Heavy Holidays

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Christmas Market at Breitscheidplatz, Berlin.

Hollywood lies.

I’m not talking about Disney princesses and Prince Charmings. My frustration is at an even more basic level of expectation versus reality. You see, according to Hollywood, bad things happen in dark and empty alleyways. And according to Hollywood, sad scenes almost exclusively take place in the rain. But if the music is in major key and the setting is bright and cheery, then, according to Hollywood, the scene should be happy. And so it follows that, according to Hollywood, German Christmas markets should be among the happiest and safest places on earth.

But the events of Monday night in Berlin laughed in the face of this cinematic logic. Because while people were chatting, shopping, and enjoying life, the unthinkable happened. Evil—heartless, senseless, and unspeakable evil—revved the engine, jumped the curb, and left death and carnage in its wake.

Two days later, my heart is aching and my insides still feel numb. Because not only am I upset by the blatant cruelty of this tragedy–I mean, how could someone attack a Christmas market?–but this hits unbelievably close to home. You see, I lived in Berlin on and off for almost a year, and in the process, this city became like home. I care deeply about the people there, and the fact that someone would murder them is nauseating. And that they would hijack the truck of a delivery man from Poland–another country I have come to love–is as infuriating as it is heartbreaking.

But I’m also upset on another, perhaps more jarring level: last year, I stood in that very Christmas market with my best friend, chatting, shopping, and enjoying life. After a late lunch at the KaDeWe, we headed down to this market, where we sipped Gluehwein, bought souvenirs, and marveled at the colorful stars for sale. Out of all the Christmas markets I frequented last winter, the one at Breitscheidplatz was by far my favorite. With its massive Christmas tree next to the glowing-blue stained glass Gedaechtniskirche, this market felt particularly magical. That this very same place became the site of such senseless violence and that the people who died there were just like me is a lot to take in. If my research year had fallen just a little later, I could have been there on Monday night with them. One of those 12 dead or 48 injured could have been me.

These are heavy thoughts, I know, and they have been weighing on me since I got the news on Monday afternoon. Now as I sit at home in Kansas, surrounded by all the trappings and trimmings of Christmas, I can’t help but feel the disconnect. Between the sorrow I feel on the inside and the joy I’m supposed to exude on the outside. Between the happiness that Hollywood tells me should accompany this season and the suffering that is happening around the world. Between the darkness sitting heavily upon me and the light I so badly want to believe that Jesus came to bring.

All Advent season and well before Monday happened, I have been wrestling with these thoughts. The Hollywood version of Christmas claims to be “merry and bright” and a season of endless joy. But this year, Christmas seems anything but happy. The civil war in Syria shows no signs of ending, and the remaining citizens in Aleppo are facing almost certain death. The families of terror victims across France and Belgium, as well as those who lost loved ones in the racial violence in the U.S. this summer, are still mourning. And then there are the countless families who still grieve those lost in more “normal” but no less tragic ways, such as cancer, car accidents, and suicide.

Taken together, there is a lot of darkness and sorrow in this world of ours. And during these last few weeks of Advent, I have felt the weight of it, perhaps more acutely than ever before. How are we supposed to be filled with “Christmas cheer” when so much of the world appears to be falling apart? Where is that joy that I’m supposed to be experiencing? I find myself resonating with that old Christmas hymn,

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Aleppo, Berlin, and countless individual sorrows seem to mock the idea of Christmas. But then again, isn’t that the whole point of Christmas? That into the darkest places of pain and the most broken parts of humanity, God comes to us.

Even as I write this, I know that answer feels Sunday-schooly, perhaps even a bit trite. Especially if you’ve grown up in the church, it’s easy to say things like “God came to us” without thinking about what that means. But these last few weeks, and especially these last few days, have turned such Christianese-esque indifference into a luxury I can’t afford. I am hurting, and I want answers. And even more than answers, I need to know–deep down in the painful places–that God has come and that He cares. That’s my prayer as this Advent season draws to a close, that His light would shine into this darkness of our world and this darkness that I feel, and that I would remember again the rest of that old song:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. Please.

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Light shining into Darkness. Stars for sale at the Breitscheidplatz Christmas Market.
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Free “Fall”-ing

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I love autumn.

