Monday, December 21, 2009

Finding Christmas

I really do love Christmas. Over the years the joy and excitement has shifted from the thrill and anticipation of receiving presents as a child to the joy of giving presents and watching my own child's thrill and anticipation. And as I have grown I have come to appreciate on a deeper level the joy, love, and peace that come with the season. So this year I have been waiting, rather patiently, for that joy and peace to fill me and my true enjoyment of this holiday to start. It's December 21st folks! It still doesn't feel like it has happened and I am swiftly running out of time!

I've been singing all my beloved Christmas carols and reading the story of the first Christmas to Kylynn, but somehow, I feel miles away from Bethlehem, weary and scared in Egypt. Instead of anticipating the birth of Our Saviour, I feel stuck in the Exodus story. And I'm not even feeling like I am Moses in the story. No, Moses had the benefit of talking to God, of knowing what was going to happen before it did. No, I'm no Moses, I am just an Israelite who is a slave in Egypt. I watch and wait in fear while Moses demands our freedom from the Pharaoh and, when he refuses, the plagues begin. How terrifying to live through with only the assurance of Moses that it would be alright. Then when Pharaoh relents and lets the slaves go I have to leave the only place I have ever known and set out into the desert on the promise of something better. Then Pharaoh changes his mind and starts chasing us! Oh, and did I mention we're following a column of cloud by day and fire by night, that's a bit frightening. And then to top it all off, Moses parts the Red Sea so that we can safely pass and then lets it all come crashing down on the Egyptians. Can you imagine? Yes, it is awesome to behold, but can you imagine how frightening that would be to walk through? And then to watch all that water crash over the Egyptians? And after all of that we wandered through the desert for 40 years before coming to the promised land. That's what I have been feeling like. I'm in that desert, I have just left the only place I have ever known, I have seen awesome but terrifying things, and now am wandering, walking, and waiting. Waiting for what I have been promised.

Doesn't exactly sound like a Christmas story, does it? And yet, that's what I kept coming back to. And then I remembered some different people wandering in a different desert, afraid and waiting for a different promise. The wise men, the kings, who come to visit the baby Jesus. They first went to Herod who asked them to find the baby and then report back to him with his location. Then the wise men set off on their journey following, not a column of cloud or fire, but a star. Their journey was long and filled with fear because on their way they came to understand that Herod meant for them to give him Jesus' location so that he might find him and kill him and they decided not to return to tell Herod. They must have known that if Herod were to ever find any of them that their lives would be forfeit. Yet they continued on and kept to their decision. And after a long journey they found the baby Jesus. They found what they had been promised, a saviour.

And so, are the stories of Exodus and the wise men the same? No, and yes. They are different times, places, characters, situations, yet they are both about leaving what you know, what you understand, what you are comfortable with, and stepping into the unknown in search of the promise of something better. They are both filled with journeying, fear, and more than anything, waiting! And that's where I find myself this Christmas as well. I have long since left what was comfortable and known, sometimes I wish to go back, but that is not possible. I feel as though I have been doing much wandering and a lot of that wandering has been filled with fear. But more than anything, I feel like I am waiting. Waiting for what I have been promised. And that promise begins with Christmas.

I might also point out that the wise men did not arrive on Christmas day. They were not there with the angels and shepherds. They travelled far and waited long to receive what had been promised. But that promise was there for them all the same, just as it was for the Israelites after their journey. And so maybe this year, that is me. I am travelling with the wise men, and in a way, with the Israelites. I have left what I have known. I am frightened. I am tired. I am waiting. But my promise will be there. Even on the rainiest day, My Lord is waiting. And, even though it came differently this year, that is Christmas.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

It's not something that I like to admit, but things have been kind of rough lately. This new chemo sort of sucks. I feel like I have done little else but run back and forth from Mayo for treatment and the hospital here for blood work. The chemo makes me quite tired, it has been messing with my blood counts, my arms are bruised, I'm nauseous, and I have circles under my eyes like I've never seen before. And that's just the chemo stuff. Kylynn has been, to put it mildly, challenging lately. Christmas is rapidly approaching and I have lots left to do. And then there is the everyday stuff that has to get done. I am stressed and anxious. I honestly don't remember being quite this stressed for a long time. Stressed enough that I am sleeping poorly and having nightmares which is unusual. BUT whenever I am feeling a bit overwhelmed, whether it is 2 in the afternoon or 2 in the morning, I have taken to picking up a gift that a very sweet friend gave to me. It is a small book titled There's No Place Like Hope by: Vickie Girard. It was a gift that my friend, Katie, gave to me when I got together with her on my Nashville trip. It's not a new book and that, I think, makes it even more special. The book used to belong to Katie's mother who was battling cancer, and it was given to Katie's mother by yet another cancer warrior. Katie became the owner of this little book when her mother passed away and that she, Katie, parted with that little bit of her mother because she felt it was important that I have it makes the gift beyond precious and my friendship with Katie priceless! And look at the book, it has been well loved! The cover is worn in places, it has stains and faded spots, the inside has passages that have been highlighted and pages that have been dog-eared. That tells me that the other women who owned this book loved it too. This book has character and history. I love items like this, they are fuel for my imagination! So when I am most stressed I love picking up this book and reading bits. Or sometimes I just hold the book and think about the women who owned it before me. I think about them, in their own tough times, holding this same book, and that gives me strength. And then I think about Katie and, because she is so much like me, I know she must realize what a special gift the book is, but I marvel that she cares enough about me to give me such a precious thing that belonged to her mom. It just goes to show that even on the rainiest day, when cancer looms dark overhead and stress and anxiety press in on all sides, there are things that can offer great comfort and strength through their history and character and, more importantly, there are friends who place these things in our hands and offer us their unfailing love and support.