The reason for the Season… Giving, coming of our Savior, peace on earth, good will to all people…I remember these reasons each year. But there are deeper reasons—reasons that are forgotten in the busyness of the days. God, in God’s faithfulness, gives me opportunity to remember.
One of my favorite authors is Charles Dickens. I love the cleverness and humor of his writing. I also appreciate the manner in which he used his stories to highlight the plight of the marginalized. Each Christmas I watch the Christmas Carol and am blessed by this emphasis. So much is packed into that little story. It sets the tone for the season. God must have known that I needed an extra dose of meaning this year—in addition to Dickens—and gave me three prompts.
The first reminder was a graduation. I’ve participated in hundreds of graduation ceremonies through the years. As faculty we are required to be at them on a regular basis. This graduation ceremony, however, was qualitatively different. A number of years ago, I taught in the Tennessee Prison for Women, a maximum security prison. It is a program of Lipscomb University, here in Nashville, that offers the opportunity to inmates to get an Associates, Bachelors, and now Masters degree. I taught classes on Disciplines for Christian Living and Faith and Culture to fulfill their Bible requirements (part of their degree requirements). I have not taught there for four years, but this year six of the students I taught were graduating. I was thrilled to get the invitation to attend. The graduates each gave a speech to the audience of faculty, administrators, family members, and fellow students. They expressed their gratitude for the gift of being able to earn these degrees. Speech after speech spoke of the transformation they have experienced. It was touching to hear their hearts and see the tears and pride on the faces of their family members (and all of the rest of us!).
The second reminder occurred at another correctional facility–the county jail. My husband, Randy, works with a non-profit, Tennessee Prison Outreach Ministry, that works with recently released individuals and teaches courses on life-skills in the prisons. They were throwing a Christmas party for the families of women in jail. We arrived first and got to watch as the families came in. Santa and the Grinch were making the rounds, but time and again, I heard little ones asking, “when will she get here?” They were most excited to see their moms. I roamed around talking to kids and family members until the women came in. I knew it was then time to back off as the families were reunited. The children raced to their moms and hung on for dear life. It was especially touching to see the older children, teenagers and young adults, hug their moms and cry with them. What an honor to get to watch these reunions.
My final reminder was at a retreat center. I am on the board this center, Penuel Ridge. They offer a once a month retreat for the homeless. It was my first time to participate in this retreat and my job was to help serve the twelve guests. They came in, had breakfast and sat together in the living room to be oriented to the day. About half had attended before—the rest were first-timers. They then had the morning to enjoy the peace of the place. They slept, hiked around the property, had their clothes washed, showered and shaved or just sat and talked by the fire. It was a lovely morning. The morning ended with lunch on real dishes and with cloth napkins. They ate their fill and we wrapped the leftovers in foil for them to take with them. The retreat then closed for the group with a time of debriefing in The Living Well—a sacred space in a small building near the main house. I was privy to the ways they had been blessed by the day—many of them talked of peace and the ability to let down their guard. They, of course, loved the good food and coffee. And, they appreciated the opportunity to receive with no strings attached. My eyes were yet again opened to my taken-for-granted-privilege and the overwhelming needs of those in my own community. I was blessed at a deep level of the heart.
I’m not sure why I was given all these prompts this year, but I am filled with gratitude. To be part of God’s healing love in this world is the greatest gift of the Season. I am grateful to have the opportunity, just for a moment, to serve the least of these. I am forever changed. I pray that like Scrooge I will remember to live this way every day of the year.
Grace and peace to you,