Christmas is such a time of reflection for me. I think of the years I loathed Christmas. I was broken-hearted, sad, and for a few of them mired in the black hole of depression. But mostly, I was just disappointed in my life. The season reminded me that I was once again in a place of unrealized dreams and I would spend one Holiday Season hoping that the next one would prove better.
I remember those that are no longer with us. Last year, my childhood friend, Nicky died two days after his 62nd birthday, less than one week before Christmas. The man that taught me more than he could know and would take no credit for. He spoke into my life that being encouraging to others was the greatest of the spiritual gifts. I believe that with all that I have.
It has proven a trying year in many aspects and I can't tell you how many occasions I wished I could have reached out and talked with Nicky about what was happening. To hear his wise counsel summed up in a few words after he listened carefully to what I had to say.
Even last night, when I mentioned to my wife, Julie, that it was Nicky's birthday, I began to cry. I told her his death continues to hit me harder than I thought possible.
Do you know what my wise wife said to that? She said, "How blessed are you to have a friend that you still are mourning so deeply over." Her point was everyone does not have even one person in their life like that. And I am blessed to share other close friendships with people who are still with us. As usual, my wife is right.
Last weekend, Teke, our Australian Cattle Dog and I were walking in the woods at a nearby park. It is a special daily time together. But it is also a time of devotion and has become my best prayer place.
As I thought about Christmas past and the times of sadness and disappointment, I began to thank God for rescuing me. Has the year been trying? Sure it has. It probably has been for most of us. But, I love Christmas again. It is no longer a time of disappointment. I have so much to be grateful for. My wife loves me. She believes I am far better than I can see. She believes in me when I don't. Yesterday, when I unexpectantly stopped by Julie's workplace-she was sitting in her car eating lunch and when she spotted me, she got out of her car and ran to hug me with this huge beautiful grin etched upon her face. How priceless is that?
I was grateful for the wonderful dog that was glad to be in the woods with me. For my wonderful son, Micah, who will arrive Christmas Day and make our immediate family complete and the close friends I have that are a phone call away if I need anything.
But I am most appreciative of a Savior, who never left my side, despite my decades of anger towards Him. I have cursed Him in more ways than I can recall. He was just waiting for that moment when I said, "Okay, Jesus, You take the wheel. I will go where you say go. Even if it is not what I want." At the time, I thought that meant my two biggest and longest dreams were possibly being relinquished. No, He granted both in less than two years.
I will not pretend to know how a relationship with God works for you. But for me, I knew He was waiting for the day I truly placed Him first. Now, do I fail at times in that endeavor? Absolutely, I do, but I return quickly to where I want to be. The best example I can think of is that I would love for my writing to lead to a real career. But I don't want any success or financial gain from it unless He is on board. I won't enjoy it otherwise. Believe me, that is a dramatic shift for the man in the mirror of almost nine years ago.
As I walked in the woods, reflecting upon all of this and thanking God for the happiness in my life, I began to cry with tears of gratitude. From all the broken pieces, He put me back together.
While I am most grateful I never want to forget how shattered my life once was. It is probably because of this that my heart is for the broken. Sometimes, I think our churches could do better at trying to encourage the broken, especially during the Holiday Season. Maybe instead of being concerned with putting on the best Christmas service-complete with the music and candlelight, the greater emphasis could be reaching out to those that are hurting. Some of those people may be walking through those church doors for the only time all year. Maybe they need to be offered prayer and encouragement more than a well planned Christmas Service. But then, I know I could do more to help as well.
It is easy for people to feel forgotten at Christmas. Even forgotten by God. They may feel this way even if they are surrounded by family.
In the hustle and bustle of the next week and during your Christmas Eve service at church. Let's keep an eye out for those that have the defeated look of life in their eyes. Offer a word of conversation. Let them know you have time to listen to them. Family and dinner plans can wait.
What could be more important than encouraging a broken person?
I know what my friend, Nicky would say.