As far back as I can remember Christmas was my favorite. When I was seven my mother, sister and I left everything familiar to start a new life in the south. My mother was very brave and, following a difficult time in her life, she left the comforting presence of her parents in Chicago to go to a new land God was calling her to. A place without family and friends but the comforting knowledge that God’s hand was leading her.
After that move, going home for Christmas looked like long hours in a car, black garbage bags filled with surprises that would later appear wrapped and under a tree and excitement bursting the seams of my heart. We were met with the warmest of hugs from my grandparents, fires in the fireplace, a two-story house with hidden nooks and crannies to explore and usually a beautiful snow! It was a magical place to a little girl’s wounded heart. It was the time of year when the joys of the moment filled up the cracks and crevices of a heart that still bled.
My grandparents filled that time with as much love, joy, laughter and fudge as possible. I can still see them dressed in their robes on Christmas morning, hair still mussed from a short night’s sleep, beaming with happiness as they watched us open presents. They never seemed to tire of their soap on a rope or new flannel nightgown. They embraced the sparkle in our eyes of dreams fulfilled. We spent many Christmases this way, even returning every other year with my own husband and children.
The north became a place of childhood memories that encompassed more than a brightly lit tree or even the ever longed for snow. It became a place that spilled over with all the love that made us family and connected our hearts in a way that no amount of miles could undo.
Fast forward 39 years – the time I left my home in the north for the south.
This time the Lord was calling me instead of my mother. My husband went to his heavenly home this past February after his 14 month battle with brain cancer. Three months later I knew the Lord was leading me to leave all that I knew and come to a land He was calling us to. I was a mother of 4 children, three of whom were teenagers. I felt very alone and yet I wasn’t. Our move to Tennessee was one footstep at a time. Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith , we trusted Him to go before us as well as behind us. We left with broken hearts, hearts that are broken still but mending, and yet we took with us the Healer of all brokenness.
As Christmas is approaching and I have begun preparing my heart for more of Jesus, He has given me the gift of remembrance. He reminded me of the joy I felt running up and down those stairs at my grandparents and now I chase my granddaughter up and down the stairs in my new home. He reminded me of the cozy feeling in my heart that I had sitting in front of my grandparent’s fireplace. Now I settle down with a blanket and book in front of one my son has built. From the tiny window over my kitchen sink to the bed swing on my sunporch, the Lord has surrounded me with sights that say, “I know your heart. I know what makes it sing and what will remind you that I am still here. I am faithful.”
And so He is. He is the lover of our soul and pursues our hearts to the very end.
This year, for Christmas, I felt God giving us permission to color outside the lines. So, I want to invite you to do the same. So many times we feel like we must do what has always been done. We must meet what other’s expect of us. We must go to that party, host that gathering, send out those Christmas cards, bake that recipe. What if we chose something different? What if we talked with each other about what makes our hearts sing? What if we chose to spend our time this season doing things that bring life and healing to each other’s hearts? Visit the lonely that don’t have family nearby, bake cookies for a neighbor, watch the Christmas movie that only one of you love! As you listen to the hearts of your loved ones you may even discover something that will become a new family tradition.
As for our family, we will be having more than one Christmas. For some of us, we need a new Christmas memory in our new home by our fireplace. For others, we need to go north, to the cold and the snow and make new memories accompanied by the old familiar sights and sounds that comfort our hearts. As I sat this morning and pondered how to meet each child’s longing and fill those broken spaces, I felt the Lord saying, “It’s okay to color outside the lines. It’s okay to do both and I will fill their broken spaces.”
So this Christmas, may you color outside the lines and may you see Jesus in the new picture that is created.