The Last Candle


She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. . . . and they will call him Immanuel—which means, “God with us.” – Matthew 1:21, 23 (NIV)

For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given . . . And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. – Isaiah 9:6 (NIV)

 It wasn’t a good Christmas for Henry. His oldest son had been badly wounded in the war. And it was another Christmas without his beloved wife Fanny, who died three and a half years earlier as a result of burns suffered in a fire that Henry himself tried to extinguish. The scars from the burns he received while trying to save her made shaving too painful, so he grew a beard—a constant reminder of his tragic loss.

Henry was all too familiar with grief. His first wife died at the age of 22, days after a miscarriage while they were traveling abroad. He’d buried a year-old daughter and a 20-year-old sister. His grief that Christmas after his son was wounded drove him to pen the following words: “And in despair I bowed my head, ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said, ‘For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.’”

The year was 1864. The war was the Civil War. The poet was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Times haven’t changed much, have they? The country is still at war. Our young men and women are still being wounded. And people still carry burdens of unbearable grief, especially at Christmastime. A season that should be joyful is, for many folks, a reminder of what they have lost. 

I didn’t set out to write a column that would depress you, especially on Christmas Eve.  But I know many of you are coping with grief. Perhaps this is the first year without your husband or wife or son or daughter or mother or father. Perhaps you lost your job this year. Or you’ve received a diagnosis that has left you staggering. Perhaps in your pain you’re wondering where God is. Peace is absent from your life.

Oh, how we’d love to capture the wonder and joy and magic of that first Christmas and carry it around with us all the time! But the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds went back to work, the wise men returned to their country, the blazing star disappeared, and a jealous, insane king ordered the slaughter of all male children two and under. 

In 1872 Longfellow’s poem was set to music. Today we know it as “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” The last stanza reads: “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: ‘God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The wrong shall fail, the right prevail With peace on earth, good will to men.’” 

What a message of hope! Even in our deepest pain and grief and despair, the last candle burns: Immanuel. God is with us. Yesterday, today, and always.

 As I light the center candle on my Advent wreath—the white candle—I am reminded that it symbolizes Jesus, your Son, who came to give us hope, love, joy, and peace. Thank you, God, for the best Christmas present of all. Amen.         

Read and reflect on: Luke 2:1–20.

From God, Me, & a Cup of Tea for the Seasons © 2018 Michele Huey. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Unforced Rhythms of Grace

My sister Judi in 2001

“Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” – Jesus, as quoted in Matthew 11:29 (The Message)

I’d been teaching full time and writing part time for a local newspaper for years. With the youngest in college and the older two on their own, now was the time to pursue my dreams.

While teaching was my passion, I wasn’t finding fulfillment in covering school board and county commissioners meetings and election results. And while I loved the camaraderie of the newsroom staff, getting up early Saturday mornings to drive 45 minutes in all kinds of weather to type obituaries wasn’t getting me any closer to my writing goals.

Of course I ignored the signs of dissatisfaction and pushed on. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?

Then a post-operative blood clot took the life of my only sister just when we were getting close again. I didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye. She was only 55.

I shivered on the love seat for days, in shock.

These things change you. Change the way you think about things. Change the way you live.

Change—it’s foisted on all of us. Whether we welcome it or not.

The key to surviving it is to look to God, knowing He has a plan and purpose for us (Jeremiah 29:11, Psalm 139:16), knowing He takes the rough draft of the chapters of our lives and revises them so they shine (Romans 8:28) and lead to the ending He has planned. And knowing that if we follow our Shepherd, we will arrive at that ending without burning ourselves out.

But I hadn’t been stopping long enough to listen to God.

My sister’s death was a wakeup call—to pause in my headlong rush to fulfill my dreams and be all things to all people, and determine where I was truly headed.

Davis Bunn, in his 40-day devotional The Turning, writes, “When we read, we give no notice to the spaces between the words. And yet those pauses are vital. Without them, there is nothing but a senseless jumble. With them, thoughts are unique, words are clear, ideas fashioned, lives transformed. So it is with the brief pauses we make to stop and listen. Our thoughts and actions take on new clarity.”

And so it was for me. If I were to die suddenly in my mid-fifties, I thought, would I have realized my dreams? Within a week, I resigned from the newspaper job.

I still get too busy, lose focus, and drift away from God’s path for me. It’s refreshing to pause, still the clamor of life, rest and recharge spent batteries.

“Are you tired? Worn out?” Jesus says. “Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace” (Matthew 11:28–29, The Message).

I’m a slow learner, Lord. I have to force myself to slow down. Sometimes my body, mind, and spirit are just too exhausted to push on. Remind me often to pause to reflect, rest, and recharge. Amen.

Read and reflect on Psalm 23.

From God, Me, & a Cup of Tea: 101 devotional readings to savor during your time with God © 2017 Michele Huey. All rights reserved.