Merry Christmas Eve!!! I won't be around much this week because I just want to spend time with my crew .. but I wanted to share a story with you.
So once upon a time, when I was about 10 years old, my family went through a pretty rough situation at our church in New Jersey. My dad was the pastor of a pretty big church and we were deeply connected to the people and families. Through a series of events that I don't care to divulge, we ended up having to leave the church suddenly and for a 10 year old, traumatically. It was a terrible situation. My little brother and sister were just babies. My parents were hurt, rejected, and mistreated. My older brother and I were suddenly ripped from our friends, our school, and our church family. My younger, middle brother (yes, there are 5 of us) was pretty unphased by it all. His biggest concern was that they would also be taking the refrigerator from our house. I'm happy to say it stayed and he was relieved.
BUT I DIGRESS.
So there we were, suddenly isolated from everything we knew and loved. We stayed in Jersey for a few more months and then my dad decided it was time to get away. We all needed to heal and regroup. SO..we put all of our things in storage and took off to New Mexico. Yep. Just like that, we were off on an incredible adventure.
Our first month, we literally lived in the mountains. We pitched a tent, built a stove out of rocks, bathed in the river, fished, cooked over an open fire, played poker and dumb games and sometimes slept in our Aerostar van with all the seats taken out. It was amazing. (Although, my mom might tell you otherwise.) Our next step was living in an RV with one bedroom. My older brother and I slept outside under the INCREDIBLE New Mexico sky. Like. You haven't seen stars. You haven't. Not unless you've been there. It was such a cool experience. We'd lay our sleeping bags on the back of a trailer and talk deep into the night about all the serious things 10 and 12 year old siblings have to talk about. Not once did we think we were unfortunate and we never felt sorry for ourselves. We were the luckiest kids ever.
We stayed with a few friends that we made along the way. That's the amazing thing about the body of Christ. We went to New Mexico without knowing a SINGLE soul. But we found incredibly generous people in the church that we attended and they opened up their homes and their lives to us. No strings attached. Just unconditional love for a family of 7.
We eventually found and rented a home in Albuquerque. It sat across from a huge desert where we had a pretty legit view of the Sandia Mountains. The neighborhood was full of kids that we became instant and awesome friends with. We spent almost every day riding bikes, having mud fights (cause you know..no snow..), playing dumb games and just being kids. Some of my best childhood memories were made on that dusty street with that rag tag gang of middle schoolers.
Then Christmas came. My dad was working at that point, but we still didn't have much money. We were living in a rented home with zero furniture, save a few pieces lent to us from a friend. None of us had beds or dressers, but we could not have cared less. It was an adventure, remember. So we were broke, but once again, the body of Christ proved to be a force to be reckoned with. I didn't know it at the time, but people had been sending my parents money to help with bills and Christmas type things. With every check they cashed, half would go to taking care of our needs and they'd put the other half aside for Christmas. I remember Christopher (my older brother) and I would often talk about how we probably weren't going to get any Christmas presents, so we should do our best to not make mom and dad feel guilty about it. We really didn't care, but we didn't want our parents to feel bad that they couldn't get us anything.
But then something amazing happened.
Christmas morning, when we woke up, our stockings were full. Not of toys and candy, but full of COLD. HARD. CASH. The most any of us had ever seen. It was a CHRISTMAS MIRACLE!! We were so. stinking. excited. I was 11 at that point and ready to start picking out my own clothes so that money was my ticket to trendy freedom. I don't know what the other kids envisioned themselves doing with the money, but were stoked. We laughed and jumped up and down and giggled. I remember so vividly the surprise of finding money in that stocking when we expected nothing.
After our short session of opening gifts was over, our dad told us to get dressed warm because we were going to take the lift to the top of Sandia Mountain. We could see from our house that there was snow up there and what's Christmas without snow, right? JUST as we were getting up to get dressed, the door bell rang. On Christmas. We had no idea who it could be. Mom opened the door and shouted. There was a HUGE box on our doorstep and no one in sight. No mail truck. No delivery truck. Nothing. Just a huge box.
What could it be?
We ripped it open and it was full...FULL...of presents for us. Clothes, toys, cassette tapes, walkmans, books, dolls, trucks, just...everything. It was absolutely magical. There's just no other word for it. Magical.
It was without a doubt, 100%, totally the best Christmas of my entire life. And I'm sure my siblings would say the same. I'm not sure if it was because it was so simple, or if it was because it was so unexpected, but it was all just so amazing.
I think because my family is going through something similar this year, it's just reminded me of how blessed I am. I'm so fortunate to be surrounded by people who have loved me my entire life. I'm so thankful for little miracles like a box full of toys from an anonymous friend on Christmas, and Secret Santas sending boxes of toys for my kids, and gift cards for coffee and little things here and there that remind me that we're not on an island.
I know Christmas is highly commercialized and overplayed and a far cry from the reason we actually celebrate. So lest you have forgotten during the hectic chaos of the Holiday, allow me to share my schpeel. It's not about the specific day. We all know Jesus wasn't a white kid born into a privileged society at the end of December. He was a poor, Middle-Eastern Jew, born in the summer in the most decrepit of places, in a society full of sickness and want. He had to flee for his life as a baby and grew up in a town where people said, "Could anything good come from Nazareth?" He suffered and struggled and made himself like us in order to save our weary souls.
We celebrate Christmas because the birth of Jesus Christ was the craziest and most incredible miracle ... ever. The creator of the universe humbled himself to become a baby who would later stretch out his hands and save us all. God with us. He chose to be with us, rather than abandon us. He chose to sacrifice himself, rather than watch us suffer and die with no hope. HE is our hope. Our Immanuel. Our Savior. God with us.
(That's me, my brothers, and my cousins acting out the Christmas Story for our families.)
I think that truth has just hit me so deep this year. Now I understand the heartache my parents must have felt. The stress. The hurt. The fear of the unknown. Depending on other people to meet your most basic needs is humbling and terrifying. I get that now. This has been the toughest year of my life, but not for one second have we ever walked alone. Not for one second have I ever felt abandoned, or needy, or hopeless. This year, for us, Christmas isn't about being able to give Jonah a Buzz Lightyear action figure, or new clothes, or whatever. This year, we're celebrating the fact that God gave us the greatest gift, his Son, who continues to carry us and provide for us and meet our needs. Every day of the year.
May your days be merry and bright and may you eat lots of things that are not good for you. :) MERRY CHRISTMAS!!