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Christmas is for Giving

Are you as happy about Christmas as I am? This morning Don and I walked into church a few minutes late. The Christmas music had already begun, and I felt uplifted, caught up in praise for the God who became man so I might know him personally.

John 1:1 says “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” And verse 2 takes it the next step … “He was in the beginning with God.

Tying that scripture together with others, “he” is clearly Jesus! Jesus is the final word of God to the world. Responding to religious leaders who said they were children of God, but didn’t believe him, Jesus said, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me.” (John 8:42) 

Christmas is historically a season for giving. We give because the greatest of all gifts, forgiveness and reconciliation, was offered to us through the birth, life, death and resurrection of a child that first Christmas. I was recently reminded of a Christmas season seventeen years ago when I needed to forgive myself, to let go of lingering guilt, to become reconciled within myself.

I wrote,

“Two years ago I said goodbye to the love of my life as the last breath left his body. The guilt I felt was not about what we’d call ‘big’ things. It was rather about the little things I could have done and didn’t. Last Sunday the pastor spoke about how our masks keep us from vulnerable openness and meaningful interaction with Jesus and with those we love. I realized one of my masks is people pleasing. Much of the guilt I’ve felt relative to Jerry’s death has to do with those areas where my people pleasing mask led me to take care of everyone else, sometimes to Jerry’s loss.

“On Thanksgiving evening two years ago, I left Jerry’s side in the hospital to take the wife of another patient to a Thanksgiving dinner prepared for us by loving friends in this Florida community, 3000 miles from home. As I told Jerry I would be back to see him later, he looked at me with disappointment in his warm brown eyes. With a tracheotomy in his throat, Jerry couldn’t speak, but his face left no doubt that he didn’t want me to leave. 

“I felt torn. My husband was in his fifth month of hospitalization following a liver and pancreas transplant. I believed he may have another three or four months in hospital before recovering sufficiently to be released. I adored him and spent most of every day with him.

“But the medical team encouraged me to maintain a life outside the hospital in the event Jerry didn’t survive. I was tired. I knew the other woman wouldn’t go to the dinner without me, and that these friends had prepared a special meal to minister to us. All good reasons; but reasons which led to a choice. Would I stay with Jerry, or go to that dinner to ensure my loving friends didn’t feel they’d made all this effort for nothing? I went.  

“I returned to the hospital later that night to find a five inch pile of clotted blood at Jerry’s side. His blood, oozing out of his vacuum-packed wound. Within moments doctors filled the room. I stayed until about 1 am when Jerry was stabilized, then went home for a few hours’ sleep. Three days later my sweetheart passed away in my arms after yet another surgery revealed he was bleeding uncontrollably internally and the surgeons realized they could not save his life. These last two years I have been unable, perhaps unwilling, to let go of the guilt I felt for leaving Jerry’s side for a few hours that Thanksgiving evening.

“That guilt–that sorrow over having left his side for a few hours that night– would not leave me. Hesitant to let go, unable to let go, I spent this second anniversary of my husband’s death in Carmel, where Jerry and I shared many wonderful, loving times together. I shopped in Carmel Plaza and watched the sky darken. As evening fell, the festive lights renewed my spirit. 

“Back in my room later, I pulled out my laptop and began a letter to Jerry. Six single-spaced pages and bucket loads of tears later, I felt released, at peace. While I knew God and Jerry had forgiven me for my felt failure to Jerry, I couldn’t forgive myself for sometimes letting others interfere with living out my love for him. I needed to tangibly spell out where I felt I’d failed and ask Jerry’s forgiveness. It was in recognizing my mask of people pleasing, in openly acknowledging where I felt I failed the man I loved with all my heart, that I was able to receive his forgiveness as well as to forgive and become reconciled within myself.”

If I am unwilling to forgive myself, I in essence say that what Jesus did at Calvary is insufficient to cover my badness. I live as if I have to add to the forgiveness He so graciously provided, and at great price

Because of this Christmas, I have a deeper understanding of the gift of the Christ-child, who came to forgive and to give me peace in relation to Himself. Once again I received a very significant forgiveness that resulted in peace where there was guilt; and joy in the knowledge of my husband’s love for me and mine for him, uncluttered by lingering guilt. But it’s only in vulnerable openness, in removing the mask of people pleasing, that I have been able to receive His forgiveness, recognizing it IS enough, even for me.”

In the midst of all the shopping, music, decorating, and family times, where do you need the gift of the Christ-child? I’ve received many of his gifts since Jerry’s death, including a new love and life with my current husband, Don, with whom I’ve now shared eleven Christmases, soon to be twelve. Do you need forgiveness? Wholeness? Peace? Wisdom?

Christ promises these to us as we come to him and wait on him, when he says 

“I came that they might have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10 ES

As you look ahead to Christmas, may you feel the joy of Christ’s life-giving sacrifice to make us whole, whether in this life or the next.

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