A few years ago – in the midst of an incredibly difficult day – I was talking to a dear friend. While surrendering to an onslaught of tears, I shakily asked her, “Is this ever going to end? Will it always be this hard?

She paused, and with tears welling up in her eyes too, reached over to give me a hug. And then barely louder than a whisper she said some words I don’t think I’ll ever forget: “You won’t always be here. You won’t always feel like this.”

I desperately wanted to believe her. I did to a certain extent but I didn’t know how to fully. So, I held on to those words like a scared kid to a safety raft, leaning into them even though the promise behind them felt impossible.

As of Sunday, we’re two weeks into the season of Advent.

The season of marked expectation for the celebration of God coming to redeem and rescue us. The season when we wait with bated breath for the (celebration of the) once-promised and now-come Messiah. Where we recognize and echo the deepest longings of all of creation for our Saviour to be with us.

But, Advent is also the season where we recognize – again and again and again – how desperate we are for that Saviour, how utterly hopeless we are without Him, and how dark and painful and heavy the world is without His light. The season where we ache and mourn and lament, all while looking upwards to Him. Where – in the midst of the downpour and the storm – we desperately hold on to safety raft and the promise of rescue and warmth.

There’s something about Advent that seems to touch on the core of what it means to be human. Something about these weeks on the calendar leading up to Christmas that echo with the simultaneous ache and the joy and longing that we always feel and rarely know how to articulate.

Advent is reality seen accurately and Advent is the promise that reality won’t always look this way. It screams to us that things that are broken don't always stay broken, things that seems lost aren't guaranteed to stay that way, and that even when the night seems dark and long, the light does shine.

With Creation groaning with desperation for this Saviour: He comes.
Into the darkness and into the hopelessness and onto these broken streets: He comes.
Into the ache and the waiting and the unknown: He comes.

And when He comes, He lifts up the lowly and the downtrodden and the marginalized and the elite all alike. His coming whispers and resounds throughout all of creation that something is different now. Hope, once an illusive idea and faith a far-off vision, now has form and substance and body.

The light has shone in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

She was right.

That dear friend on that hard day in that cozy coffee shop who promised me that things wouldn’t always felt that way and that I wouldn’t always feel so hurt and broken and stuck? She was right.

By the sweet sweet grace of Jesus, I’m not there anymore. I don’t feel that way anymore.

This morning, as I watched the soft morning sun paint the sky in gold and pink hues as it came up behind the stunning snow-covered mountains, I couldn’t help but think how much has changed since this time last year, and how much things are different than they were for the past few years. How much the story of redemption and new hope and healing feels far less idealistic, less elusive and unattainable, and far more right here: at home and rooted deep in my heart and mind and story.

I'm crying a lot of happy tears these days: on early morning runs in the dark and rain, as I make plans and dream for the coming year, at doctor’s appointments with good news, as I face the jam-packed schedule of the holidays, as I sit on my couch with my roommate processing the day, week, or looking back at the past year. Over and over - tears of joy and gratitude and a bit of disbelief at what God has done, how He has grown me, and how indescribably faithful and good He has been.

Not because things are perfect or easy now (I don't think that's ever what life looks like), but because there’s something fundamentally different – free-er, lighter, more alive. Like a fragile flower that broke through frozen ground, there’s new life here, new possibility, (re)newed hope.

I’m not there anymore. I don’t feel that way anymore.

Last year Advent was desperation. I was beaten down and heart-broken and exhausted. Everything hurt. Everything felt hard. Life seemed to be snuffed out all around me and my new task became simply keeping my head above water.

This year, like a song that grows slowly and a sunrise that inches its way above the horizon: I have a new song. This year, my song is different: laced with overflowing joy and scream-it-from-the-mountains gratitude that He is a God who heals, a God who redeems, and a God who restores.

The light has shone in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

I used to think that healing happened in pretty definitive moments. That there was a magical almost black-and-white moment when you could say that pain or grief or sickness was over and you were in an entirely different place now. You were hurt and then you’re not. You were injured and then you got better.

That felt safe. Clean. Comforting, in a (prematurely) definitive way almost. I wanted to brand things with labels of success or failure, joy or pain, beauty or brokenness. To sift through life and memory and organize events and circumstances like I clean out my closet.

But that’s not life. That’s not the bittersweet dance of being alive.

