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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Rock Pile

It seems to happen every year. The shopping is finished. The parties are over. All of the surprises have been had. We've gone through the annual ritual of opening the family Christmas gifts in front of the fireplace, around that splendid tree that my wife always puts up. Each of the family members tends to drift off to our own quiet little corner of the house. Reading the new book. Trying on the new clothes. Playing with the new gadget. Everyone seems content.

And me? I guess I'm no different. I drift off a bit myself. I usually put away the things I received for Christmas right away. I may have to endure the frustration of trying to put together a new toy for the kids. Or I'll have to figure out what part is missing from the new gadget --- and promise that we'll shop for it the day after Christmas. But inevitably, I find myself drifting off to a place in my mind.

It's a unique little place. A library of sorts. It holds all those memories of Christmases past. I don't go there often. Really I only go there at Christmas time. How strange that is. I wonder why I don't visit there more frequently than that.

In this unique place in my mind, I find the face of Christmases past. I recall family Christmases at home when I was younger. Dad & Mom set the tone. Brothers and sister, nieces and nephews, grandparents. They were all part of the scene. Grandpa and Grandma are dead now. Long ago actually. Dad and Mom are dead too. Brothers have drifted off to their own lives. Nieces and nephews grew up. My sister continues to be estranged ... certain that she knows better than I what truth is all about.

I don't know if it's a memory of Christmases past - or a reminder of Christmases lost. Christmas in my youth always seemed a special time. But I can't say they were better Christmases. They were different. And more noticeable is how I find that they had such an impact on me. They seem like such profound Christmases now. And I find myself grieving. But what is it that I grieve? Good question.

I don't know if I would wish for things to be like they were in days gone by. I'm pretty sure that I don't. I've always been the guy who looks ahead, embraces change and believes in the future. But apparently I grieve something. And I do it just about every year on Christmas day. What could it be? What could take the most special day of the year and drive me to a melancholy mood of somber silence?

I wonder if maybe I'm just grieving the Christmases that could have been. I come from what could only be defined as a dysfunctional family. Ironically, I'm pretty sure that most of my family members would argue with me about that definition. (That in itself probably validates the definition.) I have to admit that the dysfunction saddens me. And perhaps it saddens me more at Christmas time than at any other time of the year.

Is it that Christmas can shine such a light on family dysfunction? Or is it that the world around us puts such expectations upon Christmas that any family looks dysfunctional as it fails to live up to those unrealistic expectations? Somehow I expect it is the latter. Regardless of the cause, family dysfunction seems to foist its measure of sadness on me at Christmas more than any other time of the year.

Now somewhere in this place of sadness, I find myself turning to my Lord. It's as if He followed me into this place. And just when I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed by the dysfunction of it all ... I turn and He is there. And He's saying, "I'm here, son. Embrace me." When He does that, the pain of any family dysfunction seems to fade. He is that kind of God.

I always get up in the morning and read my Bible ... before I do anything else. I was sharing with a friend the other day how intense those sessions have gotten lately. I can sit and read for hours if the day would allow. I just can't seem to spend enough time in God's Word lately. Anyway, I was reading this morning in the book of Joshua and had a profound epiphany on Christmas morning. In the book of Joshua.

Moses had died and Joshua was leading the Israelites into the Promised Land. As God had instructed, Joshua had the Levite priests carry the Ark of the Covenant ahead of the people. They had to cross the Jordan River, which was seasonally at its crest. But when the priests set foot into the Jordan River, it stopped flowing and the water piled up on one side, while draining from the other side. Soon there was a dry river bed for the Israelites to cross.

The Levites stood there with the Ark of the Covenant while something like 2 million people crossed. It was an incredible miracle. Just like He had parted the Red Sea some 40 years earlier, God again parted the rushing, turbulent and deepest waters of the Jordan River to make a clear, safe passage for His people.

After they had crossed, Joshua had leaders of the 12 tribes go and get a rock each from the dry river bed. When the priests came out the water rushed back in and the river was again fully and flowing. But they used the rocks to make a sort of a monument --- to remind them of what God had done for them.

So as I went out front to get the morning paper, the cold air confronted me. It was at that moment that I realized God has parted plenty of rushing, dangerous waters for me in my day. I've walked through amazing circumstances safely because of His intervention. I stood there in the crisp dawn and thanked God aloud. I wondered if I should build a memorial of rocks in my yard to remind me of where God has taken me.

I can't seem to help but make this annual trek to the sadder places of my mind. It seems that the Christmas festivities and the unreal expectations that our society places on them drive me there, year after year. But I also can't explain the miracle that occurs each year. I wander through the family dysfunction, observing the pain of what has or what could have been.

And always I turn and He is there. God is right there with me. And He says that Jesus is enough. Jesus is more than enough for everything that was or could have been. At our church's Christmas Eve service last night, I sat and listened to the most beautiful voice of the soloist singing, "Hallelujah, hallelujah! Son of God ... you're here with me." And the tears rolled down my cheeks as I thought about just how true that really is. He is here with me.

I stand in awe of a most wonderful God. I stand humbled, joyous over the knowledge that God is triumphant. And I stand with the unshakable confidence in the knowledge that I am His. And I say, "Merry Christmas, God. Thank you for your most wonderful gifts. No matter the pain and disappointment of life. In you I am just fine."

I think I shall start building that pile of rocks in the yard to remind me of those rushing rivers God has calmed for me to walk through. Who knows, maybe it'll become the place I can drift to on Christmas days to come.

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