This year, our family has struggled as we almost lost Travis in April. It was only through the grace of God that Travis's life was saved, but - as he rehabs and slowly recovers the ability to do things that we all tend to take for granted - we are reminded daily of those frightening moments earlier this year.
We've also dealt with the news that Joanna's kidney disease has progressed, the prospect that she will likely need to begin dialysis in 2014, yet have hope in the possibility that she will soon be added to a kidney transplant list.
It's been a year of downs and ups, followed by more downs, then ups, and so on - a rollercoaster if you will.
I don't know what Christmas means to other people and families experiencing pain at this time of year - whether illness, injury, hunger, loneliness . . . because everyone's circumstances are different and, even within the circumstances, everyone experiences them differently.
So I can speak only of what Christmas means to me this year, as I've worried about the health of my son and my wife, as we've made the difficult adjustments involved in bringing Travis and his family into our home while he recovers, and even as we were introduced - in November - to our fourth grandchild, the third child for Alison and her husband Adam.
Because of Travis and Christy's travel plans, our family gathered Sunday afternoon to celebrate Christmas and open presents. Before we opened presents, I read a passage from Luke's Gospel, as usual, then gave a brief (after all, there were four squirming grandchildren in the room) testimony of what Christmas means to me this year.
In a nutshell, this is what I told them . . . the only way I've made it through this year without despairing has been God's presence. One of the first things I did, after arriving at the hospital that night and getting Travis's prognosis from the doctor, was to begin texting friends & family to tell them about Travis and ask for prayer. This is because I've learned through many experiences in past years that God wants to hear our concerns and wants us to ask Him to share in those concerns.
I don't know how I would have made it if I hadn't had the constant assurance that our gracious and loving God is with us, caring about all that we are experiencing, even experiencing it with us, holding us close, carrying us through it.
Through the years, I have learned that I can trust God for what I need - and that I DO need Him all the time. As I write this, I'm reminded of the words of a beautiful song that we sang 50 years ago in Joe Dell Rust's Youth Choir at Bethany Baptist Church in Kansas City . . .
I’ve seen it in the lightning, heard it in the thunder, and felt it in the rain; My Lord is near me all the time, My Lord is near me all the time. When the thunder shakes the mighty hills and trembles ev’ry tree, Then I know a God so great and strong can surely harbor me.Another song comes to mind as well, my dear friend George Gagliardi's In the Shelter of My Father's Loving Arms, which says all of this much more eloquently and beautifully than I can.
I've experienced that safe harbor - that shelter - of the Father's loving arms over and over again. This presence of God isn't something that's theoretical or even theological; it's real. Not just in the frightening moments of life but in the joyous ones as well.
God was just as surely with me in that hospital room in November when I held my new grandson as he was with me in another hospital room in April when I looked at my son, fearing for his life. God is with me every day as I build and nurture relationships with family, friends, colleagues, and others. The challenges of my work - both for TBC and the Maston Foundation - are, honestly, beyond anything I can do on my own, so I confess that to God daily and ask Him to do His work through me; if it's my work, it fails; if it's God's work, it's glory.
That's what Christmas is really all about. It's about God coming into the world to live with us and care for us. It's about God's presence in our lives today, consoling . . . moving . . . motivating . . . instructing . . . counselling . . . equipping . . . caring . . . loving.
Christmas . . . God's presence in us through Christ . . . so that we can be Christ's presence to others. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15, NIV)