Every Christmas at my parents’ house, the scene in the living room looks pretty much the same after the gift exchange. The packages are open, the “littles” have begun to examine all of their new treasures, and the adults are engaged in calm conversations over a cup of hot wassail and just one more Christmas cookie. While all of this is going on, you can find my father with a large trash bag, bending over the piles of tissue, bows, and boxes, carefully examining and separating everything. He does this with an attention to detail that is a little out of character for him. My dad is a tidy individual, but there is a deliberate dedication to his after-Christmas cleaning ritual that always brings a knowing smile to my face.
Dad would remember for sure – but I believe it was my first Christmas in 1975 when the sad event happened. Money was tight for the young student pastor and his family. Someone had gifted me with a brand-new outfit. It was a luxury in that season of their life: store-bought, new, matching clothes for their infant daughter. After the present was opened, it was put carefully back in the box. Later, when the Christmas living room was cleaned up, it was accidentally thrown away. For whatever reasons, the mistake wasn’t caught until it was too late to retrieve the clothes. And so, over forty years later, each Christmas my dad touches every piece of wrapping paper and looks inside every box before taking out the trash.
I’ve made this same mistake in my own life… throwing away things without recognizing their value. Most of the time when I realize the mistake, just like with the Christmas present, the damage is done and it’s too late to retrieve what I have tossed aside. I have been doing a great deal of self-reflection in recent months and my eyes have been opened to how often this plays out in my lack of recognition of the beauty that lives inside me. All my life, I have battled feelings of unworthiness, feelings of being unlovable, and feelings of never being good enough. In part because of this negative self-focus, I have thrown away opportunities to step out, to share, and to bless others with my life. I have not believed in the undeniable value that I am and that we all are. We are created by God in His image and called to contribute in this world in order to point others to His love and grace. Even in all the years I’ve been in ministry, somehow deep down I have believed that the people God really uses have less regret, fewer hang-ups, stronger relationships, and a better self image. He really uses people that are in a better place than the one I continually found myself.
One of the things I am most thankful for as we lean into the new year is the truth that we do not have to stay the same. This past year has been transformative for me. My faith is growing. My confidence is growing. My dependence on Jesus is growing. Most surprising to me is that my belief that I am worthy of love is growing. It’s been a painful process filled with ups and downs, but it has renewed my dedication to being a Jesus follower as I have experienced in a new way that no mess is too messy for Him and no brokenness is too broken for Him. He has gotten right down with me in the muck of some pain that I have carried for decades and in fitful nights tossing in my bed and in quiet sobs sitting on my living room floor, He has stayed right beside me. I knew He was with me, encouraging me to keep taking steps toward healing. He has stayed with me through confusion, questioning, doubts, and struggles. I have not arrived. But recently a Facebook friend commented on something I posted and I replied, it’s been a long journey, but I feel like I am home. Home. From the outside nothing has changed, but on the inside I greet life with a new perspective… as a person who is learning to believe in her worth.
So I am excited about 2018 and the newness it will bring. I claim this often-quoted scripture as a promise for my life. This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! (2 Corinthians 5:17) This new person thing – it’s not only a salvation experience. It’s a sanctification experience. It’s a growing closer to and stronger with Jesus experience. It’s a being brave enough to talk to Him about the issues we run from and the issues we try to ignore experience. It has taken me a long time to get here and I have more work to do. But I am embracing this process and its beauty. Thank you, Jesus, for your patience and for Your relentless, unyielding, radical love for me. Happy New Year, friends. Peace!