My husband and I, kids in tow, were maneuvering at a snail’s pace through a traffic jam in our trusty high-clearance minivan. Our speakers happily trumpeted the Christmas CD my mom had sent, and we chatted, our energy high for our Christmas shopping in the city and the Christmas party of our non-profit (which, with the barbecue and kids running around in shorts, tends to look a little more like the Fourth of July).
It was sometime after “Let it Snow” that our heads all swiveled to the driver’s side, where a man was banging—hard—on the outside of our van. Never a good sign in Kampala.
And that’s when his partner whipped open my car door and swiftly grabbed my bag slouched at my feet. My casserole dish skidded across the pavement as I unbuckled without thinking, standing between the unmoving lanes and yelling something very helpful, like, “HEY!” as he and his cronies ran away with my reading device, my phone, the drivers’ licenses from both countries, and our house keys.
I make it sound lighthearted. But really, I just started sobbing, my hands shaking. It probably frightened my children just as much as the stranger flinging open the car door. Robbery, even a purse-snatching, is a level of trauma.
What God Can Do with a Robbery
Truthfully, the highlight of my day took place about thirty seconds after that lowlight. My eleven-year-old: “Guys, it looks like mom is really upset right now. Let’s all pray.”
You know, when he was born, all of the parenting magazines kept telling me how to keep him safe from everything: from choking, from bullies, from cyberspace. And keeping our children safe is a godly desire.
But I’m also reminded God’s “faith school” for my kids is so good to teach them, even while they are quite young, who he is in suffering.
As a friend wrote me the week of the robbery, The very thing we would protect our children from experiencing may be the very thing that God wants to use in their lives now so that when they are adults, they’ll know how to respond to crisis.The very thing we would protect our children from may be the very thing God wants to use so that when they are adults, they’ll know how to respond to crisis. Click To Tweet
That he gives, and he takes away, and we can sing Christmas carols with full hearts afterward. That this isn’t a “when bad things happen to good people” kind of thing. From dust I came—and hell I deserve.
Weary: You Have Arrived
After the police report, after the two hours spent at the phone company, after breaking in to our own house in absence of my keys, my emotions were as tangled and frazzled as my hair.
For one, all of my muscle to make it to the end of the year in a foreign country felt suddenly spent—a year complete with harrowing accident and move to a new neighborhood and all the little pecked-to-death-by-a-duck cultural frustrations.
The sledgehammer in my heart had fallen, and the bell at “WEARY” dinged.
After the robbery, I felt vulnerable. Violated. Stupid. Shaken.
And still—I kept thinking, This is why He came. This is why we need Christmas. Not for some vague, nebulous, Dr.-Suess-movie “Christmas is about giving! The Christmas spirit is in our hearts!”
How Robbery Schooled Me about Christmas
Because Christmas is—but it isn’t.
We needed Him because Christmas—an unselfish, give-till-it-doesn’t-make-sense, fatal rescue mission—was not in us as we mourned in lonely exile here, basting in our own junk and selfishness, as both victim and criminal.
He, too, was here to help, and people wanted to take what they could get for themselves.
Jesus was subject to far more injustice, theft, and hate than a robbery.
He bore so much more grief than I have, so that my treasure could be not in a purse or an iPhone, but in a place untouched by thieves and tears.
This is only a pinprick of suffering. But his hand seemed to rest on my slumped shoulder when I happened on C.S. Lewis’ words from The Magician’s Nephew.
I saw that “faith school” though it may be, God’s pain in the midst of my pain is real. I am not merely a project to be sanctified, but a child who is loved after a crime:
God’s pain in the midst of my pain is real. I am not merely a project to be sanctified, but a child who is loved after a crime. Click To Tweet
“But please, please–won’t you–can’t you give me something that will cure Mother?’
Up till then he had been looking at the Lion’s great feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself.
‘My son, my son,’ said Aslan. ‘I know. Grief is great.”
And so I found Christmas–with a side of robbery–yet again painting in vivid strokes that God is with us. wrapping our injured flesh around him, breathing our air and walking our sod.
Thank God for Christmas.
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Janel Breitenstein is an author, freelance writer, speaker, and senior editor for Go. Serve. Love. After five and a half years in East Africa, her family of six has returned to Colorado, where they continue to work on behalf of the poor with Engineering Ministries International.
Her book, Permanent Markers: Spiritual Life Skills to Write on Your Kids’ Hearts (Harvest House) releases October 2021. You can find her—“The Awkward Mom”—having uncomfortable, important conversations at JanelBreitenstein.com, and on Instagram @janelbreit.