thoughts on christmas

I don’t know how I feel about Christmas. For the first time in my life, I suppose since I can remember, I am not all too excited. Some people might say that it’s because everything has become so commercialized. Others say that it’s because I’m getting old, thus becoming more cynical. (Old people, is that true?)

I’m not sure. But what I’ve always enjoyed about Christmas are the things I suppose I’ve always had: wonderful friends and family, much laughter and love. For me, this is a cheerful and joyous time. I get to see my loved ones and celebrate with tons of good games, food, and drink. I am blessed beyond a doubt.

This is not the case for everyone. This season can be especially hard for some, as it might serve as a painful reminder of what we do not have, or what we once had, now gone. Husbands and wives departed, kids you haven’t heard from in years. The loneliness is amplified, and broken pieces of ourselves are recycled. It can be a sort of bone-chilling emptiness.

But then one of my mentors told me something profound. He said that if we look hard enough to see beyond ourselves, perhaps we can begin to rediscover what this holiday is about–giving. If we can give, not just well-intended presents, but of our time and energy and hearts to meet the needs of those around us, then perhaps we would recapture the true spirit of Christmas. We would be modeling after the very Christ, who was sent to heal those who are hurting, mend the torn pieces, and bring life to things once dead.

I thought this was divine. Because if we all lifted our spoons to feed not ourselves but one another, then those with less would have more, and none of us would go hungry. And you don’t have to look far to see that the world is starving for our support, love, and attention.

What if God has chosen us to be a part of the remedy? What if we can bring Christmas to strangers and friends around us? What if we actually look to be Christ to those who do not know him?

For those of us who have been given much, this might seem like a tall order. The problems are plenty and overwhelming, and I don’t know where to begin sometimes. But I think upon Christ, about how God’s son exchanged all his heavenly riches to become human and understand our pain, and I guess that’s where I begin.

So, that’s my encouragement to you this year, by the way of my mentor. Pray to have eyes that are opened to the needs of those around you. Should you look hard enough, I’m sure you’ll find a way to seek and fulfill them.

Let us begin.

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Thank God for Surgery

I went under the knife again this past Tuesday. It was the third operation I’ve had in the past six years for the same old nose of mine that seems to give me constant grief. Fortunately, compared to the previous two operations, this one was relatively minor and the recovery isn’t too bad. The doctor used some instrument to shrink the turbinates (the spongy part in your nose) so that I can breathe better. I’m crossing my fingers that this is really my last.

Surgery can be a good thing. It is often needed when things in our body aren’t right, and operations are performed in order to allow our body to function as it should again. For me, surgery was done specifically so that my nose can regain its full function and lead to a better quality of life. For others, surgery can be a process that literally means life or death if something isn’t removed or corrected. I am thankful that I live in a country where I can get the treatment I need from many qualified doctors.

But surgery can be a painful thing, too. This seems to be the absolute theme in all three of my operations. The initial aftermath is difficult and physically demanding, at times unbearable. You might be dizzy or weak from the anesthesia and all the other drugs that they put you on. You might feel numbness and tingling all throughout your body. You might vomit pools of dark blood or scream in agony from the pain caused by urination. It is learning to be thankful for these things that is the challenge.

In these moments, when I am riddled in bed, wholly dependent on my ever-patient mother and father for my every whim, I can react in one of two ways. One is to be bitter and self-pitying. To play the “woe is me” card and to demand from God reasons why accidents happen and why I have to suffer. It seems natural to take this route, but this is the foolish road.

The other is to see the story beneath and above it all. To be reminded of how loving my parents are, holding me up when I walk, feeding me when I can barely chew, caring for me like I was a newborn not too long ago. Or to be able to think and pray for little boys and girls who are suffering even worse, hooked up to wires and machines in hospitals because of their leukemia. Or to remember the little ones around the world who are suffering everyday without food and clean water, those who are living out their darkest days of despair. You can learn to be thankful in suffering, too. This is the greater road that God paves.

Wisdom is the gift that suffering can bring. It’s just hard to receive because it comes in shoddy packaging. The wrapping isn’t pretty and we can’t be prepared to discover what’s hidden inside it all. But if it is given to us let us not forsake it. You might find that the lessons learned in these times are priceless.

As a friend once told me, “Don’t waste pain.” Indeed, pain is one hell of a teacher.