The day after Christmas seems a perfect time to pause and write a seasonal blog, and wish you all Christmas blessings. Yesterday was full, with no time to sit down with my computer until later in the evening. That, to me, is a good thing, to be busy in real world relationships that the virtual world becomes secondary. With being in school, continuing with speaking engagements and trying to do the basics at home, social media has taken a back seat for a while, so that has become more normal for me. But that does mean the blog I intended to write for Christmas never happened.
Even so, throughout my day, I thought of many of you, my friends. Especially those of you who find this season difficult. Those who have suffered great losses this season, whether this year or years gone by, saying goodbye to family members with whom you won’t share another Christmas… or maybe never spent even one Christmas… wee ones, recent or in the past, who slipped away before you heard their laughter, their cries, their chatter… And those who are rejected by family, or just far away, and lonely this season, wishing your world was different; praying for healed relationships, or maybe having given up hope, yet unable to shake the longing for what could have been.
Christmas can be the hardest of times, and it can be the sweetest of times. Sometimes both at the same time. That was our Christmas this year, for reasons I won’t and can’t get into, but just to say you are not alone, and there are others who understand. As much as we had a wonderful Christmas, there was an emptiness and an ache, the reality of unknowns as we head toward 2018, that is unsettling. Even as I write this, I know that every day is an unknown for every human. Our last breath, some great sadness or loss, or the opposite: some unlikely kindness and grace that falls on us. We never know the future, and yet it is an unsettling thing to have it written on the walls of our lives where we must read it every day, and wrestle with the realization that the outcome may be far from what we long for, and somehow to find peace in it, if not with it.
They talk about coming to peace with things, but I’ve concluded some things we cannot make peace with. We can only find a way to be at peace within the existing reality, in spite of the unknowns, even as we grieve the reality that is. And sometimes grieving is that peace, or at least a part of it, because it’s the facing head on of a thing you’d rather run from, and knowing you will be okay, even when your heart stops beating every now and then, and you catch your breath from the pain. And then it starts to beat again, out of rhythm and out of time, because a heart can’t beat right when a piece of it has died. But it can beat, and it can still give love, and find hope. And maybe, having experienced loss, it can give more, love more, and find a greater hope. Because where all is as it should be, or as we desire it to be, there is no need for hope. Hope is the thing that makes the heart keep beating, willing it to live, when everything else makes it stop.
Speaking of love and giving, one of my favourite things this Christmas had a rather tragic beginning… It was early November – the 6th, I believe – when I came upon an accident. It happened only a few vehicles in front of me, and I stopped to make sure there was someone there with First Aid and CPR, and that 911 had been called. The one woman involved in the accident spoke Low German and seemed very distressed, so I asked if it would mean something to her if I stayed to support her. Her conversational English was excellent, but trauma can make communication difficult. She borrowed my phone and made a call to what I understood was her husband, and when she handed back the phone, she said the name and that he is on his way. A bit later, when she seemed to be slipping into shock and struggled to communicate, I asked where her husband works and how far he has to drive. She looked at me, eyes filled with unspeakable pain, and said, “he died four years ago”, and began to weep. Shocked, I said, “I am so, so sorry! I thought that’s who you said you called”. I stayed composed, but writing it now, I weep. She slipped into a state of complete shock and confusion, repeatedly expressing worry over the injured driver of the other vehicle. I stayed with her and her young daughter, and later went to the hospital to offer what support I could, when other children arrived and made certain they had food and drinks. I left, then, and told them to call if they need anything at all, and especially if they have to go to court.
It was almost two weeks later, I sat at Tim Hortons waiting for the woman to arrive. We were meeting for coffee to discuss her ticket, a first for her, which she couldn’t read and understand. It was a fine, due the next day. I was heading in, so I offered to deliver it, and support her in a meeting with the prosecuting attorney, to discuss options. Before we parted ways, I asked if she needs anything else, and she mentioned needing a wash machine, and might I know anyone who has a used one that wouldn’t cost a lot. I put the word out that evening, asking friends if they might know a place to find one. There were several leads, but nothing came together. Several weeks went by and I came across a message I had missed.
Faith Mennonite Church near Wellesley heard of this woman’s need, and offered to get her a wash machine. I connected them with the woman and this week she messaged saying how much she appreciated the machine they brought, and how she feels so undeserving. “You’re one of the kindest people I ever know”, she wrote. I didn’t do anything except put a need out there, so I felt I didn’t do anything, and told her it was the church, not me who gave the gift. Even so, I thanked her for her kind words and told her she deserves the gift and I’m very happy for her. What touched me most is that a church would take Acts 6:1 and James 1:27 so seriously as to reach out to someone not even in their congregation, or a church in any way affiliated. It was about a woman in need, and a passion to exercise the religion that God honours (James 1:27) and spread the love of Jesus in a practical way.
That is Christmas. That is the Gospel. Whether delivered to a believer, or one who has never heard of Christ, that is the love of Jesus, packaged in language that humans understand, through meeting practical needs. It’s not the only way, but it’s one way. And because so often it seems Acts 6:1 is the greater reality, where widows and orphans are neglected and overlooked, while the religious systems pressure them to give and barely survive, this touched my heart deeply. In a world where religious systems seem often to absorb more than they live generously among the broken, this blessed me to happy tears.
I posted recently that choosing thankfulness sets apart those who overcome, from those who are victims. Today I am thankful. Thankful that Faith Mennonite church met this woman’s need, and for other churches like it. (My friends at Westpointe Church Grand Rapids Michigan have a house they offer to single moms! Check it out: Gold House Project) I’m thankful that I am surrounded by people I love, and people who love me – from here at home, to Mexico, to Africa, to Australia and New Zealand and beyond. And I am deeply thankful, for the kindness of God in my life and His promise to walk gently with us, to lead us, carry us, hold us, and never abandon us.
For Christmas our youngest son had my name, and he gave me a blue coffee mug with one word on it. My favourite mug cracked a while ago, and he knew I had looked for a replacement. He also knew how much I love words and writing. The mug said “Kindness”. So that’s the word I am taking with me into 2018. Kindness. My prayer is that God will help me live this word, daily. It won’t be perfect. It never is. Because I’m involved and I’m human, but it is my prayer and I trust God will teach me, walk with me, remind me and love me through my failures. And I will choose kindness.
Merry Christmas! And may 2018 be a year filled with kindness even in the pain, sorrow, and hard times that are inevitable in human experience.
~ T ~