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The Friend

By Anne Maxwell

Author of: Grace in Ordinary Time

I know.

Just like everything else that’s transpired in the past nine months, the Christmas season doesn’t look quite the same.

In June, I breathed a sigh of relief with the thought, “Well, at least things will be back to normal by the holidays.”

And then came October. November. December …. Well, you know how the story goes. If you’re like me and my family, we’re doing our best to remind ourselves of our blessings and striving to embrace the simple joys found in each day as we prepare our hearts and minds for December 25.

I’ve certainly had more than my share of wonderful memories of the holiday season,, but there was one winter several years ago that was extremely difficult. My mother-in-law had passed away suddenly a few months earlier and that December, we were faced with our first holiday without her. We had a new baby to ease the pain of having lost a loved one, but a little more than a week before Christmas, that tiny baby got sick.

Really sick.

A bad cold turned into a worse respiratory illness and she was soon admitted to the hospital, where her condition didn’t improve. I was in denial as the blur of breathing treatments, medications, various respiratory therapies and x-rays came and went day after day. I didn’t get real concerned until a nurse showed up one morning and said, “I went home yesterday and prayed for your baby. I hope she gets better.”

Thankfully, those - and many other - prayers were heard and our baby girl was home in time for Christmas Eve. But three weeks later, we were back in the hospital and the spiral started again.

Between washing bottles in the hospital sink, trying to comfort a sick and scared baby struggling to breathe in an oxygen tent and trying to think of all the right questions to ask when the doctor stopped by on rounds, I tried my best to catch what sleep I could in the stiff recliner. The kind nurses would ask how I was from time to time. And I was comforted by the phone calls from family and friends who were unable to be with us due to visitor restrictions. You hold onto whatever lifeline you can in those moments.

But in the middle of it all, I found myself clinging to a card sent to me by a dear friend. One the front was a picture of two little girls. One had her arm around the shoulders of the other as they huddled together on porch steps.

The front of the card began a story of how the little girl, who was comforting her friend, arrived home late from school. The mother questioned, “What took you so long?”

Inside revealed the girl’s response: “I was with a friend …. I had to help her cry.”

I felt such a burden lift when I read that card. It was such a relief to know that someone understood there really wasn’t anything I needed someone to say or do. I just needed to know someone was there. To lean on. To listen. To witness my tears. To be with me.

I’ve found myself at a loss for words throughout this season of life as I look for ways to comfort family and friends in the midst of endless challenges, disappointments, loss. I struggle as well to explain the mix of emotions I have been carrying through this strange season of life.

Instead of reaching for what to say, I find myself thinking of that card from long ago, realizing actions and words aren’t really the answer.

When I think of Christmas and all that’s to come, I know that just like that year, like every year until the end of time - He is here. Emmanuel, after all, means “God with us.”

His presence is everything.

Nothing more needs to be said. Nothing more needs to be done.

He is with us.

He is here.

And with His presence we find comfort. Tears can flow. Joys can be raised. Burdens can be shared. Gratitude can be lifted. And, in return? We receive the peace in knowing we are not alone. He is that friend, ever at our side.

This Christmas season, may we all embrace that peace.

And from it, draw the strength to go on.

Click the photo below for more blogs by Anne Maxwell

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