Ten years ago Christmas almost didn’t happen for our family of five. Due to some unforeseen circumstances (and relational heartache) on the mission field, we had to pack up and hastily move back from southern France to Texas one week before Christmas. All our possessions were on a container moving slowly across the Atlantic, so when we landed, we had only our suitcases. We didn’t even have keys—to a car or a home.
On the plane ride, I had made a strong determination after our time in France: I would no longer trust Christians and certainly wouldn’t open up my heart to them again. The pain was too great, too raw, too new. We had trusted in leaders, some who turned out to be wolves in sheep’s clothing. We experienced betrayal, hostility, gossip, and undermining for two and a half years—so much trauma that therapists diagnosed my husband and me with PTSD.
In the end, someone loaned us a car. And then someone else gave us a place to stay—a ranch we had never visited before, on the outskirts of the Dallas metroplex. But it was dark that night, and soon we were very lost. In the tension of it all, my husband and I fought as we drove down unlit back roads. Finally, after what felt like hours of this, we pulled up to a barn. In its corner was a two-bedroom apartment, adorned with Christmas lights. I sighed. So this was home.
But I had no idea how this simple place would transform my heart.
We walked in to a well-lit, welcoming space. At a table set for five, a plate of cookies beckoned. Beyond the table stood an already decorated Christmas tree. There were beds made, pantry full, and friends greeting us with open arms.
I tried not to cry. As church planters, we’d had so many experiences that smacked of insinuation, undermining, and flat-out betrayal that I had a hard time making sense of a kind act.
People from our church in Texas continued to be kind. More vehicles lent, more food provided, more openhearted conversation. As Christmas loomed, I learned more about Jesus, about His coming to earth, unwelcomed yet welcomed. With Herod plotting destruction while shepherds visited and magi presented gifts. With a hasty departure in fear while God continued to protect.
In that recollection, I realized the truth about this crazy world: There are foes aplenty, but there are also beacons of light.
We had only our suitcases. We didn’t even have keys—to a car or a home.
And if we allow the foes to hold us back from joy, we won’t find openhearted living. I learned three truths that Christmas.
What Wounds Is What Heals
We had been wounded by members of our community, folks who proclaimed Jesus. And that wound made me want to make a fortress of my heart, never trusting or welcoming other believers. It was easier to cut everyone off and live a safe life, protected from pain. The problem with that was, I would also be severing myself from joy. I realized that what wounded me (community) would be what healed me. The welcome we received at the barn apartment was a wooing toward new community, one I could shun or receive. Though scared, I decided I didn’t want to live a bitter life, that I desperately needed healing. My relationships in Texas proved to be the salve that healed a very deep wound.
Welcoming Others Is the Heartbeat of the Gospel
Just as the shepherds and magi welcomed Jesus to this earth with a gift, He, too, welcomes us to His kingdom through a gift of His own: His sacrificial death on the cross. Jesus’ obedience to die at the hands of sinners became the open door for all of us, His means of invitation to a beautiful life in His kingdom—here and now and forever.
Our friends could have said all sorts of theologically profound words, but their actions spoke love to us far more deeply and widely.
By welcoming others into our lives and loving them tangibly and sacrificially—just as our friends in Texas did for my family—we demonstrate to them the love of Christ. Our friends could have said all sorts of theologically profound words, but their actions spoke love to us far more deeply and widely. They became for us the hands and feet of the Lord.
In a broad sense, this is the ministry of reconciliation Paul writes about: “For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19 NLT).
Humble Celebration Helps us Meet the Savior
We didn’t have much that Christmas. I barely found time (or money, or energy) to get gifts. But in the evenings, we would sit on our makeshift porch, pastures surrounding us, and look up at the star-lit sky. We heard the lowing of cattle as we went to sleep on Christmas Eve. We marveled at our Savior having no place to lay His head except in a barn among livestock.
Experiencing that kind of minimalistic celebration reminded me that all we really needed was Jesus. And as I look back on my favorite Christmas of all time, I see our family there, safely tucked into the corner of a simple barn.