and praise our sweet Jesus late into the night together.

I wish the message telling me Kevin was gone wouldn’t have ever come through my phone at midnight in Alaska; I wish the Lord would’ve used another means to permanently transition me out of the village He had graciously allowed me to fall in love with over the last year.

I wish I would’ve had more than 12 hours notice that I would be packing everything I owned and moving 4,000 miles.

I wish I could’ve said proper goodbyes to my neighbors and teammates, youth group kids, students, and friends in Port Alsworth, but I praise God for the small group that was able to meet me at my bush plane to quickly pray over me as the Lord rushed me away from my home.

I wish I didn’t have to leave so many homes so frequently. Yet within this, God continues to remind me that my Home is not here; my home has never been in Colorado, Alaska, or Iowa– even though my coffee pot and clothes have now lived in all of those places in the last year.

In all of the pain and vertigo of the last five days, He has been the One to comfort and strengthen each of us, and I know because I know because I know He will continue to do so.

I don’t understand any of the events of the last week or the weeks to come; but God does. My line of sight and perspective is limited, but His is not.

We mourn the loss of our brother and our friend, but because of what Christ did for us on the cross and Kevin’s acceptance and love for Him, we know we’ll see Kev again. This week, we’ve grieved over the timing of our loss, but the Lord is reminding us that it has been Kevin’s gain. Just as he is preparing for the wedding feast for the Bride of Christ, we prepare for a wedding feast. And oh, his sister’s wedding next week will be so full of Jesus and His glory.

I will openly admit that there is a hurricane of transition and grief raging in my heart, but in this, God is so much more than a still, small voice and oh, is He good. He is good now in the raw pain and mess, and everything in me needs to proclaim His nearness to make it through the day.

Praise the One who died to bring us near to our Father– our comforter, the lover of our souls. Praise You, Jesus– the one who brought us out of the darkness of life separated from Him and into His glorious light. Praise You, for bringing us to life and seating us with You in the high heavenly places.

Siblings

Praise You for seating our little brother with You and showing those of us here on earth the immeasurable depths of Your grace and kindness in our loss.

“But now in Christ Jesus, you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace”

(Ephesians 2:13)

Anticipating in our own Nazareth

The last three weeks have been an absolute explosion of emotion.

There’s been intense grief and sadness revolving around the murder of one of our Denver Street School students.

There’s been the guilt that comes with the what-if’s– What if Johnny had just been in school that morning? What if we had loved him more practically? What if we had shared the Gospel more explicitly with him? What if…

There’s been an overflowing of love in my own heart for the community that God has put me in for such a time as this– An inexpressible gratitude for the marvelous people in my life who have checked in on me, texted me, prayed with me, cried with me, and kidnapped me on the weekends simply to bring life back into my withered soul.

There’s been laughter at the thought of memories, rejoicing over small moments of justice, and the heartbreaking sound of screaming and tears as teenagers have sobbed in my lap simply asking, “Why, Miss? Why?”.

It’s been an emotional heyday, but I can honestly say that the one emotion I haven’t seen much of is anticipation– which is a gut wrenching shame given the fact that all throughout this time of mourning, we have been in the season of Advent preparing for Christmas.

Advent… the season entirely devoted to anticipating the coming of sweet Baby Jesus in that manger so long ago and the second coming of our Glorious King in the days to come.

Advent… the season in which my high schoolers should be asking questions about Jesus while baking Christmas cookies in my kitchen after school. They should be studying for finals and wrapping presents, not raising money for their friend’s funeral…

You see, I think I’m stuck on this anticipation bit because before all the emotional ish hit the fan, I had some big dreams.

I had resolved that this year, things were going to be different. For the first time in my life I was going to look forward to Christmas with my own wild family and by-George, I was going to inspire my students to see the good in their own less-than-awesome situations. We were going to anticipate and adore and sing praises to the King while we baked and giggled and looked at the forecasted snow.

So that Wednesday morning, before the emotional fiasco began, I gathered my girls around the dining room table in my classroom and we read through Isaiah 9, appropriately titled “For to us a Child is born”.

We sat around that table and were brutally honest with each other; we admitted that Christmas was hard for all of us and because of that, no one was really excited for the holidays. But together we made a pact to think on the good things this year; we would think about Jesus as our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. We would think about how that little Baby born in a manger changed everything for us.

A mere six hours later, everything HAD changed, but in a way no one was anticipating.

At 6 pm, I sat sobbing on the front steps of a coffee shop, making the calls that no one ever wants to make– the phone call letting the rest of our staff know that they would be seeing a familiar face on the 10 o’clock news that night, one of our own– the victim of a triple-homicide that had shocked a quiet neighborhood in north Denver.

That night and for several days after, I simply existed. I did not adore. I did not sing. I did not bake, nor giggle, nor wrap gifts. And I certainly could not figure out how to anticipate Christmas or Jesus’ arrival.

Everything just felt broken and foggy and wrong.

As my students sat in my classroom the next day and begged to know why and how this was happening, I hugged them and sobbed, wondering similar things: I know in my mind that God is Sovereign. I know that He works all things for His ultimate Good and Glory. I know all of these things, but how? How on earth could anything good or glorious ever come out of this? This brokenness, this darkness, this despair of Your people. YOUR PEOPLE who should be celebrating YOU right now! How the heck is goodness supposed to come out of this?

That Sunday, much to my slight annoyance and mixed relief, one of our pastors at Park Church stood up and began to preach out of Isaiah 9. As Gary spoke, I doodled, “mmm”-ed, and choked back tears when he read verse 6– that same verse that I had read with my girls not even a week before. But when he looped back to the historical aspect of verse 1, he got me:

Historically, the tribe of Zebulun that is mentioned in verse 1 of Isaiah 9 had been looked on with contempt by the other nations. They had been the first to compromise their beliefs. They had been seen as the most deluded in terms of their worship of God, and because they were from the North, they were often seen as the place where destruction came from. Yet this promise in Isaiah 9 says from that same place, Light will come. From a place of darkness, Hope will come.

There’s a little town in Zebulun named Nazareth– you might have heard of it. Something amazing happened in Nazareth. Someone amazing came from Nazareth. You would have heard the people in Jesus’ own day say, “Can anything good really come from Nazareth? From that much darkness?”

Yeah. Yeah, it can. A man, our Jesus, came from Nazareth. Hope came through that darkness and Hope is coming still.

It’s been three weeks today since Johnny was taken from us, and part of me wants to think it’s a shame that a reminder of this tragedy is falling on Christmas Eve.

But this morning I was reminded: I may not be able to see it yet, heck I may not see it for a long time, but Jesus came out of the darkness of Nazareth when people questioned whether anything good could come from such a janky little town, and goodness will eventually come from this.

Someday. Someday Good will come from this mess and I can rest in that Truth because my God keeps His promises. So that is what I’m anticipating now this year– seeing His Goodness and Glory in the midst of brokenness (once again).

~

Merry Christmas to all. Yes, to the cheery stocking stuffers and the mourning, drippy mascara wearers alike. Jesus Immanuel has come to be with us in it all. For He is our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace and He will reign forever… Advent2014AnticipateFor to Us a Child Is Born”

But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

2 The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shone.
You have multiplied the nation;
    you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
    as with joy at the harvest,
    as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden,
    and the staff for his shoulder,
    the rod of his oppressor,
    you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
    and every garment rolled in blood
    will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
    to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.”

(Isaiah 9:1-7)