I Wish You A Hopeful Christmas

At FaithWorks of Abilene we answer a lunch question every day. Near the end of the last semester, I asked the question, “What is your favorite or most memorable Christmas present?” As I thought of my own answer, I initially remembered one Christmas from my youth.

I do not remember exactly how old I was; only that this occurred in Gardner, MA, so it was some time in the ‘80s. My family had a tradition of opening one present of our own choosing on Christmas Eve. This particular Christmas, I had one large gift under the tree: it was probably 3 feet by 1 foot by 1 foot. (As a kid, this definitely qualified as “huge.”)

When it was my turn to select my present, I went straight for this large, beautiful mystery. Here is what I remember: I unwrapped the present in one fluid motion. The whole act took less than 2 seconds. All those days of anticipation and I was able to uncover this profound treasure in less time than it takes me to sneeze.

And I do not remember what the gift was.

How can that be? All that excitement. All that anticipation. All that joy. And I remember none of it.


Christmas this year, as with every other year, is not “merry” for everyone.

This time of year is a painful anniversary of loss.

This time of year is a reminder of the empty seat at the dinner table.

This time of year is a reminder of all the things that some families do not have.

This time of year reveals how little money some families have to spend on their children.

This time of year is an acknowledgement for some families that they will never be what other families already are.

And with all of that pain, it’s hard to say, “Merry Christmas.”


Christmas is exciting. Sometimes, too exciting. In the midst of all the hustle and bustle and shopping and decorating and baking and caroling and picture-taking and card-mailing and traveling and cleaning and….

Sometimes, it seems to never end. Until that moment after the last present is opened and everyone realizes that all the buildup has led to this: exhausted but still needing to clean up the mess.

Christmas has seemingly become more about the events than THE event.  Christmas has become a battleground of what people should believe, say, or do.

Christmas has unfortunately become about the excitement of unwrapping the biggest present only to forget what that present was.


As I thought longer about my favorite Christmas present, I remembered one Christmas in New Jersey. I had lost my wedding band at work one night. I was working overnights at a grocery store, my ring slipped off my finger, and I was never able to find it. I even had the floor crew helping me look for it all to no avail.

On Christmas morning, I opened a present from Shawna: a new wedding band. This one is not the traditional gold band, but a thicker ring. It is silver and has the Christian fish symbol all around it.


I love this gift for many reasons: it looks nice, it was good to have a ring back on my finger, etc. But the number one reason I love it is that it is a gift of hope.

The reason we were living in New Jersey and the reason I was working at a grocery store is because I had made some pretty awful choices. (I wrote more about them here.) I had caused quite a bit of pain.

It may seem insignificant, but the gift of a ring to wear as a wedding band was a gift of a renewal of a commitment; a renewal of hope. Through the gift of the ring, my wife told me she still loved me.

That Christmas was a wonderful reminder of hope.


Your Christmas may not be merry.

Your Christmas may not be happy.

But I wish for you to have a Christmas that is hopeful.

That is the original Christmas gift: hope.

Hope that a child born to a carpenter and a teenager would bring salvation to all people. Hope that God would be present in this world in the fullest way possible. Hope that no matter how dark our lives may get there is a light that is with us.

And THAT is a present I pray we never forget.

May you have a hopeful Christmas.

An Excellent Woman

“If you want to keep your family together you better get some help.”  Those words were spoken to me by my wife, Shawna, eight and a half years ago.  You see, I had messed up.  Royally.  I was losing my battle with alcoholism and decided it was time to let her know everything.  So I packed a bag, sat her down, told her all the terrible details, and watched as she surprised me: she left.

But the next morning she came back.

A year and a half later, she found out that I was still losing that same battle, only now it resulted in me losing my job as a minister.  Her response was to call some married friends who had been through the same struggle and ask if we could spend a few days with them.  Those friends said yes, and we started (again) on a long road to recovery.

Several years, three states, and a couple of jobs later, we made the decision to move back to Abilene, TX, so I could enroll in graduate school.  She now works to help pay for my tuition.  And the bills.  And the food.  And the benefits.  Have I mentioned our three children yet?  Or that she is continuing her education as well?

She has embodied grace in our relationship as husband and wife; but it goes even farther than that.  She does not know her biological father and she has a strained relationship with her mother.  Yet she has become like a mother to the young girls and women of every congregation we have been a part of.  She reaches out with motherly love and guidance to the young people she works with; many of whom have strained relationships in their own families of origin.

She was not raised with any sense of spirituality or religion, yet now her life is guided by prayer and an intense desire to do what is right.  She loves God and strives to make decisions that are in step with His will for her life.  She loves others and truly wishes to bless them in any way she can.  She prays for people, talks with people, teaches people, and provides food and other material blessings for people in need.

She does not always have it easy.  She struggles at times to be content or at peace; yet during those times of struggle she seeks counsel from those who are willing to listen.  She has a drive to learn more about herself and how she can continually improve in her service to God and others.  She pours her heart out in worship and in fellowship as she yearns to become the Godly woman she knows she was called to be.

I am who I am and where I am today because of my wife and her love, grace, support, strength, and excellence.  Our children are turning into young people who love God and serve others because of the example their mother has set for them.  I am in awe of her because of the journey she has traveled to arrive where she is.

Every day I wake up, I thank God for the woman he has blessed me with.  Every day, I am reminded that our lives continue together because she was willing to come back.  She was willing to exhibit the grace and love of God.  She was willing to say, “I will walk with you.”  I will never be able to estimate her worth because it is beyond my ability to comprehend.  Yet I will continue to thank God every day for blessing me with a most excellent partner, wife, and friend.