There was that Christmas.
The year I was so grateful to have a last-minute mural project so we could afford a tree and a few gifts for the kids. That one.
I drove to the home in my ten year old Ford Explorer (the one with no heat) (which is now 17 years old) (which I still sometimes drive) to work inside the couple's indoor atrium in their sprawling mansion, and I felt my gratitude seep out of me like air from a balloon.
I plugged in my earbuds and listened to worship music as I scrambled around hot-house plants, boulders and statuary in that oversized, sticky terrarium. Did I mention it was like 85 degrees in there? I tried to focus on Jesus, but man it was hard. I was so sweaty.
Happy thoughts, Rachel. Happy thoughts.
And then came the clincher. My client asked me to stop down and help her pick out her new Mercedes.
Yes. An $80,000 addition to their fleet of Hummers, two other Mercedes, a Viper and a Hemi truck. Should she get the hot red coupe, or a granite gray sedan? Which did I think made a better statement? She tapped her manicured nails as she waited for my answer.
OK. While I appreciated that this lady valued my artistic opinion about color and style, I wondered if she had noted the statement I had made driving up in my old red Explorer? I think that statement said, "I wish this car had heat, and also an oil change."
Pretty sure I mumbled "red coupe, definitely" before retreating back to my task, and I grumbled at God the rest of the afternoon for not taking better care of us. All gratefulness was gone at that point. Seriously, God? Thanks a lot.
But as fate would have it, on the way home I heard a heart-wrenching story on the radio of a family whose needs dwarfed mine. Children with special needs, cancer, home destroyed by storms, jobs lost.....they literally had nothing. Not even an old red Explorer to get them to a job they wished they had.
God has good timing when He wants to make a point.
My eyes stung with tears as I clutched the cold steering wheel. Oh that beautiful cold steering wheel. The check in my pocket would help us make it through the holidays with a few gifts under the tree, but in that moment I received the greatest gifts of all.
The gift of gratitude. Of surrender to His story. Of not comparing. Of remembering that Christmas comes - no matter what our circumstance - to remind us of the Giver and not the gifts. The Savior and not Santa.
And Christmas came. It lurched awkwardly in fits and starts into our lives that year. Other years it has come in like a typhoon of activities and events, leaving us exhausted and spent in its wake. This year, it is slipping in quietly and without much fanfare. I still have not started my shopping, but that's beside the point.
But it will get done, somehow. And Christmas will come. And with it, the story of hope and love and peace....no matter what is swirling around me.
And I remember this:
Phil. 4:11-13...I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.
And with it comes the knowledge that God knows exactly where I am and what I need. His story is so much bigger than how many presents are under the tree or if my hair looks good for the Christmas parties. He wants us to see Him, in all His glory and radiance, in the midst of the activity, the baking and the recitals. In the midst of a drained bank account.
He is here. He is Emmanuel - God with us.
Today, let's stop and let Christmas come - maybe in fits and starts, maybe quietly - and find us ready to see Him. To celebrate Him. To seek Him.
How is Christmas coming to you this year? Is your circumstance making it difficult to celebrate the season? I get that. Let your focus be on Him and His presence with you in the midst of it. He brings hope and love and peace - the greatest gifts of all.
He is here.