A number of weeks ago, a friend of mine at church asked me to write a reflection for one of the Advent Sundays on "the gift of grace." I eagerly agreed, perhaps owing to the fact that she opened the conversation with "I heard that you are a writer and..." The "secret dream" button in my brain activated, it was only near the end of the conversation that I realized that I was also agreeing to speak in front of the church. Dreaded Fear and Secret Dream faced off, and Secret Dream emerged the winner. A reluctant winner, but still.
Yesterday, I summoned every positive memory of public speaking that I could conjure up to boost my confidence as I faced my fear. It didn't take long. There was one oral presentation in ninth grade science about why blue roses are difficult to engineer, and an impromptu speech in Toastmasters club in eighth grade amongst others who shared a fear of public speaking. We were an interesting group, all with our nervous mannerisms and common fantasies of avoiding public speaking by any means necessary. Illness, broken limb, perhaps a snowstorm, these were all reasonably attractive alternatives. My other experiences with public speaking might best be summarized by noting that I once received a spoof award for public speaking in high school. As a side note, holding spoof awards at a school assembly for self conscious pre-teens or teenagers is such a very bad idea.
|D Sharon Pruitt|
I suppose it's true that public speaking gets a little bit easier each time you do it, although perhaps I shouldn't admit that or I may be asked again in the future. I've learned that forging ahead through the fear of public speaking is more rewarding for me when I can share from the heart, rather than presenting the life cycle of flatworms, or fumbling through a dramatic reimagining of a 15th century morality play. It probably helped that the whole family came on stage together, and holding my three-year old on one hip helped to disguise my shaking hands. My six year old, who thankfully hasn't inherited a shred of my propensity for stage fright, rocked his reading of scripture, and then it was my turn.
Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.
Little did we know at the time, ten years ago this week, that we were living the last “normal” days of our lives. Or, at least, the last “normal” days we would be able to envision for a very long time. The season of advent was upon us, our dining table covered in the glitter of christmas card crafting, and the calendar starting to fill up with Christmas parties and concerts. Our second wedding anniversary was just weeks away.
We heard Dave’s diagnosis of cancer on December 9th, 2004, and everything changed in that moment.
The timing of our ordeal was made more difficult by its contrast to the merriness of the Christmas season. Our world had stopped, while everyone else went on Christmas shopping and singing carols. We spent much of Christmas that year alone, avoiding the inevitable colds and flus that circulate at Christmas gatherings. We wondered if it would be our last Christmas together.
Every year since then, as the Christmas carols start playing and the neighbours start scurrying to outdo each others’ Christmas light displays, we are reminded of that year that everything changed. We recount the those dark days, and count our blessings: the slow return of Dave’s health, the strengthening of our relationship, and our journey in learning to trust and hope again. Our hearts are renewed with thankfulness for jobs that have provided meaningful work, for accommodations that have become home, for family and friends who have become like family, and for the children we were told we would never be able to have.
As I reflect on the overwhelming list of things to be thankful for, I feel small and undeserving. With each passing year, the wounds of 2004 heal a little more, and our awareness of God’s gift of grace grows.
In retrospect, the timing of our suffering through the Christmas season that was so bitter at the time, now seems to reflect our experience with the gift of God’s grace. During the advent season, we anticipate anew the birth of Christ. We recognize the brokenness of our lives, and long for the light to chase away the darkness. On that first Christmas, the King of Kings came where some might have least expected him. He came not in a flash of political or economic power, but as a baby, a minority in occupied territory, born to a simple carpenter and his beloved. The unmerited and undeserved gift of salvation, of strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow arrived in a smelly stable. Instead of abandoning us in our suffering, God became Emmanuel, God with us. He came in humility, offering the greatest gift of all.