Being in a different place for Christmas

by Steve Brock on December 25, 2014

Christmas at church near hospitalI write this on Christmas Eve in a setting I’ve grown not just tired of, but burdened by this year: a hospital.

First, between surgeries and treatments for my wife’s breast cancer over the last year, I spend more time than I care to think about in or near hospitals. She’s doing great now and just finished her last treatment a week ago, but still, it has been a long year.

Then, in May, I spend several days in a hospital down in Bend, OR with my mom who broke her arm and had a pacemaker put in.

Now, it’s my youngest son, Connor.

Yesterday, December 23rd, we leave our home at 6:00 a.m. for a 7:50 a.m. flight to spend Christmas with family in California. On the drive to the airport, Connor, 17, suddenly cries out in agony. He has a piercing pain in his abdomen. We don’t even make it as far as the airport.

A few miles short of there, we pull into an empty parking lot. Connor rolls out of the car and onto the asphalt writhing in pain. We call 911 and soon after the EMT arrives, Connor is in an ambulance to the nearest hospital and I’m frantically racing to drop my wife and other son off at the airport. We figure there’s nothing they can do, so reluctantly they agree to catch the flight that Connor and I will never make.

I rush to the ER, find Connor and wait for doctors to give him pain medication and carry out some tests. A few hours later, they tell us that Connor has acute pancreatitis and must spend several days in the hospital.

We move him to the nearest children’s hospital (I never knew that most hospitals cannot admit minors) and eventually learn that the cause is unknown (which happens about a third of the time with this inflammation of the pancreas). However, the treatment is known: hydration through IV, no food or water, and rest along with medication for the intense pain.

So here I am, the next day, waiting with Connor, grateful for wonderful doctors and nurses, friends who have stopped by during this busy time of year and the news that Connor is feeling a bit better and that we might be able to go home tomorrow.

But here’s the odd thing: When we didn’t know what was going on, one doctor warned this could be serious, even life-threatening. So I prayed desperately for my son. And in return, you’d think through all this I would feel especially close to God. I’ve got plenty of quiet time here in the hospital and a heart filled with gratitude. And yet, where’s that warm glow and intimate sense of God’s presence, especially now at Christmas? I’m not sure.

You know the old saying, “If it feels like God is distant, guess who moved?” So this evening, I choose to try and scoot a bit closer to the Divine. I find out there is a Christmas Eve service at a church a few blocks from the hospital. I decide to go while Connor rests.

The church I visit is old (see photo above). The services, contemporary. The people are welcoming. The music, classic carols done to rock arrangements. A woman with a lovely voice reads a new but touching rendition of the Christmas story from Luke chapter 2. The pastor delivers a short, but poignant message. We pass the light of our candles to each other as we celebrate the coming of Light into our world.

And somewhere along the way, Jesus and I get reconnected in a powerful way. Was it the music? The lighting? The words spoken? Likely all the above. But most of all – apart from the sheer grace of God – it was that I was in a different place: physically, emotionally and spiritually.

This is a good reminder at Christmas that God came to a different place – our world – just to be with us. He moved closer even as we, in our proneness to wander, drift away.

Movement and place affect us more than we realize in ways both subtle and profound. But the Christmas message tonight makes me realize that no matter where that place is – even a hospital room on Christmas – we are never, ever alone.

Emmanuel. God with us. Wherever we find ourselves.

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There is room

by Steve Brock on December 27, 2013

Christmas Eve Candle

It’s Christmas Eve and I’m standing in a darkened church a thousand miles from home, or at least the place I currently call home. I stand here in silence with a few hundred others, each of us holding a solitary candle, this sanctuary a flickering contrast of light and shadow.

Our final verse of “Silent Night” hangs in the air as the pastor tells us to be still and do something so few of us these days do: embrace the silence and the presence of the One whose birth we celebrate this evening.

I think on the short meditation the pastor has just spoken. He tells us of that night two thousand years ago when Mary and Joseph traveled under much different circumstances to a small town that had no room for them. The story is familiar, perhaps too much so, until he makes this point.

The place where Mary and Joseph end up, where she delivers a most remarkable child into this world, is a place that seems to have room. Plenty of it. Room enough for the weary couple. Room for the animals likely unaccustomed to the company. Room for the shepherds who come to behold the child declared to them in the most wondrous of ways. And most of all, in that stable, room for the very Son of God.

The pastor goes on to tell of a tradition in Ireland and other countries where on Christmas Eve, people leave a candle burning in their window. They declare with a single flame of light that Mary and Joseph would be welcome there, that there is room in their house for God. There is room for the One who grew from that tiny baby into a man who made room in his life for others. For the broken, the outcast, the lost and the hurting. People like you and me.

And so, as I look at my own and the candles held by others around me on this Christmas Eve, I marvel at the light and silence and how all of us who have come here as distant strangers can feel so close in this half-light. I think of the words spoken as we passed our flame to the next waiting candle: “Jesus Christ. The Light of the World.” And I wonder.

