Man, I’ve been in New Orleans since the 18th and I may never go back to Baton Rouge.  Every time I come back (back?  come home?  I dunno) it gets harder and harder to leave.  I spent the week leading up to Christmas drinking coffee and tea and espresso at Rue and digging through antique shops looking for *the perfect gift* (for my dad it’s a wrought iron fleur-de-lis from a fence post and for my mom it’s a handmade journal with a gorgeous Spanish cross handpainted on it).  Every moment not spent on Magazine has been in the Quarter.  I’m not sure what home is anymore.

Anyway, this is kinda the first Christmas that I’ve *really* been a follower of Christ, that I’ve actually loved Him and not, you know, been afraid of Him or thought that He hated me or whatever.  So I wanted this Christmas to be about Him, and for me to see that.  I guess it had been a prayer of mine pretty much since the end of finals.  While my time here in NO has been beautiful and I dread heading back to BR (not that I don’t love the people and the University), it’s been pretty tough spiritually.  I hadn’t really been through a spiritual dry spell since I got back from France and I had forgotten how miserable they can feel, how hard it is when God feels so distant, how no matter how much you pray He doesn’t seem to be there.  All of that.  It made it really hard to enjoy anything truly and deeply.  I prayed as hard as I could, I read my Bible, but God felt very far away.  So I spent my time alternating between the French Quarter and the couch, just sorta floating, praying (or trying to, most of the time it was too hard to even pray) that everything would be alright.

So then my mom comes in last nite, and we have Christmas together as a family for the first time since — hell, I don’t know, 1999?  1998?  All three of us in my dad’s double on Jefferson Ave.  We go to the Methodist Church (another new thing; I usually go with my mom to Christmas Mass and my Dad goes to his church) and, man, I’m *trying* so hard to, I dunno, conjure God up or something?  To, you know, satisfy my psyche with the feeling of God, the sensation of Him?  I mean I’m singing my heart out to these hymns (which I generally enjoy anyway) and I keep praying (pleasedon’tletthischristmasbeaboutme/pleaseletmeseeYou/ifI’mdoingsomethingwrong… etc).  And the minister starts giving her message to the children as she does at every service, talking about the difficulty of faith.  I always get much more out of her (Methodist, so it’s a ‘her’) children’s sermons than the actual ones, which I guess says something about the way that things are supposed to be (we’ve complicated it, etc, be as a child, but that’s another blog for another day).  Anyway, she talks about how hard it is to remain faithful when we cannot see God (the kids all pointed “up” when she asked where God was.  Cute.).  She tells them about this little girl who just learned how to read and saw where someone had written “God is nowhere” on a wall.  The girl’s mama read it out loud to her and the girl says “no, mama, it says ‘God is now here’.”

Yeah, I know, it’s a cheesy joke and it’s something that probably everyone has heard before.  But at that moment, everything came flooding back to me.  I felt His true presence for the first time in a week, and not some bogus presence that I’d created in my mind to satiate me.  The honest presence of the LORD lifted me.  And of course, when reflecting upon it, I realized that my Christmas had not been about me, that I had spent all of the time leading up to it considering Him, recognizing my need for Him.  And that’s what Christmas is all about, right?  I guess I empathize now with the way that the world was leading up to that first Christmas, desperately in need of the LORD and unable to get to Him despite their best efforts.  And then, at just the right time, He revealed Himself.  And I know it’s cliché to say “oh, Jesus is the reason for the season, it’s better to give than receive, keep Christ in Christmas etc” but, man, I can’t explain to you how it feels to come out of that spiritual desert back into the light, and to see that the reason He did it was not because I did something to piss Him off or because He’s some heartless deity, but because He wanted me to truly value Christmas, to value His coming into human history.  It’s insane, man.

So my best Christmas present?  The Spirit of the LORD.

And a map of New Orleans.