Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Stories

My in-laws were in town over Christmas.  Being from Florida, they dressed in layers to stave off the  cold, but they enjoyed the blankets of white covering our time together.  Having in-house babysitters allowed my wife and I to go for a run on Christmas afternoon.  It was a good time to connect, talk, and spend some time together sans children.  As we ran back toward our house, we traveled by the picturesque Boiling Springs lake. I barely noticed.  I was busy rehashing the moments of the day, both good and bad.  I was analyzing the interactions of the family, assessing the mood of the kids, and sharing my observations on our joys and struggles.  My wife stopped running, turned me toward the lake, and simply said, "look."  The scene was beyond words:  with dusk as the backdrop, the lake sat silently on Christmas Day framed by luminaries and dusted in snow.  It was peaceful.  I almost missed it.

I have this pastor friend who has a thankful heart overflowing, always spilling all around.  I wonder, at times, if he isn't just telling himself that the days are great and that the things of life are good. The saying it out loud convincing himself that this could really be true.  My skepticism tries to uncover something beneath, parts of life built on sand and not Rock.  I don't find it.  Instead, I find genuine struggles always immersed in thanksgiving with a constant turning to what's true, holy, and praiseworthy.  This friend recently traveled to see extended family over the holiday.  As his family stopped for an overnight stay in a hotel, they were surprised by a room upgrade and some gifts of hospitality.  This is what he posted on Facebook,  "Thank you Father for showing us such grace, love and sweet compassion. Gifts that come from your hand, ones that we don't purchase or orchestrate are the best! Thank you for Jesus the best one of those ever!"  I must say that I, too, would have appreciated the unexpected hotel room upgrade.  Unfortunately, I'm not sure I would have immediately attributed this to a gift from Jesus, given to his child to enjoy and appreciate.  Yet, it was.  And he saw that.  And he was thankful.  I may have missed it.

There is this guy that I work with whose heart isn't two sizes too small, it's more likely two sizes too large if that's possible.  He's a big, burly guy with an even bigger heart.  Sadly, this Christmas season has been filled with worry and angst over caring for a family member in the hospital.  Over the past few weeks, the prognosis has turned from hopeful recovery to preparing for the worst and back again.  Splitting time between the hospital and work hasn't allowed ample time for him or his family to prepare to receive the season.  In fact, his family spent their Christmas eve attending a small service at the hospital chapel with 7 people in attendance.  After the service, I received this text from him:  "Just came back from the chapel at Hershey Medical Center for their Christmas service.  I hate to admit that this Christmas has not been one that I have had time to prepare for and my Christmas spirit has been lacking.  The Pastor's message emphasized that the shepherds night was nothing special until an angel appeared and told them that Jesus our savior was to be born tonight.  It as just what we needed to hear as we have been focusing on [our family member's] health and feeling guilty for not exercising our regular duties as parents, grandparents, and children to be ready for Christmas.   It is a very special night and I would like to wish all of you and your families a Merry Christmas!  With the love provided by Jesus, "  Yes, that's a really long text.  He's relatively new to texting and can't get enough I suppose.  Beyond texting, what he found here was the true meaning of that special night.  Years ago, the world found Meaning in a stable.  My friend found the same in an empty hospital chapel.  In that situation, one might have been overwhelmed with worry and grief over the health of my family member.  He was overwhelmed by the gift of a Baby.  He saw the Light in the midst.  I hope that, given the circumstances, I would see the same. 

As mother-in-laws go, mine is a gem.  Upon visiting, she brought six tins of freshly baked cookies, all delicious.  She only really enjoys watching sports on TV.  And, even though suffering from vertigo, she proceeded to do two, 360 degree slam dunks on the basketball hoops in our kid's room.  She's a bright spot.  Brighter, I hear, since she found a relationship with Jesus that she discovered a bit before I knew her.  My in-laws traveled by car from Florida.  During the long drive, they had much to consider.  The tragedy in Connecticut had just occurred. The same day their neighbor, dear friends, lost their son in a car accident.  Her sister-in-law struggled with news of an illness.  Sickness and death loomed, darkness knocked.  Yet, she arrived, as she does, with good cheer, her joy contagious.  Her mood isn't pollyanna.  It's Christ-deep.  Amid the dark, she just couldn't hold back her smiles of spending time with grandchildren and of the great God-gift of a white Christmas given graciously to a Floridian.  She's constantly stepping out from under the dark clouds as she knows that Sun is always above the clouds, passing.  I want to always move the same way, walking toward the Light.

As this Christmas fades to memory, I'm so thankful for these grace-lessons from God.  I'm thankful for these people, and so many others, who bring the Gospel message to life for me.  God is always filling the gaps in my hardened heart with love and peace as witnessed through others.  Moving from one year to the next, I pray that I don't miss it, these opportunities to reflect Light, moments to let the Gifts saturate, the times to see beyond.  God, may I always turn from my running toward the lake, from my self-focus toward the still waters, peaceful and unchanging. 

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