Eight years ago I was balancing work and a newborn baby. My job as a staff-writer for a local community paper allowed me to work from home at times.
One morning I opened my work email and in place of my signature and work title it read, “I will unclench my grasp and breathe peace in and out.”
The words took my breath away.
The message was perfect for me at that time in my life, but I couldn’t imagine who, how, or why my work signature was changed to that sentence. I called my co-workers and they knew nothing about it. I logged back in and there was my original work signature as pretty as you please.
It left me unsettled not knowing how or why it happened, but the message stuck. My co-workers were equally intrigued and so poignant was the message that one had it written in calligraphy on a beautiful note card and framed for me as a gift. That framed message sits on my desk at the Sadie Rose House today and it always seems to catch my eye at a time when I need to be most reminded.
I never thought before or since to search the Internet for that quote.
This past year has been one of grasping, clenching, holding, releasing, and growing with two foster children in our home. One has been with us for more than a year now and the tension of rooting for others to get their lives in order while loving their child that feels like our own has driven me to my knees many times.
My grasp was firmly clenched, the little fingers wrapped tightly around my heart. Releasing this precious child to the process has shaken me to my core. I breathed way more anxiety and fear than peace.
Another child joined us more recently. Again I find myself loving, grasping, clenching, and holding even though this one will most likely be temporary.
I have known moments of peace recently, but the reality is that we are barreling through life at breakneck speed and the train is having trouble slowing down. We are fighting fierce battles against hellish addictions and patterns and learned behaviors. At the same time we are fighting stigmas that are coming from the most surprising places.
Through it all, I have been grasping my own abilities, answers, sanity, and love, clenching tightly to my own strength. There are many days my well is dry. I open my tightly clasped fingers to see my own strength evaporating like a vapor. What little I thought was there seems more like an illusion in light of the chasm of need.
Now we are here in this season of advent where, as Christians, we prepare for the coming of the Savior. I’ve said it, heard it, read it… Emmanuel, God WITH us. We celebrate a Savior who enters our darkness, chaos, mess, and brokenness, and whose love permeates every broken messed up hellish place of our life. And yet I’ve struggled to feel it in my heart even though I know it in my head.
Where is this Emmanuel in the broken stories of our foster children? Where is he in the grief of those whose children, spouse, parent, best friend has died? Where is “God with us”when nations and cities and regions are ravaged by war. Where is he when people are neglected and power abused, sometimes even in the name of this God?
And then today, my dear friend shared a post on Facebook that once again took my breath away.
“Christmas at Midlife
I am no longer waiting for a special occasion; I burn the best candles on ordinary days.
I am no longer waiting for the house to be clean; I fill it with people who understand that even dust is Sacred.
I am no longer waiting for everyone to understand me; It’s just not their task
I am no longer waiting for the perfect children; my children have their own names that burn as brightly as any star.
I am no longer waiting for the other shoe to drop; It already did, and I survived.
I am no longer waiting for the time to be right; the time is always now.
I am no longer waiting for the mate who will complete me; I am grateful to be so warmly, tenderly held.
I am no longer waiting for a quiet moment; my heart can be stilled whenever it is called.
I am no longer waiting for the world to be at peace; I unclench my grasp and breathe peace in and out.
I am no longer waiting to do something great; being awake to carry my grain of sand is enough.
I am no longer waiting to be recognized; I know that I dance in a holy circle.
I am no longer waiting for Forgiveness. I believe, I Believe.
-Mary Anne Perrone
Via Sacred Dreams”
Did you SEE that?! Did you catch it?! Right there, smack dab on the middle of this beautiful advent poem is THAT VERY SENTENCE!
“I unclench my grasp and breathe peace in and out.”
When I read my friend’s post, my breath literally caught in my throat. I have been grasping the wrongs things. I have been looking for Emmanuel in a God who comes and makes everything right, (and I believe one day he will.) But I’ve been caught up in looking for “God with us” in leaders and princes and kings and changed circumstances.
But no, “Emmanuel with us” is right here in our home, wrapping his arms around broken hurting foster children. He is with us in the friend that walks with those in grief, sharing tears and offering shoulders. Emmanuel God with us is working through the lives and hearts of those who are silently and anonymously bringing Christmas cheer to the hurting and lonely. Right here in the middle of our messed up broken hellish lives Emmanuel is sharing coffee and bagels with those on the streets, loving the unloveable through very ordinary broken people just like me.
Clearly this sentence, “I will unclench my grasp and breathe peace in and out” is timely, poignant, and personal once again.
I’m letting go of my own abilities, releasing my grasp and relinquishing all to the One who meets us at the point of our need. When my life is fully surrendered to Emmanuel’s love, mercy, and provision, then and only then can I truly unclench my grasp and breathe peace in and out.
May you also experience Emmanuel God WITH us this Christmas season and in the coming year.