Precious Pilgrim,

Beauty helps me breathe. Does it you?

It's 5 AM Christmas Eve. My darlin's gone running and my daughter-in-law and her two-year-old daughter Laurel are upstairs asleep. I've quietly perched myself in the tiny alcove outside of our bedroom.

This spot was chosen because the light is good and the scenery is even better. I'm gazing upon our Christmas tree, which is shining in the darkness of our living room. It is beautiful. It helps me "deep" breathe. It reminds me of a similar tree, which had the very same effect, but even more profoundly. Over 12 years ago there was a house fire at the home where I raised my four children. Fortunately, we were out of town and by God's grace, no one was hurt. When we arrived to the devastation, it was dark. I entered this 60-year-old Greek-Revival style house and stood in its previously grand hallway. I just stood there and silently wept and prayed and listened. With the sounds of creeping and dripping, she seemed to be weeping too. That darkness was beginning to seep into my soul. My breathing was becoming labored, but then I turned. I saw the beauty of the across-the-street neighbor's lit Christmas tree, framed by the gaping hole left by the disintegration of the front door. That beauty transformed the moment. I could walk out of that tomb-like atmosphere with hope. I could breathe again.

And then there was that heavy-hearted season that followed my divorce. I didn't dwell in a "tomb room," but there were times when unexpected waves of emotion seemed to knock the breath out of me. Once again, I found God's beauty a powerful balm of healing.

I remember on the third date with my late husband, he took me to the Evening Prayer at New College, Oxford (U.K.). At the chapel entrance, we were met by a statue representing a resurrected, but still bound, Lazarus. I felt bound too. Then we walked into the glory of that chapel and all of my senses absorbed its healing beauty. As the boys' choir sang, I could perceive my heart healing and singing, too. As we left the service, I felt like that Lazarus statue. The Lord's beauty was healing and unbinding me. I could breathe again. I could love again. We were married two months later.

As an Oxford University professor, it was his nature to teach. He taught me much about literature and music and birds and love. The unbinding was completed. He died 623 days later. His good Christian loving stayed with me. I couldn't have put those old discarded binding rags back on again, even if I tried. Of course, there was deep sadness and unexpected waves of emotion would occasionally hit. But, by God's grace, my core remained whole. Duncan's love had fleshed out the love of Jesus for me and that would never leave.

Then there's Pablos, my darlin' Paul. I feel like I'm finally home. It's been a long journey to get to his arms, but you know, Pilgrim, I wouldn't change any of the adventure. Each love is unique. Each love is gift. And the beauty, the beauty that Paul has given me -- hiking-- glorious hiking -- mountains -- valleys -- hills. And then just last month he showed me a whole new world of beauty. It had the same profound effect that I experienced at New College. This time the sanctuary was the sea.

We went snorkeling. It was incredible! Extraordinary! Unbelievable! I held on to a strap from his life jacket so we could stay connected. He'd swim. I'd float along. He'd point. I'd look. Unbelievable beauty. And then there was the conscious breathing through the snorkel. It made me more aware of my every breath. "Beauty-breathing -- unbinding" again seem to go hand in hand.

Precious Pilgrim, I look up once more and see the lit Christmas tree. Tomorrow we celebrate the beauty of the birth of our Lord Jesus. As I write to you, His whole life, our Lord's life, seems to be unfolding in my mind. It is at His miraculous healings and resurrections that I linger -- His unbinding of so many. His unbinding of so many continues today. Doesn't it? It is Jesus that did and does the deep curing. It is Jesus that did and does the resurrecting. "Unbind him and let him go." (John 11:44b) We're not called to fix, but to unwrap the bandage. Show His beauty. Show His love. He'll do the rest. Resurrection.

Precious Pilgrim, right now there are many who are experiencing hard times. You might be one of them. We know throughout our human history, ever since sin slithered in via that snake, we have experienced such. It's part of our broken world. It's just that never before has "doom and gloom" had such worldwide media coverage. Live and in color, 24/7, we can see, hear, or read all the negative "glop" that's going on all over the universe. And with that invasion to our senses, there seems to be a stench of hopelessness seeping out and spreading like a virus. It is a lie from the father of lies.

As Christians, we know the Good News, God's Good News. We know the truth, God's truth. We know the Victory -- God's victory has been won by the One and only, our Lord Jesus Christ and His cross. He made a Way where there was no Way. This is our Reality. It is open to all believers in Him.

Each one of us will experience, has experienced, or is experiencing some of life's challenges. They can momentarily knock the breath out of us (but not HIS Breath!). We do fall down. We must get up. We must stand. We must encourage. We must be united in Him. We are His army. I guess you can tell by this letter where I've been dwelling recently is in the Book of Acts. I've been re-reading the challenges, which the early Church had to face. Many of those challenges still remain. Don't they? We must be healthy in Him. We must be whole in Him. We must be strong in Him.

You've read some of my story over and over again. Boring! Turn the paper over, write your own. Beauty...breathing...unbinding...

"May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing through the power of the Holy Spirit." (Romans 15:15) Yes!

Because of Him,
I am your sister in Christ,