Advent reflections: tears, love, and dreams

Back in the day, I used to laugh at how easily my mom cried.  Give us a slightly sentimental moment in the movie we were watching and we'd glance over to see her eyes filled with tears, which we thought was hilarious.  I didn't believe in crying about anything, except for leaving camp and saying a few long-term goodbyes.  And chopping onions.    

That's changed.*

I was chagrined a year and a half ago when Chris and Elizabeth walked into their apartment to find me sitting on their couch with tears streaming down my face.  There was no tragedy.  I had been watching Catching Fire, the sequel to The Hunger Games.  I can pretty much be counted on to cry at anything that involves the thought of saying goodbye, a homecoming, or a crowd of people with passionate feelings about a cause.

All those tears still take me by surprise more often than not, because I still think of myself as someone who doesn't cry.  

A few of the students from my first year.  :)
Tonight it was a response on wechat from a former student, Phoenix, that had my heart overflowing.  Nothing particular, just the sight of her name and remembering her cheerful goofiness, the shenanigans that she and her deskmate Will got into, the ways that she went out of her way to make me feel welcomed as a first year teacher in a place so far away from my home.  I suspect that my first group of students will always have a special place in my heart; it's a frequent occurrence that I see someone on campus here and my heart leaps a little bit, thinking it's one of the students from HuaQiao -- but it isn't, of course.  They graduated a couple years ago and now they're everywhere -- in China, in France, in Cameroon, in Canada.  I miss them.

And then it's the news that finally, so, so heartbreakingly late, Aleppo is being evacuated.  I can't begin to comprehend the enormity of the agonizing crisis in the Middle East, of the plight of the refugees.  I've been a stranger in foreign lands, but I've never been unwanted, never been intentionally endangered, never had to flee.  I cannot even imagine, yet it's reality for so many.

I cannot comprehend all of the pain and all of the joy that 2016 has brought, all of the people in my own life who I've loved deeply and said goodbye to.  All the time, I feel as if it's impossible for my heart to hold any more love, because surely I've hit capacity.  Sometimes I resonate with the weary cynicism of The Who's song Too Much of Anything:

I think these hands have felt a lot
I don't know, what have I touched
I think these eyes have seen a lot
I don't know, maybe they've seen too much.

I think this brain has thought a lot
Searching, trying to find the crutch
I think this heart has bled once too often
This time it's bled a bit too much.

Too much of anything is too much for me
Too much of everything gets too much for me.

It's all too much.

And yet.

I keep finding that, impossible as it seems, my heart grows in capacity to experience both joy and pain.  What's too much for me is not too much for Him.  On Sunday mornings, we used to sing another song:

He's got the whole world in His hands...
He's got you and me, brother, in His hands...
He's got you and me, sister, in His hands...
He's got the whole world in His hands.

When I truly believe that with my heart as well as my mind, I'm free to dare.  To laugh, to love, to be angry at injustice, to cry.

I wonder sometimes if there's going to be an end to this growth, if there's a limit to how many people I can love as brothers and sisters and neighbors.  (And how it works in a globalized, oh-so-connected world, how it works when pieces of my heart are planted on opposite sides of the world.)  I wonder if it's possible to function if you actually see the imago Dei in every human you cross paths with.  I suspect that it is, and I also suspect that taking that seriously would call for me make some serious changes in how I live: to slow down, to be more intentional in what I spend my time and money and energy on.  To pray more and more deeply.  To be more patient and gracious.  To talk less and listen more.  To acknowledge my own finitude and to be content with living where I am.  

Anyway, these are some of the thoughts rattling around in my mind as we come to finals, the end of this semester.  I've been reflecting on 2016 and the word I chose for this year, courage, and thinking about 2017.  There's plenty of tension and not-fully-resolvedness there yet, which seems quite appropriate for Advent.  

In between listening to Josh Garrels' new Christmas album, I've been listening to Peter and Evynne Hollens's cover of Grown Up Christmas List, because, again, Advent.

So here's my lifelong wish
My grown up Christmas list
Not for myself, but for a world in need
No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts
And everyone would have a friend
And right would always win
And love would never end.

The older I get, the more I appreciate having a season that looks back and looks forward, a time for reflection on how our Hope has come and a time to dream of when He'll come again and all wrongs will be made right.





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*It's fair to say that Mom warned (threatened?) me that what goes around comes around.

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