Saturday, December 20, 2014

Holiday Pain and Presence

Last year in my family Christmas felt a bit "dark." We were in the middle of an intense battle with cancer, which meant everything was different and nothing was certain. This year, my mom is cancer free and better than ever, but I was reminded of 'what was' last night when I met a lady at my gym who is still in the trenches of cancer herself. I was reminded of what her family might be feeling this Christmas in which everything is different for them, and the fear of what-could-be looms larger than their Christmas tree. I was reminded of the many, many people who will be enduring their first holiday season-- or second, or third-- after the loss of a loved one, or in the pain of infertility or in a battle with loneliness in any its painful forms. 

Last week, in light of these reflections and some other local events I wrote this post for our church. Here is an excerpt:

The holiday season is intense for everyone. Time is short, emotions are high, and traffic is worse (if that’s even possible in Northern Virginia!) as the American public races toward Christmas. And while some experience this as holiday euphoria (visions of sugar-plums, anyone?), others struggle with a heightened sense of loneliness during this time. For many, all the emphasis on love, family, and “togetherness” only serves to highlight the pain of loss, of separation from loved ones, or of broken relationships.

We must keep in mind that the intensity of the season means it is intensely difficult for so many people whom God loves. And we must keep in mind that loneliness, loss and brokenness aren't just happening “out there” to “them,” but in our own lives, families, and communities as well. If Advent teaches us anything, doesn’t it teach us that the Christ child came to save us? To lighten our darkness? To give us new life? His coming reminds us that there is no "us" and "them," only us and Him-- and He is Immanuel. 

So this holiday season let us open wide the doors of our homes and hearts to each other. Whether you are one struggling with loneliness this month or whether you have a warm, loving home to share with others, choose to give of yourself to those around you. In welcoming others to your dinner table, for instance, you manifest the love of God who did not bring His message of redemption to the world via loud speaker, but face-to-face. And in welcoming others into your pain and sharing your tears with them, for example, you offer the Gift of the Real in a season that needs to be rescued from plastic-perfection. Christmas is about our real pain, our real need for the presence and person of Jesus Christ, and the real community that His love forms.

Whether you have a trove of holiday happiness or only tears to share this Christmas, you have something beautiful to give.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014


At Christmas, we hear the story of a God who defies expectations: who instead of expecting us to climb our way up to Him, came down to us— a God who left His place of comfort and safety in order to know us, to love us, to be with us.

At Christmas, we hear the story of a God who turns our expectations upside down: who calls Himself 'King' and then chooses to arrive not in a palace, but a manger; who calls Himself 'Most High' and then stoops to wash the feet of common fishermen; who calls Himself 'Savior' then chooses His own death as His means of making things right. What Messiah wields a cross instead of a sword? What King chooses a crown made of thorns?

This Christmas, I urge you to consider your expectations of God. Maybe-- whether you consider yourself a person of faith or not-- maybe you think you have Him figured out. Maybe you think you know how He'd respond to you if you reached out to Him. Maybe you think He would reject you. But maybe He'd surprise you. 

At Christmas, we hear the story of a God who defies expectations. And it turns out, this is the greatest gift of all.