by Joanie Butman
Friday was the one-year anniversary of my nephew’s death. You may think that it would be a sad milestone. I am sad that he’s no longer with us, but I was given an incredible gift last Christmas that takes the sting out of his absence. I’ve never shared this story publicly because I feared people would dismiss it, chalking the experience up to grief or an overactive imagination. I knew I would be the recipient of a good amount of eye rolling – especially from my family. So, selfishly, I treasured my gift in the silence of my heart. Makes me think of how Luke describes Mary in the stable, “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)
A year later following another tragic death of a close friend’s nephew, I realized that whatever you receive from God is meant to be shared. Why? Because by sharing our God-incidences, we reveal an aspect of God others may never see otherwise. Our shared testimonies infuse God’s light and love into a darkened world. They offer hope and healing. As Paul claims in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God." God’s comfort was all I had to offer my friend as she mourned.
So what kind of gift could possible take the bite out of loss? Certainly nothing you’ll find under the tree or in your stocking. In fact, mine arrived after all the presents were opened. I went to church alone, with thoughts of Myles weighing heavy on my heart. My family doesn’t double dip. If they attend church on Christmas Eve, they don't go Christmas. Just as well. I like being alone with Jesus on Christmas – often still wearing my pajamas under a long coat. Doesn’t He invite us to come as we are?
Anyway, I was deep in fervent prayer about Myles, begging for a sign that he was okay, when someone put their hand on my shoulder and whispered gently into my ear “Joanie.” They were so close I could feel their breath. Irritated at the interruption and the invasion of personal space, I turned to see who it was. The pews surrounding me were empty. It was as if Heaven opened momentarily to provide absolute clarity. I knew Myles was in good hands, healed from whatever pain haunted him in life. He too was experiencing his best Christmas ever. My present was Christ's presence in the still small voice that spoke volumes with just one word. I left the church buoyant.
As I mentioned, I never told anyone because there are no words to adequately describe a God moment. Language can’t capture the essence of being in the presence of the Divine. Perhaps that’s because God is meant to be experienced, not explained. All I know is that I felt Him in a way I've only experienced a handful of times in my life, none of which I’ll ever forget. It’s none of my business what people do with the story. God only asks that I share it as a reminder of His promise of ultimate restoration. “He will wipe every tear from our eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away,” (Rev 21:4).
Today marks the first Sunday of Advent with the lighting of the Prophecy Candle (aka the Hope Candle), representing hope and anticipation for the only gift that can offer comfort in the face of suffering that seems to grow exponentially every day. It’s a glowing reminder of who wins in the end despite appearances to the contrary. Just as I did last Christmas, the world needs to be reassured that there is no person or circumstance beyond the redemptive power of Christ. I believe it’s more important than ever to celebrate the birth of the One who will eventually restore our broken lives and our broken world.
Over the past week Black Friday and Cyber Monday created hysteria with people racing to take advantage of huge savings. How ironic that a season of peace, love, joy and hope gets ushered in with frenzied shopping? I wish people would be just as excited in running to Christ for the best deal in town. His saving grace is the supreme Christmas gift available daily in unlimited supply. However, you still need to choose to unwrap it.
Some may consider the anniversary of my nephew’s death a melancholy way to begin the Christmas season, and it’s bittersweet for sure. However, I choose to memorialize his passing, not as an ending, but as the beginning of an eternal life filled with a peace, love and joy that transcends human understanding. It is with that belief that I light the Hope candle today anticipating the day when we will meet again.
Myles Andrew Butman
May 2, 1993 - December 1, 2016