Yes, I did the ugly cry on stage at church in front of 2,000 people.
All I was supposed to do was close out the message at church. Get on stage, be friendly, smile and tell everyone to invite their friends/families/neighbors/co-workers to our Christmas Eve services next week. But when I started to speak, I was overwhelmed by my own life experience that had nearly crippled me during Christmases past. And so I did the only thing a proud woman could do - I cried and snotted and sweated and shook and I told the people my real story in a 3-minute farewell.
Here's what brought on my public humiliation:
My pastor/friend/surrogate-dad, Griff Jones (CrossRoads Fellowship in Odessa, Texas), taught about the loneliness that often plagues people this time of year. Loneliness accompanied by depression and sadness and, sometimes, despair. The opening song to his message was "Eleanor Rigby" by the Beatles. The song chimes a haunting line in its chorus that echoes, "Ah, look at all the lonely people."
I could relate to all those lonely people. Fourteen Christmases ago I was one of them.
I had wandered far from God and was inching my way back, starting by going to church, sitting in a pew, trying not to be noticed, but also not wanting to be invisible.
Fourteen Christmases ago, Christmas was especially difficult because of my Dad's battle with alcoholism - it always seemed to reach a peak during the holidays, and Christmas was the worst. I felt dread as Christmas approached and that made me feel guilty, like I was being ungrateful for the gift of Jesus. I felt undeserving of God's forgiveness. I felt so far gone that grace couldn't reach me. But I went to church on Christmas Eve. And I felt welcomed. I felt accepted. The people at church looked at me and said, "Merry Christmas! Welcome! You look lovely tonight. God bless you." I went back to church the next Sunday and the next Sunday and the Sunday after that. I joined Bible studies and I formed healthy relationships with other people who were following Jesus and they helped me and mentored me along this new path and over the course of time something happened in my life…transformation.
Four years later, my Dad came to church with me on Christmas Eve. When the communion juice and bread came to us, my Dad passed because he felt so guilty for his willful choice to disobey God and hurt everyone who loved him. I passed too. Instead, I held my Daddy's hand, sang "Silent Night" and wept hot but hopeful tears that my Dad would repent, turn his life around.
It was my Dad's last Christmas. Six months later he died by suicide. Despair won that battle but ultimately, because my Dad had put his faith and heart in the hands of Jesus years before, death didn't have the final word. My Dad spent Christmas 2005 worshiping at the feet of Jesus. No longer in the pain of addiction; healed and whole.
But I still wish his story would have had an earthly turnaround. I wish I could say that Dad went to rehab, got sober, rededicated his life to Christ and was sharing his story with other recovering addicts and enjoying his grand babies. I wish...
That's my Christmas wish for someone. Someone who is lonely. Someone who is in the grips of addiction or hopelessness or despair or depression or loss. My wish is that their life would intersect with the person of Jesus Christ and they would experience the life-giving, life-changing, bad-choice-redeeming, forever-forgiving, redeeming Savior that lays in the manger. So gentle. So humble. No judgement. Just love.
So I stood on stage and gave a version of that story. I urged the audience, through a shaking voice, to look into the eyes of the desperate people around them offer them an invitation to a Christmas Eve service. They might say no. But what if they say "yes" and it changes the course of their life? It changed mine.
Wherever you are, Keep Going and take someone with you to church this Christmas!
"God places the lonely in families; He sets the prisoners free and gives them joy." Psalm 68:6 (NLT)
"He is a God who is passionate about His relationship with you." Exodus 34:14 (NLT)
"God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." Hebrews 13:5 (NIV)