Because of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ there is so much to be thankful for. Life, salvation, hope, freedom, family, the promise of Heaven and so much more. I am even thankful for thankfulness itself. It’s powerful stuff. When there is a spirit of thanksgiving in your soul it alters the atmosphere in your life. Grateful hearts have no room for tantrums or pity-parties. It’s impossible to complain while you are busy saying, “thanks!” You can focus on what you don’t have and what you didn’t get, or you can thank God for all you have received and have been blessed with, but you can’t do both at the same time.
It has been a very hard year in our home, but we have never in our life experienced God more: Through His presence and His peace that surpasses understanding, through the outpouring of love and prayer from Christians all over the world. (those of you who have left blog comments and sent encouraging notes in the mail have blessed us greatly) Through the church that we are planted in that we call home. Our anchor has held within the veil and we are so thankful for Jesus!
2 Corinthians 2:14 Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.
We had our final Skull Church event of the year this month. It was also my first time preaching in the state capital. It was amazing to watch God move in so many people’s lives. There is a real spiritual hunger in Helena and I can’t wait to go back!
For the last year I have been dreading the end of fall because I knew that it would signal the start of the Christmas season. Christmas is always a force to be reckoned with. On a normal year it approaches with the subtlety and restraint of a runaway locomotive. We began planning for Christmas at Fresh Life this summer and even then, when it still seemed far away, it was difficult to think about facing the world wrapped in lights, silver bells and and holly. Last week I walked into a Starbucks in New Mexico and saw eggnog lattes were on the menu and they had a big display of Advent calendars near the counter. Ready or not, here it comes.
The truth is, every holiday has been difficult this year. Mother’s day was really hard. My birthday was too. As was Alivia’s birthday, the Fourth of July, Father’s Day, and Easter. These days are when the pain of Lenya’s absence is exaggerated. We miss her every day, but on days when you would always be together or have special traditions the ache just gets a little bit louder. The hardest, by far, this year was Lenya’s birthday. Not being able to be with her on a day that is all about her was unspeakably difficult. We know that Christmas will be very hard. She went to Heaven on December 20th, and we celebrated her life and had her funeral on December 26th.
Back to the runaway train. As I was falling asleep on Halloween I was thinking about how Thanksgiving is all that separates us from Christmas now. Once December begins everything in our society is built into making the ramp up for Christmas as loud and as visible as possible. Twelve days of Christmas. Little numbered doors hiding chocolate. These days and numbers all bring painful memories and traumatizing associations with them. Lenya’s favorite Christmas carol was “Santa Clause Is Coming To Town” by Justin Bieber, but truth be told I wouldn’t really mind it if old St. Nick got lost instead. I realize that I sound like Ebenezer Scrooge, and I am ok with that. Naming your fear is a part of getting through it and I am scared of Christmas.
Fortunately, I know that God isn’t scared of what scares me. Jesus is going to be with us, just as He was last year and just as Lenya is with Him now. I don’t have to pretend like I am not frightened either. I trust Him. He will walk with us through the flashbacks and the associations and the sleepless nights and the tears and the lack of tears. We will celebrate the birth of the One who came to destroy death and bring light and immortality to light through the Gospel. We will sing until our voice won’t let us. We will preach and celebrate seeing people come to know Jesus just like we did days after Lenya died in my arms. We will party if we can muster the courage, cry when we miss her and collapse if we have to. Even though He slays us we will bless His name. We always have a choice and I choose to rejoice.