Yes, I know that today is December 1st. Thanksgiving has come and gone, and Christmas trees are already bedecked with lights and ornaments. Starbucks has transitioned out of its “Pumpkin Spice everything” phase and is now advertising its winter drink menu. Radio stations have their holiday playlists (which I swear only contain 17 songs max) playing on repeat. And everyone is bustling about trying to stock up on some more holiday cheer.

But here in Atlanta, where summer reigns supreme and winter only comes once every few years, autumn isn’t quite ready to let go. The trees, though slightly less full, still boast a fair number of persistently colorful leaves. Although we reached the low fifties last week, the temperatures continue to hang out in the upper-60s range. And yesterday, as if in a deliberate attempt to stick it to winter, the weather forecast included a tornado warning. Don’t let the lights and décor fool you; Atlanta does not yet feel or look a lot like Christmas.

But honestly, I’m okay with that. Partially because I know that in a few weeks I will return to the Midwest—the real land of tornadoes—where I will get to break out my winter coat and fluffy scarves. And partially because I don’t think I’m quite ready to let go of fall. You see, I’ve always loved fall. For as long as I can remember, it’s been my favorite season. I love all the leaves and how they turn colors, especially on maple trees. I’m a sucker for flannel shirts and bonfire s’mores. And I can think of few things more satisfying than that first Saturday morning when the air is finally crisp enough for a hoodie and my favorite pair of jeans.

Last year, I didn’t get to experience much of a fall. In Berlin, the seasons change almost overnight from summer to winter, with barely a breath in between. The leaves had barely turned and then they were gone, replaced by 6+ months of colorless winter. It was miserable.

Maybe that’s why this year, like the dry brown leaves of an oak tree, I find myself clinging to fall, as if this would help it last longer. Or maybe I’m not ready for fall to end because I’m simply not ready for another transition. Maybe this year, perhaps more than all other years, I find myself identifying with fall, that perpetually in-between season, more acutely than ever before.

The last year and a half, and especially the last two months, have been filled to the brim with transitions. I’ve hopped from city to city, continent to continent, and now state to state with barely a moment to catch my breath. While that time has been good and I wouldn’t trade these experiences for anything, it’s also been difficult. Apart from the obvious things, like missing my friends, Berlin, and European public transit, I also feel homesick in a way that I can’t quite pinpoint or articulate. Everything feels so transitory, as if I’m stuck in a place I can’t fully identify, lost somewhere in between. And to make things worse, even as I am reunited with family and friends, I find myself missing them too, or missing that sense of home that I once felt with them. And all that to say that, in this moment, I’m not quite sure where I belong anymore; all I know is that, like fall, I am stuck somewhere in-between.

And even in this feeble attempt to put my thoughts on paper, I can’t help but wonder if this feeling of displacement is somehow at the core of the human experience. If perhaps this sense of loneliness, this deep but elusive feeling of homesickness isn’t part of what makes us alive. After all, if we didn’t feel an emptiness inside of us, we wouldn’t turn to other people to fill it. If we didn’t desire something greater than ourselves, we would never seek after God. Maybe seasons of transition, with all their unsettling and reshuffling, are actually a backwards sort of gift, a “severe mercy”, a blessing in disguise. Not only do such times remind us that “this world is not our home”, but they can also stir up a longing for the One who is constant. Like a child asleep in its mother’s lap, we can find refuge in His unchanging and everlasting arms.

That’s what I’m trying to remember right now, in these moments when all these transitions and uncertainties leave me feeling lonely or sad. I knew this was coming—in fact, my very first blog post here dealt with reverse culture shock—and I know this too shall pass. So in the meantime, I’m going to keep trying to do the next thing, embracing all the emotions that come with it, and turning to the God who has been with me all along. And to my fellow homesick transitioners, keep hanging in there and don’t lose heart. Autumn may be over, but winter won’t last forever, and spring will come again. It’s okay to grieve the fallen leaves, but don’t forget that new ones will be here soon.

… and if all other mood-boosting attempts fail, at least Starbucks still has their Pumpkin Spice Lattes. 😉

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Photographed on November 30th. Autumn in Atlanta really does last forever. 

“Where are you, Christmas?”

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The Christmas Market near Ku’damm in Berlin.

My dearest friends, acquaintances, and random people on the internet, I have some terrible news: Christmas is over. Today is December 29th, which means that we are now 361 days from our next Christmas. Thanks, Leap Year, for adding another day to our already-long Christmas wait.

