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Sunday, December 25, 2011

I have heard a story retold at Christmas which I wish to record here. At times the protagonist is female, other times, male. For my purpose, gender is irrelevant. The story is about a young student and a beloved teacher. The student wishes to present to the teacher a wonderful gift and so is absent for a couple of days. Returning, the student presents the teacher with a perfectly formed, beautiful shell. The teacher is delighted with the gift, but upon learning where the student found it, expresses dismay at the great length the student traveled to obtain the gift, to which the student replies, "The long journey is part of the gift."

This story is a Christian allegory referencing that our lives are a symbolic gift to the Lord--that the journey to present to him something perfect and beautiful must be long and sometimes arduous, but in the end He accepts not just the result, but all the twists, turns, disappointments, challenges, successes, and growth encountered as we become who we are. In general, I shy away from such allegories, finding them trite, overused, and obvious. I also despise stories designed to elicit an particular emotional response in the guise of spiritual revelation or communication.

A man whom I have always admired retold this story in church today. He is older, in his late 80s, a recent survivor of leukemia. In the many years during which we have been friends, he has said things which have spoken to my heart as I recognize both the truth of his words and the application in my life. Today was no exception.

The journey of my life is not one I wish to repeat. There are many moments I would wish away. People have acted toward me in ways I would like to forget, and I have had my share of acting in shameful ways when I wish I had chosen otherwise. I own experiences I would like to delete; I have said words I would take back; made choices which hurt people I love. In addition, I have endured hurt innocently, been damaged by the violent and senseless acts of others, and lived in the aftermath of those experiences. As I think of this, I wonder how my life can ever be considered a gift. There is so much overwhelming sadness, tragedy, disappointment. I still suffer from childhood deficits in love and nurturing, from abuse, from being forced to grow old before I was twelve. Who would accept such a gift? Perhaps it would be best to discard it and move on...

Today as my elderly friend spoke, I realized my journey is not over, and that part on which I am focused was a tiny moment in the lifespan that will be mine. I have taken those moments and I have moved forward. For many years I refused to own them, to even acknowledge them. Today, regardless of the the pain it costs, I call them mine. While I do not believe they have made me a better person, they have definitely shaped my views, my beliefs, my choices. Sometimes that's a good thing, sometimes it's not.

I have processed a great deal of anger and bitterness for the past three months--things I believed I had laid to rest. The result of this was an increased phobia to touch, a loss of logical thought process, and emotional separation from people I love. But during that time, I learned to ask difficult questions, I found out which people I can rely on and trust, and when I felt completely lost I found out that I never quite give up--even when I desperately wish to.

I received communication from people I love during those months. Some of those people are close and current and interact with me daily. Others are people I've not heard from in years, but somehow encountered them again. Those communications let me know I have importance, there have been moments when my life has touched or influenced another, when I have shared strength, lent courage, or given love.

The parts of my journey which have left me drained of strength, filled me with fear, and damaged my soul will always be a part of the gift I offer to the Savior. As much as I would like to, I cannot make them disappear. But when weighed against the person I have become and the person I will become, the person I am determined to become, those parts seem important but incidental. They were boulders which have continually impeded my progress, but which have never stopped me.

There are days when I ask to be reminded that I'll be okay, that I'm loved and needed, and that I'm very strong. This, too, is a measure of the person I'm becoming as I ask for and accept help from others. My deepest fears remain intact; my insecurities rage constantly; my self-doubt never wavers--but through all this I continue my quest to find peace.

Perhaps the real beauty lies in the word "journey." It symbolizes forward movement toward a destination or goal. Sometimes my journey is nomadic--I have no idea where I'm going, I just know I need to continue. I cannot stop in one place for very long. Other times I know exactly where I'm going and move purposefully toward that goal. But as long as my journey continues, as long as I'm not stopping permanently, I'm making progress, I'm learning new things, I'm becoming Samantha.

And one thing I learned a long time ago is that I am loved and wanted by the One who created me.

Tonight I am grateful for the opportunity to live. I'm grateful for the capacity to love and learn and grow and become. I'm endlessly thankful for a Savior who heals my heart and encourages me to find out who I am. And I believe, in the end, when presented with my journey--with all its flaws and misery and ungainly messiness--He will choose, instead, to remember I never stopped trying, that I loved when I could have chosen to hate, that I built when I wished to destroy, that I sought help from those I loved when I was discouraged, and that I learned to see and love Samantha as only He can see me.

That was the purpose of Jesus Christ. Not to be lauded for miracles or revered because he had great power--but to show us the strength of love and the joy of being. His life provided a way for us to be healed from all that hurts us. During his lifetime He treated those who were despised and condemned with gentleness and dignity; He had deep, meaningful relationships with the men and women who spent time with him; He knew and cherished the worth of a soul.

I suppose it doesn't really matter if one believes in Christ or not--those basic concepts of humanity espoused by him would improve the quality of any person's life if they choose to follow them. I have never regretted treating people with kindness and respect regardless of the response to that treatment--but I do believe in him, and tonight I celebrate Christ's birth and his life. Mostly, though, I celebrate the fact that through Him I am alive today and I have become more than I ever believed possible.

Once more, as always, I dedicate my journey to my Savior. No matter the twists and turns, I am always grateful for his presence at my side.

Merry Christmas.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. It's interesting to think of our journey....the good, the bad, struggles and triumphs. At times it's hard to believe it, but I think the Savior accepts our whole journey. Every experience molds us into who we are becoming.