I wonder how long this moment will last. I wonder if in the coming New Year, I will go my usual ways and let the cares and stresses and yes, even the travel, cause me to forget what has been revealed this special evening. I wonder if there will be room in my life for what matters.

And then I realize that I have a choice. I cannot always choose my circumstances, but I can choose how I react to them. I can’t control what comes my way, but I can decide to some degree how I will spend my time. Most of all, I can trust that the One who made room for others two millennia ago is doing the same thing for each of us today. Emmanuel – God with us – today.

There is room.

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When your trip goes awry – Part 5

by Steve Brock on January 31, 2013

The combined episodes of having one flight cancelled, being denied a second, making a third and finally arriving at my destination don’t tell the full story.

Here’s the background: If you’d been flying a ton for most of December and you were in, say the Midwest until Thursday and had other meetings in say, Orlando, Florida the following Monday, what would you do? Spend all day Thursday flying home to Seattle then all day Sunday flying to Florida? Or might you think, “I’ll fly directly to Florida, save a day in the air, get some work done in the hotel and be fresh as a daisy for Monday’s meetings?”

Yeah. Me too.

Except that Thursday ran me ragged due to having a cold and the stress of flight delays. And then along comes Friday.

My hotel (a Hyatt no less, located inside the Orlando airport) lacks wifi. I spend the whole day on my cell phone or trying to find the elusive hot spot at the airport just to get some emails out. Overall, the day is frustrating and I wonder more than once if I should have just flown home Thursday. I could have avoided the last two days that have been as much fun as an extended stay at the Laundromat.

But I would also have missed what happened Friday night.


My client (who has become a great friend) has invited me to Andrew Peterson’s “Behold the Lamb of God” concert this Friday evening here in Orlando. I love Andrew Peterson’s music and his books for young adults. But I’ve never seen him perform live.

The concert is wonderful. It starts with the various muscians on this tour performing their own works. It then moves to a musical account of, as they put it, “The true tall tale of the Christ child.” I am enchanted and moved and, for the first time this season, begin to feel as if Christmas is indeed coming.

Then, amidst all this expectation of Christmas arrives something unexpected.

To explain one of his songs, Andrew tells of reluctantly reading his son’s favorite book, The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Favorite? I saw the movie a few years back, the old one with Gregory Peck. I could relate to Andrew’s hesitancy to read the book. You won’t find it in the dictionary under “happy endings.” It’s like Old Yeller: “boy meets pet, boy falls in love with pet, boy has adventures with pet, crisis occurs, pet dies.” Not exactly uplifting.


Yet there’s more to it than a sad end to the family pet deer. What I had missed was what Andrew saw in the book: The “yearling” is not the pet fawn so much as the boy, young Jody Baxter. And what dies in the book is not just a deer, but the innocence of youth.

I cannot tell you why his explanation of the book and the corresponding song struck me as they did. But as he described his own mourning for the passing of childhood and the hard realities of adulthood, I understood. I understood immediately what he meant and what he felt. I even knew, in that moment, why it was so hard for me to get here, why I responded almost as a child would to the minor inconvenience of delayed flights and why these words and this song matter to me.

We all have missing pieces within us. Unfinished business. Places within we know to be ours even though we’ve forgotten or misplaced them as we grow into adulthood and beyond. And in rare moments, they open to us and we make sense of them even if we can’t explain them. So it was for me.

Hard travel pummels us. It also tenderizes us and makes us available to what God would reveal and would give us. I received a gift that night that I cannot explain to anyone fully. I only know that I was supposed to be there, to hear a strange tale and beautiful music. And to realize that what it took to arrive here only made the receiving better.

And so I use this trip as a marker. An asterisk to set at the end of any future grumbling sentences I might utter during another hard trip. A reminder that I cannot judge any journey until I reach the end. For the journey I think I’m taking is rarely the one I’m actually on. The story is not always what I think it’s about. And the destination can be someplace far different than where I thought I was heading.


If you want to know how I got to this point and you haven’t read them yet, check out Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4

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The accessible God

by Steve Brock December 29, 2012

Christmas fades quickly until we realize that the baby that Mary held in her arms is the same person who holds us in his every day of our lives.

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A not so silent night

by Steve Brock December 21, 2012

We sing “Silent Night, Holy Night” but that first Christmas was anything but silent. Realizing how Jesus came amidst the noise changes everything…then and now.

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You had to be there – Part 2

by Steve Brock December 29, 2011

“You had to be there” takes on a whole new meaning when we realize the implications of this phrase to the Christmas message and for our own travels.

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Traveling Light – Part 2

by Steve Brock December 16, 2011

The Feast of Lights at the University of Redlands helps us to understand a deeper – and brighter – meaning of Christmas…and travel.

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