a thrill of hope

It doesn't happen all that often, but sometimes it does. I blink my heavy eyes and roll out of bed, one foot at a time - I slip out of my too-big-but-perfectly-lived-in pajamas and into stretchy black shorts that make me wince because my legs feel like sausages, stuffed into too-small cases. They used to be strong, but they aren't anymore - and I remind myself that I need to start running again.

I pull the pink mat out of the closet and kick Ellie's toys under the loveseat. I roll out the mat, find my water bottle and start the DVD. I sneak a peek at the sleeping baby and whisper a prayer that she stays quiet, and slowly and softly pull her door shut. Click.

And then I begin with child's pose and for the next 30 minutes I stretch and sweat and loosen my joints in a quick but brutal yoga sequence, starting the day with a liturgy of motion that lulls my breath into rhythm and quiets my ever-spinning mind.

__________________

I haven't written in a while. It's been a whirlwind of days, measured in living a life that I've missed like crazy the last 3 years. We're home and while we haven't unpacked all the boxes, it has taken a surprisingly short amount of time to unpack our souls, to settle into the pace of community and work and family and favorites.

And I'm tired. I'm sore. The last 3 years have been an extended stretching, a re-sorting of my life and priorities, and I feel like every knot in every muscle has been rubbed out but my body is feeling the weight and the work of that.

Despite the meta-level amazingness of this last year, the birth of our snuggly and wonderful baby girl, the long-awaited phone call that brought us whirling home, the joy of being back in the daily presence of old friends - I would say this has been a hard year. Our dear friends lost their baby; I wrestled mightily with post partum depression and anxiety; I went through an extended and very difficult season at work - a season that brought out the best and the very worst in me and everyone with whom I work; Price has yet to recover from bells palsy, which means he looks and talks different than he used to, and he is in pain far more often than most people know.

And I have, for the second time in my adult life, gone through an extended period of doubt. It's like I lost my footing, and I was wobbling on the edge of faith and fear, not sure which side I would land on.

I remember driving to Target on a Sunday afternoon last January, and the only thing I could scream with tears racing down my cheeks was - Jesus, be real. Jesus, be real. Jesus, please be real.

That has been my chorus, my lockstep-with-every-breath prayer for the last 11 months and counting, the refrain that beats with my heart.

I don't know what He is doing in me. I don't know why faith is hard for the first time. I know that it is getting better, day by day, but that it requires more of me than it ever has - at a time when I have less to give than I ever have. I keep praying the words of Hosea 6 -

“Come, let us return to the Lord;
    for he has torn us, that he may heal us;
    he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.
After two days he will revive us;
    on the third day he will raise us up,
    that we may live before him.
Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord;
    his going out is sure as the dawn;
he will come to us as the showers,
    as the spring rains that water the earth.”

This passage is not easy. He has torn me. He has struck me down. I need to be healed, revived, bound up, raised.

But God isn't easy. Faith is not easy. I remember the Apostles, filled with fear and trembling, and the coming of the Spirit to fill them with strength. I remember Thomas, filled with doubt, needing to touch the open wounds of Christ to fill his soul with faith. I remember Peter, saying "no" three times, needing the gentle correction of his Savior to fill his heart with surety. 

I have memorized Lamentations 3:22-23. I recall it on command so many times a day, praying it with my meager faith and my skeptical heart, praying for all things new in me.

"The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness."

Doubt lingers, like the bitter taste of three-day-old wine, offending my senses with the first sip. I watch the news again, and I break into pieces. Where is He, and why is the world so so broken? How are His promises real? Jesus, please be real.

We squeeze into the crowded rows of our old church, in the center-front, a few rows up from where I stood that February day years ago and felt Him speak louder than every before, when His presence was a real to me as the person standing next to me. And tears smart in my eyes because I want that innocence back, that simplicity that made faith easy. And I know in my heart that it won't ever be that way again, that I will wrestle like Jacob with the person and work of God for the rest of my life.

We sing Oh Holy Night. My heartbeat quickens, my palms sweat. It's hot in here, but it's a strange warming that has me pause.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

They felt this too, those long-ago hymn writers. I open my new prayer book of the Psalms by Tim Keller each morning, and I read of David's doubt and faith, swinging back and forth like a pendulum, keeping time with his moods. And I am not alone. I am claiming the ache of the ages, the promise of a King who will come like spring rains.

It is Advent, and I am weary. My muscles are sore from the last 3 years. I am stretched out and fragile. I am ready for my King to come.