We did our best to stretch it out and make it last. There were months of preparation, afternoons of shopping and crafting, hours of decorating and baking, miles put on the car or the Frequent Flyer miles compiled to visit relatives. Starting with Thanksgiving September, we listened to Christmas music, planned the decorations for our apartments and houses, and began plotting what gifts to buy our loved ones. And yet despite all of these attempts to extend our holiday season, Christmas cruelly reminded yet again us that it’s only 24 hours long, just like every other day of the year. And now here on Tuesday the 29th, the gifts have been unwrapped, the radio stations have ceased their Yuletide serenading, and many of us are already back at work, reminding us that soon—yes, very soon—life will return to its normal, everyday, often cheerless routine.

Now, I’m not trying to undersell Christmas or poo-poo it with a post-holiday depressed attitude. I actually had probably one of the most memorable and enjoyable Christmas seasons to date. After several weeks of enjoying Germany’s Christmas markets, I came home to Kansas and had a truly wonderful time with my family. We went to my Omi’s house and decorated Christmas cookies, we drove through our favorite neighborhoods to look at Christmas lights, and we even squeezed in a trip to Silver Dollar City, our favorite 1880s-themed amusement park in Branson, Missouri. Simple though it may seem, this Christmas with my family was truly lovely. And having been away from my parents since July—and from my sisters since far longer than that—I appreciated our time together this year even more than usual.

But now, whether I want to admit it or not, Christmas is over. In a little over a week, I’ll be flying back to Berlin, where the Christmas markets will have disappeared, the glühwein will be gone, and everyone will have settled back into their natural state of light-deprived semi-hibernation.

And now as I think about it, I can’t help but wonder: am I the only one who finds this a bit dissatisfying, if not anti-climactic? I mean, Christmas has the longest build-up of all the holidays. Can you name another holiday that has inspired so many songs (or so many covers of the same songs)? So many movies (and unnecessary sequels to those movies)? Can you think of another day of the year that is greeted with such anticipation by young and old, rich and poor, religious and agnostic alike? We go crazy for Christmas—some of us for months on end—and then before we know it, it’s over, and we’re left looking forward to this time next year, holding out the hope that maybe next Christmas will somehow last longer and be different.

I love Christmas. I truly do. But every year I experience this same discontented feeling. December 26th rolls around—talk about the most underappreciated day of the year—and I find myself wondering yet again, “Was that it?” Somehow it’s just never seemed fair to me that, after such a dramatic entrance, Christmas would just vanish so quickly without a trace. And I find this even more disappointing in light of so many of our favorite seasonal songs and movies, which remind us to have “the spirit of Christmas” and “keep Christmas in our hearts” all year long. Yes, I realize that these quotes come from cheesy, childish sources, and holiday movie specials are a poor choice for your life motto. But still for some reason, these phrases have always bothered me this year, and even more so this year. And now as I sit in my annual post-Christmas slump, I can’t seem to get them out of my head. Because it’s not just Disney who tells me these things; the Church does too, encouraging me to “live in light of Christmas” all year long. But what does that actually mean? And more importantly, how do we do it?

I’ve been wrestling with these questions for the last several days (getting a head start by thinking about them before Christmas Day. #efficiency). And while I don’t have a perfect, 5-step formula or a catchy slogan, I think I’m at least starting to arrive at an answer: Christmas leaves us, but Jesus never does. Let me explain.

In one sense, the post-Christmas funk is natural. Experiencing an emotional low after such a significant and highly-anticipated day makes complete sense. I bet Mary and Joseph even their own version of this after the very first Christmas. After all, if your labor pains result in a sky full of angels and a room full of worshipping shepherds, the reality of late-night feedings and diaper changings must have seemed a bit anti-climactic—and they were caring for the Son of God! But you see, for them Christmas wasn’t the end of a story; Christmas was the beginning of their lifetime being Jesus’ earthly parents.

I think the same principle applies to us today 2,000-some-odd years later. Christmas reminds us that Jesus has come to us, but, just like for Mary and Joseph, His presence didn’t end when the manger had been filled with feed again and the shepherds had returned to their sheep. And it doesn’t end for us either, even when the decorations and lights have been taken down and packed away for next year. It’s no accident that Matthew’s Gospel refers to Jesus as “Immanuel” or “God with us”. John puts it so beautifully, saying that Jesus “became flesh and made His dwelling among us.

