Have Yourself A 20-Something Christmas

img source: Will Folsom, Creative Commons
img source: Will Folsom, Creative Commons

I have always loved Christmas and the anticipation that leads up to it. As a child, I spent many hours trying to find the gifts my mom would so painstakingly hide. I relished the suspense of seeing presents under the tree, dreaming up all the possibilities of what could be inside. On Christmas morning I would get up early, awakened by anticipation in the darkest of night, and sneak downstairs after I knew my parents and ‘Santa’ had finished arranging their pile of gifts and stuffing our stockings. I tiptoed about in the warm glow of the Christmas tree lights, gazing at the overflow of presents, basking in the calm and magic of Christmas before dawn.

As I grew older, the thing that made this season so special was not as much about the presents, but about being able to spend significant quality time with extended family who lived hours away. It was the one time of year we all gathered together to sit around the table and exchange stories of God’s faithfulness, and to have those unavoidable family debates. Throughout high school and college, I began feeling a longing, that desire to have someone to share my incredible family Christmas experiences. I looked at the strong marriages in my extended family, the camaraderie between all my aunts and uncles, and I felt the pang in my heart of bittersweet hope.

One day I will have that, but when?

The fact that popular culture harps on the ‘misery’ of being single during the holidays certainly did not help my case. You can not get away from it. I felt like I was missing out. My soundtrack to this season became variations of the sentiment behind SheDaisy’s “That’s What I Want for Christmas” (which of course I played on repeat):

‘When you said yesterday that it’s nearly Christmas
What did I want and I thought just love me, love me, love me
That’s what I want for Christmas
When I walk through a room let them see you need me
Walk through a room let them see you love me, love me, love me
That’s what I want for Christmas…’

Over the years, I had boyfriends through the holidays, so I had a taste of having someone to belong to during this magical season. When I was dating in my early twenties, my vision of a perfect engagement involved hot chocolate, a big fuzzy blanket, a one-horse open sleigh. My dreams were grandiose. My expectations for what Christmas would look once I had found my other half were pretty high to say the least. Thankfully, my parents had a pretty strict policy that boyfriends were not permitted to join us on family vacations. At the time it was annoying, but now I am grateful. The sacredness of most my favorite family memories are not marred by the ghosts of boyfriends past.

Finally, on Christmas of 2011, when I was 26, the dream of sharing my beloved family Christmas traditions with my true love came to pass. My new husband Nick came with me for our big extended family Christmas in North Carolina. It was surreal to watch a hope I had held so long come true. Having my husband among my family was wonderful. The ease with which he fit into our family surprised me a bit. He laughed and swapped stories with my cousins and uncles. It was oddly like he had always been there.

But can I tell you that now on the other side of my former hopes, while having someone forever at Christmas is wonderful, it is not quite like I pictured it? I live across the river from New York City, the American headquarters of Christmas cheer. People come here in droves to experience Christmastime in the city. There are many things I love about living here, but there are others that challenge my younger self’s expectations of what married Christmases would be like. I do not have a big, comfortable living room with a crackling fire and Christmas tree decked to the nines with ornaments telling stories of Christmases past. I live in a one bedroom apartment less than 800 square feet, and no real room for a respectable Christmas tree. So we make do with what we have – a wreath hung on our window, some twinkly lights, and a little tabletop greenery.

Now that I am married, I balance not just my family holiday traditions, but the those of my husband’s family as well. My Christmases will never look the same again. There are wonderful aspects of that, but also challenging ones. I am blessed to have incredible in-laws, but now I feel the pang of missing out in a different way – of not being able to be in two places at once. Those extended family holidays in the south will be few and far between. Distance and job responsibilities shape our Christmas season now. When we move into the season of life where we have children of our own, our holiday realities will shift all over again. And I admit… I’m looking forward to creating magical Christmas memories for my future kids – even though they will likely be entirely different from I imagined.

So for my friends whose hearts ache during this season, those still waiting and longing for the next stage, do your best to cherish this time in your life. And regardless of where you are… single, dating, married, waiting for children, or a growing family, Christmas requires cooperation. No matter your “status,” if you want to experience the magic and wonder of the season to its fullest, you have to start practicing now. Carry on your family traditions, or begin building your own. The magic of Christmas happens when you count your blessings and embrace where you are wholeheartedly.

[This post was originally published December 2013 at Sometimes, Always, Never.]

On Fighting for Joy and Clinging to Hope

img source: rabasz, Creative Commons
img source: rabasz, Creative Commons

This Advent season has been hard.

Really, if I am honest, this fall has wrecked me. Between constant reminders of violence, injustice, inequality and my own personal heartbreak, there have been days during the past few months have sometimes seemed unbearable.

While I believe I know at the core of my being the loving Father-heart of God, in the midst of the pain, I have found it hard to hope. Daring to hope means opening yourself up to disappointment and heartbreak. It feels risky and foolish, and sometimes false, like it is often shrinking instead of growing.

I was talking about this with a dear friend this weekend, and she said:

“Yes, but choosing not to hope is choosing your own personal hell.”

There is already so much hell wreaking havoc in the world right now. I don’t want to add to it. I have to stand on the side of hope and faith, even when it doesn’t make sense.

A couple of months ago, Sarah Bessey wrote a post about faith and the uncertainty of her fourth pregnancy, and these words are still echoing through my heart:

“I think faith is figuring out what I hope for – redemption, wholeness, shalom, justice, love, life, one small baby to live and not die, all of it – and then fearlessly living under that roof.”

