This year's present wasn't about to fit in a box, wrapped in tawdry snowman wrapping paper. This present is much bigger, much better, and it comes straight from the hand of the Giver of all good gifts, my Heavenly Father.
But first, I want to backtrack a little bit.
For our first few months as newlyweds in Chicago, Shawn and I found it surprisingly difficult to make good friends. Many of our friends from Moody had understandably moved away from the city. Others stayed in the city, but always seemed so busy. We tried to get more involved in our church, but even that was a bit of a disappointment. We served communion, worked with the kiddos, and Shawn read Scripture during the liturgy - all attempts to reach out and meet people - but we still felt like outcasts on most Sundays.
One day at church, one of our very few friends there told us, "You know, you guys don't really fit in here in Chicago." He didn't intend it in a hurtful way at all - it was just true. He thought we were "too happy" and "too friendly." And looking around, it really did seem that way. Most people move to Chicago to work, not to make friends. We found that out the hard way, in a time when we really needed friends to support us in our baby marriage. And we needed them in Chicago. We weren't entirely without friends, but I could easily count my close Chicago friends on one hand. Many people go through life with very few close friends, so I probably shouldn't complain. But we prayed and prayed for the Lord to expand our little circle, to help us feel more at home in Chicago, for someone else to do the inviting over. We honestly love reaching out to people, but when it's one-sided for so long, it gets a little tiresome.
Fast forward to just a few weeks ago as we began our journey as new Franklin residents. We had prayed specifically that our new city - which we were thinking would be Dallas at the time - would hold more friends. Is that a selfish prayer? I'm not sure. God has surely answered it, so it must be ok.
In only a few weeks that we've been here, we are already feeling so welcomed and full of friends! And I know it's not only because the South is famously hospitable. It's because God has chosen to answer our prayer in several distinct ways.
First, our church. Our amazing church. We have already become very involved in our "village" and have gotten to know people that we never would've reached out to in the first place. People our age and people twice our age. People who've been Christians their whole lives and others who are, even now, struggling to find God. Just in the few weeks we've shared life together, we've prayed and cried and ate and disagreed and rejoiced together. It feels so right, so purposeful, so much like home.
And in this new church community, I've found that worship on Sunday mornings comes alive. Last week, we sang these words:
Chains be brokenWith every line, I could picture a person in my village that needed that prayer. My worship is more authentic in light of the people we're choosing to journey with.
Lives be healed
Eyes be opened
Christ is revealed
Lives be healed
Eyes be opened
Christ is revealed
Here in Nashville, God has also blessed us with family. My parents are 8 short minutes away, support us at every turn, and are just a blast to hang out with. Time with them really never gets old, and I love that my husband loves them (and I think they like him quite a bit, too). God has also blessed us with another family that feels just like our blood family, who we see or talk to pretty much daily. The 7 of them are such a clear picture of what a godly family (with 5 young, incredible kids) looks like. We have loved spending time with them every chance we get.
Just tonight, when all of this really hit me, we were at a Christmas party in the neighborhood I grew up in. It was the annual neighborhood Christmas party, and although none of my family lives on that wonderful street anymore, we went to greet old neighbors. I looked around the room at faces that have been familiar to me for 20 years and was filled with gratitude as we sang Christmas carols together. What a beautiful moment. 'We were made for this,' I thought. Humans were made to be around each other - an ecclectic mix of personalities that sharpen and frustrate and build one another up into who we were made to be in Christ. Maybe I was the only one thinking these things as we sang "Deck the Halls," but the Lord has been impressing on me our need for each other.
This Christmas has been so beautiful already because we've spent it with family and friends whom we dearly love and who really love us back. I can honestly say I have more than 20 people in my life right now that I know I could call on and they'd be there for us in a second. What a gift. So to say it more plainly, this year for Christmas, God has given me true community.
And I am so, so thankful.
PS - I'm not about to say He topped last year's gift. For Christmas '08, He gave me a husband. :)