Christmas morning,1981. I can see him through the floor-to-ceiling front windows as I pull up to the house. My father, dressed in his camel hair sport coat with the suede patches on the elbows, cup of tea in his hand. He doesn’t come to greet me as he sees me; instead he turns and walks away, prepared to leave. Not because he is heading out on some early morning holiday errand, but because I am there. And I am not welcome.
I’m not sure why that Christmas morning, of all the Christmas mornings in my six-plus decades of life, came into my memory this year. But as I sit this Christmas morning, watching the red sunrise through the bare trees, a scene many might consider dreary and foreboding, I am overwhelmed with gratitude.
The gratitude is not for the warm, comfortable home that I now sit in, with the lights of the tree and the family that will soon join me downstairs; it’s not for the welcome that I will receive later in the day at the home of my sister, surrounded by siblings and their families who truly love me; it’s not even for the favorable doctor’s visit that I had a few weeks ago, declaring me another six month’s removed from my cancer diagnosis.
These are all wonderful blessings which have come about in my life, unexpectedly different than what I thought my life would look like on that lonely Christmas morning 37 years ago. It took a few more years for my father to welcome me back into his home; a few more years that my mother and siblings had to endure the heartache that my selfish choices created; a few more years before I would lay aside the arrogance and stubbornness that I chose to wear as a badge of honor, claiming independence and self-sufficiency. A few more years before I would put down the alcohol that I used as a source of comfort and courage and accept the gift of freedom that comes with true surrender.
But my gratitude this Christmas morning, as tears streamed down my cheeks, comes from acknowledging the underlying reason for all these blessings and many more. It overwhelms me when I clearly see the one real difference in my life, the “common denominator” to which all the dramatic changes in my life can be attributed.
The woman who pulled into that driveway in 1981 was alone, terrified, yet indignant at being judged; a 25 year old law student who thought she knew all about what was important in life, even as she sported two black eyes, a partner in rehab, and a barely functioning car. She didn’t arrive bearing gifts for her parents and siblings but was seeking comfort and “familiar”. It took years before she found what she was looking for, before she even realized something was missing.
I sit here now, a 62 year old mother of three, 33 years away from her last drink, a cancer survivor, who was able to help care for her father at the end of his life. Sometimes I wonder how I got here. But this Christmas, I know it is only by the grace shown by my heavenly Father that I have been able to make this journey with any degree of success. An infant, born in a “bleak midwinter” over two thousand years ago, unwelcomed in ways I can’t even fathom, and my belief in what some consider “just a story” is the only real difference between my life then and now.
It makes no sense, yet it makes perfect sense. I can’t point to any other event that could explain the transformation that has taken place in my life, and in the lives of others. I have been shown forgiveness and thus have been able to forgive; I have been comforted in loss so that I could comfort those experiencing similar grief (2Cor 1:4); and I have been welcomed where I once was an outcast. For those who knew me then and now, I pray they recognize a difference, and acknowledge the reason for the change. For those I have met during these last 3 plus decades, I apologize if I have taken any credit for where I am today, for it is only by God’s grace. And for those I may meet going forward in this new year, may I never be ashamed to give a reason for the hope that I have (1Peter 3:15).
I may experience some “bleak midwinter” mornings going forward. Things may not go as I hope, or as I think they should. But in those times, I need to remember where I was all those years ago, and how differently my life turned out from what I had imagined or planned. And I will remind myself, with God’s help, of the source of that life-changing event, a Christmas morning which demands my attention and gratitude every day. “Now to Him who is able to do more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Eph. 3:20-21)