Touched beyond measure

By Jessica Brodie

I write this column just before Christmas, as my mind tries hard to balance the more important elements of Advent—the true meaning of Christmas in celebrating the birth of our Savior—with my desire to find gifts, bake meals and share happy memories to show my loved ones just how much they mean to me.

It’s also the time of year when this newspaper ministry along with other charities and nonprofits do a year-end plea for funds in hopes of meeting their budget goals and continuing their mission another year.

So many messages abound—give gifts, but not in a way that it usurps the focus on Christ. Help people and organizations in need, but make sure those little round-cheeked toddlers get to experience the “magic of Christmas morning.” Go to worship, look at the holiday lights, volunteer at a soup kitchen, get the best shopping deals, but don’t be so busy you miss the quiet reflections within Advent.

It’s a dizzying, fast-paced time, and in the midst of all of it I sometimes find myself feeling like that solitary smudged silhouette at the center of those blurred-motion lights—you know, the image you see in ad campaigns: one woman standing all alone, an invisible axis as the rush of the world flies by around her. I alternately pray and wrap gifts and write articles and attend Christmas parties. I tend sick kids and battle crowds at the mall and write cards to inmates and reach out to neighbors in need.

And all the while that Jonny Diaz contemporary Christian song echoes in my mind: “Breathe, just breathe / Come and rest at my feet / And be, just be / Chaos calls but all you really need / Is to just breathe.”

To me, the best parts of Advent are when we can hit pause on the busy button and do just that: breathe. Marvel at the glossy wrapping paper and glittery bows. Sigh in wonder at the sparkling lights on the nine-foot-tall tree inside the bank. Close my eyes and offer a silent prayer of appreciation as I cuddle on the couch with my husband and little ones, grateful for all things God brings—good and bad and the gray somewhere in between.

The other day, I had one of those wow-pause moments while opening a stack of mail on my desk at the Advocate. In addition to subscriptions and story submissions, we’ve been getting a bunch of year-end donations. We’re extremely thankful for these; while we are lucky enough that apportionment dollars from South Carolina United Methodist churches comprise about half our budget, we rely on advertising and subscriptions to match that other half, and some years are tougher than others. Tax-deductible donations from our readers are a huge help to enable us to continue our 180-year-old ministry.

I opened one envelope to find a donation from a woman, along with a note: “Do not waste postage on letter for tax purposes. I’m so poor I do not pay taxes. Sorry it can’t be more but I am 89 years old and live on Social Security—but would hate to see the Advocate fail.”

Her note brought me to tears. Hers wasn’t the largest donation we received by any means, but it also wasn’t the smallest. But knowing she self-identified as “poor” and yet still chose to help us instantly brought to mind Jesus’s words in Mark 12:41-44:

“Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

“Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.’”

Jesus gave His all when he lived and then died for us. He put others before self. He modeled the generosity and love we are called to exhibit.

As we transition from Christmas into the Epiphany into Lent and beyond, I pray that I remember Christ’s sacrifice. The widow’s sacrifice. Our donor’s sacrifice.

I pray that I live for others above myself and for God most of all.

And I pray that next Advent and Christmas are a solid stretch of wonder, awe and magic—and that busy-ness takes the backburner.

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