You see, Jesus’ story with us began on Christmas and continues today. And I think it’s only by remembering and believing this truth—that He came to us, He loves us, and He is present with us now—that we can keep “the Christmas spirit” and its accompanying joy, anticipation, wonder, and awe alive with us every day of the year.

So even though Cindy Lou Who was right in asking, “Where are you, Christmas? Why can’t I find you?”, her natural feeling of confusion and loss was only part of the story. Because although Christmas has already come and gone, the One whom we celebrate hasn’t left us and never will.

Well, that’s enough for one day. I’m feeling hungry. Christmas cookies, anyone? 😉

 

The Perfect Trick Play

My family at last year's Cotton Bowl. Don't worry; for this game, I was able to pay attention. :)
My family at last year’s Cotton Bowl. Don’t worry; for this game, I was able to pay attention. 🙂

I’ve never been much of an athlete. Yes, I love to run, but that doesn’t require much coordination or skill. I played volleyball for several years, but while my team did well and won our share of games, I wasn’t exactly a standout player. And my softball career, though long in duration, was short on quality. Though I had played since I was five years old, I was never even good enough to make my high school JV team. But hey, that freed me up to go out for track, which fortunately, as I already mentioned, required no coordination or skill.

I’m not much better at following or watching sports. For some reason, my attention span, which allows me to write essays for 12 hours straight, can find 2-hour games hard to watch. If I’m watching in person, it’s a little easier; the crowd’s excitement and energy help me stay engaged. And if it’s a game or team I really care about—like the Oklahoma State Cowboys or the Kansas City Royals—then my attention span and level of interest increase. But even with my favorite teams, I’m terrible at remembering specific facts about games, stats, and trivia. (And as a result, I’m a terrible trash-talker; I don’t even try. Oh well.)

But in this figurative sea of sports-related ignorance floats an itty-bitty island of knowledge about one particular sports moment. Years later, this game-winning play remains etched in my memory, and I don’t think it will ever go away.

It happened during the 2007 Fiesta Bowl matchup between Oklahoma and Boise State. Having just made a touchdown and down by two with only a few seconds left in overtime, Boise State opted for a two-point conversion. But instead of throwing the ball to a receiver in the end zone, the Broncos went with an unexpected “Statue of Liberty” trick play. I’m not a sports writer, so I won’t confuse you by unsuccessfully explaining it. After all, a grainy YouTube video is worth a thousand words:

Even though I’m not a “sports person” and I’m not a Boise State fan (although now, as an Oklahoma State graduate, I’ll gladly root against whoever plays OU), this trick play has stuck with me over the years. When everything was on the wire and victory seemed impossible, these players stepped up and made a huge difference. They didn’t break under pressure, and they didn’t back down. Instead, they fooled their opponents (sorry, Sooners) and turned what looked like an impending “L” into an unforgettable “W”. Their actions changed the outcome, and at least in the miniature universe of bowl games, these players left their mark.

So what does this have to do with Christmas? Great question. I think the Boise State play has much in common with the Christmas story itself. Let me explain.

At the first Christmas, things weren’t looking so great for the Jews and for the world. Israel had endured centuries of foreign oppression by empire after empire, with the Romans acting as the current dictators. Long since destroyed, the extravagant temple built by Solomon was now just the object of nostalgia, a sad testament to Israel’s lost glory. Even the Jewish religion, intended to draw God’s people into relationship with Him, had been distorted and corrupted. Though tasked with shepherding God’s people and teaching them His ways, the religious leaders had fallen into legalism, becoming oppressive and cruel.  Nothing was as it should be. And God, who had called Abraham all those years ago and had led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, had fallen silent. These were dark and hopeless times.

And yet into the very heart of this darkness and sadness, God did the most unexpected thing: He sent His Son Jesus as a baby. Yes, the Jews were expecting a Messiah, but they were looking for a conquering king, not a helpless infant. Prophecies aside, no one thought Jesus would come from a place as desolate as Bethlehem or grow up in a town as podunk as Nazareth. (Case in point: when first told about Jesus, soon-to-be disciple Nathanael’s initial response was, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”) And when God promised in the Old Testament that He would be a Shepherd to His people and make a new covenant with them, no one expected Him to literally become a man and live among us. And yet that is exactly what He did.

