Christmas. A time that comes once a year. We decorate our homes, exchange gifts, dance to familiar tunes, watch It’s a Wonderful Life and enjoy tasty treats, but there is something else paralleling this season…it is reality.
Reality is often far from the picture-perfect Hallmark cards we mail to family and friends.
There is one Christmas I’d like to share. Years after my mom’s death, on Christmas Eve, I was a young bride enjoying my modest kitchen while preparing food for the family Christmas dinner always held at my grandparent’s home. Vegetables simmered on the stove and a pie bubbled in the oven. Without realizing it, I let my guard down.
See, I have this wall. It’s a wall that was created when my life as a teenager was annihilated by reality. Forced to grow up far too soon, my coping/defense mechanism was to build a fortress around my heart. Walls so thick that nothing – absolutely nothing – could penetrate them and ever destroy me like I had already been.
But, in this particular holiday season, I wanted so badly to enjoy the experience of Christmas with all of the happiness it entails. I let my guard down while standing at the stove, with flickering twinkle lights on the tree in the living room and stockings hung with care beside it.
This would be the Christmas I would actually let myself enjoy as I tended to my baking and cooking.
The phone rang.
It was my sister.
Granddad’s been taken to the hospital. Meet us there.
I felt sucker-punched. Breath flew out of my body and I couldn’t inhale. I dropped the large, wooden spoon I was using and immediately turned off the burners and oven.
A cold, prickly sensation felt like an electrical shock all over my body.
My first response? The wall came up.
My husband and I raced to the hospital. Memories of just a few days before of my granddad throwing up blood from his lung cancer, and how my husband was the hands and feet in that crisis, replayed over and over and over.
The sound of my grandmother crying out in reflexive, desperate prayer in the panic, Jesus! Lord Jesus! haunted my mind.
We reached the hospital and found him in ICU. The prognosis – grim.
After being there for hours, taking our one-person turn in visitation with him, we were told to go home for the night and get some rest because there was nothing anyone could do.
I sat in the ICU waiting room feeling numb and helpless. It was Christmas Eve. My only prayer was this - Dear God, please do not let Granddad die on Christmas day. Please. I beg You. After everything our family has been through, we couldn’t handle this. Please don’t let his death overshadow Christ’s birth for the rest of our lives.
I was the peace-maker in the family. This time would be no different. My husband and I went home to gather a few things. I grabbed the Christmas-printed napkins I bought earlier that week, some muffins I had baked, the music cassette recorder/player and a Christmas cassette, and my Bible.
We dashed back up to the hospital and I laid these things on the coffee table in the ICU waiting room. It was a cold, sterile room. The pleather furniture was stiff and squeaked, white walls void of warmth, no windows, the florescent lighting stung my eyes, and the stale air made me sick to my stomach.
The clock struck midnight and it was now Christmas – and we would celebrate it in remembrance of Christ and in honor of my granddad.
While we took turns checking on Granddad, I played the music very softly and offered muffins on the Christmas napkins to my grandmother, husband, sister and her husband. I read Christ’s birth in Luke.
Every hour that passed, I never stopped begging and pleading with God not to take Granddad on Christmas day.
After a very long 24 hours, the clock struck midnight again. It was December 26th. At 10am, the nurse came into the waiting room and said two words, It’s time.
All 5 of us jumped up and ran down the hall, holding my grandmother’s hands as we hurried.
The nurse tried to explain what was physically happening to Granddad, and that he wasn’t in any pain, but I couldn’t understand any of it. There was something much more pressing on my mind.
I wasn’t sure if my granddad was saved.
He was a good man. A great man. Loving. Kind. Respectful. Generous. Funny. Never missed church. Tithed. Blessed every meal. Read the devotional, The Upper Room, every day of his life.
But still, I never, ever heard him profess a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
He did all of the things a Christian would do, but never having heard him share his personal faith in any way, I didn’t know for sure where he would spend eternity. It is impossible to earn our way to heaven. If that were the case, none of us would ever be enough, or do enough, to be good enough to make it there.
I stood beside Granddad’s bed and looked deep into his face.
The Holy Spirit prompted me to ask him about his faith.
Oh no. No way. I was the baby of the family. My family already thought I was way too involved in my faith. It was a touchy subject and I was a bit of the black sheep in this area.
