God is not Santa.

I love wrapping presents for other people.  I love the weight and feel of quality, heavy wrapping paper.  I love folding the corners just so, taping things just right, and being excited about the contents of the package.  I love the thrill of finding the right present for the right person.  I often love the process of giving a present more than the process of receiving one.

I love the sparkle of wonder when my girls see a present under the tree with their names written on the box.  I love the joy that crosses their faces untainted by preteen hormones and entitlement.  For a moment they are are the same little baby with chubby hands and hair sprouts once again.

Lauren Thorn Photography
Hold me, Jesus.   

I believe that God the Father looks at us the same way.  I believe that He loves to lavish us with gifts and loves to see our joy and excitement.  Not because He thrives on our needs and wants, not because it matters in the cosmic scheme of things--but because He loves us.

Sometimes His gifts come in pretty packages--a spouse who loves us despite all of our lumps and warts, nature exploding in all of her glory throughout the year, friendships that last through all sorts of trials and tribulations, and those perfectly peaceful moments spent with the people who bring us the most joy.

Other times His gifts come as we experience difficult circumstances.  A divorce.  A loss.  Financial insecurities.  Death.  Those who serve Him faithfully often get beat down over and over and over again with their series of troubles and heartaches, just like those who choose different paths.  And sometimes it's hard to not want to run away from Him when life gets unbearably difficult.

Because if God is so good, why on earth is life so hard for His people?    

I have watched men and women in the Lord's service being destroyed by the church.  I have seen mothers and fathers bury their small children.  I have seen children lose their parents.  I have seen accidents, divorces, and financial strains steal the very life from people.  I have watched diseases rob people of their dignity and minds.  

I have been failed by those I've trusted, and I've failed others, too.  

I have held on to my sanity by a shred and I have cried hard tears over situations in my personal life.  I have yelled at God in anger and have pleaded with Him to make things right again.  I spend a lot of time on the roads leading to anxiety and worry and worst case scenarios, and I have a hard time allowing Him to do things in His time.  

I want a Champion, I want a quick fix, and I want it all right. now.  

In times like these, it's very hard to open our hands and receive what life has handed to us.  It's hard to be gracious and kind as we choke on our words of thanks.  It's hard to not want to throw the present back in His face and give Him a thousand reasons why it's the worst present in the history of all the presents and doesn't He love us more, know us better, or think we should have received something else instead?  

But God is good.

And God is not Santa.  

God's presents are wrapped in every moment we breathe, every step we take, every conversation we have.  His goodness, grace, and mercy are there in the darkest moments of our lives and His plans for us are bigger than our personal preferences regarding satisfaction and happiness.  God is not going about His day making sure that we are happy.  He is not sitting on His throne making sure we all get a participation ribbon and He is not in the business of making sure that our days are merry and bright because we have been good.  Life stinks sometimes, and I don't think that He's ensuring we all get our equal shares of good and bad days.  We all have a different row to hoe.  

He is, however, in the business of bringing others closer to Him.  And sometimes in order to do that, we have to walk through the very hard things.  We have to experience those low moments and we have to deal with some terrible situations.  I don't know about you, but I have a lot of respect for those people who have traveled through the worst and darkest moments and came out on the other side changed for the better.  I have my own stories and I can pinpoint the traumatic turning points in my own life.  

I've dealt with a situation recently that has made my head spin at the ridiculousness.  I have spent a few moments wallowing in the unfairness of it all, and have questioned the timing of such matters.  I don't want to believe the worst, but the situation makes it hard to believe the best.  I have had to fight the urge to give into despair and darkness, and have had to daily remember to lean hard into His goodness.  

Some moments are better than others.  

This morning I was reading the foreward to a book I'm reading for the coming Advent season.  These words spoke steady truth to my soul, and maybe your heart needs to read them too: 

Either way, I'm keenly aware that I'm entrenched in spiritual warfare.  The field of battle is my heart, mind, and soul, and Satan is living up to his name; the Accuser is accusing.  It is one of his chief weapons against the children of God.  

What defense have I but to flee?  Not to flee from the enemy, but to the protection of the King?  I flee to the one whose victory is sure, whose strength is perfect, whose promise is unbreakable, whose words are immutable and eternal.  When I hide in the wings of my redeemer, the arrows of the enemy clatter to the ground, powerless.  If my strength is not my own, if my righteousness is Christ's, my darkness only makes his light more lovely.  Satan might as well be accusing the shadows in a Rembrandt of ruining the masterpiece.  God bends even our sin to the service of his glory.  This, I'm convinced, confounds the principalities of evil.      
Andrew Peterson, Behold the Lamb of God by Russ Ramsey

To be continued. . .

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