“The Bible says Jesus came for three reasons: to forgive our past, to give a purpose for living today, and to offer us a future, a home in heaven.” Rick Warren (paraphrased)
My husband John and I aren’t as young as we used to be, so we’re making a two-day trip out of our 18-hour drive to Tulsa to see our grandson and new granddaughter. John suggested we stop halfway in Nashville and stay at Opryland Hotel.
He remembers our visit there when the children were young. We ate desserts at a circular coffee shop that rotated inside the hotel. He and I people-watched while the kids explored the botanical gardens. On our balcony that overlooked the center of the place, we sat mesmerized by waterfalls and light-colored fountains that splashed to music. We took photos in coordinated outfits that looked planned even though they weren’t. It seemed only magic happened there.
Several years later, we returned to the hotel for a conference. John barely remembers going back because our experience was very different. We fought the whole time. I don’t remember the fight either, only the feelings of misery and disappointment. My resolution – I’d never go back.
When he suggested making reservations, old emotions surfaced and they weren’t the magical ones. I imagined how beautifully the place would be decorated, but I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed by our last time there.
I did what I do when I’m frustrated. I prayed even though I knew it wouldn’t do any good. What could God possibly do about a fight from two decades ago? How could he fix in a few days how I’ve felt for 20 years? I sound ridiculous, I know, but that’s what God has to put up with when he’s trying to get through to me.
I sat down with my old notebook where I keep scratch paper for journaling. I typically shred whatever I write. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, named this sort journaling the “morning pages” and says this exercise is “the bedrock of creative recovery.” It’s writing down whatever comes to mind to get it out of our minds.
When I opened the notebook, the one I look inside almost daily, I noticed pages stapled together underneath the scratch paper. I must have written them around this time last year because I scribbled my word of the year for 2019 (intentional), which I haven’t remembered or used much.
I planned to read over what I wrote and shred it. Instead, I found an entry on the first page that answered my prayer I was sure God wouldn’t know what to do with. I had written “With Jesus here …” and added a note to myself to replay the most painful scenes of my life, but this time, imagine Jesus by my side. Imagine he defended me. Imagine he stood up to people who weren’t well enough to do the right thing. Imagine he said things like my favorite movie line from Good Will Hunting, “It’s not your fault.” Reading the entry reminded me of how I sat still a couple of mornings last year and made time to picture Jesus here, but then I forgot about it.
There were a dozen or so entries. Opryland Hotel was one of the first ones on the list. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing on paper. I thought, This is just like God, only days before we celebrate him sending his Son to save us, and he reminds me in a powerful way about the phrase “With Jesus here …,” and he saves me one more time.
Reading what I wrote brought to mind my friend who taught at a writer’s conference and was called across campus to pray for one of the attendees, a grandmother who just found out she lost her grandchild. Each time my friend prayed out loud and said “Jesus,” the grandmother took a breath and her sobs quieted. Finally, my friend stopped the words and only prayed his name again and again, “Jesus. Jesus. Jesus.”
Since we’re visiting our son and his family who are unable to travel because they have a newborn, our daughter and her family will spend Christmas for the first time just the four of them instead of us all being together at our mountain house. Our daughter’s husband asked what she was most excited about. She said, “Going to church as a family because we haven’t done that since the children were born, and Christmas is about Jesus.”
I got choked up because I’ve made Christmas about my family and thoughtful gifts and everyone’s favorite cookies. I’ve made it about healing our marriage, lunches and dinners with friends, and sitting in the dark to watch twinkling lights on our tree. I’ve made it about fun dates and craft projects with our grandchildren and about giving extra to others.
I think I forgot Jesus, though.
I didn’t mean to. I’m sure he crossed my mind along with decorating and giving and baking. I put out manger scenes and angels. I teared up at our church services during the season. I listened to hymns and prayed for peace on earth. However, Jesus stopped being my main reason, so no wonder this past decade I’ve been frustrated and overwhelmed and not quite right about life.
In a few days, we’ll celebrate the most wonderful time of the year. Not because we always feel wonderful, but because of the wonder written about Jesus in Isaiah 9:6.
“For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
During the next week and throughout 2020, when we struggle, lose hope, or feel anything but wonderful, I want us to remember and remind each other to bring Jesus alongside us, to think what is possible “with Jesus here…” With him, we can take a step back, put space between us and the painful parts of life, and breathe. We’re reminded that because of him, we’re forgiven. We have a purpose. We have a future in heaven.
With Jesus here, we have a much better chance of our days being merry and bright.
In This Together (with Jesus),