Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Perfectly Imperfect Christmas

Hope and me seated on the floor, just outside the sanctuary at Broadstreet United Methodist Church

It came in the mail, a rather ordinary invitation probably sent to the entire city.  A mass mailer.  Those things we all hate.  The 5 X 7 card said my family was invited to attend the Christmas Eve service at Broadstreet United Methodist Church.  My perfectly imperfect family invited to what would be a perfect Christmas Eve service, one that had probably been planned and rehearsed for weeks.  I read it aloud to Lydia and actually smirked when I said:  "Oh, OUR family is definitely not invited!"  Then I tossed it in the garbage. 

The entire week, I thought about that invitation.  I couldn't get it out of my mind.  'Were we really invited?' I wondered.  Would they accept two non-verbal kiddos who make lots of random (sometimes loud) noises?  Would they show grace and mercy to a couple of little ones who are unable to sit still?  There was only one way to find out.  

We arrived at 10:45pm.  

While unloading Hope and Charlie from the car, a homeless man approached us with his arms raised, "May I approach you, Ma'am?"  I honestly didn't have any cash to give him, but I told him we were going to the church on the corner and asked if he was planning to attend.  He said something I couldn't understand and shook his head.  In response, Hope melted, likely feeling unsure about the stranger, so I ended up hauling all 50+ pounds of her down the sidewalk, up the steps, and into the church.  
'Is our family invited?'

We made our way up into the balcony (uhhhm, yes, I was still carrying Hope) and onto the back row.  Why they began the evening with a trumpet solo, I cannot fathom.  But they did.   Charlie, to everyone's surprise, immediately began to mimic the sound....and was actually louder and more shrill than the trumpeter.  After being seated for all of two or three minutes, we quickly rose to our feet, scooted at maximum speed out of the balcony with horn baby in tow, and made our way back down the steps.  
'Is our family invited?'

We decided to have a seat in the floor, just outside one of the doors leading into the sanctuary.  We literally plopped right onto the floor.  All was going fairly well, too, until the homeless guy waltzed in and made a bee line straight for us.  I still couldn't understand anything he said, only something about "the children", but he seemed nice enough.  And Hopey began making giggling noises at him.  One of the church workers eventually came and offered the man a seat in the church.  And after getting him situated, the worker returned to us, bent down on the floor, and spoke to both Hope and Charlie.  The kindness in his voice caused me to well up and nearly bawl.  
'Our family is invited.'

The message centered around the shepherds who were the first to get news about the newborn King of Kings.  They were considered the lowest of the low in that time, the poorest of the poor.  My mind immediately went to the homeless man.  The shepherds were probably a lot like him.  Sleeping outside must have made them dirty.  I bet their hair was wiry and clothes tattered.  The homeless man was seated in a pew in that church just like everyone else.  He may of been seated next to someone accomplished, well educated, or wealthy.  It didn't matter.  He was listening to the message of Good News.  The BEST news.  The news that was and is for ALL people.  
'The homeless man is invited.'

The evening ended with communion.  An usher, not forgetting us, brought communion to the floor.  He didn't act like it was odd that everyone else in the church was seated in either a pew or a chair.  Honestly, he didn't seem to notice.  Following communion, candles were lit and the moment we'd all come for began.  It was finally midnight; the chimes tolled twelve times.  Christmas had officially arrived.  We gathered our two special ones and took them into the sanctuary to be engulfed by the worship of the One who came to earth so OUR family could be the homeless man could be we ALL could be invited.

Hope couldn't contain her joy.  Her arms flapped wildly as a smile took over her entire face.  "This is for you,"  I whispered in her ear, having a difficult time containing my own delight, "Jesus came and did all of this for you."

Maybe you found an invitation in your mailbox this holiday season just like I did.  Or maybe you didn't.  The true invitation is an open one that doesn't come in the form of a 5 X 7 card, but instead, comes wrapped in swaddling cloths as a baby.  God came to earth to change the world; He came because of His absolute boundless love for you!  
YOU are invited!

