Oh Holy Night - in Prison

oau4yhemfsi-ben-whiteGuest post: Karen shares her experience.

Searching for Joy

As I prepare for Christmas this year, I think back to a year ago and the struggle I had finding joy in the season. My daughter, due to crimes committed because of her addiction, was spending Christmas in prison. I was in my own sort of prison, looking for freedom from the sadness and brokenness in my heart. 

What is it about Christmas that conjures up images and dreams that are rarely the reality of our lives? What must Jesus think when we make His birth celebration into so much pomp and circumstance that we often experience more disappointment than fulfillment?  For our family there would be no gift opening around the tree, no singing together in church or sharing a meal, and certainly no Christmas picture to send out with our cards to show what a happy, nearly perfect family we are. Not this year.

Christmas day arrived. Along with my husband, son and daughter-in-law, we traveled to a gray building surrounded by fences, passed through security and seated ourselves at a table facing my daughter, clothed in institution green. I brought along my heavy heart, but little by little it began to feel lighter. We feasted on Mountain Dew and Chex Mix from the vending machine, laughed as we played a board game, and watched families having pictures taken in front of a quilted Christmas wall hanging. 

Then a miracle happened. We opened the gifts of forgiveness, hope and love as we shared time together. We celebrated the birth of the forgiveness-granter, hope-instiller and love-giver in a humble place more forsaken than a stable. It was inside that place where inexplicably, I found joy. 

Our situation looks different this year with the chance for my daughter to be with us in our home and at our family gatherings. Because of this, I have again elevated my expectations to a Hallmark Christmas card image depicting a Christmas that everything will be just perfect. Then today I was reminded that this image is not real or sustainable and I felt my joy slipping away again. In or out of prison, our family is still imperfect and broken and in need of a Savior.

I need to travel back to prison, to sit with those who are broken and lonely and share their pain. I need to find my way to the stable where Jesus is, so that Christmas would always bring joy. I need to be reminded that joy is not connected to circumstances but to a person. In my search for joy, I must let my Lord take me to the most forsaken place of all, the cross. Maybe as I gaze at my Savior there, I will learn to sing this song with all my broken heart – “Joy to the world, the Lord has come.”

Thank you, Karen.