Give or TakeI pray that you will recognize and receive the One who entered human history and invited us all to become His children.
As a Salvation Army officer, I have always been on the giving side of Christmas. In our corps appointments especially, the Christmas season often felt like a whirlwind of activities, programs and services. Long before the calendar turned to December, I was busy planning and preparing for kettles, meals, visits to nursing homes, toy and food distributions, and worship services. Somehow, during all that, I also had my preparations to make including shopping for family members, decorating our own house, and getting ready for our Christmas meal. Despite my yearly fear that I wouldn’t be able to get it all done, the annual flurry of all that activity has resulted in some of my favorite ministry moments and family memories.
However, there was a year when everything changed. During the final push towards Christmas, our teenage daughter became very ill and had to be hospitalized. We were in a busy corps appointment, but thankfully, we had great soldiers and volunteers who quickly stepped up and helped make it all happen on time. The kettles went out and came in every day. Toys were sorted, displayed, and given to families. Food boxes were packed and ready to go. Prayer rooms were staffed and utilized by many who came into our building during distribution week. I felt confident that everyone who needed our assistance was being served in beautiful ways and with great love.
In the meantime, our family holiday preparations were not going so smoothly. Despite very good medical care, it became clear that the hospital stay would be longer than we hoped and the four of us would be spending Christmas at the hospital. Christmas wish lists were quickly reduced to what could be bought online, and shopping for that big traditional meal was canceled altogether.
During that last busy week before Christmas, I spent almost all my time at the hospital. Because of the risk of infection, I was encouraged to go in and out as few times as possible, and visitors were discouraged. Everyone who did come into the room had to wear a gown, mask and gloves. It became very clear to me that they call it “isolation” for a reason. The holiday world of trees, tinsel and twinkle lights seemed far away, even though all of those were just outside the door by the nurses’ station.
Finally, Christmas day came. All of us had decided that we would make the day as normal and festive as we could. We were determined not to mope around and be miserable but to enjoy it as much as we could. My husband and son arrived with our Christmas gifts, some sweet treats, and even a few decorations to make the space feel a little bit more like home. And we had a surprisingly good day. Except for what absolutely had to be done, the hospital staff left us mostly alone to enjoy the time together. The cafeteria provided a traditional—and tasty—turkey dinner for everyone, free of charge. We opened presents, ate our cookies, and let the cheerful holiday movies play in the background. Late in the day, some friends surprised us by showing up with dessert from their own Christmas dinner. All of us gloved, masked and gowned, we ended the day by sharing their pie and the comfort their presence brought.
As evening came and the hospital made the inevitable return to its routine, it slowly dawned on me that my family and I had moved from the giving to the receiving side of Christmas. We were the ones in need that year. Our daughter needed care that we couldn’t provide on our own. We needed food from someone else’s kitchen. We needed the love of faithful friends willing to enter our reality to show us that we were not as alone as we felt.
That Christmas, I not only read but felt deep inside myself the truth of the words John wrote about Jesus so long ago: “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God … The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:10-12, 14, NIV).
I have no doubt that some readers of this magazine are already very much on the giving side of this Christmas. You may be exhausted from the never-ending list of things you need or want to do to share the love of Jesus with others. If that is true for you, I pray that you will see and recognize the glory of His presence in the world around you.
I am equally sure that other readers will find themselves, through one circumstance or another, on the receiving side. You may be in a place you never expected to be. You may feel helpless and hopeless. You may be alone, or at least feel that you are. If that is true for you, I pray that you will recognize and receive the One who entered human history and invited us all to become His children.
Lt. Colonel Lesa Davis is editor-in-chief of The War Cry.