The holiday season: that hate it or love it time of the year. You think about all there is to gain or you remember what you've lost.
I went into this Christmas excited as always. Getting to see whether my family's Secret Santa gifts would wind up in the closet or the returned items bin at Macy's or Marshalls is always fun, but being reminded of the miracle that found its way to a manger in Bethlehem is honestly what I love about that time of year. Quite frankly, the whole thing still amazes me. Eternity stepping into time to save the undeserving? Yeah, I am compelled to celebrate—whether presents fill the living room or not. But then, there's family. The presence or lack of family members around can seemingly make or break one's holiday season.
I didn't realize that until this Christmas.
My family spent Christmas morning reflecting on the birth of Jesus, then laughing (most often at my mom who decided to wrap gifts from and to herself and actually place them under the tree) as we exchanged gifts; but by nightfall, the laughter had turned into prayers for a miracle to take place in my uncle's hospital bed. He'd been taken to the emergency room that morning and was now never expected to walk, talk, or comprehend again. That is, if he made it through the night.
Another kind of amazement found its way into my mind and heart.
How is it that someone can be full of joy one night, and breathing their last breaths the next?
Why so sudden?
And God, why on Christmas?
Questions seem fair when the unexpected arrives as God doesn't seem so loving when a loved-one dies.
But what if I told you that the man who was lying in that hospital bed was in a prison cell just months ago? And he'd spent almost a quarter of a century there. While that makes his new life in the real world seem all too short, him being in that hospital bed surrounded by family meant that not only had he gotten to live beyond prison walls and enjoy time with his wife, but he was free to die at this point. Freed from dying as an inmate. But even more, he'd already been freed from dying as an enemy of God. While he entered the system guilty before his maker and his criminal record was certainly stained upon his release, while bound in prison, he'd testified to having a clean slate before the Lord. His death would mean a trip home.
So, what if that's the story?
Well then, all the questions prior seem quite silly. Natural for us and even accepted by God, but silly because we can't handle the myriad of scenarios that could begin to answer our questions.
Yet, our perplexity and confusion over life and death persist. While we may know, we don't understand. I know that God has the whole word in His hands, but I don't understand how exactly. He gives and takes away, all while being holy and loving. A duality I can't fully comprehend.
But as I looked out an airplane window on New Year's Eve at the clouds and all the Earth below, I was reminded of a simple truth:
God is not asking to be understood, just trusted.
I can't even explain how an airplane is able to remain above ground, so what makes me think I could understand the doings of the God who simply spoke that ground into existence?
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:9)
A popular verse, yet unpopular belief. God's height is not an invitation for us to attempt a climb. Instead, it offers a humble position for us to accept. And not only can that acceptance save us some sleepless nights and extended headaches, but our holidays and new years can still be filled with joy. While not everyone has a happy ending to their story or exit from this life, most have had the opportunity to live and breathe and thereby experience God's grace. And those of us still able to do so get to fight this good fight of faith and enjoy more of God in our mortal bodies while looking forward to one day having all new ones in a place where there is no more pain, crying, questioning or confusion.
That very day we get to spend Christmas and New Year's absent from our fragile bodies, but present with the Lord.