I had this idea of what beautiful would look like.
Of what I wanted life to be, of how it would be shaped, of who I would become.
I could see it, almost taste it, and I longed to get there and embrace it fully.
Jesus? He was there as the center of it all, of course.
…at least that’s how it started.
It’s like Christmas.
Every child of God knows it’s really all about Jesus, right? That’s what we all say as we go about our endless decorating and shopping and baking and filling the emptiness with so many distracting things.
But is it really all about Him?
Keep Christ in Christmas, we remind ourselves. But is He in our everything?
Oh! I said, when I saw it– how sweet would this quaint homemade manger look amidst all our Christmas decorations? Yes, let’s make one straightaway. Just look how beautiful it is, and I think we have a space here for one just like it.
We built it together, me and the kids, downsizing the original measurements so it wouldn’t take up too much room there in the living room. We stained it and set it up and I got it looking just so. I even twirled the raffia straw around like the picture showed, nice and neat.
Now let’s be careful, kids. Let’s keep the manger looking beautiful.
As all the while I’ve been striving so hard to keep my life looking as beautiful as possible too. To manage and contain the mess.
Sometimes we don’t even notice that we’ve exchanged truth for a lie, it comes so subtly.
But we quickly reveal who we’re really “all about” when life unravels, and we desperately try so hard to keep it all together.
We can make a full time job of trying to keep things looking neat and tidy.
Oh, I tried.
And for a while, my life looked pretty, it really did.
Shamefully, I would even sit back sometimes and stare in self-admiration, secretly proud of “how far I’d come” or how much I had grown. “My” ministry was thriving, and it seemed others were even taking notice. How exciting to be about “the Lord’s work!”
I was quick to push and poke and move things back into place anytime things didn’t look right. To rearrange here, and fix things while no one was looking. Who but those closest even knew there was that ugly side? I worked hard to keep things as pretty as possible, and like a nicely cropped picture, I made it look just right.
And day after day…
I keep bending to pick those stray pieces of straw up off the floor and put them back in place.
Funny thing, but life, which used to be so lovely, began to feel like such an effort, and sometimes I stop and look around and I wonder–where has my joy gone?
Because like this manger, life keeps getting bumped and tipped, and what’s inside always spills out. All that straw gets pulled and broken and up-heaved more than a few times.
More babies are born, and life’s path twists and turns in unexpected ways, and everything is just so utterly exhausting right now. Things that came easy at first, like kids and house duties and life’s many demands just pile up and get harder and messier, along with my heart. And as the pressures mount, the formerly-concealed sins moved painfully and starkly to center stage–
self-righteous pride, harshly spoken words, impatience, complaining, disrespect and a general absence of love, especially to those under this same roof.
And during those times, well, I guess that’s when most of us do our best to hide. No one wants to see or hear about that–after all, it’s not beautiful.
It’s ugly and dirty and messy.
I read that the righteous, they’re like a well-watered garden, or a spring that overflows and never fails.
But I’m no well-watered garden.
I’m a woman overwhelmed, and to be honest, I just don’t have the strength to try to clean it back up again. Wallowing and finger-pointing and despairing have been easier choices.
The enemy, he’s on to me.
Soon an overheard comment, passed along innocently from a stander-by–from one who knew me back in the “old days” saying he was so sure I would have done something different–missionary work, or some other ministry…oh, it stung deep.
And I believed that whisper from within that I really did not matter anymore, because, afterall, look around–what a mess your life is! Spiritually or materially, you can’t even keep the smallest things halfway presentable anymore.
And in shame, I admit failure and teeter upon regret. This mess–this was not how my life was supposed to look. This was not the “ministry” I would have chosen. I was supposed to do more–to be more—something beautiful. And instead I’m just this.
Then, just before quiet time one day, with swaddled doll in hand, a child whispers, “mama, can’t we please put Jesus in the manger yet?”
No–I snap. And would you kids please quit messing that manger up, I bark as I shoo her out of the living room where the straw-strewn manger sits, empty. Yet another mess this life-weary mama needs to straighten up.
The doll falls to the floor in front of me as she hurries away up to her room… and in that moment, I am brought low.
Heaven is whisper-shouting to my jaded heart. And this time, I stop to listen.
I make all things beautiful, He breathes to my weary spirit.
But I’m such a wreck, Lord. So full of sin and self that I can hardly stand the face in the mirror anymore.
I know, He says. And still He stands at the door and knocks—wanting to come in.
Undone, I sink to my knees, and re-wrapping the doll, I place the babe where He belongs, right there in that mess of straw.
Right here in my mess.
And the weight of it fills my aching soul.
Had I forgotten?
Love came down!
Came right down into a messy barn, to lay his body down in a stinky, half-chewed, mussed up pile of straw in a dirty manger–to meet me where I am.
And I hear Him asking me now, asking me again…
Daughter, will you let me come into your mess?
I see it all. I know what’s there…and still, I come. Will you let me in?
Will you stop pretending you’ve given me center stage, when it’s still you, doing your best and failing to keep the mess contained?
Because only I can make all things beautiful.
Even your ugliest places.
Just. Let. Me. In.
…and the struggle can end.
In me, you are beautiful.
And I know~
My Life-Redeemer, my Heart-Rescuer, my Value-Giver–He who already has my name inscribed upon the palms of His hands, is waiting…
And I want to do more than just “make room” for Him…to add Him into my already-full-agenda, or my self-aggrandizing life-map. I need Him to be my all in all, and to fill everything. To give meaning to the mundane. To speak peace to the waves. To bring joy in the struggle. To make me holy and new.
I need Him to make this mess of me, beautiful for His glory.
So my heart cries the answer my mouth cannot even utter–
Yes, there is room—oh, there is so much emptiness for you to fill here, Lord Jesus. I invite you to come in, and I ask you, from my heart, to truly “pardon the mess” that you find, and to forgive and cleanse this heart once again, until I shine beautiful for You. I ask not that you stay a while, but that you reign here forever as my Redeemer and King.
And staring at that filled manger, I cannot help but marvel again at the wonder of this, that:
“…the Word became flesh and dwelt among us!” Emmanuel, God with us.
into your mess and mine, to do this amazing, not-of-ourselves miracle of turning our ugliness into something pure and holy and beautiful.
And my heart wells up with joy unspeakable and full of glory, because this is how He does it: When we invite Him in, He not only cleanses and fills us with His glorious light of life, but He shines in and through and right out of all those pot-holed, broken-up places of our lives until we literally burst forth with His beautiful light.
Can you see it?
We cannot be beautiful until we are broken…until we let Him be Lord of our shame and Lord of our sinful hearts~truly, He is our great REDEEMER.
And I don’t know about you…
but that’s the Christmas I’m ready for.
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.