In my home church, during advent, a different family is chosen every Sunday to read the scriptures and light the advent candles. As a little girl, I had no idea how these families got chosen, but I dreamed of the Sunday when the Hill Family would have the honor of standing before the congregation and taking on the responsibility of “official candle lighters.” I was fascinated by the way those candle lighting instruments worked. I had so many questions. I needed to know how the wick got higher. Where exactly did the fire come from? And most importantly, what did a girl have to do in order to be a part of the advent candle lighting ceremony? Was there an audition? Where did I sign up? Why weren’t my parents more on top of this? I knew our little family could hack it. I even had it choreographed in my head. Who would say what, where each person would stand, and who would get the awesome job of keeping those suckers lit. Yet, year after year, my family would sit in the balcony of our church, in our row…and watch others light the candles.
Fast forward MANY years later, and here I am home for Christmas. Married, but without my husband. Alive, but dying inside. Faithful, but lost. And guess what? My family had been chosen to light the advent candles…at the Christmas Eve service. The little girl in me would have been thrilled. Finally getting to light the candles AND at the most important service of the year. Little girl Katherine would have been beside herself. Adult Kat was mortified. Embarrassed. Ashamed. So, to paint you a picture, this is how it would work: We would sit as a family in the front of the church, and then haul ourselves up there at the appointed time and do our thing. No possible way to hide. Completely exposed. Truthfully, I didn’t even want to go to church on Christmas Eve. How was I ever going to explain the absence of my husband? What possible explanation could there be for a husband and wife to spend Christmas apart? Marital issues. Everyone would know. They would take one look at me and know I was failing at marriage. That I couldn’t handle it. That I had somehow screwed up being a wife. The thought paralyzed me.
My precious family offered to bow out. They gave me options. I didn’t have to go. They could obviously do it without me. Or another family could take over the privilege. They knew me. They knew it would be difficult for me. They knew I was still struggling to get out of bed in the morning, that I had to be forced to eat, that my anxiety level was through the roof, that I lived most of my life in constant fear, and that I hated myself for my wifely shortcomings. I realize, looking back, that it truly wasn’t that big of a deal. At Christmas, especially in your church, no one is focused on the misfortune of others, instead they are focused on the joy of the season. But, to me, standing up there in front of my church family was just about the same as admitting all of my weaknesses in a public forum and I just didn’t think I had the strength to do it. To pretend that I was ok. Or happy. Or stable.
I wish everyone who read this blog knew my baby sister, because to know her is to understand better how this whole event went down. She is gracious and she is selfless and she is full of all things good and her spirit belongs to the Lord and she is the most beautiful creature in this world. I looked at her and I knew we were going to do this. All of us. As a family. Her heart wanted us to come together as our little tribe and tell the story of Jesus’ birth. How could anyone say no to that?
And so we did. All six of us got gussied up and sat in the front pew. I sat in the middle of everyone. They formed a protective wall around me so they could deflect any unwanted conversation (and maybe also to make sure I didn’t run away). I remember feeling like a zombie. Just one more day I lived in a haze. I remember following my family up to the advent wreath, and when it was my turn to speak, I read about the coming of our Lord and Savior. A baby that was sent to show us how to love one another. A baby that would sacrifice for us. That would teach us. And that would die for us. And for a brief moment, Christmas was simply about the Prince of Peace. The magnitude of his love swelled inside of me and my soul was overwhelmed.
As soon as the service was over, my brother-in-law ran with me out to my car and drove me home. No small talk for me. I retreated back to the safety of my home. Still mortified. Still embarrassed. Still ashamed. But with the reminder of whom I belonged. The understanding that the King of Kings did not consider me a failure. The knowledge that God sent a baby to save the world. Even me.
John 12:46 “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”