When December came this year and my wife asked me, “What do you want for Christmas?” I told her I already received my gift earlier in the year in the form of an e-mail from someone I thought had fallen off the map—my mom’s sister.
The last time I saw my aunt Diane was at her mother’s funeral, for my grandmother Me-Ma. Time marched on and I eventually sent her our wedding invitation in 1995 but I didn’t receive a response. Although I lost contact with her, my love didn’t expire. When I was a boy, she took me for rides in her white Chevrolet Corvair that had a red interior. I remember when she drove me to Holly Hill Mall one afternoon in Burlington, North Carolina and bought me an elaborate pop-up book titled A Christmas Carol.
Time continued to march on but I didn’t forget about her. Although I didn’t know where she ended up, I knew Someone who did. So I got in an uncomfortable position down on my knees and started praying regularly to the living God. This activity continued for decades.
Before one particular tearful moment in prayer I remember reading a verse from Deuteronomy. Moses wrote, “Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back.” (30:4, NIV)
“God you know where Diane is. I know You know her, but does she know You? Please Holy Spirit, reveal Yourself to her, find her, and bring her home to Yourself. May she ask You to come into her heart and life, because of Jesus’ sacrifice.”
Time flew by and earlier this year I received an email in my Google in-box from Diane. I opened it up and started crying before I could finish reading. She told me she came to Christ on June 10, 2021 after smoking pot for 32 years. She also said she asked Jesus to help her stop, while experiencing hard cramps from the withdrawals. God took away her pain and the desire to smoke pot again, and she said He rescued her from the depths of her addiction and several bouts of deep depression.
I went back to God and thanked Him for answering my prayers. God’s answer to my many decades of prayers coupled with Diane’s testimony encouraged my faith to pray until…God moves, to pray until…my last breath.
Diane is not the only person who has felt lost and forgotten. A friend of mine on Facebook shared a story recently from a girl named Cassie that moved me. Listen to her story.
“The year my dad, who was a pastor at the time, was caught in his addiction, the church leadership asked him and my mom to not attend the Christmas Eve service. The investigation was ongoing and they wanted him to step back while it happened.
What they didn’t count on, I don’t think, was for me to show up at the service. I have a deep commitment to tradition so when my parents said we weren’t going to the service, I resolved to go by myself.
Under the weight of uncertainty and the fear of what I had suspected might just be a true accusation, I showed up to the candlelight service. Families were there to celebrate. It was Christmas after all.
I found my usual spot at the front and as the first carols rang out, my tears began to fall. I felt like an imposter. I was a cloud of grief and darkness amidst a cheerful celebration. I felt guilty for dampening the time of rejoicing.
As I sat I found myself talking to Jesus. “I’m ruining your party,” I told him. It was his response in that moment that changed Christmas for me forever. He told me, Cassie I came to that manger as a baby not for those in celebration, but for those in mourning.
I came for you. In this moment. Right here. For the first time in my relatively easy life, I was tasting heartache (and oh if only I knew how much more would come). And it was there that Jesus showed me the heart of Christmas. Jesus stepped down to pursue the broken and the hurting and the lost.
If this year broke you down, isolated you, and left you grieving or fearful or hurt, I want you to know that you don’t have to muster up cheer. You don’t have to feel like a downer in the midst of celebration. You can sit at the feet of a savior who came for you where you’re at right now. That’s how Immanuel works. It’s God with us in the dirt giving us hope in the face of despair.”
From The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen wrote: “The heart of the father burns with an immense desire to bring his children home.” (page 95)
But what if you don’t think you are worth finding? Nouwen continues:
“Wouldn’t it be good to increase God’s joy by letting God find me and carry me home and celebrate my return with the angels? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to make God smile by giving God the chance to find me and love me lavishly? Questions like these raise a real issue: that of my own self-concept. Can I accept that I am worth looking for? Do I believe that there is a real desire in God to simply be with me? Here lies the core of my spiritual struggle: the struggle against self-rejection, self-contempt, and self-loathing. It is a very fierce battle because the world and its demons conspire to make me think about myself as worthless, useless, and negligible.” (page 107)
Last night, on December 10, 2022 Diane sent me a message on Facebook Messenger. She said: “Now, I am free and I am God’s daughter.”
God gave his greatest gift on a tree. The life of Jesus given for you and for me. Because Christ came we can become His children, if we’d just ask.
If the Christmas season depresses you, why not pray until…If you need to reconnect with God, why not pray until…If you know someone who does not know the Christ of Christmas, why not pray until…
pictures courtesy of pexels.com except for book cover/tree picture-“Nelson & his Nikon”