A few months ago I literally had a day where I re-applied my makeup four times. I am a mascara girl so you get the picture of the multiple messes I needed to clean up.
Grief was the instigator.
My mom passed away earlier this year after a brave battle with cancer. I shed tears then, of course, but life continued. I got busy and distracted with work and travel and kids and laundry.
And then in totally surprising moments, grief would overcome me and the tears would burst forth uncontrollably. This was a new experience. I tend to be the odd emotionless person at appropriate tearful events (like funerals or a sad movie or when my child tells me they want a tattoo).
One of these unexpected moments occurred this summer while I was pumping gas. I had just checked Facebook (I guess I do this when I am filling the tank?) and saw that it was one of my mom’s best friend’s birthdays. This caused me pause since just a couple of weeks earlier I found myself overcome with grief on my birthday when I realized I wasn’t going to get a call from my mom singing “Happy Birthday” in her gravely but on pitch voice as she had for the last thirty years.
I thought Tammy might experience the same wave of loss on her birthday so I started to type a message saying that I was thinking of her and that I know my mom was singing to her anyway….but I couldn’t get past “Hi Tammy…” before I fell apart in sobs. As the numbers ticked up on the pump I leaned in the passenger side of the car and just shook with grief. It was such a strange place to be crying uncontrollably, but yet, here were those tears–they did not vet location or convenience or whether I had touch-up mascara in my purse.
I was sharing about this wave of grief with one of my closest friends over Voxer (when you are really busy and your friends are really busy, Voxer is the best. It’s a walkie talkie on your phone. Try it). Anyway, a few days later she showed up to my house for an event and handed me a blue tube of waterproof mascara. It was the best gift I received this year….it said to me, “I’ve got you. I know you. This might help.”
A smart person would have plopped that in her purse for future gas station melt-downs, but I didn’t. Because that season passed and the tears waned.
Until yesterday. I was sitting in church with my husband and the worship band started their second song…it was a Christmas song and out of nowhere the emotion welled. Grief. Christmas. My mom. Memories. And my self- conscious self lowered my head because now I had the sniffles and couldn’t stop wiping my eyes with my sweater.. and darn! Why didn’t I pack mascara and even better Kleenex in my purse? I kicked myself for being so unprepared. When the tears kept coming my husband put his arm around me and asked what was wrong. I whispered, “My mom.” Ahhh. He got it. “Could you please go get me some tissue?” He came back a few minutes later with toilet paper.
I have been learning more about Advent this Christmas than other years. Advent is a season of preparation. We anticipate the event of the birth of our savior…we daydream about the heavenly host of angels announcing to the shepherds’ the birth of Jesus…that starry dark night, the manger, the cries of Mary and then Jesus, the wonder, the hope.
We prepare our hearts once again to celebrate, to welcome, to embrace and renew our faith.
Preparation. I have not prepared for the tears with tissue and waterproof mascara with me at all times. I have been caught off guard, self-conscious, and embarrassed because inevitably the black smudges, watery eyes and half applied makeup look reveal to everyone that I have been crying. I avoided talking to my friends in the lobby after church that day because of the tears, or felt embarrassed to go to a client’s house after the stop at the gas station with clearly something “off” with my face. My lack of preparation made me want to not engage with people in my day…which is not like me.
With God, we can also be caught off guard. He enters into our lives and hearts unexpectedly at times. With an answer that we desperately needed, a gentle conviction, or guidance in the midst of confusion. We can be wholly awed by a sunset, or a snowflake or a baby’s tiny fingers.
And if we are not prepared, we can miss it….Him. We brush the holy presence of God as a “gut feeling” or “coincidence” or most often and most detrimental, we proudly think we came up with the answer or the solution all on our own, or the moment in nature as just…nature. It is like just reading the back cover of the book and saying, “I don’t need any more that that.” When the treasure is inside, in the words of the author, in the story that he or she brings alive. There is a depth and richness and power to understanding that there is more than ourselves in this world.
Lack of preparation distracts us from what we could really experience, in the small moments, and the miraculous.
So how do we prepare?
We try as best as possible to recognize the handiwork of God in every situation. When we are in a long line at Starbucks…he is teaching us patience, when we hang an ornament on the tree, we recognize this is a symbol of what we are celebrating. When we suddenly have an answer after praying, we connect the two. We recognize God because we have prepared our hearts to do so.
We are thankful… in everything, because we remember the child, the wonderful counselor, the mighty savior in soft newborn flesh, who through him we connect to the God of the universe, and the God of our hearts. We remember in the stress of the season what is most important. We remember that he is in all things good, and is beside us in all things bad.
We respond to God’s voice, His nudging, His creation, His forgiveness. We bend an ear to listen to the gentle whisper that comes. We change where he is asking us to become more loving. We give to those who have so much less, taming our ravenous desire for gifts and material wants and sharing some of that overflow with others who we don’t know. We respond with simple prayers that invite God into our beautiful messy lives, with showing up to church with an undistracted, open hearts to learn.
I didn’t prepare my “crying clean up kit” in my purse because I didn’t expect the tears..even though if I was honest with myself I knew that they would come at some point. Like this, we often don’t prepare for God’s presence in our lives because we just don’t expect it…even though we know he is there and we will experience Him at some point. And we miss it.
A small pack of tissue now resides in my purse, next to a make-up remover packet, a small tube of concealer and of course the blue tube of mascara.
Are you prepared for the arrival of the birth of the Savior of the world that we will celebrate next week? It has profound implications on our lives.
I wish you a very Merry Christmas, and hope you can find a couple moments in the next few days to feel the joy of the season.
Also…I created these prayer journals for the Fall. I will be creating a new version for each season of the year. If you are like me and need some structure during your prayer time to keep you focused, you might love one of these. They are a perfect size, to sit on your nightstand, on the table by your favorite chair in the morning, or to drop in your purse. $15, including shipping. Just click here to purchase now!