Have you made your Christmas list? Have you checked it twice? Have you asked your loved ones what is on their Christmas lists? I’ve always found it strange that lots of people exchange their exact list of wants with their relatives so the relatives know what to buy and the list writer is assured that they get just what they want. It’s less like a gift list and more like a directive to your personal shoppers.
As the seasons go by for me, I find I want less and less. A few years ago, I remember preaching a sermon emphatically stating, because I finally realized it myself, that the only gifts that really matter are the ones the church has been talking about all along. It is the tradition in most Christian churches to light advent candles and to sing, preach and envision these five gifts: Hope, Peace, Joy, Love and Christ.
I realized that year, if I had those five faith gifts, I would be complete. I don’t need new slippers or a Roomba. I don’t need a smart tv, a new car or a puppy. Or I guess I could say it backwards, if I had all those things but didn’t have hope, peace, joy, love or Christ, I would be nothing. That is even in our Bible written almost that way.
I often teach, as do others, that this life is just practice for what is to come. We are here in Earth School to learn how to love real people, how to find peace, joy, hope and connection in the midst of our real lives. We are here to learn about Jesus and model our lives after him. For our family and so many others these past challenging years have seemed like graduate school level or maybe even doctorate level Earth school classes.
Today, I had to go to a scary mammogram. For breast cancer survivors, mammograms are always terrifying. For the past ten years, I used to go every six months for my mammograms. More recently l had been promoted to only once a year. Except last June they saw something they didn’t like. I was taken quickly to the same room where I’d had a biopsy once before. lt was not a good room for me. The doctor who called me 10 years ago to say I had a malignancy appeared in that room and did an ultrasound. It was the longest ultrasound in the history of ultrasounds. She kept saying “hmmmm, I don’t know…” the more times she said that the more times I trembled and cried. This was during the time last summer when I was facing/waiting for hip replacement surgery so I felt I had enough on my plate. I couldn’t imagine adding a recurrance of cancer to it.
In the end, in June, she told me it was probably nothing, just to come back in December. I ran with that and distracted myself with the pain, the hip surgery and then the recovery. Until today. Today was the re-look.
This morning I chastised myself because I had not told anyone but my husband and one friend, Rhonda, that the scary mammogram was today. Rhonda was diagnosed with breast cancer at the same exact time I was. She and I have walked a decade long road together because God provides. Today I wished I would have let all the people who care about me pray for me. I get mad at other people who don’t let me pray specifically for them. Now, I was that person. My husband offered to go but I told him he had work to do and besides they don’t let strange men in the mammogram waiting room.
I arrived as the usual mess I always am for mammograms except maybe worse. When I sat down, I was shocked to see Rhonda there, just for me. She’s not a strange man so she slipped in like any woman about to have a mammogram. But, she was so much more than that. She was Love embodied. She was Hope. She was Peace. She was Christ reminding me I was not alone. She was every candle of Advent rolled into one. She was the only Christmas gift I needed.
She’s the same one, ten years ago, who showed me pictures of her grandchildren and said you have to be here for grandchildren. I told her I couldn’t imagine it. Today, wisely, she asked to see pictures of our third grandson’s one-year-old birthday party from yesterday day before. Together, we waited for my scary mammogram looking at new life.
I do not need anything for Christmas except the gifts God so desperately wants to give. You do not need anything else either.
The same doctor told me today that all was well, all was clear. She told me to enjoy Christmas. I said, Yes ma’am I sure will.
Last week I mentioned that Advent was all about being awake, aware and in touch with God’s deep wish to give us a future filled with hope, despite all evidence to the contrary. Are your Christmas eyes open for Hope, Peace, Joy, Love and Christ this year?
Maybe you’ve already seen God’s gifts delivered into your grief, worry or trouble. Maybe your gift is seated in the waiting room of your scariest place, love embodied with a mask on. Maybe it will be delivered in your darkest hour, the smallest ray of starlight. Maybe your gift is coming in a package you weren’t expecting so you will have to have eyes wide open to notice.
What’s on your Christmas list this year?
Dr. Cindy Ryan is a pastor, wife, mother of three, breast cancer survivor and Mosa to Keller, Pace and River. Go to http://www.drcindyryanblog.com to read more blogs, to sign up for Cindy’s Inner Circle monthly email and to see upcoming speaking events.