Here’s what Christmas is like as a missionary

More than ever this Christmas, I have felt the small, quiet beckoning, “Oh, come ye, oh come ye to Bethlehem.”

Come to humility. Come to grace. Come to rest from all your burdens. Come to partake of the goodness of God.

But it hasn’t been easy. Pride is my greatest weakness.

Yet I long to be in a quiet stable in Bethlehem, kneeling before a dingy manger, dirty and wretched. My heart is bowed before the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, lying in that manger that has come to save us all.

Christ, my Lord.

The most beautiful Christmas I ever had was in Red Lodge, Montana. It was the only Christmas I spent on a mission and I will never forget how sacred it was.

I had just gotten to what would be my third and final area of my time as a missionary. And I was nervous about it. It was a small area, 2 branches that covered a dozen plus little towns — none of which had a stoplight.

But those towns are sacred ground, now.

But perhaps none more so than a small corner of the small spot of Montana named Red Lodge. Nestled away in the middle of snowy streets, and meandering deer, there sits a nursing home. I couldn’t tell you how to get there, or what the name of it is.

And that doesn’t matter. What matters are the faces I met inside. In particular, one celestial face I’ll never forget.

The work was slow the days leading up to Christmas. My companion and I were following the counsel of our mission president to be as productive as we could. Our back-up, back-up, backup plan was to visit this humble building filled with the humblest of residents.

We had little to offer them, other than the testimonies swelling in our hearts and the carols celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. And yet, those were enough.

Door to door we went to the sleepy tenants. Most were bed-ridden. Many just stared at us in silence. A few had a small smile cross their lips.  For some, we squeezed their hands and wished them Merry Christmas.

I loved them. Every single one.

The ones who spoke offered their gratitude and love. Most were alone that late December day, and I offered prayer after silent prayer, thanking God that we had come.

And then we saw her.

She was tiny, and wrinkled with age.

She peeked out of her room, wearing a grey ragged nightgown and wore slippers on her feet.

She knew we were coming. And she waited.

I caught her eye, and was anxious to greet her. Talk with her if we could.

But we couldn’t. She didn’t speak.

But when we entered her room, she took our hands as we sang, “O Come All Ye Faithful.” She smiled a toothless smile and her eye beamed a radiant light.

This was one of the most pure children of God I had ever met.

We finished singing, and she motioned for us to sing again. I tore my eyes away from hers and noticed her bare white walls, her empty nightstand and her white, neatly made bed. This woman was alone.

Yet in that humble room, we sang praises to the babe who loves her infinitely. Who knows her name. Who loves her soul.

The woman started to sing with us. Her words were unintelligible. But her spirit spoke clearly to my heart. I had never felt such love for a person. And I knew that it was a gift, a sacred gift from my savior, to feel a fraction of what he must feel for her.

The woman kissed our hands. As she did, tears filled my eyes. My companion and I didn’t want to leave. But when we finally did, we walked out of that white, bare room different than when we had entered. We had been changed, once again by the pure love of Christ.

This holiday season has been a sacred one for the Whitlocks. We have felt in unmatched power, the grace that comes from Jesus Christ.

As I reflect during this sacred season, I find myself feeling like that small, speechless woman, standing and waiting.

We all stand at the door, waiting for the Savior. He is coming again. But in the meantime, he requires us to be His hands.

I have felt the mercy of Him through others this holiday season, and I again have been changed.

My wish this Christmas is that I might be His hands, faithful, kind and constant. That I may lift those around me, love the lonely and cheer the down-cast. For I love them. Because God loves me. And His light has filled my soul.

And with all the faithful, joyful and triumphant, we shall come to that babe, lying in a manger: Christ, our Lord.


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