I realize Christmas has come and gone, but the lessons that I learn and experiences I gain each year nourish (and challenge) me for weeks and months to come.
Christmas Eve was a sweet day. I got off work earlier than I expected – early enough to meet my daughter for lunch. After she treated me to lunch, we worked our way through the crowd at Walmart to get the miscellaneous items on her list. I still had time to work out before evening festivities began, and it was fun to joke around with gym friends as we shared our plans and how we should eat the next couple days versus how we would most likely eat and feel miserable at some point. My mom and my sister and her family met me for the first of three candlelight services, then I treated them to supper at the same restaurant where my daughter had treated me for lunch. I had been wanting to chat with the owner the past couple weeks after hearing from multiple businesses how helpful and generous he was through the days immediately following the tornado that tore through town the first of December. I was able to talk to him and thank him, and he lit up with appreciation. I also saw one of my ex’s good friends and his family, and I enjoyed briefly catching up with them after only having a few text exchanges the past couple years.
After enjoying a delicious casual meal with my family, I was too late for the second candlelight service, so I went home and savored some quiet moments with my own candles lit and the Christmas tree lights casting shadows on the ceiling. I hadn’t planned to go to the late candlelight service, but I knew it was exactly the right place for me. I was content, yet I felt the anticipation of celebrating Jesus.
I decided to go early for the last service, and it was good to hang out and catch up with several friends who were serving and relaxing between services. Someone walked by and asked a friend, who had been busy leading up to and during the services, to replenish refreshments, so I chimed in that I’d love to help. While I was loading up the snack trays, a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time walked in, and I enjoyed joking around with her family. I fixed an extra special cup of hot chocolate with some of the fixings provided. (I also tried to convince someone we need the fancy hot chocolate bar every Sunday during cold weather.)
I slipped into the service, hugged several friends around me, and settled in for a second experience of the candlelight service. Our services are the same, but I know every experience will be different. I heard new details, paid attention to different lyrics as I sang, and felt a deeper sense of peace and anticipation.
Afterward, I connected with a few people but knew one person in particular was waiting to talk to me. I hadn’t seen him in a while, and he had been feeling the need to reach out and tell me how sorry he was for all I’d been going through. I shared a brief snippet of my journey, mainly in the context of assuring him I continue to trust God and am committed to honoring him with every bit of my life, even when that includes what I least expect. I hope he walked away with encouragement.
It was later than I had planned when I got home, but I was overflowing.
In fact, my Christmas Eve seamlessly overflowed into Christmas. I had a couple hours of quiet before heading to my family gathering, and I decided to take my lead minister’s advice from the candlelight service message. He challenged us to reach through a gospel soon. I worked my way through the book of Mark, and these words stood out to me:
Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for? If any of you are embarrassed over me and the way I’m leading you when you get around your fickle and unfocused friends, know that you’ll be an even greater embarrassment to the Son of Man when he arrives in all the splendor of God, his Father, with an army of the holy angels.” (Mark 8:36-38, The Message)
It might not seem like the quintessential Christmas message, but it was a perfect reminder and strength-builder for me that morning. I deeply sighed and thanked God for preparing me for Christmas. My heart and my soul was ready.
I was thankful for the intentionality God put into those days (as if he doesn’t do so every single day), and while my own intentionality looks different depending on the season or schedule, I can still make every effort of humility, attention, and obedience. Christmas was a reminder of God’s preparation and purpose.
He is good.