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Magic That Makes Christmas....Well, Christmas

We were victims of a three car bump up on the way to the Christmas Tree lighting festivities last night.  Lydia, Hope, Charlie, and I were only twelve minutes away from our destination, sitting at a stop light sharing what was left of two large orders of Chic-Fil-A waffle fries, when we felt the impact.  A car hit another car that finally hit us.  The cops came, traffic was backed up, and people were honking horns and waving fingers at us.  It wasn't pretty.  But thirty very long minutes later, we arrived on Broad Street to see the 45 foot live tree, planted back in 1960 in front of what used to be the old post office, already lit.  Standing tall and majestic.  Waiting for us.  We were twenty minutes late for the evening's festivities, but we made it.  

Noticing a very large group of people moving as one down the street, away from St. Luke's Episcopal Church, I darted off to join them, calling for Lydia to follow.  

"Where are they going?"  Lydia screeched, pushing Charlie in his stroller as I forged on ahead with Hopey.

What a crazy question.  Was it not obvious we did not have time to worry about details?  Couldn't the kid see the throng of strangers moving away from us at a fairly fast clip of speed, likely headed toward something joyful?  "I don't know where they're going,"  I pronounced, now pushing Hopey in her handicap stroller like a woman gone mad, my long black sweater flying behind me, "just hurry up and stay with me!" 

She was panting rather loudly, trying to keep up:  "Why are we running after them if we don't know where they're going?"  

"Lord, normal teenagers like to follow the crowd, right?"  For a split second I began to wonder why I was left to raise the one rebel.  "Listen, you should be thanking me for helping you burn those Chic-Fil-A waffle fries." 

"You look like Batman with a long cape,"  she snarked, trying to be funny.  It wasn't funny.  Bat woman might have been funny, but not Batman.        

How appropriate it was that we all stopped in front of what used to be my church, the former First Baptist Church building.  A quartet of men came out on the front porch to lead us in carols, and within seconds, the outdoor scene became a pseudo worship service as a mish-mashed group wondrously became one through familiar song.  "Joy To The World", "Hark The Herald Angels Sing", and "Away In A Manger" rang out through the voices of both the young and old, the rich and poor, the abled and disabled.  Then it happened.  Magic.  The Christmas magic we all anticipate each year.  The magic that makes Christmas....well, Christmas.     

The tempo slowed and voices softened from that of a roaring wind to the gentlest breeze, permeating the night air with the song of all songs.  However, what began as a delicate revering of the One for whom the song was written, crescendoed, without warning, into harmonies, growing louder and more powerful as each phrase of "Silent Night" was articulated....yes, what was initially a simple melody serenaded to the baby in a manger burst forth and erupted into the praise and celebration of Who that baby was.   Husbands, in response, reached for the hand of their wives, parents bent down and squeezed their children, and nearly everyone wiped a tear or two.   

Hope and Charlie are nine and six and still very much non-verbal.  Even though they couldn't physically sing last night, their spirits were rejoicing in song on a level beyond what my mind can imagine.  I felt it when they reached for me, hugging me and kissing me over and over again, smiles covering their faces, uninhibited love spilling out, covering me.  No words needed.  The Love of Christ.

You've experienced it too.  It's what keeps us all pressing forward even when times are so tough, we don't know where our next breath is going to come from.  It's what picks us up and dusts us off when we've been kicked down.  It's the filler for those empty spaces left by loved ones who have gone before us, the glue in families who are living far a part, a certain peace that settles in the midst of chaos, and the flicker of light shining in the face of darkness.  It's the baby in the manger, the cross on the hill, and the empty tomb.  And it sneaks up on us and finds us in the most unexpected places.  Last night, after a three car bump up, it found me in Cleveland, TN.

As you hurry and scurry about during the next days preparing for Christmas morning, my wish for you is that you find the magic that makes Christmas....well, Christmas.