I’m starting to see that healing and restoration come in both waves and whispers: sometimes sweeping and almost comprehensive in the way they show up and sometimes far more subtle, nuanced, behind-the-scenes, and a bit slow. Sometimes it is like a light switch being turned on, but it seems that it’s more frequently like the small yet illuminating strands of light that peak through cracked doors or in the midst of dense trees.

The process and the timeline are a mystery but the guarantee is this: healing does come.

It does. It will. It is.

Darkness loses out to light again and again and again. Love conquers fear. Hope casts vision for the reality that He can be fully trusted and He is truly making all things new: here in glimpses and in eternity forever. Healing and restoration are happening right here: one step and one day at a time.

Even in the tiniest glimpses and glimmers: New life does sprout. New hope does rise. Broken hearts can heal and broken bodies can be restored. New songs start to resound in your heart. Goodness starts to unfold in ways you didn't remember or know that it could.

The light has shone in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

A lot of things had to die these past year(s).

But in it all - the very best part of it all? The Gospel becomes increasingly beautiful. Not as some distant theological concept, but as the most beautiful and life-giving reality in the entire universe. It becomes the sweetest song and the most comforting and only sufficient place to make your home.

The story of dead things coming to life because of the power and grace of Jesus?
The story of God himself drawing near to us, being with us and for us?
The story of mud healing the eyes of the blind and lepers learning again to dance?
The story of the King of Heaven relentlessly pursuing our hearts with his love that sets us free?

Something changes when – in all the pain and beauty and strength and weakness mixed irrevocably together – that very story starts to feel like your own story. Your story marked by moments and memories and days when you saw and learned - over and over and over - that nothing can outrun His love. Something changes when you start to actually believe that weakness is strength. When can’t describe anything sweeter than the ways that God carried you and drew you close. Something changes when the strength and bravery and weakness you learned in these valleys and wastelands become the very places in your story that you're the most proud of.

Somewhere along the way there: I fell in love with the God who speaks enduring hope into excruciating pain, the God who sustains us and carries us. I came to know Emmanuel – God with us – in ways I hadn’t know him before. The Prince of Peace became my refuge, Emmanuel my closest friend.

God is less distant, less theory now: more right here, best friend, deepest hope. He's safe and he's strong and I trust Him and know Him in ways I didn’t even know I didn’t before.

I think this is a journey we keep living every day: the grand exchange of our ideas and ambitions and hopes and paradigms for His. The task of dying. The task of lifting our eyes to His. As we stumble and fumble our way through life. As we find our hearts torn and broken and bursting with hope – often all in the same moments. As we say yes to beautiful things and as we say no to good things too. As we carve out time for what matters. We schedule margin. We settle into rhythm. We give ourselves to the holy tasks of work and rest and joy and hope: over and over and over, with our eyes gazing just a little beyond what’s right in front of us so as to catch the glimpses and glimmers of the God who is here and the very same God who is making all things new

The light has shone in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

I don’t know where you are this year. I don’t know what’s weighing on your heart and your mind and what pain haunts you at night. I don't know what thoughts you're fighting or what dreams you're chasing with focus and joy. I don’t know if Advent this year resounds with light and the ease of love and new life or stings with the reality of pain and darkness or struggle. I don’t know if life feels light or heavy, full of potential or laced with disappointment and hurt. I don’t know what feels irreparably broken or what seems forever relegated to darkness.

But if you are there -  if you’re in that space where the darkness feels like it may never lift or the rain won’t let up or you wonder if you’ll ever run free again, know this: healing does come.

I promise you this, because I’ve seen it come true in ways I didn’t believe it could – even when it seems impossible to imagine: “You won’t always be here. You won’t always feel like this.”

I can’t tell you when and I can’t tell you how, but new life will come. Ours is a Saviour who brought light into the darkness. His is a light that always shines and light that cannot, will not, and never will be – consumed by the dark. His is a light that not only shine into the darkness, but puts the darkness to shame and baffles and silences the power of pain or the sting of death. His is a narrative of redemption and healing and joy: in the grand arch of all of history, but also in the cracks and bruises and hang-ups and disappointments and deepest aches of your heart and mind and story. Even there. Even here. In all places and days and contexts: The light always.always.always shines. 

*The Light has shone in the darkness and the darkness has not – and never will – overcome it.