“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” ~ Charles Dickens
Every year for as long as I can remember, my family has had this Christmas tradition:
Early in the morning, after an even earlier big breakfast that includes everybody’s favorite foods, we gather around the tree to read the Christmas story and distribute the massive pile of presents. Massive because there are so many of us, and though we pretend to talk about drawing names “next year,” no one wants to be told that they can only give to this person or that one. Finding the perfect gift for each family member — and writing the cleverest tag — is a huge part of our Christmas fun!
Each present will be opened and admired by us all, one by one, in a process that takes at least three or four hours. (Hence the big breakfast — gotta keep up our strength!)
But after breakfast and before the Christmas story and the presents, we’ll take a few moments to go around the circle — youngest to oldest — each person sharing a highlight or what they’re most thankful for this year.
I’ve been thinking what I’ll say when it’s my turn this Christmas. I thought about it a lot yesterday, when I pulled out my 2015 planner to begin the process of transferring dates and projects and to-dos.
The words of Charles Dickens came back to me: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….”
It all depends what I choose to focus on.
Looking at all the things I wrote in my planner a year ago — goals, hopes, dreams — I could easily be discouraged, frustrated, disappointed. I didn’t know at the end of 2013 that I was going to spend nearly all of 2014 on crutches with repeat trabecular fractures, in constant and often debilitating pain.
There are so many things on my to-do list that I just had to let go, so many things I didn’t get to experience or experience fully, so many things I didn’t accomplish. I could be filled with guilt and condemnation over some, and bitterness and resentment over others.
I could look at other things I’ve suffered or my friends and family have suffered, or that our nation, or even the world has suffered. And be filled with misery and dread for the year ahead.
I could call it the worst of times… or I could call it the best.
I could look at all the things I did get to experience… having the privilege of speaking at women’s retreats, banquets, and brunches all over Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, and even ALASKA! Seeing God touch so many precious hearts and lives. Celebrating 25 years of speaking ministry — and nearly 20 years in Christian publishing. Writing my 66th book.
I could remember all of the kind and loving emails, Facebook posts, text messages, and phone calls I’ve received through my health struggles, all the prayers and practical help and support from dear family members and friends. The kindness of strangers — even flight attendants who hugged me and prayed over me as I waited for wheelchairs in airports.
I could count all the special memories made with old friends and new — the laughter and tears, the hours of lively conversation and earnest prayer together. All the gloriously messy craft projects I still managed to do with my nephews.
What I can’t even begin to count are the moments God broke through… through my pain and heartache, through my self-pity or selfishness or self-condemnation, through my disappointment, discouragement, or despair. The moments He spoke tenderly to my heart and our relationship deepened and grew.
We’ve been together a long time now, so I know — I finally know that I know — that whether I feel Him there or not, He is. Whether or not I understand everything that He allows in my life or where He’s leading me or how it will all work together for good… He IS.
He is Emmanuel — God with us. God with me and with you. Living in us, working in us — and through us — accomplishing His plans and His purposes, for all eternity.
It’s what I’ll share when we gather around the tree: what the Christmas story has been speaking to me. God’s glorious sovereignty. His magnificent ability to coordinate so many minute details, so many vastly different people and events and experiences through the centuries to fulfill His promise and bring about the birth of His Son — “in the fulness of time.” At the precisely perfect moment, in the absolutely perfect place, in the most amazing and ultimately perfect way.
Even when it didn’t look like it at all.
So I can trust Him in this moment, with my life. And confidently declare it is “the best of times,” the most wonderful time. This year.