Mississippi, the week before Christmas
-December 20, 2022
John Hugh: Coming Home for Christmas
Christmas week 2022: we are not in France. We have been back in the USA, seeing friends and family and enjoying being home again. Yet is it home? Of course, we are where I was born and raised, full of familiar faces and people about whom I care dearly.
And yet, it’s not altogether our home anymore either. Paris is growing more and more into home. And at the same time, it feels in no way as comfortable as being back in the USA, particularly in Mississippi.
Make no mistake, I love being in Mississippi and feel very much at home. It is like the old jacket or sports coat that always fit so well. Yet you don’t want to wear it all the time. You still have an entire wardrobe. That makes you unique. So for us, and other missionaries, or even others who live in multiple places, where exactly is home?
Here is the truth: all of us want and desire a home, a sense of place, what feels safe and comfortable. It’s in our DNA as humans. It is, I believe, a big part of how God made us. And yet, this earth is not our home or so we say, but it’s hard to live. In most every way, we create a place and space here, thinking it is our home eternal. It is not.
So what do we do with this conundrum? I think it’s possible to literally have the best of both worlds, through a very real Christian faith. How so?
Embrace the Reality of Home on Earth
We want the perfect Christmas card picture – literally we want that picture of home. We do all we can, running around, going to all the events, to make it happen. It’s hectic. In fact, this year being “back home” is much more so than last year in France. In France, there were less people to see and less parties to go to. We had more time to reflect, rest, and see a different part of France. Here, the schedule is packed seeing family and friends. And it’s not all perfect. We just have to embrace it for all it is: Christmas, loving yet imperfect families, and the Christmas rush.
Embrace the Reality of Having a Real Home in Christ – at Christmas and Always
The cliches are all true: home is where the heart is and there is no place like home for the holidays. Yet it does all depend on where your real, true home is.
Christ had no real home at His birth. Many of know the stories, and we often know them without reflecting upon them. The journey to Bethlehem. No place to stay. The journey and sojourn in Egypt. He literally had no place to lay His head.
If we follow Jesus, are in Him, remain in Him, He is our true home. And through Him, many places this side of heaven can be home, because of Him. We are never alone and we are always at home with Him.
So especially at Christmas, there is no place like home. When we are in Christ, that means Christmas is more meaningful, because we know, we know – He came to give us and bring us home. And our true home is in our heart, with Him.
I’ve struggled a lot in life, feeling different, at home in many places, yet not fully. From Mississippi to France, this is true. There are aspects that feel very comfortable, yet not all. I’ve realized in Christ, they are all simply unique facets of my life, just as they can be with every other person. You can love and enjoy many different places because you know they represent part of you, yet never all of you. As a Christian, there is really only one, true part of you – and that is as a Christian.
This Christmas, we will enjoy being home, where we are. How? Because we know we can be wherever and still be home. Don’t miss the real message of Christmas: your Savior came to our home to be sure you will never be without a home.
-December 8, 2022
Linda: Hope & The Imperfect Family
I am unprepared for Christmas. Moving twice in one year and a broken ankle in the fall, means minimum Christmas trimmings for this family. The fake Christmas tree was a big win. John Hugh couldn’t handle the standard French Christmas tree from last year. We decided it was too much like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. Apartments and homes are smaller here, and thus, the Christmas trees are too. Our Christmas spirit is still clinging to an American spirit in thinking bigger is better. Navigating online ordering from the Netherlands because I couldn’t find a tree large enough locally is just a sampling of our minor, yet time consuming cultural adjustments.
Every Christmas I am haunted. It’s the painful memories of a broken childhood. It’s the continual devastation of my father’s passing 20 years ago – my family of origin is like Humpty Dumpty, all the pieces never got put back together again and the sting of crushed dreams still lingers. In the past, a house brimming with white & gold decor, gingerbread houses, & a record pace of holiday events pushed the deep ache into a dark corner of my heart.
This year, I am ready to share that dark corner with my family. Every night in Advent, we turn off all the lights in our home, and reflect on the primal hypnotic effect of a live flame with candles. One candle for every night of Advent is the idea. In the past, we have read cute Bible stories, created prayer chains, acted out Christmas stories with figurines. This year, I am ready to bring the raw reality of Christmas to our home, and that includes the incredible honesty of Jesus’ birth.
I told my family we are going to share our hopes together:
hopes that have lead to despair,
broken hopes we haven’t fully resolved,
hopes God has realized in a beautiful way,
– all of them –
bruised or beautiful hopes,
we will share as we watch the flames flicker.
At last night’s devotion, I asked my youngest, “Who is Jesus’ father?”, and he gave the answer that is correct for a “perfect family” we all are aching for in the Christmas season. “It was Joseph,” he said, but he is not correct. God is Jesus’ Father, and the scandal of a virgin girl impregnated by the God of the universe is enough to cause a torrid of gossip in any town.
As I pondered this unlikely family, stepfather and young mother, I fast forward to Jesus in his 30s when he is crucified on a cross. Not only was his birth a divine miracle in the most unlikely of families, his death left his mother without a son the rest of her life, a crucifixion surely being one of the most horrible ways to lose a child that any parent could endure.
Where is the perfect family in Jesus’ life? Why do we strive for something that even the Son of God didn’t strive for? God took the initiative to redeem a broken world, but in no way did he live a more charmed life than ours. Why do we complain so when the secret to our life on earth is realizing it’s a place of stewardship, not a place of destination.
No amount of Christmas decor, holiday cheer, or thoughtful presents will fully numb loss, disappointment, or fear. The light that came into the world on the symbolic Dec 25th, the birth of a Savior, is hope promising perfection later. Until then, we don’t shy away from the dark corners of disappointment in our hearts. Jesus knows. He did not shy from scandal. He did not have a great lineage. He had no honor in his hometown. He was betrayed by those he poured into.
I am learning all our bruised and beautiful hopes need to be brought before the throne of God – a Christian phrase that means you dump your heart before God in the rawness that is you. You don’t hold anything back. You ask Him those hard questions.
The people who walked in darkness
Have seen a great light;
Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death,
Upon them a light has shined….
For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this. (Isaiah 9:2,6-7 NKJV)
We are the people walking in darkness, who cannot ignore our battle wounds of just trying to live life. “The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this” means the God of unshakable plans will accomplish everything He intends, and that means our deepest wounds are woven into God’s story.
I told my kids tonight that I don’t know why they nor John Hugh never got to meet my father, why the ongoing struggles in my family of origin keep his death an ever present reminder, but I am finally becoming ok with it being a messy picture of unresolved questions. My father’s death lead me to the joy of my salvation, and nothing, nothing can steal that joy from me. The “Lord of hosts”, the God of unshakable plans, is worthy of my trust, even my messy tears. Hope doesn’t equal a perfect family, and Jesus is the most perfect, imperfect example to me.
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