I suppose it is inevitable. If you live long enough, your holidays begin to be affected by tragedy and loss. Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's: When we're children, they are characterized by pure excitement, anticipation and joy. They tend take on a deeper meaning each year, like the year when I saw Mary with a new heart as my baby jumped inside of me at the sound of the Hallelujah chorus. The holidays may even spark a new, raw emotion, which you are unable to name. Three years ago, our Thanksgiving brought news of cancer returning with a vengeance. Our Christmas was characterized by a final meal and one last Christmas tree, followed by a pain and suffering we had never known before. Our New Year's Day was a strange juxtaposition of a new start and a last goodbye. Today, one dear friend faces the first Christmas without her mother. Another gives her 4-year-old early Christmas gifts to help cope with a shocking diagnosis of cancer. Another stands by her family in a hospital room, savoring every smile and sign of appetite. At our church, we are reminded that human beings are curled under bridges, in below-freezing weather, hoping that they will wake up to see another day. This is hard. This is more than we can take. But this is the greater meaning and what inspires me and infuses my hurting heart with hope:
Graceful strength in the face of tremendous loss
Faith and trust in a big God to do big things for a little girl
Unwavering loyalty to family, implicit trust in God's plan
God moving in the lives of thousands of volunteers and setting compassion's fire within their hearts
And, AND... an improptu manger scene, now built in my playroom...where Barbies and Polly Pockets are dressed as wise men (and women), shepherds and angels. Where the baby's gifts are Chuck E. Cheese coins. Where the Littlest Pet Shop animals keep watch over a silent, amazing night of long ago when God came down and walked among us - Immanuel. This is why Christmas belongs to children. Excitement, anticipation and joy. They've got it all, and they're willing to share. Merry Christmas!