My favorite word in all of language is Emmanuel. It means God with us.
With is a tiny little four-word preposition meaning “accompanied by, accompanying, in relation to (especially implying interaction, company, association, conjunction, or connection), in proximity to.” You can’t be with someone that you’re not with. Yes, you can be with someone in spirit, but being with someone – truly with someone in person – requires proximity and closeness.
God, the Creator of the universe, made Himself lowly so He could come to Earth to be with us. If you really stop to consider the weight of that, doesn’t the thought stop you in your tracks for just a moment? As I sit here by the fire in the quiet of the morning, I can hardly contain the weight of what that means to me.
I’m not on social media much these days, but I’ll pop on every once in a while and when I did the other day, these photos popped up in my memories:
We had no way of knowing when these pictures were taken that this would be the last Christmas we would celebrate together as a family; no way of knowing that these would be our last Grant family photos. Corey had just completed a bone marrow transplant as part of the treatment regimen for the blood cancer he was battling, and we all just wanted to be together – with one another. All of the forces in the universe could not have stopped us from being with one another that Christmas. It was a fun, emotional, solemn and very special Christmas; one that we will cherish for the rest of our lives.
Two weeks after these photos were taken we would learn that the transplant had failed and Corey’s cancer levels had doubled. A mere 3 months after that we would gather again, this time to say our goodbyes. But even in the midst of that devastation, even in those awful and hopeful and tearful moments, Emmanuel was with us. There are special memories, conversations, photos and moments that will never be shared publicly, sky-filling double-rainbows, encounters and relationships forged in those days and hours spent together that will remain tucked away in our hearts and minds forever – all as a result of being with one another.
And Emmanuel, in His sovereignty and strength and tenderness and kindness, was there with us too. First as a baby in a manger, then as the Messiah on a cross, and finally as our Resurrected Savior and Redeemer who gave us an irrational and absolute Hope in the midst of our grief that those goodbyes were not the end.
The year Abbie was born our family went to my grandmother’s best friend’s house for dinner. Abbie was just a couple of weeks old and Cordy, my grandmother’s best friend, had become like a surrogate grandmother to all of us. A couple of tables were set up in their dining area, all with different table cloths. As we sat down to eat, we began to read the table cloths and saw the signatures and notes from many, many family and friends who had visited their home over the years during the holiday season. My grandmother’s unmistakable handwriting was right there in the mix, and she’d been gone for more than a decade. We had so many special conversations about the people who had signed those table cloths, some we still saw regularly, some we hadn’t seen in years, and many who were no longer with us. I went out the next day and bought a table cloth that has dressed our table every Christmas for the past 13 years.
As I enjoy the quiet of the morning before the bustle begins that will bring a day of celebration, busyness and gatherings, I’m reflecting on the moments of “with”ness that each of these signatures over the past 13 years represent. Each one fills me with immense gratitude.
The Advent wreath at the center of my table reinforces that this season is about togetherness. Advent means “coming” and represents the anticipation and celebration surrounding both the birth of Christ and His return. The lighting of the candles in the weeks leading up to Christmas Day is my very favorite tradition of the whole Christmas season. It’s the only “decoration” I allow to cover these cherished signatures as it represents the ultimate “with”ness – Emmanuel, God with us. With us as we remember with fondness those we no longer see regularly, with us as we reflect on the signatures of those who are no longer with us, and with us as we look ahead to the memories we will make this year and in the years to come.
We kicked off our Christmas vacation by going to see Christmas with The Chosen: The Messengers in the theater with some dear friends. I’ve been playing the soundtrack for the past two weeks and this song in particular just riles me up and fills me with all the Christmas feels!
I hope this Christmas season is spent with those you love. None of us know what the coming days, weeks, months or years look like. I am so glad we spent that last Christmas together a few years ago, despite sickness and not knowing what was ahead. So my Christmas wish for each of you is a whopping ton of WITH! May your Christmas be filled with joy, with love, with peace, with friends, with family, with continued traditions, and most of all with the Hope and Peace that Emmanuel brings.