Once a year my body succumbs to illness. I shouldn’t complain; I have a strong immune system. I am grateful. But the timing is always off. Usually right around a vacation, when my adrenaline slows, just as I start to relax, cook for pleasure, and play. Like Christmas.
Too weak to bake, I nap on the couch. I feel depleted. Disconnected. The teens are off with friends and even the youngest is at a friend’s house. Our family life seems anemic right now, we who write about parenting, who do podcasts on raising kids! The enemy would seek to gloat: hypocrite!
I have a new friend who celebrates this time of year. She treasures her little family, her health, and her freedom. Not but a few years ago she was in the sex industry. And I wonder. How did she, her pimp, and the other women spend the holiday? What did Christmas look like for them? Was she busy? Weak? How anemic did she feel?
Is this the time of year when they doubted the most? Questioned their worth? Resented the one who claimed to love them while also profiting off their bodies? Were the gifts he gave on Christmas morning tainted with shame? Did they call home just to hear mom’s voice, silently cradling the receiver, breathing in a memory?
Yesterday, I waited for the light to turn green, uncomfortably eye to eye with a man holding a sign. We kept looking at each other, but for my glances at his feet, his hands. He looked cold. I returned home to fetch an old coat and set of boots, but when I passed the corner again he was gone. And I wondered. Is he weak? Depleted? How anemic does he feel?
I have energy to watch Christmas movies and my favorite is The Nativity Story. Joseph and Mary’s journey to parenthood moves me. As much as we focus on the kind of woman Mary must have been, we neglect the man God chose to raise his son. Joseph was the father God wanted for his son. And it makes me wonder.
In my weakened state, I am more sensitive, more empathetic, more raw. I see my failure to be present with my kids and am saddened. I see into the reality of those who are hurting and am humbled. In my anemic state, I recognize thin spaces in others, experience a “withness” I would not otherwise realize.
Immanuel. God with us. Is this the reason he came to dwell among us? In solidarity with mankind, he is with us. On a micro-level, he experiences our pain, our shortcomings, our anemia, and walks with us more deeply. We are known by a Savior who has been with us.
I have mourned the Christmas preparations I imagined would be, but have come into the presence of God quite unexpectedly. In lieu of energy that would distract and occupy me, I have found solidarity with the suffering, albeit a small little morsel.
Like Christ, I have crossed the spaces that divide to see the other side, as thinly as I might. My heart breaks for the wounded, the homeless, the sexually exploited, the refugee, the ignored child…
Advent brings a season of waiting expectantly and I find myself longing for far more than his celebratory birth. I long for his return. I long for his presence to eradicate our weak anemic lives. I long for a complete healing, for total redemption, for reconciliation between God and mankind.
I long for the day when, like my friend, I will celebrate this time of year as a marking of freedom. But our celebration will be eternal and our anticipation fully satiated.
Beth Bruno is founder and director of A Face to Reframe, a non-profit committed to preventing human trafficking through arts, training, and community building. She writes about women in ministry, girls becoming women, and exploited women. Her writing has appeared at Relevant, Today’s Christian Woman, InterVarsity’s The Well, and she is a proud member of Redbud Writer’s Guild. She can be found in the mountains of Colorado with her husband and 3 kids or at www.bethbruno.org.