"So has the Lord done for me at a time when he has seen fit to take away my disgrace before others." – Lk 1:25

Out of all the pews in the church, my seat of choice for the longest time was the one furthest away from the altar. Tucked away in a corner, I would attend mass as if I was afraid to stare at the tender, loving, yet pained face of Jesus on the cross. I felt ashamed of my mistakes, and so I chose the background because I felt unworthy of the love and grace of the Lord.

I had a year of terrible choices. I pushed people away and hurt them, using my pain and tiredness as reasons to shield myself from their care. There would be evenings where instead of turning to God, I decided to turn to stress-eating or alcohol to dull my emotions. Some days I could not get out of bed, and instead I questioned God's existence and love because I felt like happiness was meant for others, not myself.

Most of all, I felt disgraced and ashamed at myself for my lack of faith and strength. Similar to Zechariah, I felt my disbelief overcome me like his muteness, paralyzing me and feeling akin to a punishment. Yet as I write this, I come from a very different place.

One afternoon, I spent a quiet moment staring at the cross and couldn't help but cry. Yet, these tears were tears of joy, because I finally recognized from the beginning of time, to His birth as a baby, to His ultimate sacrifice, Jesus loved me, shame and all. Upon that realization and through slow moments of learning to be kind with myself, accepting the unique love of each individual in my life, and giving myself time with God, I find myself standing a little taller.

While the realization took a while and the journey continues still, I can't help but hold onto a sense of joy. A joy in trusting in the slow works of the Lord to teach me to embrace this day and the next with open arms proudly. As we near closer to Christmas, I feel like I am experiencing a rebirth along with Jesus' birth where I can let go of my disgrace and instead stand in the front pews of church with my arms out to Jesus and the world.

Lord, help me offer any disgrace or shame I may have to You and allow my arms to freely embrace Your arrival this Christmas. Grant me the strength to trust in Your slow works and stand proudly as Your beloved.

Kevin Nguyen

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