Friday, December 25, 2015

A Time To Reflect, A Time For Thanks

It is officially Christmas Day, 2015. It's somewhere the other side of midnight and things are out of whack -- outside at least. It's a warm, steamy night in Virginia. Thick clouds obscure the full moon and stars that are up there somewhere and the windows are open and the ceiling fans are humming. And still it's hot in here. I refuse to turn on the AC. It's late December. That's ridiculous. Even if it means I can't sleep because I'm too hot.

But the other side of being sleepless in Gloucester is that the kids are all in bed, the house is quiet, the Christmas tree is lit up and the presents are spilling out from beneath it. It's like this every year for me, these nights that by the light of the Christmas tree I take a few moments to reflect on my life over the past year.

I'm not going to lie. It's been a hard stretch in many ways going back the past 14 months or so. The thing that comes to mind first is two miscarriages. Two blessings we've missed out on. Our babies give us so much joy as a family, there's an excitement and an anticipation that builds through the pregnancy. There's a sense of wonder with the little kids when we bring home a new baby. For so many years we've celebrated another birth, welcoming a new baby brother or sister so routinely it's become a part of the fabric of our lives. There's always been another baby and those days are drawing to a close. Or maybe they have drawn to a close. Either way, I miss them.

I've had some ongoing health issues over the past year that doctors can't quite figure out and on some really rough, painful nights I've trundled 2-year-old Seth into our bed. I like to listen to him breathe and I put my head right up against his soft cheek. He's a snuggler and he'll burrow into me and for a little while I forget what's ailing me. He comforts me the way our babies always have. There's been many nights when it's me and a baby in my arms in a darkened house and listening to those fast, little breaths, feeling that skin like cotton and smelling that new baby smell and everything is alright in the world.

My work as a missionary ended earlier this year and it's just ... I don't know how else to describe it other than painful. I was unable to raise enough support to continue as a missionary working with an organization that launches Bible-teaching schools in Africa and Haiti. The cold, hard truth is that I wasn't any good at asking people for money. It's a flaw of mine where I pretty much stink at asking for help. I don't like goodbyes either but that's another flaw, another story. The missions organization I was with is doing work that changes lives and offers hope both spiritually and economically to downtrodden young people and I loved being a part of it. The people in the organization are wonderful and they're doing great work. I've seen and met many people whose lives have been changed through it. It feels like failure to leave it behind. It's hard. I don't really know how else to put it.

I'm extremely thankful and grateful for the work I'm doing now and the opportunity some friends of mine here in Gloucester gave me to work with their PR & marketing firm after leaving the missions work. It's a huge blessing and I really believe we're doing great work. But it's just one of those things I wrestle with, where my heart is to spread the gospel and to elevate lives and I was a part of that ... until I wasn't. It's an ongoing conversation I have with God, wondering what it's all about and why. But learning to trust in His plan when life doesn't make sense is essential Christian living. A Christian is believing -- knowing -- God has something else afoot and is waiting. Always waiting as it says in the book of Hosea, to wait on our God continually. Always expecting. Always ready. The life of a follower of Christ is gripping the faith to take the next step when you don't know where that foot will land but taking it anyway. I'm learning it. I'm working at it.

But in so many ways these are all such little, trivial things. This past weekend at Taylor's wedding affirmed what a gift I have with my family. My kids all love Jesus. That's a blessing. We're happiest when we're all together and my kids are patient, kind and loving to each other and they love to be with Julie and me, even the older ones. Sadly, that seems all too rare in this culture.

In a few hours the kids will all be up. The little kids will frantically be trying to get the older ones out of bed and we'll gather in the living room in our pajamas. The kids will pass around the presents under the Christmas tree, many of which they got for each other and we'll take turns opening them. I'll fix my traditional seafood chowder and I'm thinking it will be so nice outside that maybe we'll walk down to the beach. We'll have the whole day together. That's the best part. Really it's the only part that matters.

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