Well this is it. I thought I would never get there but here I am….bags all packed, flat (sort of) tidy, mind buzzing with excitement about what I am sure will be a big adventure.
It is Christmas eve and people are getting ready to unite with family and/or friends to spend the next few days together. I admit that I do feel sad not to be able with my family in the US: with my parents, sister, brother in–law and my little niece Lili who is so loving, so much fun and just such a joy to be with. It will be the first Christmas that I ever spend with a total bunch of strangers on a plane…….and that is odd, a bit sad but also tremendously exciting. After all, I carry those I love with me; and sometimes (for financial and also other reasons) it is worth taking the leap, doing things differently, challenging ourselves to think outside of our own box and routine. Being alone on a plane, going somewhere new and exciting –and doing so out of choice–is a gift and a tremendous blessing. I will not be able to do it every year, nor will I chose to. But this once, what an opportunity! I intend to savour it to the full.
I am also struck by something else: my solitude as I travel will be so different from the heart-breaking loneliness that other people in our midst are facing right now.There are so many men, women, boys and girls who will be spending Christmas truly alone–not only physically but perhaps also emotionally. Unlike me, they will not be doing so out of choice but because of their circumstances: some may be alone in hospital; some may not have friends or family to go to; some may be surrounded by others and yet feel lonely in their hearts, longing to fill a void which they perhaps cannot even define; some (the many refugees in our midst among them) have experienced loss that does not bear talking about and see no hope in the future; and some have no home to go to, are out on the streets in the cold.
I see them every time I walk through the High Street–those who live rough. I feel angered at the brushstroke judgments people make about them; about the generalisation that drugs and alcohol are always involved. I myself have spoken to people who have simply fallen through the cracks of a system that does not work. It can happen so quickly: you lose your job, you lose your house, you have no-one to bail you out ……..what is left are the streets. And even if there are drugs and alcohol involved—does anyone deserve to be out in the cold for taking a dodgy turning ? I know I have made many mistakes in my life and yet have been fortunate enough not to have to pay a bitter price for it. Who am I to judge others, when I have simply been lucky?
Yes, I am incredibly fortunate to be going on this trip and it is only thanks to all the generous contributions to it, made by friends and family on the occasion of my 40th birthday in January, that it is taking place. I am also grateful to my family for bringing me up to be someone who dares to explore and seize the moment (doubtless they have regretted that on a few occasions in the past when I have gone off to less desirable destinations than New Zealand….); grateful to them and to my friends for making me feel strong and supported enough to undertake adventures without fearing solitude; and, most importantly, grateful to the God who made me, who is always with me and never forsakes me, who always listens, always comforts. He truly is a “Heavenly Daddy” to us all if we let Him be, His son Jesus a constant friend, companion and guide. I celebrate that as I leave to go to New Zealand, and remember what Christmas is all about: the coming of Jesus to find us exactly where we are; wherever we may be, physically, spiritually and/or emotionally. I pray that each one of you experience that deep joy of knowing that Jesus came for us all, as you celebrate Christmas, and always.
May you have a blessed, restful and truly meaningful Christmas.