No. I can’t. I just can’t. I’m not going to stir up anything while he is dying. I can’t do it in front my family. It will upset them to hear me questioning his faith. No. Just no.
Do it. You don’t have much time, the Holy Spirit urged me.
I just can’t!!!!! I screamed in my heart in frustration, fear and anxiety.
Do it now, He pushed back.
There we were. My granddad, my husband and me. The other family members mysteriously stepped out of the room – I believe God miraculously led them out so we could have this moment.
I looked at Granddad, unable to speak, and thought about how crystal blue and beautiful his eyes were. I rested my hand gently on his arm, careful not to disturb the I.V.’s sticking out in all directions.
Taking in a huge breath, the air caught in my throat. I swallowed it down hard. With hands shaking and the back of my neck sweating, I didn’t know how to ask a man of such character if he had accepted Christ in his heart as Lord and Savior.
Give me the words, God, please, I begged.
I tried again. Granddad, I have to ask you something, I began as my heart pounded in my chest. Would you like to dedicate your life to Christ? I know you cannot speak, so just nod your head if you would like to.
With wide eyes, I watched for the slightest movement of his weary body.
He never took his eyes off of me, and to my utter shock and surprise, he ever-so-slightly nodded his head yes. I couldn’t believe it!
Um, I said trying to remain calm having never been in this situation before, I will say the prayer for you, and you nod your head in agreement, okay Granddad?
He gently nodded again.
I said a prayer of salvation as if I were him, and when finished, he nodded in agreement.
Just a couple of minutes later – he died.
I stood by his bed stunned in bewildering belief that he nearly missed his chance to enter an eternity of life and blessing.
He was just a moment or two away from eternal separation from God.
Had I given into the tremendous fear of our family’s dynamics, or fear of presenting the Gospel, or any of the multitude of fears I felt at that moment, it would have cost him eternity.
It was a near miss and it terrified me.
I have no recollection of opening any gifts that year, but the best gift I received is knowing exactly where he is now. With Jesus. Perfect. Healed. Whole. Enjoying his daughter’s (my mom’s) company once again – never to say goodbye.
I am forever grateful that God honored my request and kept Christmas day about Jesus’ birth, and not my granddad’s death.
Christmas Eve and Christmas night were silent indeed. But, they weren’t silent as in all is calm, all is bright.
All was very frantic. Panicked. Anxiety-filled. All was dark. Grim. Hopeless for a happy ending this side of heaven.
This time of year, people are torn between trying to celebrate the season as best they can as loved ones lay dying in hospitals, husbands leave their wives, children rebel against their parents, threats against world peace fracture peace of mind, children are ruthlessly murdered at school, drunk drivers rob families of their precious ones, thieves break into homes and steal Christmas presents, companies lay people off two weeks before Christmas, medical reports come back positive, houses burn down from Christmas trees, and personal debt keeps on racking up.
It’s no wonder that depression and suicide rates leap this time of year. Still, as I drove the streets of my city late last night picking up my child from a friend’s house, lights twinkle, inflatable snowmen wave, wreaths are hung and even a manger can be seen in some yards.
Why do all of this? Go through all of this? Play the role of Christmas? No one can financially afford it anyway. More homes are broken than not, so why try to pretend otherwise? Marriage beds are defiled while jewelry companies advertise their diamonds as the perfect gift. Friends aren’t speaking to each other, yet Christmas cards are exchanged between them. People are desperately lonely and hide behind busyness to try to prove otherwise.
There are silent nights alright. But, not all is calm and not all is bright. The silence is deafening. Behind closed doors parents cry themselves to sleep and husbands and wives give up and families settle for less, friends adapt to chilly relations, people avoid the credit companies’ phone calls, and most are wondering why they are even left on this planet.
Why have Christmas?
In the midst of the festivities all around me, even sharing it with my husband and children, today I stood in church singing Christmas songs while tears streamed down my cheeks.
Christmas, in America at least, has become so much about what we want that we have forgotten what we’ve already been given.
For me, my tears were because yesterday we went to a Christmas exhibit at a hotel, and I wasn’t prepared for how busy the hotel would be with guests. It was packed with families reuniting. Cousins, grandparents, in-laws, etc. The little children were in their Christmas best. One mom wanted to take her daughter’s picture by some pretty garland, and just as the mom snapped the camera, the beautiful little girl, wearing a plaid dress and hair pulled up in curls, stuck her finger up her nose.
