The Christmas season was underway and Luke and I were savoring a mid-week date night: the food was delicious, the company was good, and now that the meal was winding down and the restaurant hubbub had reached a lull, we were enjoying some casual banter with our friendly waiter. Carols streamed from the restaurant speakers and garland was draped around windows and across the back of our booth, so it seemed fitting to ask our server the question on everyone’s lips mid-December: “Are you all ready for Christmas?”

My question hung in the air for a moment and when he did reply, his response was not one I’d expected. “No, not really,” he muttered with a grimace. “I mean, I just don’t believe in Christmas. It’s a made-up holiday designed by big business to make money. It’s just commercialism. None of it’s real. And with all the pain that’s happening the world, with people dying in wars and from overdoses and all the other crap that’s going on . . . it just seems wrong to celebrate something so frivolous. I’m forty years old. I don’t have a wife, I don’t have kids, I have no need for Christmas.”

I nodded as he spoke, not because I agreed but because I had been stunned to silence. I’d been aware of Christmas curmudgeons, but had never met one out in the wild. I could sense the pain in his answer, and an utter lack of hope that resulted in a complete misunderstanding of all that Christmas is about. There was some truth to his words—Christmas has become over-commercialized, and it can feel wrong to celebrate in the midst of so much worldly hardship—but these are not reasons to stop celebrating or believing in Christmas. It is BECAUSE the world is so dark and corrupt that we celebrate this holiday that is a very real rejoicing over the birth of a Child who is our light in the darkness.

Days later I was still mulling over the waiter’s response and my own missed opportunity to share my personal convictions around Christmas. I wished that I had told him about Jesus and the hope that He offers, the peace and love that He brings. I wished I had affirmed this man’s understanding of a broken world while pointing him to the solution that came on Christmas day two thousand years ago. . . the reason that I, for one, adore Christmas and am always ready for it to come.

I’ve continued to pray for our server and if we ever cross paths again, I’d like to revisit that conversation. But that first opportunity is gone, lost to the insecurities and ill-preparedness that kept me from sharing the truth that night.

Not long after that restaurant interaction, I was on a morning walk, praying to a God whose presence I sensed despite the cold and the dark of the morning. A dense fog had settled over the neighborhood, but pinpricks of twinkling lights could still be seen glimmering from the outlined rooftops of our neighbors’ decorated homes. I pondered these lights that had not been vanquished by the pre-dawn darkness and fog, these beacons of beauty and hope that shone amidst the bleakness of winter.

I had been praying over what my One Word might be for 2024, and as I took in the beauty of those lights I knew I had my answer. I recalled how I had failed to be a light to our waiter that evening, and I vowed that 2024 would be the year I began to embrace my role as a Light of the World. This year I would be better prepared to give an answer for the hope that I have in Christ, who is MY source of light; I would not keep this Light to myself.

In adopting LIGHT as my Word for 2024, I hope to be more intentional about using my words, actions, and life to bring light to others. I also want to bring more light into my own life: I will be paying careful attention to the media I consume, the books I read, and the company I keep, seeking goodness and beauty and light above all else. I want to be filled up with truth and light so that light pours naturally from my illuminated soul.

I’ll end with one final story that may not seem relevant, though I assure you it is: I was in the waiting room of Sully’s speech therapy clinic, passing the time with Kali and Charleston while Sully worked with his therapist. The lobby is a wide open space that Kali has claimed as her personal dance stage. She had been entertaining us with a series of graceful leaps and twirls, and when I asked her to do one final “move” to end her routine she misunderstood my words and, having thought I said “give one final MOO,” she elegantly dropped to her knees and proceeded to MOO like a cow. That image immediately had me howling with laughter. I laughed so hard and so long that my ribs hurt and tears were pouring down my face. Charleston and Kali joined in, partly because of Kali’s funny moment but mostly because it was hilarious for them to see mom laughing so hard.

Later, Charleston told me that he’d never seen me laugh like that. “Actually,” he confessed, “I hardly see you laugh at all. Why don’t you laugh?” His words were a knife to my spirit: not because they were insensitive, but because they were true. I believe I am a good mom, a present mom, an intentional mom . . . but I am not a lighthearted mom. I want that to be different in 2024. I want to be LIGHTER with my kids this year: quicker to laugh, focused less on checking off lists and more on having fun and simply laughing with my children. I want to be a light to the world, and I know that needs to begin in my own home.

I’m so excited to see how God uses my One Word to frame the coming year. This is my TENTH time adopting One Word for a year in place of setting traditional goals or resolutions. (Past words have been Open, Integrity, Love, Grace, Abide, Joy, Wonder, Wholehearted, and Faithful.) God always surprises me in how He uses the word to guide my spirit and my experiences, and I have no doubt that 2023 will be filled with unexpected sources of Light and opportunities to shine Light into the world around me.

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