Thursday, January 1, 2009

Peace to You

As a pastor's wife, the weeks leading up to Christmas all the way through the New Year are typically the most hectic, busy, and all-around exhausting weeks of the year. There are extra church services, tons of gatherings, presents to buy, people to visit, kid's to pacify after sugar highs and missed bedtimes... The list goes on and on. But for some reason, the holiday season this year has comprised the most restful and enjoyable weeks of my entire 2008 experience.

I've laughed (at my friend who dressed up as Flavor Flav for our "Bling-Bling" New Year's party), I've cried (at the sight of my 5 year-old singing in his very first Christmas pageant), I've enjoyed great food (warm from the oven sticky-toffee spoon cake, my dad's ham, my grandma's chocolate covered cherries, a fantastic Beaujolais, honey glazed salmon...), and, remarkably, I've reveled in more than my share of peaceful evenings at home with my family (Christmas music playing softly in the background and requisite multi-colored lights twinkling on our tree). Bliss.

But this holiday season was especially meaningful to me because I met God. Twice.

I don't know about you, but I'm not one of those people who can "hear" God talking to me on a regular basis. He doesn't call me up on a Tuesday morning to shoot the breeze or answer my prayers with a voice booming from heaven. The times that I have clearly felt the presence of God (as if he was sitting beside me, whispering something that for once I could actually make out) are few. Usually my experiences are mere suggestions--a breath of awareness that prickles my skin and makes me wonder, if only for a moment, Is it you? And I'm fine with that. It's enough. In fact, most of the time it's more than enough. It makes me keep longing for that moment of connection, that almost mystical experience of the divine.

But, like I said, this Christmas season granted me a deep awareness of the One Who Is. I think he knew I needed him.

The first time I felt God this season coincided with the first time I held my new nephew in my arms. My brother and his wife have been waiting to adopt domestically for nearly eighteen months. And less than ten days before Christmas, their little son was finally born. He's beautiful and perfect and tiny. My baby (who is definitely no longer the baby of the family) thinks that his new cousin is Jesus. That might border on sacrilege, but since he's two we'll let him get away with it. In fact, I'll welcome the comparison because for a few seconds as I held my new nephew and kissed his sweet, soft head, I felt the weight of all God did and the depth of his love for us and the beauty of the grace that he so freely gives press on me so heavy that I swear I caught a glimpse of heaven. It was breathtaking.

The second time I felt God was on Christmas morning in church. My husband and I were blessed to go to a more traditional church in town where the sound of the organ so transported me back to my youth I had trouble singing all the beautiful hymns around the knot in my throat. It was lovely. But it wasn't in the songs or the sermon that I was so moved. It was in the lighting of the Christ candle. The woman who rose to light the final advent candle was middle aged with brown curls that were beginning to gray and a pretty purple pantsuit that fit her just so. She walked slowly to the front of church and took the long, lit matchstick from the pastor with solemn grace. Usually, I watch the candle, not the candle lighter, but for some reason my eyes were drawn to her on Christmas morning. She was radiant. She grinned as she lit the candle, and when she blew out the match she watched the smoke rise with such expectation I believe she caught a glimpse of heaven. After church we happened to walk out together and I couldn't stop myself from telling her that she did a wonderful job. She hugged me like we were long lost friends, and I understood without a doubt that God does have a very special place in his heart for people with Downs Syndrome. So do I. She was gorgeous. Illuminating.

Anyway, as we head into 2009 I have a wish for for you (and me). I wish you peace. The sort of deep, ineradicable peace that is steadying against whatever storms your coming year may hold. The sort of peace that keeps you watching, even expecting the next moment when the veil will be pulled back and you will feel a touch of holiness as real as a hand on your cheek. I know I'm being a sentimental shmuck, but I have a whole new year to crust those jagged edges around me again. I like starting fresh in January, and I like it that God continues to peel back those layers and find the woman inside. She still believes in it all.

Grace and peace to you in the coming year.

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