by Joanie Butman
At our annual women’s gathering this week, the speaker (Amy Julia Becker*) opened by posing the question “How do you know someone loves you?” Everyone in the audience would probably respond differently depending on their love language. According to Gary Chapman, there are five basic love languages: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch. Those, however, were not the answers for which she was searching. Ms. Becker distilled a complex relationship into three words – love shows up. Her answer is universal and encompasses all five of Chapman’s elements. You know someone loves you because they show up when you need them.
Showing up can take on lots of forms. Sometimes it involves words of affirmation spoken at just the right time. Certainly it involves time, which is a gift unto itself. Showing up isn’t always convenient and could definitely be considered an act of service. Last but not least, the physical act of simply holding the hand of the frightened, ill or elderly can speak volumes without uttering a single word. Ms. Becker’s message was simple yet profound. The reason we celebrate Christmas is because it’s when God showed up. Why? Because He loves us. It’s what God did on Christmas and continues to do today. The following is a recent example.
Several weeks ago a package arrived from Amazon with no note or receipt. It was a book entitled, Comfort For the Cancer Journey. Puzzled as to its origin, I checked my account to see if I ordered it in error. I found no record of it. Unable to determine its source, I put it aside and forgot about it. A few weeks later I received a call from a friend who shared some bad news – his recent cancer diagnosis. After he described the difficult path ahead of him, I longed to offer some kind of encouragement but was at a loss for what that might be when I noticed that book on my desk. However, I never like to give a book I haven’t read – for good reason. As a long-time traveler on the cancer journey, I’ve received all kinds of books that range from the sublime to the ridiculous. The latter claiming a cancer cure, which involved taping a lima bean to my body to suck out the toxins. Bizarre for sure, yet I appreciated the sentiment behind the gift.
Given that experience, I thought it best to read the mystery book first. As I read, I was overwhelmed with a now familiar feeling. The one I described a couple weeks ago – sometimes you just know what you know. Instantly, it became obvious that this book wasn’t for me at all but for my friend. Maureen Schaffer was describing her radical neck surgery (similar to the one my friend faces) and the discovery that the cancer had spread to her lung. Again, the same as my friend. She shared the ways the Lord showed up for her during her cancer journey.
I prayed for guidance on how to comfort my friend and God showed up. I passed along the book and the story of its surreptitious (and timely) arrival. My friend also prayed and God showed up. I don’t claim divinity, but God often uses people as His agents to usher His presence/presents into the lives of others. Unlike Christmas morning, Christ isn’t heralded in by a host of angels but arrives through the quiet service of others willing to show up and shine His healing light into their pain. Will that book make my friend’s journey any easier? No, but knowing that God is traveling alongside Him will.
As a chaplain, my friend didn’t need to be reminded of God’s love and promises. He’s certainly more ‘versed’ in them than I could ever be. Still, who doesn’t need and cherish hugs from their beloved – especially when you’re hurting? That book was a hug from Heaven for sure. A quiet assurance that Christ was there in the middle of his pain.
Yes, God still shows up when we need Him and even when we don’t think we do. Tomorrow we celebrate Christ’s willingness to exchange His throne for a manger on our behalf. We, too, can choose to vacate the throne of our own self-centeredness to show up for others. I can’t think of a better way to to honor Christ’s Christmas gift to us than to share it with others.
Have a joyous and blessed Christmas!