"Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord," Luke 2:10-11
For those of you that know me well and know my story, you know this Christmas was the fourth I have had to spend away from home and family. For those that didn't know, well...now you do! I can't begin to describe how extremely hard it has been to be away from family during the holiday season, it seems each year it gets harder and harder. But, alas, it is not my intention to receive sympathy or any of that sort with this note, as you will find out in the next few paragraphs...
The very first Christmas I spent away from home was in 2007, having just completed my first semester at Anderson University (AU) in Indiana. I was invited to spend the winter break in Ellicott City, Maryland with my aunt Suzanne Haley and her family. To offer some clarification here, she is not my blood relative Per Se, she is my aunt nonetheless. I had a wonderful time and felt like I was part of the family, and that helped make things a lot easier, as far as being away from home and family was concerned. The next Christmas (2008) was also spent in Maryland, this time, my sister Charity was there with me, having just completed her first semester at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. It was an exciting time having a member of my family there with me...away from home. The third Christmas I spent away from home was spent in Greenwood, Indiana. I had decided to stay in Anderson, Indiana where I was house-sitting for someone over the winter break. My sister decided to travel from Atlanta to spend Christmas with me. Having no plans for Christmas day, a friend of mine (Jake Duke) I had come to know that previous semester invited me and my sister over to his house in Greenwood. And so, Christmas 2009 was spent with the Dukes.
I dreaded this winter break long before it arrived. For one, my sister and I had, during the summer, been thinking of saving up some money and flying home for Christmas. However, due to several extenuating circumstances, we had to use the money to help pay for expenses during the fall semester and our plans to travel home fell through. On the other hand, now that I had moved out of the dormitories at AU into a rented house (because it is cheaper), it would be cost effective to have my sister come down to Indiana, yet again, and spend Christmas here, and that is exactly what we did. I knew this would be a really hard time for both of us but it was something that, in a way, had to be done.
I was sitting with my sister one evening at my house when the moment I had been dreading arrived. We started talking about Christmas, about being in Anderson with hardly anything to do, and worse, being away from home during this time. In most of the conversations I have had with my parents and siblings [usually over the phone] at this time of year for the last three years, it was clear the pain that was felt on both ends at the sacrifice we were making to be apart. This time around it was different, I could feel my sister's pain and sadness...it was almost tangible, and it broke my heart. It was clear that we were both miserable and sad, but I found the courage to say this to my sister: "You know, you are right it is hard being away from home at Christmas. The way I see it though, we can either choose to be miserable, or be thankful for what God has blessed our lives with." I said this to her in a matter-of-fact way, but in a way, I needed to say this for myself as well. I had no idea what that would look like, but I was trusting God to take care of us. The very next day, I got a call from Bob Pearson, President and founder of Horizon International who I had met just a couple of weeks back while attending service at Celebration Church at Arrow Heights, here in Anderson. Upon finding out that Charity and I did not really have any plans for Christmas, he extended an invitation to us both to spend Christmas with him and his wife Christine. We discovered, when I stayed behind to talk to Bob after the service, that he knew both my parents, and as a matter-of-fact, he had been in my mom's office this past October! I couldn't believe my ears when I heard him say that, and here I was on the phone with him, the whole time just saying "thank you Lord" that we had a place to spend Christmas!
I have often, if not always, dismissed certain occurrences in my life as coincidences, and this was no different. I could not explain how it all came together-how we found a place to spend Christmas-but I knew it in my heart that this was something Papa was doing, it was God-sent. And there was a lesson to be learned here; when we begin to be thankful, not because something good is happening in our lives, but when everything seems to be the exact opposite of what you hope, in those moments we find the meaning of true joy. I found that joy this Christmas, the joy that comes from above! Do not mistake me as saying that means everything is okay, that it's not hard being away from family anymore...rather, that by not focusing on all the things that weigh me down and instead counting the blessings, I am thankful for all God has done, and is doing in my life, and I have found joy in that. So much to be thankful for...
As I sat down to write this, I had the song "This Christmas" by Chris Brown on my mind. That may come as surprise to most of you, but one line in the song goes..."This Christmas will be a very special Christmas, for me!" This has been true for me, this Christmas has been a truly special one for me!