I couldn’t be more thankful that she has staked her claim, for firmly planting herself under that roof. I need to know others are camping out there too. And the fact that even she can settle there, after multiple miscarriages on her journey to motherhood, gives me hope.

So, I do hope – that one day, one way or another, for myself and others who pray to know the joy of being a parent. In the meantime, I will fight to believe what I know to be true and be encouraged by those under that roof along with me – those that have bold faith for what they cannot yet see.

I have made it a point to get up as many days as possible recently to sit in silence, to pray, to reflect and practice gratitude. With so much around us that is broken, I am begging God to make things right.

I don’t hold onto hope lightly, as a nice sentiment. I hold onto it for survival, like gasping for breath.

I have to choose hope and joy daily, because my only other options are apathy or despair. I do this even though common sense says it is not worth it, even though my tender heart will likely be broken again and again in the process.

I need Advent this year perhaps now more than ever. I need to plea before a God who knows and loves humanity, who knows and loves me, and gets it to the core because He was once human Himself. I am clinging to a God who saw the darkness and shined a light into it through sending his Son to experience and then overcome it. Jesus modeled love, fought injustice, and still binds up the brokenhearted. He invites us to participate in the reconciliation of all things. Our Savior has come, and will come again.

A thrill of hope.

The weary world rejoices.

How I Accidentally Ended Up A “Pastor’s Wife”

Originally published Jan 8, 2013

Lenzis Xmas 2012

God absolutely has a sense of humor. Have you heard that saying, “Want to make God laugh? Tell him about your plans?” Well, He has got to be belly-laughing right now. Not in a “Ha Ha! I told you so!” way, but in a loving, fatherly, shaking his head at the sometimes-smallness of my life’s vision kind of way.

This year has been a year of shifting dynamics and big, unexpected changes for the Lenzis, and the last month has not disappointed to carry on this theme. After three years of volunteer work with Hoboken Grace Community Church, Nick was recently offered a full time position to come on staff as Dinner Groups and Finance Director. We are excited about this opportunity and to see where God takes us with it, but I have to tell you, I also find it kind of hilarious.

Now, you have to understand why this is so funny to me. I grew up with a grandfather who was a preacher. When I was in eighth grade, my dad was called also into full-time pastoral ministry. I attended Bible college for my first two years of college, where I (not-so-secretly) hoped I would find a nice Christian youth ministry major who played guitar to settle down with. Some of the most important male figures in my life were in church ministry, so naturally my heart gravitated towards the idea. It was most of what I knew. But then I married Nick, a finance guy. I thought that we would “just” be happily volunteering lay people, working regular Monday through Friday jobs. Boy was I wrong!

In early 2008, as Nick moved to the New York City area to begin his finance career with a a well-known investment bank, I was one of his cheerleaders, encouraging him to find a church and was excited to hear about him starting to get involved in “The Church @ Hoboken,” a local church plant that was just getting up and running. Soon he got involved in one of the church’s dinner (i.e. small) groups, and being surrounded by wise men mature in their faith, Nick began to grow. As his friend, I was excited for him, but never thought this choice would have a direct effect on me.

But then, in a whirlwind of events, we started dating in the summer of 2008. I wouldn’t officially be Nick’s girlfriend after months of dating in large part because I didn’t think he had the spiritual leadership ability at the time. I had been following Jesus longer. I was a pastor’s kid. I held the guys I dated to a really (sometimes ridiculously) high standard. I could see that Nick had spiritual momentum – he was growing and headed in the right direction, but I didn’t think he could cut it as a boyfriend in leading us both in closer relationship with God.

As Nick and I made the awkward shift from a dating couple back to being friends, over the next year God used that time and space to break us both – to show us our true hearts and desires. When Nick came to visit me in Knoxville in the fall of 2009, everything changed. He was a different person. He had become the kind of person I had been praying to spend my life with. I was blindsided. And smitten. And the rest is history (still in the making).

Listen to Nick’s story in his own words here. (Click “playlist” and choose the third one down)

This year I am really excited for Nick and what possibilities it holds, but I have to admit this new season is somewhat daunting as well. I’m not some fresh-faced, naive pastor’s wife. I am a somewhat jaded pastor’s kid, raised with best friends who had parents in full-time ministry, and then I got to witness the beauty and the heartache of being a pastor’s family myself. Many of deepest wounds (and greatest joys) come from that experience. It’s hard to picture the future and wonder if my future family will experience the same heartache. Will it be worth it?

However, I can’t deny that after two years of living in Hoboken and almost two years of marriage, it has become clear that the intentional work God was doing in my heart towards this city this year was absolutely preparation for what He is doing next. Sometimes it has tempting to think, GOD, I worked so hard to get to where we are this year! Can’t I just keep my nice, comfortable life I fought for so hard? But that’s not the gospel. Not in the least. The gospel is uncomfortable. God requires sacrifice. He requires moving outside your comfort zone. He requires saying “yes!”

A life well lived is one that trusts our Father, knowing His plans are to prosper us and not to harm us (Jer. 29:11-13) and that He is able to do more than all we ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20). Saying “yes!” to Nick’s proposal back in 2010 meant I was saying “yes!” to New York City and “yes!” to Hoboken – “Yes!” to a life poured out in whatever way He asked of me. Thus far, it has been hard but it has been worth it. The only option I have is to say “yes!,” continually surrendering my doubts and fears, knowing full well that I can trust God with whatever he has next up his sleeve.

What are you facing this year that might be simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating all at once?