Walking around the hotel, I felt a wave of grief hit me all over again of what I’ve lost over my lifetime. Death, sickness, death, abandonment, death. My heart sank.
Today in church, it was so crowded I’m not sure everyone found a seat. Again, multiple generations sat together with grandpa’s holding babies while tired parents held each others’ hands.
So, my wishlist isn’t tangible. Never has been. Stuff is stuff and we can’t take any of it with us. I miss my mom, grandparents, great-grandmother, dad and father-in-law who are all waiting for me in heaven. I miss my husband’s family who is spread out across states, and my dad’s wife’s family who is also spread out across multiple states.
I mourn the loss of my childhood that was prematurely taken from me. I miss the idea of having fond memories of growing up – of which there are very few. I miss the loud homes filled with close and distant relatives and all of the craziness that brings. It makes me want to watch My Big Fat Greek Wedding again.
However, if I allow myself to stay in that dark place, I will miss Christmas this year as well.
God reminded me that I am, indeed, missing 2 important truths.
One, the day will come when I will have exactly what I have longed for my entire life – a huge family reunion. It won’t be in this lifetime, but once it begins it will never end. A party for eternity. That’s worth waiting for.
Second, we’ve already been given the opportunity to make this reunion party possible. Still, every year I almost miss the real meaning of Christmas. I am so quick to be sad that my life doesn’t look like a Norman Rockwell painting, or Hallmark movie, that I get hung up on what I don’t have.
What I do have is a Savior that made an eternity with my Abba Father possible. Without Christ’s birth, He wouldn’t have been able to die in my place for my sins. I would be cursed forever to separation from Him. But, because Christ robed Himself in flesh and became 100% man while still being 100% God, He lived a life that led to the cross. Every day He traversed this earth was a day closer to bearing the worst punishment of all history – and He willingly did this for you and for me because God loves the world that much.
The first silent night of Christmas 2,000 years ago wasn’t filled with world peace and perfection. Rather, it was tainted with Roman oppression. A crazy Herod ruled and reigned. There was political turmoil. Community turmoil. Family turmoil. Personal crisis. Christ came to us anyway.
As I stood in church today singing, my tears of sadness were replaced with a peace that I don’t understand. My husband had his arm around me, but Jesus’ hands were holding my heart.
Without shame or guilt, He gently nudged me back to the Father’s side so I could rest in the shadow of His wings (Psalm 91). As I let Him peel away layers of hurt from my broken heart, He gave me new eyes to see the heart of Christmas. God’s heart. I was caught in a moment where everything was okay. All of it.
Because Jesus reminded me He is in all of it with me. There is nothing that separates us from the love of Christ (Romans 8:38-39). And, He is enough. Every blessing in life is icing on the cake. What we are not given, He is still sufficient for us.
This Christmas, I am choosing to look not at what is missing from my life, but what has been given – a lifetime walking with God and a future with Him that will outlast time.
And, I will appreciate those blessings – like celebrating His birth with friends who are family to us.
May I challenge you as I challenge myself? Will you place your wishlist in the hands of the Father and enjoy this Christmas simply for what it is? Whether our lists are made up of jobs, good health, a baby, better finances, mended relationships, a mate, a home, a meal or presents for our children, can you join with me in knowing that the gift of Christ is enough? More than enough? That if nothing else in our worlds change by Christmas, or into next year, we will still thank Jesus for being the best gift of all?
It’s audacious alright. Some may even call it ridiculous.
God gave up His only Son because He loves us that much. We can come to Him with empty hands, even if they are stained with pain, and receive His love overflowing once again.
The best part is His love isn’t only given once a year like the presents under the tree. It’s available 24/7/365.
I wish I could’ve ended this post with a big, happy finish and tied a virtual red bow around it. But, life doesn’t always work like that. However, just like my granddad who is now enjoying paradise, our happy ending is something believers can look forward to because Jesus defeated death and opened the only Way to eternal life. Until that day comes, we can be grateful and thankful for the blessings, big and small, that God gives to make the journey’s load a little lighter and rest in the promise that we are never in it alone.
Peace to you today,