In what would become the “trick play” of eternity, God willingly took on human skin to be born as a little baby to an impoverished family in the middle of nowhere. He would then spend the next 30 years living in total obscurity, working as a humble carpenter. When the time was right, He would walk all over Judea, teaching everyone about the Kingdom of God and turning the religious world upside down. And then during the Jewish festival of Passover, He voluntarily sacrificed Himself for the sins of humanity, so that we might be restored to a right relationship with God. But not even death could hold Him, for in yet another “trick play”, He came back to life. He now reigns in heaven, and one day, when the time is right again, He will come again and finish restoring the world, making all things new.

This is the mystery of the Christian faith. Jesus’s presence with us changes everything. Because He came, we can know that God the Father loves us. Because He came, we know that God is involved in and cares about this world. Because Jesus came, we can know that we’re not alone on a “pale blue dot” suspended in the universe. For His very name Emmanuel means “God with us”. Not “God above us”, not “God beyond us”, but God with us. Right here, alongside us in the midst of the mess.

When Jesus was born all those years ago, His birth wasn’t some last-ditch, split-second play at the end of the game. No, His coming to Bethlehem was just the beginning; He was here to stay. Charles Wesley put it well in his classic Christmas hymn:

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate deity

Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King”

That, my friends, is what Christmas is all about. The God of the universe was born as a little baby and lived among us. “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.” (John 3:16, The Message)

Merry Christmas, y’all! 🙂

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The “Grandest” of Them All :)

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Dear blogosphere, I have a very important announcement to make:

I have the best grandmother in the entire world. And today is her birthday. 🙂

And because it’s her birthday—and because I’m not in Kansas to be able to give her a HUGE hug—I’ve decided to do the next best thing: dedicate this blog post to her. This one is for you, Omi.

Since I’ve already established that my Omi is the best grandmother in the entire world, I should start by telling you why.

Reason #1: My Omi has seen me at my worst and loves me anyway.

And unfortunately, the “worst” has been going on for quite a long time. Starting with the doctor’s visit as an infant when I projectile pooped up my mom’s coat sleeve (yes, that really happened) to when I figured out how to cheat at “Chutes and Ladders” at age 2 ½, my Omi has a knack for witnessing my less-than-stellar moments. And yet despite experiencing the selfish, bratty, and even poopy side of me, she still loves me unconditionally anyway—and not just me, but each of her 11 grandkids. Thanks, Omi.

Reason #2: My Omi makes the BEST food. Seriously.

Yes, I know that all of you think your grandmothers are the best cooks in the world. And while I’m sure they are great, my Omi beats all of them. Don’t believe me? Take a look at these photos:

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<— Christmas Dinner…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

… And dessert! ———–>

Seeing is believing. And trust me; tasting takes away any doubt! Her food is the best! 🙂

Reason #3: …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

There is no #3.

But not because I can’t think of a third reason. On the contrary, I can’t think of a way to fit everything it all into a single statement. Because the truth is, what makes my Omi so incredible can’t be boiled down to a simple blog post. She’s one of the most caring and compassionate people I’ve ever known. She has a huge servant’s heart and would literally do anything for anyone at any time. She loves to work behind the scenes and is so humble that she would never accept praise or recognition. She gives generously without expecting anything in return. She loves everyone she meets–and everyone who meets her loves her. She has a knack for reaching those who are often forgotten or ignored. She has the gift of hospitality, and you can’t help but feel welcome and at home in her house. She is patient, gentle, loving, kind and so much more. I thank God every day for the blessing of calling her my Omi. And I pray that one day I will be even a fraction of how wonderful she is.

I love you so very much, Omi! Thanks for being the best–or “grandest”–grandma out there. Happy birthday! 😀

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The Greatest Story Ever Told

We all love a good story, right? I bet if I were to ask you about your favorite movie, you might consider the quality of the acting (or maybe the actors themselves. After all, who doesn’t love a good Sandra Bullock flick?), you could think about the rating, the level of action, or how much it makes you laugh. But ultimately, my guess is that one feature will trump the others. And that is the story. Because after all is said and done, the acting, action, and laugh factor amount to nothing if they aren’t accompanied by a solid story. Yes, you may like a story-less film for a little while, you might even go to the midnight showing and Redbox it a few times. But in the end, the movies that stay high on your list for years to come, the ones that are worth paying the $19.96 to buy at Wal-Mart, the ones that you will watch over and over and over again and never get tired of—those movies are the ones with the best stories.

