I don’t really want to think about what you’d find if you sliced my heart right open.
Hope’s at the front of the church singing like an ascension, like a heart could take to heaven –
or least to the heights of St John’s Church of the Evangelist.
My back’s up against the brick wall.
And there’s a stained glass window, pieces of scarlet light, across from me, around me, and there was this baby born this week to people we love, who sit at the end of our row at Sunday chapel.
The baby’s born with his pulmonary artery and aorta are the wrong way around. They cup the vernix-creased boy to their chests and they name him Leo. Leo, like Leo, the Lionhearted. Leo’s heart roars slow but fierce, 60 times every minute. Before he’s 72 hours old, they’ll open up his new pink skin and lay it into him, a double chambered pacemaker, and pray grace descends and he thrums at 130.
Before service, the preacher gave the congregation an update on the great-granddaughter of some founding church members. Eleeda’s picture flashes across the screen, her smile and the tubes, and she’s been at Sick Kids Hospital since July, waiting, waiting a half year of Sundays for someone to walk in and give her a beating heart — or she’ll die of waiting. We bow our heads and pray and how do you pray for what has to happen to find a still-warm and pulsing heart — and how can we not?
Hope’s the tallest in the back row, as if that can help her hit that high excelsis deo. The Farmer leans over and says he like’s Hope hair better down and I shake my head, no, I like it far better up, and when will I let go enough to let her hold on to who she is?
And then there’s the kids’ uncle, our kin, laying in a hospital bed while we sing with a children’s choir, and while we wait for the next hymn, he’s waiting to roll into the surgical theatre and under those white lights, waiting for them to cut way to his heart and find whatever’s blocking the flow of his only wooshing life. His kids are younger than ours.
It’s like the voices of the children’s choir are carrying us right up there to the peak. It’s like in the house of God all the beats are all right, like all together we are a Body that can rise. The conductor punctuates nothing but air.
And the children hit the note hung in high and holy space.
And what’s that line again? I don’t know why I think of it now during Christmas carols, but it must be all these hearts and that one line of that song keeps echoing:
“I will open my hands, will open my heart…”
Willingly? Open my heart?
My heart that keeps turning itself the wrong way around, that is stuffed and bloated and swollen and blocked? My heart frozen with ease and self and that needs ripping from my hard chest and a pulpy soft one laid right in to warm my stiff veins? Open my heart?
How do you open up your heart after rejection’s slammed you closed, after you’ve exposed dreams and begged prayers, after you’ve tasted the rot of loss, after the loss keeps coming and gets caught right there in your gullet? How do you walk through this hard world with your heart gaping tender open?
The next lines of that song whisper the how:
“I am nodding my head an emphatic yes
To all that You have for me
No good thing from us
No good thing from us
He withholds no good thing from us.”
How is that possible?
An emphatic Yes to all that He has for waiting Eleeda? And baby Leo? and a brother-in-law I love? I can’t ever forget witnessing my sister fall in front of that’s truck wheel and how it crushed her heart still. Can all the hurting hearts believe that He withholds no good thing from us? (Ps. 84:11) Don’t you have to believe that first — before you open up your tender heart?
The children’s choir singing O Come, O Come Emmanuel and our Hope-girl, she’s smiling at me from the back row. How many people standing here in this church are trying to stand through cancer and divorce and debt and the sharp edge of life that’s cutting their heart right open and they’re singing through this Christmas but they’re really bleeding quiet? We sing it like a plea: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel“
Emmanuel — God with us. God with us and for us and in us and holding us and this is the Christmas miracle that outlasts all of time.
The church is filling with song of children and old men and broken hearts and my back’s to the wall and wind of the world can’t get into this place. I can see it from where I’m standing, there’s a star on the back wall of the chancel, right at the very top. They are hitting the chorus now:
We’re all here and hurting and singing and I think: Wise men follow more than a star — they follow the God of the scars. Who heals our scars.
The God who knows: Evidence of God’s existence is cold comfort. What warms us is the wounded, weeping God who doesn’t write answers in stars — but writes His ardent love in our scars. With His scars.
The God who enfolds us close: The miracle of Christmas is we get more than proof of God’s existence. We get the experience of God’s presence.
We get our Christmas miracle. We get God with us.
And the good things in life are not so much health but holiness, not so much the riches of this world but relationship with God, not so much our plans but His presence — and He withholds no good thing from us because the greatest things aren’t ever things.
He doesn’t withhold Jesus from us.
And no matter where we are, we can always have as much of Jesus as we want.
We can always have as much of God as we want.
And behind the children’s choir, behind the music, there in the nave, I can see it carved out of wood — Christ come, there at the Last Supper.
Christ who breaks the bread and gives Himself. No one needs words of advice like we need some One to touch the wounds of our heart with a warm and gentle hand. To be with us — and He is God with us.
After the choir’s sang the last song, our Hope-girl the last chorister to leave the sanctuary, I just do it, just slip up in the shadows to that carved feast table at the back of the church, agree to His invitation to come.
And it was impossible to see it until right then –
Until you got right up close to His table and said your emphatic yes to whatever He was for you and you just looked up:
There, where you couldn’t see them from the singing, there at the very back, two stained glass windows up at the heights that read:
“God is our Strength. God has Healed.”
And with His scars.
There’s your Christmas miracle.
The Christmas miracle that He won’t withhold from you — is that He is with you and He holds you.
And there’s Leo the Lionhearted, and little Eleeda, and a waiting brother-in-law and my own twisted heart that can open slow and trust — and there’s Emmanuel and there’s this miraculous music that He never withholds from us.
Like you can hear it — the beating of all the brave hearts, the drumming with a chorus of angels:
“Beat, Braveheart, beat on in the world. You will hurt and you will be held. Do not be afraid.“
“…no good thing does He withhold…” Ps. 84:11
And the good things in life are not health but holiness,
not the riches of this world but relationship with God,
not our plans but His presence —
and He withholds no good thing from us
because life’s good things aren’t ever things.
from the archives
Advent Week 1: The Video Devotional for the First Sunday of Advent: Hope
Advent Week 2: The Video Devotional for the Second Sunday of Advent: Peace
Video Devotional: How to Have the Best Christmas
Christmas at the Farm with Lizzie (Liz Curtis Higgs) and Annie
Resource for our 24 hole wooden Advent wreath