I woke up on Christmas Eve about twenty minutes before everyone else. My daughter Willow was still fast asleep in her cot and despite her giving me a lie in that morning, I didn’t have to use it. I woke up and actually felt rested and content (very rare indeed). I had my husband next to me and a dog who hadn’t flapped his ears violently and woke everyone up once the entire night. I lay there until the alarm went off thinking of just how blessed I was.
Christmas was always a big deal in my family growing up. None of us were Christian so I’ll be honest, it was mostly about the food – but from a young age I adored everything about the holiday. When I got married I fully intended on passing on my holiday cheer to my husband Aaron; I wanted us to replicate the holidays my parents had given me and made him crazy with my constant carols and cinnamon candles throughout the house. There was a massive build up as I counted down the days. Then, on Christmas Eve, Aaron (through no fault of his own) became ill with some kind of virus that had him in bed for three days straight… and I mean literally in bed! I spent the whole weekend on my own, eating all of the food I had slaved away making. I spent Christmas Eve crying in the living room on my own, tub of Celebrations in front of me ready to try and eat away my disappointment.
This is a scenario I’ve seen myself repeat; unrealistic expectations and the devastation you feel when reality inevitably fails to live up to my standards. When I was young my father had a serious brain injury and to spare you the details, I ended up taking care of him within the family home whilst essentially homeschooling myself. I knew a couple of people my age here and there but as a naturally shy and introverted kid I ended up retreating into a world of literature. Most of what I learned about the world came from books or television – which made my entry into the real world when I went to college at age sixteen quite a shock to the system, to say the least. In fact a slap in the face is probably a more accurate turn of phrase.
People lied and got away with it, the truth didn’t come out in the end and motivations were much harder to decipher – even my own. There was no structure and sometimes no rhyme or reason to how people behaved. Becoming a Christian when I was twenty didn’t improve matters – they were just as confusing and problematic as everyone else. Contrary to how a lot of Christians sell themselves, the first churches I attended weren’t utopias of acceptance and grace. I found myself wondering whether I would ever find a place I felt I belonged. But more importantly my disappointment in other people led my heart to grow cold not just to those around me but to God.
When I woke up on Christmas Eve, I was overwhelmed with the love God had shown me through the people in my life. Once I believed that there was no one in the world who cared for me – now I have a little girl who cries before I even leave the front door because she can’t stand to be away from me. I have a husband who holds my hand and tells me everything will be okay when I share my cares with him. I have friends who have persisted when I’ve pushed them away, nursed my heartbreaks, laughed with me (and at me). I believe all of this is by the grace of God and that God’s will is that we allow him to use us as a tool of encouragement in His hands, to be this light in a world full of fallen relationships and disappointments; that we stand side by side as we all make this journey home through a foreign land.
When you ask someone you don’t know that well to go for a coffee, when you invite them round for dinner, when you take time on a Sunday to not just ask how their week has been but how you can pray for them – and maybe even let yourself be vulnerable and let them know how they can pray for you – you are building God’s Kingdom here on earth and showing those around you, your brothers and sisters in Christ, one important and beautiful aspect of the Godhead; relationship.