Blaine prepared a homemade bean and ham soup. It was hearty and delicious. I had also made a pumpkin pie for Christmas Eve and we each enjoyed a piece before leaving for the service. The temperature had dropped into the upper 30s as the night wore on and we all commented on how chilly it was outside when we left the house.
We arrived 30 minutes early to the service, as Nicholas needed to assist with the sound set-up and make sure the person running sound for the service knew what he needed to know to run things without him.
We parked on the street next to the old chapel. A familiar place to us, as we had attended church here for a few years. As we crossed the street on this dark and chilly Christmas Eve night, we looked over at the chapel with its illuminated doorway and saw the homeless person covered in burlap sleeping… I gave thanks that the entryway offered a little protection for the person who was sleeping outside. My heart was shaky and unsettled. Such a picture to see on Christmas Eve… Why tonight of all nights, I thought.
We found seats and settled in to wait for the service to start. I felt uncomfortable and awkward being in the service. Why? What was different from any other Christmas Eve we had been there? People began filling the sanctuary. People chatted all around us. Blaine and I tried to make conversation, but it wasn't easy. Why? I thought about the homeless person across the street? Did he or she know the service was starting? Did anyone invite him/her in? Did the person hear all the cars arriving and people chatting and walking on the sidewalk? Were those just normal sounds that this person deals with on an everyday basis and tunes them out?
My throat was a bit irritated and I was thankful I had grabbed a piece of gum from the car to chew, but its moisture was gone. Just before the service started, I was aware that I could smell perfume and cologne on some of the people that walked past. Please don't sit by us, I thought… I decided a quick trip to the restroom was in order before the service began and I didn't want to chew on this tough gum anymore. I spit it out. Service began and the first song was being sung. Hark the Herald Angels Sing. My throat was really irritated and I was constantly clearing my throat as I tried to sing. Ugh. I have to leave and get another piece of gum from the car, I thought. I don't want to irritate everyone around me (as the church was very full) by clearing my throat every 2 seconds.
Quick trip to the car for gum (and I grabbed an extra piece too). I couldn't help my eyes wandering to the homeless person still lying in the chapel entryway. Nope. No one had invited the person in to participate in the service… I wanted to help; offer some assistance. What could I do? The restaurants are all closed. I forgot my iPhone at home, so I couldn't do a search for what might be open. Coffee? Not an option at this hour.
Then my mind really started going? Had anyone else stopped to offer anything to this person? Had the church leaders seen the person? They must have. Did they help out in some way? Did the people attending the service see the homeless person sleeping in the entryway? Okay, enough thinking ~ I need to get back to the service.
As I approached the sanctuary once again, I realized I smelled something. Soap? Perfume? What was it? Strange. I hadn't noticed it before. Back in my seat, the smell of perfume was really bothering me. I leaned over the Blaine and told him I couldn't be in the sanctuary and would be out in the foyer for the service. Later, I discovered Nicholas had texted my phone and asked if the music was still too loud - but I didn't have my phone to know that he was concerned…
It's a really uncomfortable place to dwell in - "being on the outside looking in" but a place that I recognize and have grown accustomed to. Here I was in this beautiful, modern architecture church (yes, that's the one above) sitting on a bench against a glass wall looking at the wood beams above me, the concrete column next to me and feeling the coolness of the glass behind me. One of the doors to the sanctuary was slightly ajar and the basket that held the candles was on the floor. An usher and a church leader were in the foyer visiting to my right. I listened to the service and my eyes just kept staring at the basket and the door knowing how many people were inside the sanctuary for the service. "Is this how Jesus felt?" I wondered. Our focus is on the gathering, our lives, our jobs, our children, our interests, etc and a precious, humble, overlooked gift is sitting right outside our door?
Please understand me. I am NOT judging anyone. I'm not saying anyone at the service was doing anything wrong. I am sharing what happened to me on Christmas Eve at an 11 o'clock service and what God shared with me, how I lived through this time and what was running through my mind. It's a story that unfolded so I could learn from it. Me. I have much to learn still. And, I learn even more by sharing theses stories with others.
The worship band was finished and came out to the foyer and visited with the other two people mentioned before… Pastor Joe had started sharing (and I wished they would please stop talking as I was trying to listen). Didn't they know that I couldn't be inside the sanctuary? No, they didn't. No one had asked me why I was sitting in the foyer. That's okay. I'd rather not explain and I did want to hear what the pastor was sharing.