Although stories come in all shapes and sizes, the best stories have some common characteristics. First is conflict; without a conflict, there is no real story. The story must contain a problem that needs to be solved. This could be an enduring racism like in Remember the Titans or it might consist of Buddy the Elf searching for his father. Whatever form the conflict takes, it is absolutely essential to the structure of the story.

Next, the story must have a protagonist. Also known as the “hero,” this individual must not only be likeable, but also worthy of being liked. He or she should be a sympathetic character with whom the audience can identify at some level. More often than not, this person is simply an average human being of whom above average things are expected or demanded.

For every protagonist, there must be an antagonist. This is the opposite of the protagonist, the pepper to his or her salt. While the protagonist is good and praiseworthy, the antagonist is evil and despicable. The antagonist does everything within his power not only to thwart the protagonist’s plans, but also to destroy the hero himself.

This brings us to the fourth essential element to all great stories: A battle between good and evil. For anyone who’s taken an English class, you know this as the “climax.” Good and evil must fight against one another and, for the end to be “happy,” the good side must succeed. Even when plots become more complicated and the good and evil sides may not be so clear cut, we in the audience still have an inherent sense of how the story should go. And while not all stories have so-called happy endings, the stories we treasure the most do. Our favorite stories, those classic tales, all have resolutions in which good wins out in the end.

Moreover, the very best stories usually have a roundabout way of getting to that happy ending. We term this a “twist.” Something unexpected happens; it makes little to no sense at the time. But in the end, when we see the big picture, we understand the poetic beauty and plotline necessity of the twist, and we are grateful for it.

Now, I know you didn’t visit my blog (or accidentally stumble upon it) hoping to get a Cliff-notes English lesson, but bear with me a little longer. If all the great stories share the same basic characteristics—of conflict, protagonist, antagonist, and good v. evil—couldn’t you theoretically make the case that, while there are infinite stories in the world, they are all actually part of the same basic story? Yes, the names, locations, and specific plotlines do vary, but the essential gist of it, the bare bones, the heart of all stories are identical.

That’s no coincidence, my friends. Now let me tell you why.

You see, God is the ultimate Storyteller. Before He spoke anything else into existence, God was. And as an omniscient, all-knowing Being, He knew everything that would ever happen. So when He set the world into motion, when He breathed life into Adam and Eve, He was already weaving together the most incredible story imaginable—the story that would become the blueprint for all other stories. Here is that story.

God created Adam and Eve and gave them paradise. They had everything they could ever possibly want or need, and they had an unhindered relationship with God, their Creator, and with each other. Everything was perfect, as it was intended to be.

But then along came God’s enemy. Completely evil and full of hate, this enemy sought to sabotage God’s perfect plan. He deceived Adam and Eve and convinced them to reject God. They were kicked out of paradise. But God still loved His people and wasn’t finished with them yet. He had a plan to make everything right again: A King would come to save them.

After leaving paradise, humanity suffered and all of creation with it. Natural disasters, disease, pain, suffering and death became facts of life—facts that God never wanted to have happen. But because humans chose their way over God’s, He had to let them suffer for a time. Thousands of years passed, and things became worse and worse. It seemed as if God had forgotten His promise and His people.

And then, all of sudden, God directs the ultimate plot twist: He sends them a baby. An illegitimate baby born to unwed peasants from a poverty-stricken town barely on the map, while these parents were refugees a hundred miles from home. And because no one would take them in, this baby was born in an animal’s stall and placed in a feeding trough. As if that weren’t enough, shepherds (the lowest of the low) were the first to see him.

Oh, and one more minor detail: This baby is God Himself.

Crazy. But wait, there’s more.

This baby grows up, lives a perfect life, and willingly dies a criminal’s death on a cross. However, He didn’t stay dead. No, He rose from the grave and will come back one day to rule forever.

Now here comes the nuttiest part of all: To those who trust in Him as their Savior, He purifies them and makes them white as snow. His death takes our place, and we get to live with Him forever in a restored paradise.

That, my friends, is the greatest story of all, and it’s the only story that really matters. And the best part is that God created and planned this story, so that you could be a part of it and—most importantly—so that you could have a relationship with Him. So the choice is yours: Do you want to write your own story, hoping for a happy ending? Or will you trust in the greatest Storyteller to write you into His, which guarantees happiness without end?

Merry Christmas and God bless.