For many years, while living in Phoenix, our ministry family found intimate community inside the walls of a beloved church on Christmas Eve. Last year, in our small seaside town, we were wondering where we might worship, if our absence would be noticed by the community we’d enjoyed over the past four years after a church split. This year, our circumstances haven’t changed much.
In the early days of ministry in the desert, our back yard met the asphalt of the mega church parking lot where my husband served as one of fifteen pastors. On Christmas Eve, we padded our shiny shoes through a battlefield of pecans; hair haloed by orange trees, their bounty brushing our velvet and lace. We pushed a large wooden gate open in the center of a cinder block wall like the closet door of Narnia, walking into the sun setting golden, bouncing her light shadows off rows of windshields and arms swinging with gift bags.
Seventy-five people followed us back home after worship, ushering in the heart of Christmas.
It started with a few pastors and their wives needing respite between an early evening and midnight worship service. Soon our casual invitation grew into a tradition. We began pushing furniture against the walls to make room for a swelling staff and close friends, the overflow sitting cross-legged on the floor with laps of chili con queso and tamales. My children still talk about those years with fondness.
That familiarity of community ended ten years ago. We didn’t realize what we took for granted until experiencing our first Christmas in a new place.
Over the past year, we’ve walked through the stages of grief with the broken we barely know. After losing their home of worship in a church vote, we’ve witnessed family separating, like arguing over who prefers chicken more than roast beef for dinner, holding their empty plates waiting for crumbs with mouths drawn open. We’re all still a bit misplaced.
We’ve continued holding onto our own family traditions like grasping a life raft in the ebb of ebony darkness, moonlight as our only compass.
I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. (Philippians 4:11-13, MSG)
Our faith can seem sturdy, like a fortress of inner strength, until loss presents itself. The crutches you’ve been leaning on that were invisible to your senses reveal themselves and once again, you realize that you are dust in desperate need of saving.
Adversity is the rope pulling you toward the shores of hope, don’t despise it. Hope is learned, not something you are born with. May the Hope of the world become flesh in your circumstances this Christmas and gratitude be the song you hum continually
Shelly Miller is smitten with the art of story to transform a life. She writes about her own struggles as a child of divorce and alcoholism, and the way God redeems it all as a clergy wife raising two teens. With experience as a full-time missionary, advocate for orphans in Rwanda and leader of women’s ministries for small and large congregations, she is passionate to help people realize calling despite circumstance. Connect with her on her blog Redemptions Beauty, on Facebook and Twitter.
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