And, my eyes kept looking out the window over to the homeless person across the street. The ache in my heart was growing… Does anyone else see the person over there? How I wanted to shout it out, but I didn't. What could I do? I felt helpless. Were we missing the whole story here this Christmas Eve? Was Jesus trying to sleep in the entryway to the chapel? While we were in this warm, beautiful, high tech place was He waiting on the steps of the outdated, too small chapel? And, my heart ached more.
I was upset with myself for forgetting my iPhone, as I could have taken photos of what I was seeing for I knew God was writing a story on my heart, as all this took place. How I LONGED to share the images with others. Would they see what I saw and experienced this Christmas Eve night? Would their hearts ache, as mine was? (I later realized that my small, compact camera had been in my purse the whole time… another lesson learned - too connected to iPhone. My brain was truly paralyzed as everything unfolded. Change is coming to my life.)
I desperately wanted to be included in the service. I wanted to be near the celebration of Jesus' birth. I wanted to belong. And yet, here I sat on a hard wooden bench, listening to Joe's Christmas message. Alone. And, I felt as the homeless person may have ~ wanting someone to say there was room in the inn and be invited inside…
Joe shared how Jesus was born into the chaos of this world. Into crazy family dynamics, political unrest; the messiness of the human world. It would be no different if He had been born today. How true are the words you share, I thought. How very true.
As the service concluded and everyone was lighting their candles in preparation for singing Silent Night (a highlight of the Christmas season for me), I remained outside in the foyer. No little dripping candle to hold. No candle lit sanctuary. I could even hear our friend, Richard's, voice from Christmas Eves past talking of the darkness and how Christ's light came into that darkness. So much beauty, but not for me on this Christmas Eve night... I knew if I returned my throat would begin to tighten. As Eric and the worship team sang my favorite Christmas carol, O Holy Night, I dropped to my knees on the cement floor and faced the glass window; singing this incredibly beautiful song. I sang to the night, to the homeless person and to the world. And when Silent Night began, I got up and sat on the bench once again.
Hundreds of people exited the sanctuary and I stayed next to one of the cement columns next to me. Someone had turned on a camera inside the sanctuary, so I had been able to see Pastor Joe as he shared. Thank you. Now, I could see my three men ~ Blaine, Benjamin and Nicholas in the pew that I had previously shared with them. How ironic I thought that my family would be in view of the camera. My heart ached that I couldn't stay in the service, that our life was complicated because of my chemical sensitivities and because of Jesus and the homeless person across the street. It had already been a difficult holiday season for us after an eventful year and all the changes that had occurred in our lives. Emotions ran high, but in the past hour - I was completely overwhelmed and on overload… (and after pondering how I felt in the service, Blaine and I determined that there must be a "deodorizer" in their HVAC system at the church, as we realized I have a similar reaction every time I'm in the sanctuary and the realization hit me that I won't be able to return to a service there again. This girl just needs to find an old-fashioned, low tech country church somewhere I guess… Not a judgement on this church or any church, just my reality.)
I struggled through Christmas Day. In all honesty, so did Blaine. Something had happened to us the night before at the service, the year had unfolded in ways we had not hoped for, and the boys were playing video games in Nicholas' room all day long… More observations, not judgements. (Okay ~ maybe there was judgement about the Christmas day activity, but I'm over it now.)
But, we made the best of it. We enjoyed FaceTime conversations with family (one of the things I love about technology). The food was delicious and good wine pairings were made for all to enjoy. But, the homeless person haunted my thoughts. Jesus haunted my thoughts. The "pictures" from Christmas Eve would not fade from my mind.
And, yesterday, as I shared with my massage therapist what had transpired she replied, "You were given a most precious and treasured gift. Jesus shattered your heart Christmas Eve, so His love can pour through it." I replied, "But, I didn't do anything. My brain was paralyzed at the service. I couldn't think clearly and felt I had nothing to offer when I did have a blanket in the car. I had a few dollars in my wallet. I did nothing. I felt utterly helpless with nothing to offer." Janice said, "You gained perspective. You see now how you can respond, if you should respond, how others might have been feeling too. You have been given a very precious gift - A SHATTERED HEART." And, as I left her place of business, I said, "Thank you Jesus that you loved me so much that I should receive such an amazing gift from You. I don't feel worthy of it, but with Your help and guidance I want to live the life You have for me. I don't know where to go from here, but You do."
And, I know that with all the broken pieces and shards of my shattered heart, He shall create something beautiful if I will simply let Him be in control of my life….
What I thought was one of my worst Christmases ever has turned out to be one of the very best!
And, I am so incredibly thankful.
"…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope." Romans 5:3-4