Last night I sat at dinner with my friend P. and a group of her friends I affectionately call "The Church Ladies." These women have known each other since time immemorial, and though I'm something of an adjunct member because I don't attend their church, they always welcome me with open arms and warm smiles. We are all "women of a certain age," and with that come the inevitable joys and sorrows. We talked of aging parents who were ill, adult children who were far away, grandchildren who delighted us. One woman chose her meal carefully, mindful of dietary restrictions because she was to undergo a PET scan today to check the progress of her cancer. One woman talked of her daughter - a wife, mother, and grandmother herself - who was actively dying of brain cancer and would never see another Christmas.
In short, we told lots of stories.
Minutes ago, I read a status update on Facebook, written by our new minister at church. He was reflecting on this time one year ago when he was working as a UPS driver, helping to make ends meet for his family after completing an advanced degree and before finding a new home church. "My spirit trembles in remembrance," he wrote. "This time last year I was...making minimum wage. Knowing the job ended Dec 24. Knowing no other job was yet on the horizon. Wondering when, if ever (and if so, where), I'd get a chance to minister as a pastor again. And here I am in Livonia, Michigan. Among people who love to serve the Lord. Who love each other. Who continually and generously embrace Jennie and me with that love. Lord, your ways are so mysterious. Your grace so overwhelming . . .
We all have stories, don't we? I recall two years ago when I was reeling from so much loss - two beloved family members, my husband's job - dealing with a mountain of stress at work, uncertain of what the future would hold. Yet we rebounded from grief, jobs were restored, and best of all, we were blessed with a miraculous new grandchild who holds all the hope for the future in his tiny little hands.
Each one of us can relate times of joy and despair, mingled together in the large soup pot we call life. But in the telling and sharing of these stories we deepen our connections and understanding, increase our empathy, and gain insight into our own situations. It's one of the miracles of Christmas, that we feel our frozen hearts begin to thaw and open, that we make time for gathering together and telling stories of the year gone by, rejoicing and comforting one another as the need arises.
May your Christmas be blessed with places to tell your own stories, friends to tell them to, and time to listen to other stories that touch your heart.