Our first Christmas without my husband is fuzzy.
He had left the desert of West Texas for the sandstorms of Iraq 3 weeks before. What I do remember is the sinking feeling of loneliness.
It was a month into deployment and the realization that this was not just a training exercise had hit. Our children were spoiled that year. Family sent too much, the military gave too much, and Sears Military gift cards funded my shopping therapy. We materially masked the pain of his departure, but it was a poor Band-Aid.
We were blessed at the time to have family living nearby. My parents and little brother lived less than 5 minutes from our home. I don’t have to tell you how rare a blessing that is in military life. But my eyes were not focused on the blessing, they were focused on the fear and uncertainty of the upcoming year.
In hindsight, I see the blessings that were all around us.
I think of the story of Naomi and Ruth. Naomi was so overcome by grief she could not see the beautiful gift of her daughter-in-law’s companionship. Even after Ruth’s declaration of commitment, forsaking all she had ever known, Naomi renamed herself Mara for “the Sovereign One has treated me very harshly (Ruth 1:20).”
That Christmas after the wrapping paper and dinner was cleaned up and the children were playing with their grandparents, I sank into the couch and wept myself to sleep. My mother gave me the best gift of all that Christmas – she let me sleep. There was one person missing, my most important person, but I was surrounded by those who love me unconditionally.
No matter where we are in life, no matter what circumstances or darkness we are walking through, we are not alone.
The Apostle Paul wrote,
“in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
(1 Thessalonians 5: 18)
Sometimes this feels impossible, but Paul was speaking from a place of understanding. He knew trials (Colossians 4:18). He knew hardships. And even more clearly, he knew what it was like to be separated from loved ones.
“But when we were separated from you, brothers and sisters, for a short time (in presence, not in affection) we became all the more fervent in our great desire to see you in person.”
(1 Thessalonians 2:17)
Over and over again in his letters he mentions his desires to see those he is writing to, he asks them to come to him (2 Timothy 4, Titus 3:12) or asks for prayers that he will be able to visit them (Philemon 1:22).
Sometimes it is easier to rename ourselves “Mara,” to see ourselves cursed by God and miss the blessings He places in our path. May you and I seek rather to follow the example of Daniel instead.
When all were against him, when his co-workers were marked by jealousy and sought to destroy him, when the King signed a declaration that could cost him his life, what did Daniel do? He continued to do what he had always done.
“When Daniel realized that a written decree had been issued, he entered his home, where the windows in his upper room opened toward Jerusalem. Three times daily he was kneeling and offering prayers and thanks to his God just as he had been accustomed to do previously.”
In every situation,
in the midst of every fear and tribulation,
whether we have lost everything like Naomi,
whether we are imprisoned and alone like Paul,
seeking death by lions like Daniel
or lost in the loneliness of deployment,
“Shout out praise to God, all the earth!
Sing praises about the majesty of his reputation!
Give him the honor he deserves!”
For some, traditions center around holidays, such as Thanksgiving. But traditions can come in all shapes and sizes.
Try this easy outreach in your neighborhood this Easter.
Making New Year’s resolutions won’t make us better people, but being filled with the Holy Spirit will give us life.
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